Friday, July 24, 2020

Cuba's controversial medical missions (July 23, 2020)

Cuba's medical missions -- a key source of income for the island's government and of health workers for recipient countries -- have come under increasing scrutiny in the coronavirus pandemic context. Since March, Cuba has sent roughly 1,500 medical professionals across the world to help fight the Covid-19 pandemic, joining approximately 30,000 Cuban health workers already deployed abroad. 

The draconian rules imposed by Cuba's government on the doctors deployed in medical missions globally violate their fundamental rights, Human Rights Watch said in a new report. The regulations severely restrict health workers’ freedom of expression, association, movement, and privacy. “Governments that accept Cuban assistance that includes the abusive conditions imposed by Cuba risk becoming complicit in human rights violations,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch.

Last month the U.S. described Cuba's international medical missions as an example of “forced labor,” and kept Cuba on the blacklist of countries that do not do enough to fight human trafficking. (Miami Herald)

The U.S. push to punish recipient countries, a move that could impact its relationship with Caribbean countries whose pandemic response has been significantly buttressed by Cuban doctors, argued Wazim Mowla in a recent Global Americans piece. (See Monday's briefs.) In June the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States criticized U.S. efforts to punish recipient countries, saying the move would undermine efforts to reduce actual human trafficking and also withdraw a key element of medical support in their countries. (Miami Herald, see June 24's briefs.) This week Barbados said it would not bow down to U.S. pressure to end its collaboration with the Cuban program. (See yesterday's briefs.)

In an alternative of sorts to the polarization the topic brings to regional diplomacy, the Human Rights Watch report suggests that: "Governments seeking support from Cuban health workers to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic should press Cuban authorities to modify applicable regulations and laws that violate the right to privacy, freedom of expression and association, liberty, and movement, among others."

News Briefs

  • "There is a humanitarian disaster developing today in Venezuela, driven in part by failed economic sanctions imposed by the United States. It is time for Washington to change direction, prioritize the lives of Venezuelans and support them in building a path toward free and fair elections," writes Open Society Foundations' President Patrick Gaspard in a CNN opinion piece. "The scale of Venezuela's crisis is shocking," he writes. "While Venezuela's dysfunctional economy is primarily the responsibility of the country's leader, Nicolas Maduro, the United States needs to acknowledge that its financial and sectoral sanctions have had a hand in Venezuela's undoing." He advocates using sanctions as a scalpel, rather than a sledgehammer, and argues that "the need to lift all sanctions contributing to the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela is clear. Remaining sanctions, targeting corrupt and abusive officials, should align with diplomacy."
  • Venezuela's government is discriminating against returning migrants, and violating their human rights -- Venezuela Weekly.
  • Former Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón’s law firm will represent Alex Saab, a Venezuelan businessman close to President Nicolas Maduro detained in Cape Verde on corruption charges leveled in the U.S. (Reuters)
  • Five black indigenous men abducted in Honduras remain missing, and fears are growing about their safety. The five Garifuna fishermen were kidnapped by armed gunmen dressed in police uniforms, in the town Triunfo de la Cruz, a region where communities are embroiled in a longstanding struggle to save their ancestral land from drug traffickers, palm oil magnates and tourism developers aided by corrupt officials and institutions, reports the Guardian. (See Tuesday's briefs.)
  • The European Union has granted Honduras 80 million euros in aid to help the country's health system cope with Covid-19, reports Reuters. (See Monday's briefs on reports of significant corruption in the country's emergency response efforts.)
  • Bolivia's September presidential election redo is increasingly in doubt as coronavirus increasingly ravages the country, reports the Guardian. (See yesterday's briefs and Tuesday's.)
  • Police operatives have recovered the bodies of hundreds of suspected victims of the coronavirus from homes, vehicles and, in some instances, the streets in Bolivia. And hospitals are full of patients and short of staff, keeping their gates closed and hanging out signs that say: “There is no space," reports the Associated Press. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Arequipa suffering from crowded and oxygen-deficient hospitals and protests against authorities is Peru's new coronavirus epicenter, reports EFE.
  • Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra announced an emergency decree putting the city of Arequipa's health system under national control. The move comes after relatives denounced grim conditions in local hospitals where Covid-19 patients fight for their lives. The crisis is grim in Peru, reports the Guardian, noting lack of medical staff and basic supplies and the tortuous bureaucracy that families must negotiate in order to get sick relatives admitted to hospital.
  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has again tested positive for the new coronavirus, and will extend his two-week quarantine and suspend upcoming travel plans, reports AFP.
  • Brazil reported a record number of coronavirus infections, days after the World Health Organization said the country had reached a plateau, reports Bloomberg.
  • Brazilian Black rights activists are grappling with an openly hostile government official in charge of the national body tasked with preserving the country's Black culture, Sergio Camargo, reports Reuters.
  • Brazil and Argentina registered daily records for confirmed coronavirus cases yesterday, pushing the total number of cases in Latin America past 4 million, reports Reuters.
  • China plans to provide a $1 billion loan to make its coronavirus vaccine accessible for countries across Latin America and the Caribbean, according to Mexico's government. (Reuters)
  • Southern Hemisphere countries are reporting far lower numbers of influenza and other seasonal respiratory viral infections this year, due to coronavirus prevention measures, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Latin America's post-pandemic government's will be bigger. The region’s public sector will grow after the pandemic – and the temptation to undo market-friendly policies will be hard to resist, writes Patricio Navia in Americas Quarterly. "...Large fiscal deficits will likely be the norm over the next decade – and there is a risk that governments will step up efforts to increase the size of the state in ways that are both unsustainable and that fail to correct for the current absence of adequate social safety nets and public infrastructure."
  • Chile's Senate approved a bill allowing workers to withdraw part of their contributions to private pension funds, in response to the country's pandemic induced economic crisis. The measure returns to the lower chamber for approval due to modifications, but it is expected to pass. The bill is a blow against President Sebastián Piñera, a staunch opponent of the plan that would allow Chileans to withdraw up to 10 percent of their retirement savings from the pension system, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Haiti's energy crisis is increasingly acute: for weeks entire neighborhoods have been once again plunged into darkness and in recent days the distress has grown even more severe, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Haitian religious leaders are pushing back against a penal code reform that punishes marriage officiants who refuse to perform same-sex weddings, reports Voice of America
  • Yesterday was apparently the international day of domestic work -- and Revista Colibrí has some interesting interviews that point to the gender disparities in housework. The statistics are Argentina focused, but the general concept is applicable broadly in the region. During the coronavirus lockdown one study found that parents of both genders increased their childcare hours, but women slept less and cared more, while men slept more and had more leisure time in addition to doubling their childcare hours. A group of men who seek to rethink their privileges suggest honest conversations in the home, which can reveal hidden structural violence.



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