Cuba’s misplaced blame: Humans vs. Mosquitoes

zika cuba mosquito

Sherri Porcelain in the Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies’ Cuba Focus:

Cuba’s Misplaced Blame: Humans vs. Mosquitoes

Using a war metaphor to exterminate mosquitoes in Cuba displays the hubris of the Cuban leaders when it comes to public health as a symbolism of the state’s power. The bravado of saving the world from the dangerous mosquito foe, the regime uses a cache of public health artillery to convince others that they are a global leader in preventing the spread of infectious diseases, such as the Zika virus. The mobilization of 9,000 military troops – armed with fumigation supplies and protective gear to fight these menacing mosquitoes – presents the perfect public health image the Castro brothers like to project. While this war-like approach achieves its intended public relations campaign, it does far less for critical and sustainable public health gains in the wake of neglect to rebuild their dilapidated infrastructure.

Beginning in the early 1900s, Cuba’s successful public health era, well before the Cuban Revolution, was grounded in the political will to improve housing, water and sanitation systems. Such infrastructure was never expected to last almost a century and support the needs of the 11 million people today. Since the Revolution, the Cuban government has manipulated their health measures to project a sense of well-being of the people and the state. However, that façade has been increasingly exposed. The regime’s continuous neglect of the health system, particularly since the end of Soviet subsidies, will become a zero sum game of humans vs. mosquitoes unless necessary investments are made. As importantly is the connections between the rise in mosquito population and climate change, natural disasters, urbanization and increased globalization, which is why now, more than ever, a robust infrastructure is necessary.

The paradox, of course, is that the Cuban government is blaming the victims, its citizens, for the proliferation of the tiny bloodsucking “terrorists,” and calling for forceful action against individuals, families and communities that do not comply with the current campaign to eliminate the fear-provoking vectors of disease. Perhaps the lack of garbage collection in the country is creating an ideal breeding environment for the dangerous snipers and deserves more of the responsibility.

Nevertheless, Cuba is still blaming the U.S. for its ongoing dengue fever outbreaks. In July 1981, Fidel Castro claimed the U.S. waged a bacteriological war causing dengue fever as well as plagues to both the tobacco and sugar crops. As recently as February 2016, the Cuban government supported the position that the U.S (intentionally) introduced dengue and the more deadly hemorrhagic form into Cuba.

The regime, picking up where it left off, blames others for the spread of diseases within Cuba. Clearly, the globalization of infectious diseases, as well as terrorism, has become a twenty-first century reality. Yet Cuba is quick to blame travelers, and what they proudly refer to as medical diplomacy, for outbreaks of disease within their country.

The reality is that the peril of medical brigades, working in resource poor countries, increases the risk of bringing diseases home. The Cuban government eagerly sends its doctors and nurses abroad from Africa to Latin America and the Caribbean. However, let’s not overlook that this global exchange provides significant capital for the Cuban government and propagandizes them as notable health diplomats. The government dollars pinched from their poorly compensated health workers, who often work in dangerous and hazardous conditions, could be used to invest in the failing infrastructure.

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