Closing borders in Guantanamo

Por Rosa Martínez

Cuban health authorities giving their report.

HAVANA TIMES – The Cuban government has taken lots of measures to try and stop the COVID-19 outbreak here, which the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic just a few weeks ago.

Isolation is one of the measures that has proven most effective in avoiding transmission of this terrible virus. In Cuba, 67 cases have been reported up until now and they have all been imported. A total lockdown hasn’t been announced yet, which is to say that most workers are still going to work, except for teachers at every educational level, a few agencies that aren’t associated with production and services, and those who can work from home which are the rare few given the country’s own technological limitations.

Some people, myself included, take social isolation very seriously, as we know that this is the only way to prevent infection. I decided to be my family’s messenger/errand woman, that is to say that I am the only one who can come in and out of the house, and I always follow the safety measures I can to make sure I don’t bring any virus back with me, if I were to come into close contact with it, of course.

On the street, I keep my distance from people while I wait in lines – which is my main and almost the only reason I leave home (to look for food). I wear a mask I made at home, I try to not touch anything apart from what I’m going to buy, and the most difficult thing not only for me, but for everyone: when I run into friends or people I know, I greet them without hugs and kisses. A greeting without hugs and kisses has to be one of the strangest experiences for your average Cuban.

In my neighborhood, keeping yourself partially isolated or any other measure to prevent COVID-19 infection is a lot more difficult that wandering about the city’s streets.

As I’ve told you on different occasions, I live in a neighborhood on the outskirts of Guantanamo city, which means that most of my neighbors not only have a low purchasing power, but they are very friendly and talkative, and they think of each other as family.

And this familiarity is great in most situations, but awful under our current circumstances, as my neighborhood friends disregard the guidelines announced in the press and constantly move from one house to another, doing a favor, asking for something. Several of them meet up like they normally do to talk about some interesting matter, and nobody or nearly nobody is staying at home.

It’s true that we don’t have a confirmed case of COVID-19 here in Guantanamo yet, but does that really mean that we don’t have somebody walking about and spreading this virus left and right, without even knowing?

The country’s borders have been partially closed, at least to receiving citizens who aren’t Cuban residents; the Government took its long sweet time – most people recognize this – but it did finally close it. Now I find myself with the dilemma of finding a way to close our family border without hurting anyone’s feelings.

The truth is that I thought that it wouldn’t be so hard to set ourselves up at home in self-isolation what with how much information we have about how much havoc Coronavirus is wreaking all over the planet.

I just hope that when I do manage to close my border it isn’t at the same moment in time as when the country did it, which was a little too late.

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Rosa Martínez

Rosa Martinez: I am another Havana Times contributing writer, university professor and mother of two beautiful and spoiled girls, who are my greatest joy. My favorite passions are reading and to write and thanks to HT I’ve been able to satisfy the second. I hope my posts contribute towards a more inclusive and more just Cuba. I hope that someday I can show my face along with each of my posts, without the fear that they will call me a traitor, because I’m not one.

Rosa Martínez has 150 posts and counting. See all posts by Rosa Martínez

6 thoughts on “Closing borders in Guantanamo

  • I thank you again Nick. Yes, although Covid was rapidly crossing international boundaries irrespective of politics and although its threat was imminent, the Cuban Government was actually encouraging tourists to visit.
    You and I Nick share a concern for Cubans. You have put your finger upon the problematic areas of tourism and agriculture. We live in one of Cuba’s best agricultural areas with wonderful soils – an outdoor greenhouse, but sit in frustration when we observe programs on TV showing potatoes being hand gathered, bagged and loaded on trucks with commentators praising ANAP only a couple of miles away and yet are unable to purchase a single spud locally – even on the mercado negra.
    But the decline in tourism following Trump’s various actions resulted in over 300 tourist guides being laid off last October. That implies a severe reduction in tourist numbers.
    As one of the HT contributors wrote:
    “Today is about surviving. As individuals, families, nations and species.”

  • Contrary to popular belief, air filtration systems on airoplanes are similar to operating theatres, the risk of contamination comes from armrests, trays & tv screens, clean before you sit.

  • Glad to hear that you are safe and well Mr MacD. I hope your family (including all Cuba in-laws) are well too.
    Unlike the (badly named) Spanish Flu of a century ago which discriminated against a younger age group, this virus, if caught, is particularly dangerous for those in an older age group. I’m aware that you’re ‘no spring chicken’, so keep washing those masks and stay safe.
    As you would probably be aware, the ‘Spanish Flu’ did not come from Spain. Due to it’s neutrality during WW1, Spain was one of the few countries that had a ‘free press’ at the time so news of the deadly virus was first reported there. Hence it’s name.
    Many would say that reporting was restricted in other countries because they didn’t want such a fearful outbreak of news to interrupt their warfare. The number of victims is a matter of estimation. Somewhere between a few million and a hundred million? Whatever this number was, it represented a sizeable percentage of the global population at the time and would have undoubtably been far fewer were it not for the reporting restrictions.
    I cancelled a planned trip to Cuba due to this current virus. Obviously I regard this as a tiny inconvenience compared to what is now unfolding across the world. At least I avoided the airport experience you describe.
    Rosa is right that the Cuban Government were slow to react. As I said in a previous post, this would be largely due the bad decision years ago to put all the economic eggs in the tourism basket. Their bad decisions regarding agriculture and the lack of food self-sufficiency will also now come sharply into focus.
    The Cuban Government were not the only one to react slowly to the virus outbreak. The British Government (I know you are partial to a Churchill quote) eventually ‘did the right thing after exhausting all other options’.
    The actions of governments, regardless of their ideology, can make dramatic differences to the death toll. I cannot imagine that any government will be as irresponsible as those of a century ago.
    Obviously the responsible actions of individuals can also reduce the death toll.
    Stay safe.

  • Masks are however Stephen still preferable, those who wear spectacles having an additional benefit. I wore a mask for over four hours continuously on an aircraft without having to adjust it. But it was then replaced by a fresh one. Masks ought to be replaced every few hours (3 is probably ideal). The used masks should be given a very thorough washing prior to re-use.
    The risks of flying in aircraft with re-circulation of air, combined with close proximity of many others, along with the conditions in airports (joining the line-up at Jose Marti when I left lasted one hour and fifty eight minutes) are another hazard. Cuba wasn’t doing any temperature testing, it just wanted everybody out.
    But truly Cuban to the last, they have a new State scam. Only certain foreign currencies not CUC, can be used in the waiting area with change given in US dollars, to enable them to deduct a further 10% if you buy another pop or coffee. Not much wonder Fidel’s picture looks smug! Es Cuba!

  • Here in Canada reliable health officials say wearing a mask does not prevent one from getting CORVID-19. They will tell you the virus enters the body from only three orifices located on the face: mouth, nose, eyes. The mask is suited for the mouth and nose but cannot be used on one’s eyes. Therefore, if someone with the virus is close by and coughs the air droplets from the cough can enter the neighbor’s eyes.

    Moreover, the hands are a major transmitter of the virus. Those wearing a mask must often adjust their mask, or taking it on and off, putting their potentially infected hands to their face which is exactly what health professionals worn you not to do. Washing hands is paramount; keep your hands away from the face as much as possible. If one is infected one does not need to wear a mask because the person needs to be in self isolation or better still in a health care facility away from people.

    Masks (usually with a screen over the entire face), of course, need to be worn by doctors and health care professionals in health facilities to protect themselves from patients who are infected or may be infected.

    The Canadian health officials, very much like all other worldly medical professionals, advocate social distancing of 2 meters (6 feet) from person to person when in public, washing hands regularly, and staying home away from other persons. Extremely tough things to do when the Cuban culture and society is an antithesis to these three precautions.

  • Very interesting photograph of the “Cuban health authorities wearing masks. In the photograph they are actually reporting to President Diaz-Canel, Prime Minister Marrero and the Vice Prime Minister and it is the Minister of Public Health – he is the one with the mask down who is talking.

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