Clueless about Cuba’s quarantine
Yesterday’s NY Times article, Cuba Counters Prostitution With AIDS Programs, skirts a few important issues, the least of which is sex tourism. The article quotes,
United Nations officials who track AIDS say Cuba has done a better job than most countries at corralling the disease. “Certainly there has been an increase in AIDS, but it is not big, not like you see in the Dominican Republic, or Haiti, or in Puerto Rico,” said Paloma Cuchi, who oversees the United Nations AIDS program in Latin America. “They have a very good medical infrastructure, and people have access to care and prevention.”
It all comes down to one word: quarantine.
In the early 1990’s, Cuba quarantined people with the virus, and those discovered to be infected are still required to stay three to six months in one of Cuba’s 13 government AIDS sanitariums, where they receive treatment and counseling on how to survive with the virus and how to avoid passing it along. Once they leave the hospitals, the patients are closely monitored in their homes by social workers, officials say.
The Dominican Republic, Haiti, or Puerto Rico do not force their citizens into compulsory testing, or internment.
The UN official brings up Puerto Rico, which has horrible AIDS statistics (two of my friends have died of AIDS), so let’s look at Puerto Rico: Puerto Rico does have “a very good medical infrastructure, and people have access to care and prevention”, the factors the enthusiastic UN official praises in Cuba. Puertoricans who suffer from this terrible illness don’t get incarcerated for months, and afterwards aren’t “closely monitored in their homes by social workers” and the government. Instead, all Puertoricans can access the internet for information, something forbidden in Cuba. Additionally, Puerto Ricans, as befits American citizens from birth, are free to travel to the US mainland for treatment anywhere in the USA, and airfares are inexpensive; those with means are free to travel anywhere in the world to seek treatment, and many do since the economic conditions in Puerto Rico enable them to pursue any treatment they can afford.
Castro of course will blame AIDS on the “US embargo”, just as he blames everything else on it, ignoring the fact that there are some 100 other countries with which Cuba could trade. That is, when he’s not denying that prostitution exists in Cuba. But I digress.
The Cuban internment program has been famously controversial because of the compulsory testing, and the fact that AIDS patients are incarcerated because of their illness:
In the mid-1980s, when little was known about the virus, Cuba compulsorily tested thousands of its citizens for HIV. Those who tested positive were taken to Los Cocos. They were not allowed to leave.
The policy, perhaps only possible in a highly controlled communist society, was condemned by human rights groups across the world.
Then there is the issue of reporting: Castro’s regime closely controls all information on disease, since the mirage of a good health service is a great part of its propaganda. Believing the Cuban government’s statistics on anything is absurd. The question is, What are the real numbers of people with HIV or AIDS in Cuba?
As I posted before, Cuba has a long history of persecuting gays, a fact the NYT article carefully ignores. Reading this 1988 article, one realizes that in the “two-bedroom apartments, each of which housed two married couples”, not only there’s no gay couple in sight, the authorities replied “with a little bit of pride in Cuban machismo, that Cuban men could not be expected to control their sexual behavior”, the implication being that the sexual behavior would be exclusively heterosexual. Discussing AIDS as a human rights issue is impossible in Cuba. Even more clear is Richard Stern‘s article,
I wondered how long I, as an AIDS activist, would last in Cuba, if it were one of the target countries of the Treatment Access/Human Rights Program funded by the Association I direct. I also tried to imagine the demonstrations and “zaps” held by activist friends in the United States happening here, and could only picture a firing squad.
While the BBC and the NYT articles I link to above claim the Cuban program is a success, one sentence stands out,
Lydia says she is a prostitute because she needs the money to buy things like food and medicine.