Sunday, December 26, 2021

Media coverage of the Covid-19 response in Cuba reveals crisis in U.S. journalism

Yander Zamora/EPA

Newspapers, TV news, and their websites  are losing an audience to levels never seen before. Some blame it on the departure of Trump, and others on the arrival of Biden. However, there is a more troublesome reason, and I will focus on an area that this blog is knowledgeable about to explain. The 2016 campaign accelerated negative trends, and the media has never recovered

According to media reports, Zika was raging through all of the Caribbean in 2016, except Cuba. This blog at the time repeatedly raised concerns about these claims and found circumstantial evidence and a past history of coverups and underreporting by Havana that should have given one pause. 

Fake news in Cuba: PAHO chart from 2016 was wrong (Source: PAHO/WHO)

On April 5, 2021, The Washington Post published a letter to the editor were I highlighted part of this history of regime obfuscation of health data, including Zika.

Desi Mendoza Rivero was arrested on June 25, 1997, for warning about a dengue epidemic in Cuba. On Nov. 24, 1997, he was sentenced to eight years in prison for “enemy propaganda.” Amnesty International declared him a prisoner of conscience and campaigned for his freedom. Dr. Rivero’s claims were eventually confirmed, and he was forcibly exiled.

On Sept. 2, 2016, the Associated Press reported that Cuba had “remarkable success in containing Zika virus.” On Jan. 8, 2019, New Scientist reported the whole story when the facts became known: “Cuba failed to report thousands of Zika virus cases in 2017.”

Repression patterns during this pandemic in Cuba indicate officials seek to downplay covid-19’s severity on the island. According to Duane Gubler at the Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore, “Cuba has a history of not reporting epidemics until they become obvious,” and that is pretty bad.

Havana had claimed to be Zika free, until the impending March 2016 state visit by President Barack Obama necessitated their admitting to its existence on the island to avoid embarrassment if someone in the US delegation contracted the illness. [This is my hypothesis.] Meanwhile, Scientific American, the Associated Press, and too many others to list here continued peddling the official line that all was under control.

Cuba in August 2016 was reporting three confirmed cases and 30 cases brought in from abroad while having mounted a propaganda campaign in February 2016 claiming to have deployed 9,000 troops in a preventive battle against Zika reported The Guardian.

This turned out to be false, and scores of sick foreign tourists exposed the lie.

New Scientist broke the story on January 8, 2019 that "thousands of Zika virus cases went unreported in Cuba in 2017, according to an analysis of data on travelers to the Caribbean island. Veiling them may have led to many other cases that year."  Based on analysis based on the number of travelers infected in Cuba, the number of Zika infections were 5,400. Nowhere near the numbers reported by Cuban health officials.

What is shocking is that less than three years later the media continue to report Havana's claims without qualification, including New Scientist. They are doing this now with the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, and once again it does not pass the smell test. 

Castro regime officials decided not to acquire vaccines from their allies, China and Russia, or sign up with the United Nation's COVAX program. Russian and Chinese vaccines became available in Latin America as early as February 2021. Reports of Russian and Chinese COVID-19 vaccines reaching Latin America made news in early March 2021, but Havana declined them preferring to promote their still unavailable domestic vaccines while most other countries in Latin America did.

Official regime journalist Leticia Martinez Hernandez over Twitter on May 18, 2021 bragged that "Cuba will be the first country in the world to vaccinate their whole population with their own vaccines. Live to see!" She even replied to her own Tweet that she would keep the above "tweet fixed until then. I want to remember the feat on which we have bet." Havana's foreign ministry on June 9, 2021 repeated the same campaign theme as the official journalist: "Cuba could be the first country to immunize its entire population with its own vaccines. The population wants and trusts the vaccine candidates, our science, and the country's experience in vaccine development."  

Officials rejected using alternative vaccines over the six months that they were available because their first "homegrown vaccines" were not ready for clinical trials until May 2021 in Havana and June 2021 in the rest of the island. Meanwhile thousands of Cubans died, and the regime could not cover it up. This was one of the causes of the July 2021 protests.

Tîcö Äwö Ôrümîlä, buried his grandmother in a mass grave at the Juan González cemetery, in Santiago, Cuba. (Facebook)

No mention of this was made in the NBC News or New Scientist reports, which echoed glowing claims about vaccination and COVID-19 rates made by officials in Havana. The NBC News article in the first paragraph reads like Prensa Latina.

"Cuba has vaccinated more of its citizens against Covid-19 than most of the world’s largest and richest nations, a milestone that will make the poor, communist-run country a test case as the highly contagious Omicron variant begins to circle the globe."

 It is only way down in paragraph nine that the NBC News article reveals that none of the Cuban vaccines have been peer reviewed.  The Hill goes even further with a video extolling the regime's successes and claims that the regime will submit to being peer reviewed in 2022 by the World Health Organization.

Where are the fact checkers? Where is the institutional memory? These acts of journalistic malpractice are part of the reason that Newspapers, TV news, and their websites  are losing their audiences. They want news not recycled government propaganda.

The data provided by Havana cannot be independently verified, but that is not revealed in the reporting. Also, why not compare Cuba's COVID-19 response with Taiwan's? They are both islands with powerful nations next door with competing ideologies.

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