Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Cuba Calls for U.S. Cooperation on Ebola

Cuba’s commitment to fighting the Ebola outbreak in West Africa -- a product of its longstanding emphasis on medical diplomacy -- has earned applause in recent days from some unexpected sources, including Secretary of State John Kerry.  On Friday, Kerry briefly touched on Cuba’s humanitarian efforts, noting that “Cuba, a country of just 11 million people, has sent 165 health professionals [to Ebola-stricken nations]— and it plans to send nearly 300 more.” 

The following day, state media on the island published a column by Fidel Castro in which the former ruler wrote that the Cubans “will happily cooperate with U.S. personnel in this task, not in search of peace between these two states which have been adversaries for so many years, but rather, in any event, for World Peace, an objective which can and should be attempted.”

Both Kerry and Castros’ remarks were picked up in a New York Times editorial on Sunday, which also described the potential for the U.S. (“the chief donor in the fight against Ebola”) and Cuba (“the boldest contributor”) to complement each other’s work in West Africa. “While the United States and several other wealthy countries have been happy to pledge funds, only Cuba and a few nongovernmental organizations are offering what is most needed: medical professionals in the field,”  the NYT noted.  

At the very least, the paper called for infected Cubans to be given treatment at a U.S. military health center in Liberia. This gesture would be especially important given that, according to CNN, Cuban healthcare workers in West Africa have agreed not to be repatriated to Cuba for treatment if they are infected, in order to avoid spreading the illness.

Yesterday, Raul Castro opened a door to such collaboration. At an ALBA summit on the Ebola crisis in Havana, the Cuban president echoed his older brother’s words. Cautioning that humanitarian work should not be “politicized,” he vowed that Cuba is “willing to work shoulder to shoulder with all other countries, including the United States.”

The invitation is significant in that it provides the Obama administration with an opening to seize on all the recent praise of Cuba’s efforts, improving the fight against Ebola as well as strengthening relations with Havana.

So far, however, such a move seems unlikely. The Miami Herald reports that a U.S. State Department spokeswoman refrained from commenting on whether U.S.-Cuba cooperation on Ebola would be possible, only saying that Cuba was making a “significant contribution.”

The Herald also has more on the ALBA bloc summit, which ended with member nations adopting a 23-point resolution committing them to launch public health campaigns, step up screening at border checkpoints and airports and create “specialized teams” to craft a national strategy to the disease in the event that it crosses the Atlantic.

News Briefs
  • A new poll on Brazil’s presidential field by Datafolha suggests that President Dilma Rousseff has gained some ground on her challenger Aecio Neves. The poll found 52 percent for Rousseff, compared to 48 percent for Neves. While the president’s lead is still within the margin of error, Veja notes that this is the first time that her support has been higher than Neves’ since the runoff phase of the race.
  • Also on the Brazilian elections, Michael Shifter offers an interesting analysis of the race in Foreign Policy. While both Neves and Rousseff have hurled accusations of corruption and nepotism at each other in the past three face-to-face debates, Shifter claims there has been relatively little discussion of their policy differences. This, he says, is due to the fact that there are remarkably few differences between the two, and their divisions “are more like those between Old Labour and New Labour in Britain.”
  • In an op-ed in today’s New York Times, Folha columnist Antonio Prata criticizes what he sees as his compatriots’ collusion with everyday corruption and low-level tax evasion schemes, even as they criticize politicians for more egregious versions of the same actions.
  • Panama has suspended a Supreme Court justice accused of using his proximity to former President Ricardo Martinelli to his own economic benefit, charges that have been bolstered by the revelation that he owns multiple luxury apartments that are seemingly outside his official pay range.
  • Analyst James Bosworth takes a look at Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s flagging popularity, with a new Datanalisis poll showing that 30 percent approve of his administration and 68 percent do not. Even more telling is the fact that 82 percent of Venezuelans say the country is not heading in a positive direction.
  • In an update of the race for OAS Secretary General, yesterday the government of Argentina officially endorsed Uruguayan Foreign Minister Luis Almagro for the job, El Observador reports. Argentina joins Chile, Brazil, Paraguay and -- of course -- Uruguay, meaning the entire Southern Cone is united behind the candidate.
  • The local chapters of international anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International voted over the weekend to elect the group’s next head, choosing Peruvian lawyer José Ugaz over French businessman Pascal Lamy. Ugaz received an endorsement from The Economist last week, which characterized him as the bolder choice of the two candidates, representing “the activist approach.”
  • The Miami Herald looks at a planned Clinton Global Initiative event in Miami this December, which former President Bill Clinton is set to unveil later today. The event is slated as an opportunity to reflect on the 20 years since the first Summit of the America, and as a way for policymakers and experts to assess what the next 20 years holds for the Americas.