Friday, May 11, 2012

Sección Constante 3: AIDS in Cuba According to "The New York Times"

The two dozen mercenary wars of aggression on the African continent in which Fidel Castro involved Cuba over the last 53 years, always on the side of the most brutal and genocidal of the belligerents, and ostensibly under the banner of "internationalism" — which simply meant the promotion of the Soviet Union's geopolitical interests — are responsible, among other evils, for the introduction of AIDS to Cuba, which now harbors 21 strains or mutations of the virus, more than are found in any other country outside of Africa, with 11 of the 21 being unique to the island. Cuba is, in fact, a "wildlife preserve" for AIDS, which only the most draconian measures, such as can only be implemented in a society with no civil or human rights, prevented from exploding into a national pandemic on a scale never before seen in modern history.

The New York Times, in a front page article in its Science Section [May 8], entitled "A Regime's Tight Grip on AIDS," identifies this genetic variety of AIDS strains as "a legacy of [Cuba's] foreign aid." So initiating or escalating wars that cost millions of African lives and not a few Cuban lives as well was in fact a beneficent act of the State. The 12-year Angolan War, which lasted longer than any previous conflict in Cuban history and four times longer than the Cuban Revolution, was no more than a "foreign aid" program — the Cuban Peace Korps, if you will — which considerably and considerately reduced the number of natives killed by AIDS by shooting them before they contracted AIDS. As for the "doctors, teachers and engineers" also sent to Africa as "internationalists" — which The Times does not distinguish from the soldiers, hoping to disguise the soldiers' mission as a humanitarian one — they also were under the control of the Cuban military and acted in support of it. The "foreign aid" that these "internationalists" rendered in Africa as the Gurkhas of Soviet Empire added immeasurably to the misery of that beleaguered continent and threatened also the well-being of their own country. Castro brought Cubans to Africa, and Cubans brought AIDS to Cuba.

It is strange that Ronald Reagan is still blamed for fostering AIDS with his silence, while Fidel Castro, who is personally responsible for introducing AIDS to Cuba, is now acclaimed as "prescient" by The Times for taking politically-incorrect measures, including forced quarantine, to combat the virus. Can you imagine what The Times' reaction would have been if Reagan or even a president it actually liked had tried to implement similar measures here? You don't have to imagine it because The Times carried out a great preemptive campaign in the 1980s to make sure that the civil rights of people with AIDS and HIV were not compromised in any way in this country, even if this meant discarding traditional medical protocols for dealing with infectious diseases. But now the position of The Times appears to be that one can't argue with success and it is convinced that "there is no question that [Cuba's methods] have succeeded" because "it had an early and effective response to the epidemic" while the U.S supposedly did not: "[Cuba's] infection rate is 0.1 percent, on a par with Finland, Singapore and Kazakhstan. That is one-sixth the rate of the U.S., one-twentieth [that] of nearby Haiti." Personally, I'm more impressed by Haiti's progress because at least we know that its health statistics, which are compiled by the World Health Organization (WHO), are not "cooked up" by Castro's medical propaganda office, as Nick Eberstadt of the Harvard Center for Population Studies proved years ago.

Besides "the government's harsh early tactics — until 1993, everyone who tested positive for HIV was forced into quarantine," The Times identifies four "other elements [that] have contributed to Cuba's success: it has free universal basic health care; it has stunningly high rates of HIV testing; it saturates its population with free condoms, concentrating on high-risk groups like prostitutes; it gives teenagers graphic safe-sex education; [and] it rigorously traces the sexual contacts of each person who tests positive." The Times does not realize, apparently, that these other elements are, in their own way, as coercive as forced quarantine, and a continuation of, rather than a departure from, those "early harsh methods." "Universal basic health care" in Cuba means that you have no choice but to submit to whatever the State determines is in your best interest and the best interest of society. There is no "opting out" of this absolute control because there are no alternatives to it (that is, no private insurance, no private doctors and no private hospitals). The "stunningly high rates of HIV testing" are possible because testing is not voluntary: the State decides who will be tested, when they will be tested and how often they will be tested. If Cuba "saturates its population with condoms," it is the only thing it "saturates" them with. At the height of the Special Period in the 1990s, when Cuba was in the grip of not only AIDS but famine, condoms were universally melted and used as a cheese substitute in homemade pizzas. The fact that now condoms are chiefly distributed among prostitutes suggests that the Cuban regime is interested in protecting sex tourists, not the general population. If it were interested in protecting Cubans it would not promote the island's tourism industry on the basis of its sex trade. The "graphic safe-sex education" for teenagers does not require parental consent since all children in Cuba are legally wards of the State, which may decide, without consulting the parents, all facets of their lives and education. And, finally, the State does "rigorously trace the sexual contacts of each person who tests positive," and the word "rigorously" here means punitively, since a failure to disclose such contacts can still get you confined for life at a state sanitarium. Moreover, homosexuals with HIV or AIDS who are known or presumed to be promiscuous are just as forcibly committed to state institutions as they were before 1993.

"By contrast [to Cuba]," The Times notes, the response in the United States [to AIDS] is "feeble" [italics mine.]" "Feeble," because the U.S. has a functional rather than an ornamental Constitution; "feeble," because it has an American Civil Liberties Union which fought in the courts against mandatory disclosure of HIV status; "feeble," because it has hundreds of advocacy groups for AIDS and Cuba doesn't have even one; "feeble," because its liberal media, led by The New York Times, opposed all measures that would protect society at the expense of an individual's supposed "right to privacy;" "feeble," in sum, because the United States is not a one-party dictatorship which aggregates to itself every power and is above every law.

I still did not expect The New York Times, however enamored it might be with Cuba's "robust" AIDS policy, to use the words "mere" and "only" when referring to the number of Cuban casualties from AIDS or the number of Cuban AIDS cases. And yet it did. Communist Cuba, it reports, "has one of the world's smallest epidemics, a mere 14,038 cases" and "only 2,364 Cubans have [died of AIDS]." As usual, The Times will renounce all its cherished principles and even its hallowed prejudices in order to praise Fidel Castro. And henceforth we can expect the words "mere" and "only" to be banned as qualifiers for AIDS cases or AIDS deaths reported in The Times. True adulation reveals itself in the exceptions that it makes without justification or apology.

The article profiles a Dr. Jorge Pérez Avila, who is described as "Cuba's best-known AIDS doctor." Dr. Pérez, we are told, "has memories of helping his bus driver father make gasoline bombs to throw at the police during the Batista government" (we doubt that any such bomb was ever thrown at the "police"). "As a teenager he dropped out of school to live in the mountains, teaching villagers to read under a literacy program after Castro came to power." That's as far as Dr. Pérez's exemplary vita curriculum goes before he discharges the office for which he has been introduced, namely, to exalt Fidel Castro:

"In 1983, Fidel Castro visited the Pedro Kourí Institute, Cuba's top tropical disease hospital, to hear a presentation on malaria and dengue fever.

"As it ended, he suddenly asked the director, "Gustavo, what are you doing to keep AIDS from entering Cuba?

"Dr. Gustavo Kourí, son of the Institute's founder, was caught off guard, Dr. Pérez said, and stammered: 'AIDS, comandante, AIDS? It is a new disease. We don't even know whether it's produced by a bacteria, a virus or a fungus. There isn't much data on it, just what's been reported in the United States and a few cases in Europe. It will take time to know how big it is.'

"Mr. Castro replied: I think it will be the epidemic of this century. And it's your responsibility, Gustavo, to stop it becoming a major problem here.'

"This was before any American president publicly uttered the word 'AIDS.' Asked how Mr. Castro could have been so prescient, Dr. Pérez struggled to find the right word, then said: 'Castro has luz larga" — 'big lights,' the Cuban slang for automobile high beams. 'He reads a lot. He sees far ahead.'"

Now take a breath because swallowing that cannot have been easy.

A doctor who does not object to having confidential mail from his patients intercepted and read by Fidel Castro — presumably because the letters cast him in a good light — and literally "led a '¡Viva, Fidel!' cheer at his hospital's World AIDS Day" festivities, does not seem the ideal source to attest to Castro's "prescience," and his retelling, 30 years later, of a conversation to which he was not a party, and which casts Castro as the all-knowing hero of Cuba's fight against AIDS, would try the credulity of anyone except a New York Times reporter or editor.

While indulging such anecdotal sycophancy, The New York Times, not surprisingly, failed to mention in the article the biggest AIDS story out of Cuba in the 1990s — the widespread self-contamination with the virus, through improvised transfusions of contaminated blood (yes, blood transfusions, not needle sharing) by disaffected youth seeking shelter and better food in AIDS sanitariums. But, of course, that would sound a discordant note in The Times' rhapsody to a "Cuban society that is the opposite of puritanical [whorish?]; [where] scanty clothing is routine [because clothing is scarce]; and suggestive flirtation is common [is there any other kind?]. 

You would think that after nearly 60 years of covering Fidel Castro and being lied to and defrauded by him, The New York Times had learned its lesson. Unfortunately, it seems that every generation of Timesmen must learn the same lesson over and over again. There is no collective memory at the so-called "newspaper of record," only permanent amities and enmities. Fidel Castro has been on The Times' "Friends List" longer than any other foreign dictator. The Times has always had a vested interest in his success since Castro is so much its own creation. Every failure — and there have been only failures — has caused The Times to redouble its efforts on his behalf; and even as he totters on the edge of the grave, it still has his back. Since Castro seized power in 1959, The New York Times has never published an editorial calling on him (or his brother) to relinquish power. Loyalty such as that would be worthy of admiration if its beneficiary were not an enslaver of men.

Finally, The Times needs to do a little fact checking: Fidel Castro has never publicly said that he regrets imprisoning homosexuals in labor camps, but that he wasn't told about it at the time (his "prescience" must have failed him then); the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution are not "defenders of Cuban democracy;" and the purchase of U.S. medicines by Cuba has never been prohibited by the trade embargo.

I have just realized that I neglected to credit the author of this screed, which seemed to me a group effort even if not identified as such. In any case, the byline belongs to Donald G. McNeil, Jr., identified by The Times as "a science and health reporter specializing in plagues and pestilences," who is shown in his official Times bio posing next to the rear end of a camel. In the picture (soon to be taken down, no doubt), McNeil looks more like an Arabist than a chronicler of plagues.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Sección Constante 2: "Gud Bai Presidente"

Hugo Chávez must really be dying. The New York Times is disgorging itself of its accumulated cache of puff pieces on the Venezuelan dictator in the hope that it will do him some good, since psychologically it appears that he's failing even faster than physically, and his psyche was never as dependable as his stamina. The article in The Times Sunday Magazine [May 6], entitled "Must Watch Television. Literally," and subtitled "Hugo Chávez's long-running, totally bizarre talk show, 'Aló Presidente,' is a throwback to an earlier era and a completely different kind of reality TV," unravels in the first paragraph whose concluding sentence can also serve for its motif: "The show is entirely unscripted." It is also "compelling, especially from afar," "surreal and even slightly voyeuristic," "part performance art and part gleeful absurdism," instinct with a "wacky quality" and "exuberant weirdness," which left the author "fascinated," "puzzled and entertained" -- and even "mildly thrilled" -- by "the most real reality show I'd ever seen," and again, within the same paragraph, "the only really real reality show out there." When Donald Trump "fires" an "apprentice," it's not real. But when Hugo Chávez fires a judge, he had better flee the country if he can and while he can. Yes, reality doesn't get any more real than that. A gun at your back is always real and compelling. Whether it should be "entertaining" or "mildly thrilling" to a third party is another question.

The author, Rachel Nolan, first saw clips of Chávez's show while following him on Twitter. Later she must have acquired the complete collection, of, say, a 1000 DVDs, and admits to watching "Aló Presidente" for hours on end. In what is undoubtedly the highest compliment that The Times can pay to Chávez or anybody, Nolan writes that "one precedent for his show is F.D.R.'s fireside chats" (which proves that she never listened to those). Another precedent, unmentioned by Nolan, is Joseph Goebbels' weekly "guns or butter" radio exhortations. Chávez's television persona has little in common with Roosevelt's dignified avuncular presentation, but there is a direct line of descent from Goebbels' on-air histrionics, with the same name-calling and threats, real and veiled. Chávez's buffoonery, however, is copied from his mentor Fidel Castro, who was always a carnival barkman for big and small ideas whose time had passed; and his show, in particular, is inspired by Castro's last performance on state television in an infomercial for a (defective) rice cooker, which he boasted could "make more rice with less rice."

Chávez's own bizarre conduct on "Aló Presidente" — which shames all self-respecting Venezuelans — Nolan is inclined to excuse because (quoting Enrique Krauze) "it gives Venezuelans at least the appearance of contact with power" (the kind of "empowerment" experienced by Hitler's German shepherds), and because, in her own estimation, "it would be hard to overstate the pride that Venezuela's poorest and most marginalized feel in having a black-white-indigenous man as their democratically [?] elected president." To say that this alleged "pride would be hard to overstate" — that is, that almost any exaggeration of it would be allowed — calls into question the very thing that is being claimed. It would be as ridiculous to assert that the 50%+ of the population that do not support Chávez (who are, also, overwhelmingly non-white) are ashamed of him because he is black-white-indigenous like them. If Chávez were white, of course, the author would write about the pride that Venezuelans feel in having as their president a white man who feels and acts, with and for, the black-white-indigenous people. The U.S. media did that for Bill Clinton when they labelled him "the first African-American president;" surely they would have acclaimed Chávez the "white hope" of the mestizos if he had not himself been one. It is Chávez's politics that matter to the media elite, not his color. Batista wasn't white, and the pride that Cuba's poor and marginalized felt for this self-made-man was so great that they sat out Castro's middle-class revolution. Of course that did not stop The New York Times from supporting Castro.  

The repeated suspension of "Aló Presidente" while Chávez seeks medical treatment in Cuba is more newsworthy today than the show itself ever was. This hiatus or "non-show" is Venezuela's version of "Beat the Clock," except that if Chávez can't an entire nation wins. And not just Venezuelans. Cubans also have an interest in the outcome, although history has shown that the Castros can survive without a sucker to stake them, and have no compunction at all — in fact, may prefer — to starve the Cuban people into submission rather than lull them into complacency with half rations. The co-dictators' only concern is that without Venezuela's oil they may actually have to liquidate some of the family's foreign assets to underwrite the machinery of repression on the island. That would hurt them, and both Fidel and Raúl have a very low threshold for pain as most sadists do.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Sección Constante 1

JMB received a visit this week from the Justice Department (or "" as it's identified on Sitemeter). It was brought here on May 2 by a Google search for "May 20, 1902." Now this is interesting. It used to be the custom under President George Bush to celebrate Cuban Independence Day at the White House. Obama discontinued the practice, whether because he did not wish to offend the Castro regime, which abolished its commemoration after it had declared Cuba a Marxist state; or because the Cuban-American worthies who were traditionally invited to this affair by Bush were not to Obama's liking nor he to theirs. It would appear, however, that the Obama administration may be reconsidering its decision this year, for two reasons: because it's an election year and Florida is as important this time around as it was in 2000; and because it now has its own coterie of "House Cubans" that it can invite, including Saladrigas, one Fanjul, and Joe García. I should not be surprised if my old nemesis Alejandro ("Alex") Barreras took my old nemesis Val Prieto's place at this event.

In any case, you can read what the Justice Department found so interesting here. And if you want to know what is this "Sección Constante," go here.


What does a six-year old Cuban boy who saw his mother drown and was himself almost eaten by sharks have in common with a blind Chinese man under house arrest who scaled a 20 foot wall before undertaking a perilous 300-mile trek on his country's underground railroad? Well, of course, Elián González and Chen Guangcheng shared the same quest for freedom and the same destination, and when it seemed that they were at last in possession of what they sought and clearly deserved, their hard-won prize was taken from them because of political expediency, moral equivalence, and the congenital inability of U.S. liberals to tell right from wrong, or good from evil, which too often leads them to put their faith in tyrants and dismiss the witness of their victims.


Nobody has said it so I guess somebody should: the Pope and Cardinal Ortega killed Bishop Agustín Román. He died of a broken heart because he believed in his church and in his country. Nowadays, it is not possible to believe in both. Either you desire a free Cuba or what the Catholic Church desires for Cuba: resignation to slavery and an entente cordiale with the slave masters.