MIAMI, United States. – Amidst the worse economic and health crisis that Cuba has faced in recent history, the communist government of Miguel Díaz-Canel insists in maintaining the country’s borders open in recent months. And this is not so as to enable exiled Cubans to bring medicines and food items to assist their relatives, but for the benefit of international tourism, one of the Cuban economy’s most affected sector as a result of the pandemic, and the main US dollar source of revenue for the regime.
Contrary to the official discourse that claims the coronavirus is under control, reports continue to indicate that hospitals are collapsing; that no resources or medicines are available; that the number of deaths is higher than the authorities reveal; and that medical personnel is exhausted amidst a crisis that they can’t manage. While this is happening, several tourism areas continue to welcome hundreds of tourists weekly from various parts of the world.
The epidemiological situation in Cuba has progressively gotten worse since January 2021. It has had several epicenters throughout the country, some of them very close to tourism destinations that are open to foreign tourists. It’s worth mentioning the collapse of the health system in the provinces of Matanzas, La Habana, Ciego de Ávila, and more recently, Holguín.
CubaNet has drafted a summary of the five provinces close to tourism areas whose hospitals have collapsed in the course of this year.
Holguín province, which according to the Ministry of Tourism (MINTUR, by its Spanish acronym) “is one of the most important tourist destinations in the island, with 6,155 hotel guest rooms located right on the beach, in the cities and the mountains,” opened its borders to foreign travelers in November 2020.
At the time, people from Canada also started coming to Holguín; according to the pertinent authorities, the province was expecting flights from Russia, Mexico, the Bahamas, Italy and Venezuela in the following months.
In May 2021, in the middle of a new coronavirus outbreak in the country, MINTUR launched “a wide-reaching program” to “promote the delights of Cuba’s easternmost destination,” and thus boost the arrival of foreign clients from Europe and the Americas, “taking advantage of the flight connections between Holguín and Italy, Central America and Holland.”
Today, several of the province’s hospitals have collapsed. “In Moa, everyone is dying,” reports a Cuban woman who videotaped Moa hospital workers fumigating bodies placed in bags. Presumably, the victims all died of COVID-19.
This weekend, around 20 physicians from Holguín –most of them from the Vladimir Ilich Lenin General Hospital- complained against a recent speech by Cuban Prime Minister Manuel Marrero Cruz, who publicly held health workers responsible for reporting the present lack of healthcare, and diminished the gravity of the health crisis in the country.
Marrero Cruz stated this past August 10th at a meeting in Cienfuegos that the shortage of medicines was lower than “the number of complaints and reports of mistreatment or carelessness against public health workers because (doctors) no longer do house calls… This is incredible.”
Ciego de Ávila
In Central Cuba, the hospitals in Ciego de Ávila province have collapsed due to the pandemic, while in the northern keys the country welcomes Canadian and Russian tourists since the end of last year.
At the start of August, official press sources acknowledged that the Ciego de Ávila Provincial Hospital “Antonio Luaces Iraola” remained unable to meet the needs rising from the epidemiological situation.
“Alberto (Moronta Enrique) is 30 years old and is director of the Ciego de Ávila Provincial Hospital. The institution is in a state of collapse. There are no adjectives, no gerunds…no words to describe it. Words are not enough with respect to the hospital or to Alberto. I still don’t know how he himself hasn’t already collapsed, I don’t know where he gets the energy to resist and stay composed, but I will tell you some day,” reported Katia Siberia, an official journalist, in the journal Alma Mater.
Two months earlier, in June, stretcher handler Omar Ortega, who works at the “Roberto Rodríguez Fernández” Hospital in the city of Morón, denounced in a live broadcast on his Facebook social media that the hospital had collapsed.
According to Ortega, patients, including children and senior citizens, were sleeping on benches and foam mattresses on the floor, as they waited for PCR tests to confirm whether they were positive or negative regarding the virus.
Ortega also lamented not having a contact with the provincial Public Health management office, and stated that the director of the medical center was in isolation in his office after attempting to find solutions to the situation.
Cienfuegos official news media announced last October that the city –known as the “Pearl of the South- was ready to welcome foreign tourists for high season in winter. Gihana Galindo Enríquez, a Ministry of Tourism assistant delegate in the province, stated at that time that, “we have in place a strict protocol regarding biosecurity, for guests as well as for workers, in all tourism facilities in the area.”
Ten months later, the province is one of the coronavirus epicenters in Cuba. In early August, several Cubans denounced on social media the conditions at “Gustavo Aldeguería Lima” Provincial Hospital, as well as public health services in general.
Twitter user Cristian Crespo shared images of the health center and lamented the crisis the province is facing at present. “This is what the Cienfuegos hospital looks like. Chaos with COVID-19. Cuba is a time-bomb,” he is heard saying.
The images reveal the alarming reality that Cubans on the island are enduring, in overcrowded waiting rooms, many lying down on chairs placed together in the form of stretchers, and some of them in a bed in the same room.
Just a few days ago, patients and doctors reported that the serves of oxygen for hospital use had been depleted.
A month after Cuba’s massive protests on July 11th, many people affirm that the epidemiological situation in Cárdenas, Matanzas province –the municipality where Varadero is located- was one of the detonators of the national uprising in more than 50 cities throughout the country.
On April 24th, the Cuban News Agency announced that Varadero, one of the main foreign tourist destinations in Cuba, was ready to welcome at least 3,000 Russian tourists per week, on board crafts belonging to Nordwind, AZUR and Royal Flight airlines.
However, three months later, the situation got out of control for the regime’s authorities, and Matanzas became the epicenter of the pandemic. The “Faustino Pérez” Clinical Surgery Hospital collapsed, as well as the “Eliseo Noel Camaño” Provincial Children’s Hospital.
Karel Prado, an evangelical pastor, denounced what was happening in the Matanzas municipality: “There are people dying in the hallways here.”
“There is a sharp collapse, there are no medicines, there is no oxygen, no antibiotics, we are in total crisis and the government provides no answers, doctors have collapsed, they do not know what they are going to do, there is fear,” the pastor added at the time.
Cuba’s capital has been the province with the highest incidence of coronavirus cases and COVID-19 deaths since the start of the pandemic.
Last August 1st, Luis Antonio Torres Iríbar, First Secretary of the Provincial Committee of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC, by its Spanish acronym), announced that the situation in Havana is very complex, and he ordered immediate implementation of a “program of action to reverse the present epidemiological situation in the city.”
According to Torres Iríbar, “the transmission of the virus has to be stopped, we have to generate awareness among the population, get people to really worry and take care of their health and their families’, and get people to feel the danger of contagion permanently and become convinced that this danger does not disappear inside their homes, on the contrary, it increases because at home people usually do not wear face masks, nor maintain physical distancing.”
In the last 24 hours, Cuba’s Ministry of Health (MINSAP, by its Spanish acronym) reported 9,772 positive coronavirus cases, a new record for the country, and 68 deaths due to COVID-19. Since the start of the pandemic, Cuba has reported 536,609 cases of contagion, with 4,756 people dead from the disease.
Read in spanish here.
Recibe la información de CubaNet en tu celular a través de WhatsApp. Envíanos un mensaje con la palabra “CUBA” al teléfono +1 (786) 316-2072, también puedes suscribirte a nuestro boletín electrónico dando click aquí.