Living Through the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic (# 3)   

The ongoing news of today’s coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic makes frequent reference to the Spanish flu of 1918, about which I basically knew nothing even though I had seen many references to it and even though I was a history major at Grinnell College (1957-61). [1]

Only now, sketchy internet research tells me that this earlier pandemic is called the “Spanish flu” although it was thought to have originated in the soldiers’ trenches of World War I, virtually the only news of the disease came from Spain, which was not involved in the war. This pandemic started in early 1918 and ended in December 1920, infecting 500 million people around the world (or about one-third of the world’s then total population) and causing 17 to 50 million deaths. In the U.S. the statistics were 25.8  million cases and  675,000 deaths. Unlike typical flu viruses, this one especially affected healthy young adults; almost half of the all deaths were those 20-40 years old. [2]

In that time period, both of my parents lived in Iowa, which had an estimated total Spanish flu cases of 93,000 with 6,000 deaths. In the Fall of 1918 the Iowa Board of Health “quarantined” the entire state and ordered the closing of all “public gathering places.” [3]

At the time, my father, Ward Glenn Krohnke, lived in the small town of Perry in the central part of the state. When the U.S. entered World War I in April 1917, he was 16 years old in the junior year of high school.[4] Thus, In early 1918 he was 17 years old in his last year of high school, facing the prospect of joining the U.S. Army and being shipped to Europe to fight in World War I. That same year, after graduation, he did join the Army for training at Camp Dodge, Iowa (just north of Des Moines), where 10,000 men were treated for the flu with 700 of them dying.[5] The Armistice of November 11, 1918, however, led to his honorable discharge without going overseas.

I do not recall ever hearing that that he or his parents or brother contracted this version of the flu or that his father, Alvin J. Krohnke, who was a train dispatcher (or station agent) for the Milwaukee Railroad in Perry, had any financial difficulties caused by the flu.

In 1956 just before the start of my last year of high school, I was selected to go to Hawkeye Boys’ State, which was held at the old Camp Dodge, where we stayed in what must have been the old Army barracks.[6] I do not recall any mention being made at this gathering about its history during World War I or otherwise. Nor do I recall my Father on this occasion saying anything about his basic training there in 1918.

My mother, Marian Frances Brown at the time, in the larger southeastern Iowa town of Ottumwa in early 1918 would have been in the seventh grade. I never heard of her or any members of her family suffering from the Spanish flu, nor did I hear of any flu-related financial difficulties for her father (George Edwin Brown, who worked for the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad).

I deeply regret that now I can only speculate about my parents’ concerns and fears during the Spanish flu pandemic and about my father’s concerns and fears about joining the Army and going to Europe to fight in World War I.

I, therefore, urge younger people to figure out what major national and international events occurred in their parents’ lifetimes and engage them in conversation of how they were affected by these larger events. Similarly those of us who are older should talk or write about such experiences for our descendants.

=====================================

[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).

[2] Spanish flu, Wikipedia; Spanish flu, LiveScience (Mar. 12, 2020); Jester, Uyeki & Jernigan, Readiness for Responding to a Severe Pandemic 100 Years After 1918, Am. Journal of Epidemiology  (Aug. 9, 2018); The Deadly Virus: The Influenzas Epidemic of 1918, Nat’l Archives; Searcy, The Lessons of the Elections of 1918, N.Y. Times (Mar. 22, 2020).

[3] Iowa Dep’t Public Health, The 1918 Flu 100 Years Later (April 2018); Schmidt, Lessons for Iowa from the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, The Gazette (Mar. 17, 2020)

4] World War I, Wipipedia.

5] Camp Dodge, Wikipedia; Camp Dodge-Photograph Album-World War I Army Containment 1917 , Wikipedia.

[6]  Growing Up in a Small Iowa Town, dekcommentaries.com (Aug. 23, 2011);  American Legion (Dep’t of Iowa), Boys State of Iowa .

 

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.”

===================================

[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).

 

Remembering Archbishop Oscar Romero (Now Saint Romero) 

As a result of being a pro bono asylum lawyer for Salvadorans, 1986-2001, I learned about the amazing work of Oscar Romero, the Archbishop of San Salvador, and regarded him as my personal saint long before he was canonized by the Roman Catholic Church.[1]

I, therefore, was in El Salvador on March 24, 2000 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Romero’s assassination and on March 24, 2010 for the 30th anniversary.[2]

I lament that I was not there this year for today’s 40th anniversary. But Tim Muth, the creator and operator of the wonderful blog, El Salvador Perspectives, has suggested we honor him today with the following passage from his homily of January 21, 1979:[3]

The present form of the world passes away,

and there remains only the joy of having used this world

to establish God’s rule here.

All pomp, all triumphs, all selfish capitalism,

all the false successes of life will pass

with the world’s form.

 

All of that passes away.

What does not pass away is love.

When one has turned money, property, work in one’s calling

into service of others,

then the joy of sharing

and the feeling that all are one’s family

does not pass away.

In the evening of life you will be judged on love.

============================

[1] See the list of posts in the “Oscar Romero” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: EL SALVADOR.

[2] These visits to El Salvador are discussed in Oscar Romero’s Tomb, dwkcommentaries.com (Oct. 10, 2011).

[3] 40th anniversary of Romero assassination calls for solidarity, El Salvador Perspectives (Mar. 24, 2020).

Living Through the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic (# 2 ) 

“The Power of Community” was the title of the March 22 sermon at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church (delivered in a live-streaming service with around 2,000 watching at home) It provided this blogger with comfort and courage for living with the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic.{1}

Scripture for the Day

 The Scripture for the day was Ephesians 3: 1-21 (NRSV):

  • “This is the reason that I Paul am a prisoner for Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles— for surely you have already heard of the commission of God’s grace that was given me for you, and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words, a reading of which will enable you to perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ. In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”
  • “Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God’s grace that was given me by the working of his power. Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him. I pray therefore that you may not lose heart over my sufferings for you; they are your glory.“
  • For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
  • “Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen

The Sermon

“As the coronavirus sweeps across the globe causing a rising level of fear, and leaving anguish in its wake, it’s tempting for us to be overwhelmed by a sense of powerlessness.”

“But there is a power of community that will be examined by “how scripture views it, how the church uses it, and how we can benefit from it as we face this crisis together.”

“One of the impulses driving creation, as the story unfolds in the Book of Genesis, is the divine desire to generate human community. When humanity is made in the image of God and placed in the Garden, we’re told to steward the earth. We usually think of that solely in terms of the environment – but we are also stewards of the gift of human community.”

“The Presbyterian Church’s Brief Statement of Faith, adopted in 1991, says: “In sovereign love God created the world good and makes everyone equally in God’s image, male and female, of every race and people, to live as one community.” (emphasis mine)

“Today we might say, ‘male, female, and non-binary,’ but the point of this affirmation of faith is that the goodness of God’s love – the imago dei – is embedded in all of us. God’s image is seen most clearly in us when the human family lives as one community.” (Emphasis added.)

“The author of Ephesians speaks of the creation of community that heals a fractured humanity. This new community – really the recovery of the one humanity envisioned at Creation – is made known in Jesus Christ.”

 “’In former generations,” the writer says,”this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed…by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” (Ephesians 3:5-6) (Emphasis added.)

“The promise of our faith is that the human family is one. The Gentiles – previously outside the circle – have become fellow heirs, members of the same body. The gospel makes the bold claim that the human family is no longer divided. We are one community, and there is power when we are united in purpose.” (Emphases added.)

“A friend who has been in recovery for many years told me their AA group met this week via Zoom technology. They didn’t know how to start the meeting, so my friend suggested they begin with the first of the 12 steps: ‘I am powerless.’ As they talked they acknowledged their individual powerlessness, something started to happen. They began to find strength in one another, even though they were not actually together. My friend said, ‘The sense of community was palpable.’” (Emphasis added.)

That’s the power of human community.” (Emphasis added.)

“One of the ironies of this time of being apart from one another, isolated in our homes, perhaps feeling helpless, is that the power of community is so much more evident. Just when we thought our culture and our politics and our nation were flying apart, now that we are apart we’re suddenly and keenly aware of what was missing, because we’re discovering it anew.” (Emphasis added.)

“It’s as if the biblical story of the purpose of human life has been instantly clarified: we exist to live together, as one community. Our insistence on the independence of the individual is giving way to an awareness that we cannot live long without one another. The best chance we have against the coronavirus is to exercise the power we have as a community to stay isolated and work together. All of us. If the community acts as one, we will slow the pandemic.” (Emphases added.)

The power of community.” (emphasis added.)

“Last week the New York Times ran a story with the headline, When the World Falls Apart, People Come Together. It was a report on the Great Alaska Earthquake of 1964, a disaster of biblical proportions visited upon the young city of Anchorage. With a magnitude of 9.2 that lasted four and half minutes, the earthquake destroyed much of the city of 100,000 people.”

““Life,” one person said, ‘Was ripping into a before and af

“That may be happening among us now, if only more slowly. In the future we may come to reckon time in terms of before and after the pandemic of 2020.”

“What will we remember most about this time? That question was the focus of the article on the Alaska earthquake. Experts had predicted that survivors of a major disaster would be desperate and panicked, and that pandemonium and chaos would reign. When researchers arrived on the scene only 28 hours after the quake, they were stunned at what they found.”

People immediately began helping others, pulling them from the rubble and leading them to safety. Boy Scouts entered a damaged hospital to help patients find their way to the cars that had pulled up to ferry them to another facility.” (Emphasis added.)

“Now, an earthquake is not a pandemic. The one occurs instantaneously and is fairly localized; the other is slower-moving and global. But neither is predictable. Neither is a respecter of persons. And the traumatic impact of both depends largely on people’s response to them.”

“’Everybody was trying to do a little bit of everything for everybody,’ one man in Anchorage said. That’s what people remembered.”

“What will endure from our experience of the pandemic unfolding around us?”

“A nurse named Dolly Fleming was in a stairway that day in Anchorage when the earthquake began. She saw a young boy in front of her being thrown around. Instinctively, she grabbed him and held him close to keep him calm and protected as they rode out the shaking together. Nurse Fleming would report many decades later at age 93 that being with that child was her lasting memory of the disaster.”

“’Something surprising had been shaken loose in Anchorage’ – the researchers in Alaska concluded – ‘A dormant capacity — even an impulse — for people to come together and care for one another that felt largely inaccessible in ordinary life.’ (NYTimes, March 15, 2020)”(Emphasis added.)

“They had discovered the power of community. That power is at the heart of the Christian gospel. It was the center of the ministry of Jesus. It is God’s hope for the world. And it is the mission of the Church. Jesus came to save us from our human tendency to break apart into divided groups: the Gentiles – in the language of that era…those deemed “other” then, or in our time– have become fellow heirs, members of the same body. We are in this together. We all share in the promises and risks of life.” (Emphasis added.)

Our best hope right now is that we would recognize the power in our being one, and acting together, like nurse Fleming, to protect one another.” (Emphasis added.)

“Children understand this instinctively. They crave community where they can belong and be safe. In this time of separation parents are helping them meet that need creatively. Technology helps. Our nephew sent a photo of his nine-year old daughter, isolated with the family at home in Portland for some weeks now, sitting before a computer having a play-date with about ten friends, all on the screen at the same time.”

“We will get through this together, even when apart. There is power in community.”

“I used to think that connections through technology were not genuine, but I ‘ve gotten over that. It’s real community. Like this worship service: this is not virtual worship. This is genuine worship. Our prayers are real, the sermon is actual, the shared experience of the music is authentic. We may be apart, but we are worshipping God together as the one Body of Christ.”

 “A Westminster member living alone at home emailed this week to tell me that online worship has become an anchor in their week. Without it, they said, the cycle of time in their life is so disrupted that it’s disorienting. Another member isolated at home alone emailed to say they watched all four of our online services last week, and each was a “lifeline.” (Emphasis added.)

“They were finding that they still belonged, were still loved.”

The gospel’s claim of the power of community is fundamental and foundational to our humanity. A recent article relates the story of anthropologist Margaret Mead being “asked by a student what she considered to be the first sign of civilization in a culture…Mead said that the first evidence of civilization was a 15,000-year-old fractured femur found in an archaeological site. This particular bone had been broken and had healed…A broken femur that has healed is evidence that another person has taken time to stay with the fallen, has bound up the wound, has carried the person to safety, and has tended them through recovery. A healed femur indicates that someone has helped a fellow human, rather than abandoning them to save their own life.’”  (Emphasis added.)

The church’s role in combating this pandemic is to remind the world around us of our oneness. There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, insider or outsider, for all are one in the human family. That was God’s intention from the start.” (Emphasis added.)

“The power of community gives us strength and resilience.”

We are not powerless. The coronavirus is stirring the community to life, awakening an old memory that we are rooted and grounded in love for one another. “ (Emphasis added.)

“In this crisis moment the church – you and I, as followers of Jesus – the church is called to help the community know “the breadth and length and height and depth” of God’s love for all of us, equally and unconditionally. (Ephesians 3:18)”

“That’s the gospel of Jesus Christ, the One whom we follow in this challenging time.”

The One who, ‘by the power at work within us, is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.’ (Ephesians 3:20)” (Emphasis added.)

Comments

The Scripture for the Day  from Ephesians and its discussion by Rev. Hart-Andersen uncovered for me a new and more powerful meaning. Previously I had thought that the English- word “gentile” (translated from the Greek) referred to the non-Jewish people that Apostle Paul traveled to meet in the Roman Empire. Now I see the word as referring to all non-Jews. In short, the Jewish prophets and scribes were dividing the entire world into two groups: Jews and non-Jews or Jews and all other people or Jews and gentiles.

Matthew Skinner, Professor of New Testament at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, Scholar for Adult Education at Westminster and a friend, provided the following in response to my question about the meaning of “gentile” in the New Testament: “From a first-century Jewish perspective, indeed anyone who wasn’t a Jew was a “gentile.” The Greek term rendered “gentiles” (ethnē) means “nations.” The New Testament and other early Christian literature adopts this same usage, describing the world in terms of Jews and gentiles. The Letter to the Ephesians places strong emphasis on the idea of the divisions between Jews and gentiles being destroyed through Jesus’ death and resurrection. The result of that is ‘a new humanity.’ See Ephesians 2:14-16 for a succinct statement of this. The basis of all that emphasis comes from the conviction that law obedience isn’t necessary for gentiles to receive the Holy Spirit and participate fully in the people of God (the church). The letter takes the notion of there being no special advantage or privileged standing before God and regards that as a new, singular humanity coming into existence.”

This fits within my sense that every human being in the world is a child of God regardless of race, color of skin and the specific religion they profess or none at all. All of these characteristics paint a wide variety of human beings. But nevertheless they all are children of God. Therefore, we need to be kind and generous to everyone.

When you recognize this and especially when you gather together with other human beings, there is power in community.

As Rev. Hart-Andersen said in his sermon, “The church’s role in combating this pandemic is to remind the world around us of our oneness. There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, insider or outsider, for all are one in the human family. That was God’s intention from the start.”

============================

[1] This is the second in an ongoing series of posts about living through the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic. See Living through the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic (#1), dwkcommentaries.com (Mar. 23, 2020).

 

 

 

 

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.

=============================

[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.”

====================

[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.

======================================

[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).