Cuba: Cholera cases on the rise

Number of cholera cases on the rise; Castro returns from China, Vietnam, and Russia; and government proposes new cooperatives.

Government acknowledges spread of cholera

The cholera epidemic in eastern Cuba, which Pulsamérica reported last week, continued to spread this week, with independent press reporting an increase in the number of cases in diverse regions of the country.  The government remained silent on the issue all week before releasing an official note on Friday 13 July confirming that the epidemic had spread beyond the municipality of Manzanillo in Granma province where it was first reported.

Throughout the week, independent press reported cases of cholera in diverse regions of the country, including in Havana, Camagüey, and Santiago. They also claimed between 5 and 15 deaths from cholera in the past week – including three children – in contrast with the government’s official tally of three deaths in total.

On Friday, the Ministry of Public Health released a statement published across all state media that confirmed the number of cholera cases increased to 158 – more than triple the original number reported in the 3 July release – and that the outbreak was confined to Granma province.  The notice said the situation was under control, and that all known cases were being treated by public health officials; they also warned residents to be wary of water and not to travel outside the province unnecessarily.

Notably the note maintained that there were only three fatalities from cholera, the same number they reported on 3 July. Dissident reporters allege that doctors are being pressured to misreport the true cause of death on death certificates to maintain official statistics.

The cause of the outbreak in Cuba remains unknown, but some speculate it was brought from doctors and volunteers working to treat the illness in neighboring Haiti. Cuban medical workers have been instrumental in combating the ongoing cholera epidemic in that country.

A number of countries and bodies issued travel warnings against Cuba due to the cholera epidemic, including Canada, Venezuela, and the European Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Mexico issued a travel warning to its citizens last week.

Raúl finishes his Asia tour with a Russia stop

Meanwhile, Cuban President Raúl Castro wrapped up his tour of Asia this week. On Monday, he met with Vietnamese leadership and visited the tomb of Ho Chi Minh in Hanoi.

Castro praised the connection between the Cubans and Vietnamese as ‘brother peoples’ (pueblos hermanos). The two sides agreed to increase diplomatic connections between the two countries, including an annual meeting of foreign ministers and coordinating joint positions at international forums.

On 10 July, Prensa Latina reported that Castro would finish his visit abroad with a two-day stop in Russia before returning to Cuba, responding to a last minute request from Russian leaders. The paper reported that the leader would meet with President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in a trip that would include ‘an homage to the leader of the Bolshevik revolution, Vladimir Lenin’.

Castro thanked the Russians for their invitation, and added ‘it’s always nice to come and see old friends’. Putin praised the more ‘pragmatic’ relations the two countries enjoy today than when they were close allies in the days of the Soviet Union, and said they would use Castro’s visit to increase commercial exchanges between the two countries.

Among these included Russian interest in a $2.9 billion investment drilling for oil in the Cuban Gulf of Mexico, which should begin in November. The Cubans expressed interest in obtaining Russian civilian helicopters, reports Diario de Cuba.

Other agreements for joint cooperation in transport, telecommunications, and astronautics were also proposed. Bilateral trade between the two countries was $224 million in 2011, far below the potential said Kremlin advisor Yuri Ushakov.

Raúl Castro returned to Cuba on Saturday 14 July, according to local press.

Cuba considering cooperatives in transport, restaurants, and services

On 9 July, Cuban officials said they were considering expanding cooperatives beyond the agricultural sector to encompass industries such as transportation, restaurants, and other services. The government currently permits farmers to operate in cooperatives, which has proven successful in increasing productivity.

Officials noted the success of the agricultural cooperatives, but said the country currently lacks a legal framework for creating cooperatives in the new industries. They said such new cooperatives could help to ‘invigorate’ the Cuban economy in tandem with the state sector.

Officials said Cuban political scientists were currently studying how to best implement the new system.

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Email: mark.keller@sant.oxon.org

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