Living Through the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic (# 4)

Important reminders of more important issues for us all as we live through this stressful period of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic are found in different places. [1] For example, in organizing some personal papers I came across the following poem by Kristi Brown, the daughter of my cousin, Lloyd William Brown, Jr., and his wife, Karen Brown.

Life

 Life is not long enough to accomplish all your goals.

Life is too short to waste a minute of .

Life always has to end sometime or another.

It ends when you least expect it.

 

Life ends instantaneously for some,

Life’s end is long and painful for others.

Life’s end is known by some, but for others,

It ends when you least expect it.

 

Life is good to most people for a long time,

Life takes some people very early on.

Life fights with death for the cream of the crop.

It ends when you least expect it.

 

Life is taken advantage of by some, others live

Life one day at a time, and cross bridges when they come to them.

Life usually ends for the careful ones, not careless.

It ends when you least expect it.

 

Life’s end is welcomed by those who are suffering.

Life’s end is not welcomed for those who are not.

Life is hard after a loved one dies, but

It ends when you least expect it.

 

Life is a terrible thing to waste.

This poem in her handwritten spiral notebook was discovered in her nightstand drawer in the summer of 1987 by Kristi’s parents. This discovery was necessitated by Kristi’s having been killed, at age 19, on June 24, 1987, in a terrible multiple-vehicle crash on the Capitol Beltway outside Washington, D.C. on her way home from a summer job following her first year at the University of Virginia. Pursuant to her written instructions, Kristi’s heart, cornea and kidneys were donated to the Washington Regional Transplant Community.

Thereafter her parents organized an annual event they called “Kristi’s Christmas” when students from her high school in Springfield Virginia joined her parents and siblings to provide breakfast to a group of underprivileged grade-school kids and then escorted and provided money for them to go Christmas shopping followed by a special visit with Santa Claus. After her mother’s death, the West Springfield Rotary Club has taken over the organization of this annual event.[2]

Thank you, Kristi, for reminding all of us that life “ends when you least expect it” and that “life is a terrible thing to waste.” I am truly sorry that I never had the privilege of meeting you and learning about your inspirations for these amazing deeds.

This profound and beautiful poem helps me cope with the morning news on March 28th that  the world in at least 171 countries has seen 585,500 coronavirus (COVID-19) cases with at least 27,164 deaths while the U.S. has become the epicenter of the world with 102,838 cases and 1,646 deaths. My state of Minnesota has had 398 cases and 4 deaths, including 1 death in Hennepin County, where I live.[3]

My wife and I continue to be in good health while sheltering in our downtown Minneapolis condo with occasional outdoor walks on nice days and trips by car to buy groceries and once-a-week take-out dinners at restaurants, gas for the car and necessities at drug stores.

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[1]This blogger has decided to periodically post his reactions to living through this pandemic. Here are the earlier such posts to dwkcommentareis.com: Living Through the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic (# 1) ( Mar. 23, 2020); Living Through the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic (# 2) ( Mar. 24, 2020); Living Through the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic (#3), (Mar. 27, 2020).

[2] Korff, ‘Kristi’s Christmas’ honors the late Kristi Brown with day of giving for Fairfax kids, WJLA (Dec. 11, 2014); Ours, Kristi’s Christmas makes the holidays merry and bright, The Oracle (Dec. 15, 2016).

3] Coronavirus Map: Tracking the Global Outbreak, N.Y. Times (Mar. 28, 2020; Coronavirus in the U.S.: Latest Map and Case Count, N.Y.Times (Mar. 28, 2020); Olson & Snowbeck, Stay-at-home order now in effect to fight virus that has killed four Minnesotans, StarTribune (Mar.28, 2020).

 

Another Reflection on 40th Anniversary of Oscar Romero’s Assassination

Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero (now Saint Romero) has been a personal saint for this Protestant (Presbyterian) since 1989, and I was blessed to be able to attend the 20th and 30th anniversary commemorations of his 1980 brutal assassination and lament I was unable to attend the 40th anniversary this March 24th.[1]

A moving reflection on the 40th anniversary has been provided by Carlos Colorado, the author of Eminem Doctrin, a blog about Romero’s teachings, and Super Martyrio, a blog advocating since 2006 for Romero’s canonization that in fact happened in 2018.[2] Here is what Colorado said.

“In March 2000 I was in El Salvador for what was then the 20th anniversary of Archbishop Oscar Romero’s assassination. . . . At a reception in a trendy boarding house in western San Salvador, I brashly suggested to the guests that Romero could become El Salvador’s Socrates—who was forced to drink poison by fervid Athenians, but was later embraced by the city as its most quintessential son. It fell to the late, legendary NCR [National Catholic Reporter] correspondent Gary MacEóin to let me down gently, explaining that the entrenched hostility toward Romero from the powerful meant that he would be persona non grata to the political establishment indefinitely.”

“Of course, MacEóin was right about the elites; Romero is ‘not a saint of their devotion’—as the Salvadoran expression goes—to this day. But many things were already changing by the year 2000 and many more things have changed since, to make Romero’s remarkable rehabilitation possible. While Romero’s memory was suppressed in El Salvador during the 80s and 90s, it was kept alive abroad with glowing biographies and film portrayals, including Oliver Stone’s ‘Salvador’ (1986) and the modest indie pic “Romero” (1989).[3] In 1990, the church opened its sainthood investigation, but it seemed as if, for the rest of the decade, that project was shelved.”

“While Romero’s sainthood file gathered dust at the Vatican, on the streets his image was ascendant, with larger and larger commemorations of his March 24 anniversary each year, not only in San Salvador, but also in London and Rome. Things began to change in official circles in El Salvador in 2004, when Tony Saca, who had been an altar boy for Romero, was elected president. Although a member of the party founded by the man thought to have ordered Romero’s assassination, Saca petitioned Pope Benedict XVI to permit Romero’s sainthood cause to advance. But the real sea change came with the 2009 election of Mauricio Funes, the first left-wing president, who promised to make Romero the moral compass for his government. Funes named a new traffic artery after Romero, renamed the airport after Romero, and installed a heroic painting of Romero in the presidential mansion’s great hall.”

“Perhaps the largest transformation occurred in 2015, when Romero was beatified in El Salvador, showing the country how admired he was when hundreds of thousands turned out for the large-scale spectacle.[4] The church made a concerted effort then to educate the population about Romero. Many read his homilies and learned about his actions and actual views for the first time, often refuting what they had heard in official disinformation. There were many who actually believed Romero had materially assisted the guerrillas, supplying arms and openly espousing Marxist propaganda. The publicity campaign and educational effort that accompanied the beatification helped to blunt extreme views.”

“Ultimately, Gary MacEóin was right, though, that Salvadorans would not be ready to buy into Romero’s message. With all of the 40th anniversary commemorations, including an emblematic candlelit street procession, cancelled due to Coronavirus, this anniversary will be very reminiscent of the first ten years when Romero memorials were banned. This year, instead of public memorials, Romero devotees are being asked to light candles at home. Indeed, it appears that in El Salvador, Romero is “hidden in plain sight.” That is, he is everywhere: his name is at the airport, on the roadway artery, and his image is in the presidential state room and in street murals all over the country. But the current generation, including the new millennial president, find the most universal Salvadoran a stranger they do not know.”

“In a sense, the muted Romero commemoration will be the most faithful to the spirit of the man. Just when it seemed he was in danger of becoming “another little wooden saint” (as activists feared he would become), Romero is again associated with austerity, sacrifice and restraint. I suspect he would not want it any other way.”

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[1] Remembering Archbishop Oscar Romero (Now Saint Romero),dwkcommentaries.com (Mar. 24, 2020)   See also Remembering Oscar Romero in Film, dwkcommentaries.com (Oct. 15, 2011)(20th anniversary); list of posts in the “Oscar Romero” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: EL SALVADOR.

[2] Colorado, Muted 40th Romero anniversary recalls the early days, El Salvador Perspectives (Mar. 23, 2020).

[3]  See Remembering Oscar Romero in Film, dwkcommentaries.com (Oct. 14, 2011).

[4]  See Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero To Be Beatified on May 23, 2015, dwkcommentaries.com (Mar. 13, 2015); The Canonization of Oscar Romero, dwkcommentaries.com (Oct. 15, 2018).

 

Living Through the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic (# 1)

Sunday morning’s news outlets reported that worldwide there now are over 300,000 persons who have contracted the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)  and at least 12,944 have died of this infection while the U.S. statistics are more than 24,300 cases and more than 370 deaths. My State of Minnesota has 169 confirmed cases and its first death while the state’s most populous county (Hennepin with the City of Minneapolis), where I live, has  57 confirmed cases and no deaths.

This blogger has decided to periodically post his reactions to living through this pandemic.

This first post will focus on some of today’s overall perspectives from those who know about what is happening: Nicholas Kristof, a New York Times columnist, who has talked with a lot of experts, and Michael Osterholm, now at the University of Minnesota as Regents Professor, McKnight Presidential Endowed Chair in Public Health, the Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP), Distinguished Teaching Professor in the Division of Environmental Health Sciences, School of Public Health, a professor in the Technological Leadership Institute, College of Science and Engineering, and an adjunct professor in the Medical School.[1]

Other posts will discuss other important developments in the crisis as well as his personal reactions to these problems.

Kristof’s Analysis[2]

One of the most disturbing Sunday articles was by Nicholas Kristof, who set forth what experts are seeing as the “worst case” and “best case” for the U.S. in March 2021, one year from now.

Worst Case

“More than two million Americans have died from the new coronavirus, almost all mourned without funerals. Countless others have died because hospitals are too overwhelmed to deal adequately with heart attacks, asthma and diabetic crises. The economy has cratered into a depression, for fiscal and monetary policy are ineffective when people fear going out, businesses are closed and tens of millions of people are unemployed. A vaccine still seems far off, immunity among those who have recovered proves fleeting and the coronavirus has joined the seasonal flu as a recurring peril.”

The U.S. “badly bungled testing, and President Trump repeatedly dismissed the coronavirus, saying it was ‘totally under control’ and ‘will disappear,’ and insisting he wasn’t ‘concerned at all.’ . . .The United States has still done only a bit more than 10 percent as many tests per capita as Canada, Austria and Denmark.”

“By some counts, the United States is just eight days behind Italy on a similar trajectory, and it’s difficult to see how America can pirouette from the path of Italy to that of South Korea. The United States may already have 100,000 infected citizens — nobody knows. That’s too many to trace. Indeed, one can argue that the U.S. is not only on the same path as Italy but is also less prepared, for America has fewer doctors and hospital beds per capita than Italy does — and a shorter life expectancy even in the best of times.”

“Mitre, a nonprofit that does work on health care, calculated that coronavirus cases are doubling more quickly in the United States than in any other country it examined, including Italy and Iran.” Two experts’ models suggest “that up to 366,000 I.C.U. beds might be needed in the United States for coronavirus patients at one time, more than 10 times the number available.”

Therefore, the U.S. “should be urgently ramping up investment in vaccines and therapies, addressing the severe shortages of medical supplies and equipment, and giving retired physicians and military medics legal authority to practice in a crisis.” But that is not happening. Moreover, the U.S. “isn’t protecting health workers with the same determination” as China did after its initial failure to do so.“In the worst-case scenario, will social services collapse in some areas? Will order fray? Gun sales are increasing, because some people expect chaos and crime.” The U.S. “is in a weaker position than some other countries to confront the virus because it is the only advanced country that doesn’t have universal health coverage, and the only one that does not guarantee paid sick leave. With chronic diseases, the burden of these gaps is felt primarily by the poor; with infectious diseases, the burden will be shared by all Americans.”

Best Case

“Life largely returned to normal by the late summer of 2020, and the economy has rebounded strongly. The United States used a sharp, short shock in the spring of 2020 to break the cycle of transmission; warm weather then reduced new infections and provided a summer respite for the Northern Hemisphere. By the second wave in the fall, mutations had attenuated the coronavirus, many people were immune and drugs were shown effective in treating it and even in reducing infection. Thousands of Americans died, mostly octogenarians and nonagenarians and some with respiratory conditions, but by February 2021, vaccinations were introduced worldwide and the virus was conquered.”

According to Dr. Larry Brilliant, an epidemiologist, “The best case is that the virus mutates and actually dies out.” Another expert,  Dr. Charles G. Prober, a professor at Stanford Medical School, agreed. Two other lethal coronaviruses, SARS and MERS, both petered out, and that is possible here. “My hope is that Covid-19 will not survive.”

“Several countries have shown that decisive action can turn the tide on Covid-19, at least for a time.” This especially is true for Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea and Hong Kong that “responded with the standard epidemiological tool kit: vigilance and rapid response, testing, isolating the sick, tracing contacts, quarantining those exposed, ensuring social distancing and providing reliable information. They did not shut down their entire countries.”

It is possible that the U.S. and other Northern Hemisphere nations soon will experience warmer weather that will dampen the coronavirus as was true with two of the four other coronaviruses.

“There is hope that some antiviral medicines currently in clinical trials will be successful.”

Finally there is hope that “the coronavirus may be less lethal than was originally feared, so long as health care systems are not overwhelmed.”

Yet another expert, “Dr. Tara C. Smith, an epidemiologist at Kent State University, summed up all of these considerations: ‘I’m not pessimistic. I think this can work.’ She thinks it will take eight weeks of social distancing to have a chance to slow the virus, and success will depend on people changing behaviors and on hospitals not being overrun. ‘If warm weather helps, if we can get these drugs, if we can get companies to produce more ventilators, we have a window to tamp this down.’”

Our Responses

“This crisis should be a wake-up call to address long-term vulnerabilities. That means providing universal health coverage and paid sick leave.”  The coronavirus legislation adopted last week does not do that. “It guarantees sick leave to only about one-fifth of private-sector workers. It’s a symbol of the inadequacy of America’s preparedness.”

“More broadly, the United States must remedy its health priorities: We pour resources into clinical medicine but neglect public health. . . . The United States has a decentralized and spotty public health system, and it has endured painful budget cuts, yet historically public health has saved more lives than clinical medicine.”

Osterholm’s Perspective[3]

U.S. Difficulty in Appreciating Risk of Pandemics

First, the U.S. government and citizens “had almost this sense of invincibility that we had a border that would not allow such infectious-disease agents to penetrate … . We, of course, know that is folly. A microbe anywhere in the world today can be anywhere in the world tomorrow.”

Second, “we tend to lack creative imagination. {Yet those ]who knew health care knew that health care [had been] carved down to the bone for which there was no resiliency of any substantial nature, no excess capacity, no monies to stockpile large volumes of protective equipment.”  In addition, there has been “no real understanding of the vulnerability of this country outsourcing all of its drug supply manufacturing to places like China.”

Third, “I think it’s human nature to not want to believe this” risk.

This January Osterholm wrote a notification for the CIDRAP leadership forum, saying, “ “I now am absolutely convinced this is going to be a pandemic. This will be a worldwide epidemic. We will see major transmission around the world. And what has happened in Wuhan [China] will happen in other places.” But this warning had no impact on U.S. policies.

 U.S. Needs ‘New Normal’

 U.S. and others need to find a new normal, a way to live with COVID-19. We “can’t shelter in place for 18 months. This isn’t going to work.” Instead, we need a national goal.

We must “make every effort to … protect those most vulnerable. And we [need to] continue to emphasize social distancing, … [and] keep the hospitals from being overrun. We [must] keep doing that until we get a vaccine. . . . It won’t be perfect. Some people will get sick, some may die.”

“People are really concerned. They’re scared … but they’re not panicking. They want straight talk.” They want the truth, and they are not getting it from the Trump administration.

“[A recent British scientific paper] said crowd size really makes no difference. We really have no data on crowd size. Their modeling says we have to have contact … that if you shook hands with all 50,000 people in an arena, you got a problem. But if you didn’t, the risk of transmission is not nearly as great as people think it is. We also don’t have good data that we have major transmission in schools from kids to kids and that they take it home to Mom and Dad.”

“Singapore did not close schools. Hong Kong did. We saw no difference. . . . {On the other hand,] I do know it makes a difference in saving lives in a hospital when you take out 20% of nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists who can’t work because they’re at home [to watch their kids]. I know that is a risk in putting grandparents in so that some can keep working.”

He is hopeful about some new potential treatments for COVID-19, such as chloroquine, that are being studied, but that, he says, is not a strategy.

Conclusion

As a retired lawyer in his 80’s with no experience or expertise on these global health issues, I concur in Professor Osterholm’s assertion that others and I want the truth from our government and national and local leaders. That truth will include admissions that they do not yet know certain important factors, that they are investigating those issues in a focused, disciplined, scientific manner and that the rest of us need to follow developments in the pandemic and follow the straightforward instructions: wash your hands frequently and carefully, maintain at least six-feet social distancing with other people and do not join groups of (10?) or more people. As noted above, other posts will explore my personal reactions to all of this situation.

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[1] Osterholm also currently holds, and has held, other important positions in this field and is the co-author of “the 2017 book, Deadliest Enemy: Our War Against Killer Germs, in which he not only details the most pressing infectious disease threats of our day but lays out a nine-point strategy on how to address them.” (CiDRAP, Michael T. Osterholm, PhD, MPH.)

[2] Kristof, The Best-Case Outcome for the Coronavirus, and the Worst, N.Y. Times (Mar. 20, 2020).

[3] Burcum, Coronavirus pandemic: What’s ‘normal’ now? What’s next? An interview with Michael Osterholm, StarTribune (Mar. 22, 2020). /

 

Criticism of Cuba’s Persecution of Human Rights Activists and Journalists            

On March 17,   the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) issued a statement expressing “its concern at the increased harassment and criminalization of journalists, artists, human rights defenders and opponents in Cuba.” It also condemned “the [arbitrary] arrests and the opening of processes to silence those who exercise the right to freedom of expression.” Therefore, it demanded that Cuba “immediately release all those detained for exercising journalism, their rights of opinion, expression and other political rights in Cuba.” [1]

Comments on Current Cases

The statement also commented on the following five current cases on the island:

  1. José Daniel Ferrer and other activists arrested on October 1, 2019. Commissioner Stuardo Ralón Orellana, rapporteur for Cuba, said,”In Cuba we observe a pattern of manipulation of criminal law to impede the exercise of political rights, in a context of lack of judicial independence. This case is of particular concern to us.” [2]
  2. Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara. He “was arrested on March 1, when he was going to a protest called ‘public kissing’ in front of the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television, against the censorship of a gay kiss in a movie broadcast on the Cuban television. The artist had been harassed multiple times in recent years, including 21 arrests linked to his public protests. On this occasion, Otero was accused of crimes of outrage against the national symbols and damage to property due to the performance of an artistic performance in which he appears photographed with the flag of Cuba in different situations; the prosecution would have requested a sentence of between two and five years in prison.” [3]
  3. Roberto Jesús Quiñones Haces. In August 2019, this “office condemned the imposition of one year in prison on [this] journalist, of the Cubanet media, for the alleged crime of “resistance and disobedience.” Said condemnatory sentence would be directly related to the coverage of a judicial process of public interest. Quiñones has been held in the Guantánamo prison since September 11, 2019, and his family members denounced that his health condition had deteriorated due to the hygiene conditions of the place. Likewise, he has been subjected to a disciplinary process for having published an article from prison on October 1, 2019.” [4]

“In this regard, the offices of the IACHR and the UN Special Rapporteurs for Freedom of Expression . . . sent the Cuban State a letter requesting information, pursuant to resolutions 34/18, 42/22, 34/5 of the Human Rights Council, and article 18 of the IACHR Statute, to gather information on the sanction imposed on Quiñones Haces, in which they also consult on the lack of due process by the Cuban State and the motivation of the condemnatory sentence of the independent journalist.”

Cuba responding to this joint communication, “denied these allegations . . .[and] stated that the ‘true causes’ of the arrest and subsequent prosecution were ‘the disobedience, disrespect and resistance shown to the police authorities on April 22, 2019,’ when he intended to enter to cover a trial.”

4. Rolando Rodríguez Lobaina. This “independent journalist was detained on January 29 for five days at [Havana’s] José Martí International Airport, as he was preparing to travel to the United States to participate in a human rights even. . . . [As a result, he was] prevented from leaving the country [and] stated that this happened as a result of the allegations of human rights violations in Cuba [from] the Palenque Vision agency, of which he is director.”

5. Luz Escobar. A “journalist for the independent digital newspaper 14yMedio, [she] has been harassed on multiple occasions for her journalistic work, preventing her from leaving her home and denying her leaving the country. In addition, she was reportedly cited by the Ministry of the Interior on February 26 by State Security agents who questioned her work as a journalist, accusing her of usurping the journalist’s legal capacity and threatening to harm her family.”

More General Comments

“Regarding freedom of artistic expression, this Office had also expressed its concern regarding the sanction of [Cuba’s] decree 349/018, which regulates cultural policy and the provision of artistic services, [and] which introduced greater restrictions on cultural and artistic expressions in Cuba. . The decree requires [the Ministry of Culture] to grant prior approval of any public presentation or exhibition and created an inspection mechanism with powers to close an event, if it determines that these are not in accordance with the cultural policy of the Revolution”

“The Office of the Special Rapporteur reminds the State that the use of criminal law as a mechanism to prosecute those who express opinions, information, or criticism of government authorities or policies, as well as on issues of public interest, generates a intimidating effect that limits freedom of expression.”

“In the Joint Declaration on the freedom of expression of the UN rapporteurs, OSCE, IACHR and CADHP on the independence and diversity of the media (2018) they expressed their concern about the actions of officials to curtail the independence of the media. , thereby limiting opportunities for people to access credible and reliable news sources that offer a variety of viewpoints. ‘States have a positive obligation to promote a safe working environment for journalists; guarantee respect for the independence of the media and respect the freedom of movement of journalists, both local and foreign,’ recalled the Rapporteur for Freedom. of Expression Edison Lanza.”

“The IACHR and its Office of the Special Rapporteur have indicated in their recent Special Report on the Situation of Freedom of Expression in Cuba that state agents are the main source of threats and attacks against the press in the country, a practice that must be dismantled and sanctioned. The report recommended that the State of Cuba put an end to the harassment, including summons, arrests of any length, and judicial harassment of any person for causes related to the exercise of their freedom of expression, freedom of association, assembly or other related matters.”

“Both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, as well as Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, signed by Cuba on February 28, 2008, protect journalistic, artistic and the defense of human rights. In such a way that those who express themselves should not be under pressure when carrying out their work, covering and / or spreading the facts of public interest.”

“The Office of the Special Rapporteur and the IACHR have warned on various occasions about the use of vague and ambiguous criminal figures who do not comply with the requirements of international law to criminalize journalistic work, the defense of human rights and expressions of criticism through social networks. Likewise, the IACHR in its Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression established that prison terms for sanctioning expressions on public officials or issues of public interest are contrary to the inter-American legal framework.”

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[1] Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Office of the Special Rapporteur Condemns Increased Criminalization and Harassment of Journalists, Activists, and Artists Who Exercise Freedom of Expression in Cuba (Mar. 17, 2020); The IACHR expresses its concern about the harassment of opponents in Cuba, Diario de Cuba (Mar. 18, 2020). The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression is an office created by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), in order to stimulate the hemispheric defense of the right to freedom of thought and expression, considering its fundamental role in consolidation and development. of the democratic system.

[2] Cuba and U.S. Debate Cuba’s Treatment of José Daniel Ferrer, dwkcommentaries.com (Mar. 19, 2020).

[3] Cuba Presses Charges Against Dissident Artist, dwkcommentaries.com (Mar. 16, 2020); Comment: Protests Against Cuban Charges Against Alcántara (Mar. 18, 2020).

[4] U.S.-Cuba Conflict Over Cuban Journalist, dwkcommentaries.com (Aug. 23, 2019).

Cuba and U.S. Debate Cuba’s Treatment of José Daniel Ferrer

On March 11, the U.S. State Department released its latest annual report on human rights around the world. A previous post discussed some of the details of that criticism while another post looked at the limited positive comments in that report. Now we examine the report’s criticism of Cuba’s treatment of José Daniel Ferrer after a review of what previous posts have set forth on that subject followed by a review of more recent events.

Previous Posts’ Discussion of Ferrer[1]

As the leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), which has criticized the Cuban government for a long time, Ferrer has had many conflicts with the Cuban government. The most recent started on October 1, 2019, with his arrest and detention for allegedly kidnapping and beating a fellow Cuban (Sergio Garcia) and with an October 17th rejection of Ferrer’s plea for a writ of habeas corpus.

On October 18, 2019, the State Department publicly condemned this arrest and detention as part of an escalating “wave of repression against freedoms of speech, expression, and religion” and demanded his immediate release from detention.

On November 20, 2019, an editorial in Granma, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba, alleged that Ferrer was in detention because he was “a salaried agent of the United States, with a long history of provocative actions, disruption of public order, and violations of the law” and that the U.S. Embassy in Havana and Chargé d’ Affaires Mara Tekach had been “the fundamental . . . [instrument  for the] orientation, and financing of . . . Ferrer’s conduct, clearly interfering in Cuba’s internal affairs, openly inciting violence, promoting the disruption of order and contempt for the law by this citizen. . . .”[2]

That same day, UNPACU said this editorial was “a complete manipulation of the judicial process against” Ferrer by asserting “two fundamental lies, first, it locates the process of searching for freedom and universal rights of the Cuban people under the authorship of the United States Government, and, second, it states that . . .Ferrer is a salaried agent of the service of United States, with a violent trajectory.” [3]Instead, UNPACU stated the following:

  • The “demonstrations of popular discontent against the Cuban regime, which we can see daily thanks to the internet’s social networks, are a direct consequence of 60 years of communist government of the single party that deprives them of fundamental rights and freedoms to Cuban citizens. What translates into a permanent state of material and spiritual crisis, which from time to time reaches critical levels like the current one. It is worth asking the Cuban regime if the two 2.5 million citizens that they recognized who did not agree with the new constitution [and voted against it in the referendum], were also cared for, guided and financed by the United States Embassy in Cuba. The Chargé d’Affaires of the United States Embassy, ​​Mara Teckach.”
  • “Our organization receives help without imposition from various foreign institutions that promote values ​​such as democracy, freedom, the rule of law and the division between the powers of the State, without which it is impossible for a Government to guarantee and respect human rights. With the help we receive, we do not buy weapons, bombs, or terrorism. With that help we buy printers and sheets to print thousands of copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and distribute them among the population.”
  • “With regard to the slander against José Daniel Ferrer, we can say that in his case and in that of the Patriotic Union of Cuba there is no record of activism during these years of activism against any member of the repressive bodies of the Cuban State.”
  • “During this time [60 days of unjust imprisonment of Ferrer and three of his colleagues] we have published several testimonies of people who demonstrate the pressure exerted by members of the Ministry of the Interior (MININT) against activists and neighbors of the community of Mármol, where the main headquarters of UNPACU is located, to raise false charges against him. We have even alerted the use by the State Security of agents that we have expelled from our ranks for being at their service, to make false accusations.”
  • “Other evidence of the political police maneuvers in the case is that the wife of the alleged accuser declared through a phone call that we made public, that her husband suffered a traffic accident and that the police were pressing him very insistently to who said that the injuries contracted in the accident had been caused by . . . [Ferrer].. Also, the sister of Roilán Zárraga Ferrer, one of the activists detained with José Daniel, publicly stated that his brother communicated to him on a recent visit to the Center for Criminal Instruction in Santiago de Cuba, where he is being held, that they are pressuring him to sign a false statement against José Daniel.”
  • “Among the serious violations that occurred in this case, the conditions of confinement of the detainees are of great concern, as well as the torture, cruel, degrading and inhuman treatment to which . . .Ferrer is being subjected, as confirmed by his wife on a recent visit to the Aguadores prison in Santiago de Cuba, after 34 days of being kept missing.”

The U.S. State Department on November 22 vehemently denied the Cuban government’s charges and said “these baseless accusations . . . [were] an attempt to distract the international community from its abysmal treatment of the Cuban people, especially the ongoing arbitrary detention of  . . Ferrer.”

Cuba, however, on November 26, returned to this attack on the U.S. and Ferrer in an open letter from Cuba’s Ambassador to the EU to the latter’s Parliament asserting that the U.S. and its diplomatic mission in Cuba have been “guiding, instigating and financing the violent and destabilizing behavior of Ferrer” while intending “to fabricate the image of [him as] a persecuted and mistreated” political dissident. The Cuban Ambassador also denied allegations of subsequent Cuban jail mistreatment of Ferrer as “lies . . . deliberately conceived and guided by the United States Government and its Embassy in Havana.”

The next day (November 27) on Cuban national television the Cuban government alleged that Ferrer that year had received $50,000 form the U.S. Government via the Miami-based Cuban-American National Foundation and showed a video of him banging his head against a metal table.

These Cuban allegations, however, did not persuade the EU Parliament, which on November 28 adopted a resolution condemning Ferrer’s arbitrary detention and torture and demanding his immediate release.

On January 30, 2020, Ferrer’s wife and children were permitted to visit him in prison, when he appeared to be very thin and told his wife that he had not been receiving any medical attention. In addition, the prison did not allow him to eat food and take medicines brought by his wife.

On February 24, Secretary Pompeo sent an open letter to Cuba Foreign Minister Bruno Edwardo Rodriguez Parrilla demanding the immediate release of Ferrer. This letter stated the following:

  • “Cuban human rights defender Jose Daniel Ferrer has endured more than 100 days of unjust imprisonment and repeatedly has been dragged, chained, beaten, and burned at the hands of the regime, which you represent.  The United States government joins a chorus of international voices demanding Ferrer’s immediate release.  The European Parliament, the United Nations, the Organization of American States, Amnesty International, and journalists and human rights organizations from countries across the globe have condemned your regime’s treatment of Ferrer and other human rights defenders like him.”
  • “This is not the first time your regime has targeted Ferrer.  He was imprisoned from 2003 until 2011 for advocating for democracy and respect for human rights in Cuba.”
  • “The current spurious charges against Ferrer follow a familiar pattern of harassment, violence, and arbitrary arrests against Cubans who seek only to advocate for democracy and the political and economic freedoms that would enable the Cuban people to create prosperity in Cuba.  It cannot be a crime to criticize policies that have set Cuba’s development tumbling backwards for the past 61 years.”
  • “The United States will never forget the brave Cubans who put their lives on the line for the sake of a free Cuba.  Until there is democracy and respect for human rights in Cuba and all political prisoners are freed, the United States will continue to hold the regime accountable for its abuses.  For the sake of the Cuban people and for the betterment of your nation, we urge you to free Jose Daniel Ferrer immediately.”
  • On February 26, 2020, Ferrer was put on trial in Santiago de Cuba for the alleged crimes of injury, deprivation of liberty to third parties and attack. According to the Cuban Prisoners Defenders (CPD), the court did not permit any of the witnesses at this 12-hour trial to utter the words “opponents, dissidents, political police, State Security, headquarters, UNPACU, regime, dictatorship, dictators and illegal.”

Secretary Pompeo’s Comments About the New U.S. Human Rights Report                 and Ferrer[4]

The Secretary’s comments upon the release of the report included the following:  “The name Jose Daniel Ferrer appears 17 times in this report.  He’s one of thousands of political prisoners who, over the years, have been dragged, chained, and beaten at the hands of the [Cuban] regime. Tomorrow (March 12) he will be sentenced by a Cuban court.” (Emphasis added.)

The New Report’s Discussion of Ferrer[5]

The Executive Summary of the report on Cuba stated the following:

  • “On February 24, the country adopted a new constitution in a coerced referendum marred by violent government repression against those that opposed the proposed constitution. On February 12, for example, 200 police and security agents raided the homes of leaders of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) [which is headed by José Daniel Ferrer] for openly campaigning against the draft constitution, detaining and reportedly beating UNPACU members. Other opponents reported that the government had blocked their email and texts to keep them from disseminating opposition campaign materials. Article 5 of the constitution enshrines one-party rule by the CCP, disallowing for additional political expression outside of that structure. Although the new constitution adds explicit protections of freedom and human rights, including habeas corpus, authorities did not respect them, nor did the courts enforce them.” (Emphases added.)

In addition, the report had the following references to the persecution of José Daniel Ferrer:

  • Authorities “detained UNPACU leader Jose Daniel Ferrer several times during the year. He was often held for several days at a time incommunicado or without being charged in court. Although uniformed security officials were present for his arrest, authorities denied having him in their custody (see also sections 1.d. and 2.d.). On October 1, police detained him for almost six weeks before allowing his family to see him and did not announce charges against him until November 15, 45 days after his disappearance. In the interim, authorities rejected writs of habeas corpus filed by his wife. As of December, Jose Daniel Ferrer remained in custody.” (Section 1.B) (Emphases added.)
  • “When authorities did allow Nelva Ismarays Ortega Tamayo, the wife of Jose Daniel Ferrer . . ., to visit him in prison, she found him emaciated with signs of repeated physical torture. He was reportedly unable to lift his arms and recounted daily psychological trauma inflicted at the instruction of his jailers.” (Section 1.C) (Emphasis added.)
  • “On August 27, authorities detained UNPACU leader Jose Daniel Ferrer in connection with a fabricated murder case from 2018. He was previously detained in August 2018 in Santiago de Cuba for 12 days and charged with attempted murder following a car accident in which he hit and injured an official in Palmarito del Cauto. There were reports the official intentionally jumped in front of the vehicle Ferrer was driving, resulting in minor injuries to the official. Despite reported coercion of witnesses, police could not obtain corroborating evidence against Ferrer, and the prosecution was forced eventually to release him. Police, however, continued to use the case as justification for detaining him.” (Emphases added.) Prison officials refused to consider pleas from Ferrer’s wife to consider his failing health or accept medicine she brought to the prison for him, and they banned her from further visits to the facility. On November 15, the government provided her a copy of the charges filed against Ferrer on October 7. As of December 3, Ferrer still had not received access to a lawyer, and a trial date had not been set. (Section 1.D) (Emphases added.)
  • “In connection with a planned march on September 8, several UNPACU activists were arbitrarily detained on September 7. On September 8, immediately after leaving his house with several supporters, Ferrer and other supporters were arrested (see section 2.b. for more information). On October 1, he was arrested again, this time on different charges that he was involved in a physical assault of an UNPACU member. The charges were likely fabricated, due to testimony from multiple individuals that the alleged victim left UNPACU headquarters unharmed and testimony from the alleged victim’s wife that the injuries were sustained in a motorcycle accident. A separate activist said she was threatened with prison if she did not sign a false statement implicating Ferrer in the alleged crime. (Section 1.D) (Emphases added.)
  • Ferrer was held incommunicado for 72 hours before authorities acknowledged he was in custody, and they denied his wife access to him. Several days later, she was finally allowed access to him and received permission to send him a change of clothes, but not medication to tend to his chronic medical condition. On October 18, after not seeing him for more than two weeks, she filed a writ of habeas corpus stating Ferrer’s family did not know his whereabouts or if he was still alive, and that they had not been informed of charges filed against him or been given the opportunity to provide a lawyer to represent him. The court ruled against the petition, claiming that charges were brought on October 3 and formally filed October 7, without stating his location or the charges against him.” (Section 1.D) (Emphases added.)
  • “On October 25, still without access to her husband for herself or her lawyers, and still without knowing the public charges, Ferrer’s wife and his three minor children demonstrated against her husband’s mistreatment in a public park in Santiago de Cuba; security officials arrested all individuals. On November 7, she was allowed a five-minute supervised visit with him–the first proof she had received in more than one month that Ferrer was still alive. He described extremely punishing treatment he received at the hands of his jailers, who chained him hand and feet, offered him only spoiled food and foul water, and held him with a known violent criminal who said he was offered privileges in exchange for beating Ferrer (which he did regularly).” (Section 1.D) (Emphases added.)
  • “Prison officials refused to consider pleas from Ferrer’s wife to consider his failing health or accept medicine she brought to the prison for him, and they banned her from further visits to the facility. On November 15, the government provided her a copy of the charges filed against Ferrer on October 7. As of December 3, Ferrer still had not received access to a lawyer, and a trial date had not been set.” (Section 1.D.) (Emphases added.)
  • On “September 6-7, the internet access of several UNPACU members was suspended ahead of a planned march, and on October 3, the government suspended the internet access of UNPACU national committee member Katherine Mojena Hernandez after she repeatedly tweeted about a government crackdown on the group. (Section 2.D) (Emphases added.)

Subsequent Developments[6]

Although, as Secretary Pompeo stated, Ferrer’s sentencing was scheduled for March 12, it did not happen, but was postponed to March 14. This delay prompted UNPACU to release the following statement on social media:

  • “The sentence against José Daniel Ferrer will not be issued by an impartial Court, but by the Cuban regime, which probably already has his sentence from the moment of his unjust arrest more than five months ago.”
  • “If there were in Cuba a system with guarantees for its citizens, both José Daniel Ferrer and the other three activists would have been acquitted on the day of the manipulated trial of which they were victims, because with evidence it was shown that all the accusations were part of an orchestrated theater by the political police. “
  • “The UNPACU dismisses the sentence that will be delivered, because it is the product of a perverse dictatorship that for fear and hatred represses and imprisons those who courageously oppose them peacefully, such as José Daniel Ferrer García.”

On March 14, there was still no sentencing. Thus, on March 17,  Ferrer’s teenage son went to the court to demand an explanation for the delay in the sentencing, but was told that the court would not receive anyone. Now it is March 19, and there still is no announcement of the sentencing, which, whenever it comes, will be the subject of a future post.

Conclusion

Given the hostile rhetoric and actions of the Trump Administration against Cuba, it seems exceedingly unlikely that the two parties could peaceably negotiate an end to this dispute over the charges against Ferrer. If there were some country or person who had the trust of both sides, perhaps that country or person could act as a mediator to try to resolve the conflict. Or the two countries could arbitrate this (along with many other) disputes before the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague in the Netherlands.[7] Otherwise, this dispute just adds to the stack of such disputes.

An independent U.S. source (Cuba Money Project) quotes the previously mentioned UNPACU acknowledgement of receiving support from “various foreign institutions that promote values such as democracy, freedom, the rule of law and the separation of powers of state, without which it is impossible for a government to guarantee and respect human rights.” The Project then states that the Cuban American National Foundation on a 2016 U.S. federal tax form reported that it gave $99,431 to UNPACU.

In addition, this Project recently reported the following two other U.S.-financed efforts to promote democracy in Cuba:

  • First, the U.S. government-financed National Endowment for Democracy (NED) in 2019 managed Cuba projects worth $5,411,535.50 for organizations other than UNPACU and another $565,964.50 going to undisclosed organizations.[8]
  • Second, the U.S. Embassy in Havana has announced plans to award grants to Cuban NGOs, institutions and individuals to strengthen Cuba’s independent civil society’s “professional ties” with the U.S. Although there was no announcement of the total amount of such grants or the number of such grants, it did say that they would be at least $10,000 each.[9]

These U.S. programs that were uncovered by the Cuba Money Project provide support for the previously mentioned allegations of Granma’s November 2019 editorial. While the purpose of these U.S. programs sounds good to the ears of U.S. citizens, it is easy to understand why that is not so for the Cuban government.

Ideally the two governments should discuss, negotiate and agree on the details of any such programs. We were headed in that direction during the last 25 months of the Obama Administration.

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[1] Among the many posts about Ferrer, see these posts in dwkcommentaries.com: Secretary Pompeo Demands Release of Cuban Dissident  (Feb. 27, 2020)(and previous posts and comments cited in footnote 2); José Daniel Ferrer Tried for Common Crime in Cuba (Feb. 28, 2020).

[2] Cuba Accuses U.S. of Using Ferrer Case To Try to Discredit Cuba, dwkcommentareis.com (Nov. 21, 2019).

[3] Response of the Patriotic Union of Cuba to the article in the Granma newspaper about José Daniel Ferrer, unpacu.org/en (Nov. 20, 2019).

[4] State Dep’t, Secretary Michael R. Pompeo on the Release of the 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices (Mar. 11, 2020); Jakes, Critics Hear Political Tone as Pompeo Calls Out Diplomatic Rivals Over Human Rights, N.Y. Times (Mar. 11, 2020).

[5] State Dep’t, 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Cuba (Mar. 11, 2020).

[6] The regime postpones the sentence against José Daniel Ferrer, Diario de Cuba (Mar. 12, 2020); The authorities still do not reveal the sentence against José Daniel Ferrer, Diario de Cuba (Mar. 17, 2020).

[7] See Proposed Resolution of U.S.-Cuba Issues, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 31, 2019).

[8] Eaton, Dissident’s arrest triggers debate over funding, Cuba Money Project (Dec. 7, 2019); Eaton, NED kept secret more than a half million dollars in Cuba projects, Cuba Money Project (Jan. 2, 2020). The Cuba Money Project was started and is operated by Tracey Eaton, a U.S. journalist and former Havana bureau chief for the Dallas Morning News; it aims to report stories about U.S. government programs and projects related to Cuba.

[9] Eaton, Public diplomacy or interference?, Cuba Money Project (Feb. 1, 2020); U.S. Embassy in Cuba, Education & Culture: Annual Program Statement. (undated).

 

U.S. Positive Comments About Cuban Human Rights  

A prior post reviewed the many U.S. criticisms about Cuban human rights in the latest State Department’s report on that subject for Cuba and all the other countries in the world. Here are the much more limited positive comments about Cuba in that report:[1]

  • “There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings [in 2019]. (Section 1.A)
  • “Prisoners and pretrial detainees had access to visitors.” (Section 1.C)
  • “Authorities allowed prisoners to practice their religion.” (Section 1.C)
  • “The law provides that police officials furnish suspects a signed ‘report of detention,’ noting the basis, date, and location of any detention in a police facility and a registry of personal items seized during a police search.” (Section1.D)
  • “Under criminal procedures, police have 24 hours after an arrest to present a criminal complaint to an investigative police official. Investigative police have 72 hours to investigate and prepare a report for the prosecutor, who in turn has 72 hours to recommend to the appropriate court whether to open a criminal investigation.” (Section 1.D)
  • “Within the initial 168-hour detention period, detainees must be informed of the basis for the arrest and criminal investigation and have access to legal representation. Those charged may be released on bail, placed in home detention, or held in continued investigative detention. Once the accused has an attorney, the defense has five days to respond to the prosecution’s charges, after which a court date usually is set.” (Section 1.D)
  • “Reports suggested bail was available.” (Section 1.D)
  • “Detainees have the right to remain silent.” (Section 1.D)
  • “By law, investigators must complete criminal investigations within 60 days. Prosecutors may grant investigators two 60-day extensions upon request, for a total of 180 days of investigative time. The supervising court may waive this deadline in “extraordinary circumstances” and upon special request by the prosecutor. In that instance no additional legal requirement exists to complete an investigation and file criminal charges.” (Section 1.D)
  • The “constitution recognizes the independence of the judiciary.” (Section 1.E)
  • “The law provides for the right to a public trial.” (Section 1.E)
  • “Due process rights apply equally to all citizens as well as foreigners. . . . The law presumes defendants to be innocent until proven guilty. . . . The law provides criminal defendants the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt.” (Section 1.E)
  • “Due process rights apply equally to all citizens as well as foreigner. The law presumes defendants to be innocent until proven guilty . . . .The law provides criminal defendants the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt.” (Section 1.E)
  • “Defense attorneys have the right to review the investigation files of a defendant unless the charges involve ‘crimes against the security of the state.’” (Section 1.E)
  • “It is possible to seek judicial remedies through civil courts for violations of administrative determinations.” (Section 1E)
  • “The law provides for the right to a public trial.” (Section 1.E)
  • “The constitution provides for the protection of citizens’ privacy rights in their homes and correspondence.” (Section 1.F)
  • “The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press.” (Section 2.A)
  • “The government tolerated some gatherings [of three or more people without prior registration], and many religious groups reported the ability to gather without registering or facing sanctions.”
  • “The constitution allows all citizens to travel anywhere within the country.” (Section  D)

Note that most of these positive comments are about rights under Cuba’s constitution and laws while many of the negative comments concern Cuba’s alleged failure to observe these rights on paper.

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[1] State Dep’t, 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Cuba (Mar. 11, 2020).

 

 

Cuba Presses Charges Against Dissident Artist        

Two weeks ago Cuba arrested Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara, a dissident artist, for insulting national symbols by draping himself in the Cuban flag in a bathroom. Afterwards officials said he was not an artist, stressed the importance of respecting the flag and placed him in preventive detention without charges and with two trials scheduled.[1]

This was consistent with the government’s previously detaining him many times, but never more than 72 hours and never putting him in jail.

International rights groups and prominent Cuban artists who traditionally support the regime protested, saying the charges were merely designed to silence a vocal critic. In response,  Cuba released Alcantara on March 13.

After his release, the artist said, “”The Cuban judicial system is an aberration. In the prison where I was, there are mentally ill people who ate from the apartment, who bathed three and four times in the morning, drank water with urine; we are talking about crazy people, literally. You generally have to change it, and the judicial system especially. You can’t imagine the things you can see in a dungeon. ”

“That is a script that we have seen several times. Every day it is more outdated. The most important thing about this support [for me] is to realize that we are changing Cuba. Those Officials are increasingly lacking in imagination, creativity, oxygen. I really feel sorry for them. They don’t have the support of the people. ”

“Now keep working, keep going. Prison is a state that I knew could happen and that can continue to happen in the future. This is not an end point. I am going to continue working for the freedom of Cuba and against of injustice wherever it is.”

On March 16, however, the president of the Municipal Court of Old Havana said Alcántara still faces a charge of “damage” with a trial date to be established.[2]

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[1] Reuters, Communist-Run Cuba Releases Dissident Artist After Uproar, N.Y. times (Mar. 14, 2020); Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara or the kidnapping of Cuban justice by State Security, Diario de Cuba (Mar. 15, 2020); ‘This is not an end point’: Otero Alcántara speaks with DIARIO DE CUBA, Mar. 13, 2020).

[2]  The regime continues with the processes against Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, Diario de Cuba (Mar. 16, 2020).