Covid, Cuba, and Human Rights

by Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

As we approach what many people hope is the end of the COVID-19, or I should say the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, let us consider a few things that we need to think about. First, while it is imperative that everyone be vaccinated, we still do not have a vaccination against this virus for children. Second, coronaviruses mutate. There are over 200 head cold viruses and most of them are coronaviruses. So, SARS-CoV-2 is probably endemic, meaning that we will have to contend with it in some form in perpetuity. Remember the Influenza Pandemic of 1918 killed roughly 50,000,000 million people worldwide. Yet, we no longer fear the flu because the flu is easily diagnosed and treatable. So, here’s the skinny: We need a couple of highly successful treatments for SARS-CoV-2; and we also need a test that can be administered where any healthcare professional can tell you whether you tested positive or negative in a matter of minutes. We’re not quite there yet, so be careful. This brings me to the crisis unfolding in Cuba.

As a Black American historian with some Afro-Cuban roots, the island nation has always been of interest to me personally. As I type this, however, the romanticized idea of Cuba that so many of us Black Americans hold—myself included—is dissolving before our eyes as Cubans, and particularly Afro-Cubans, have taken to the streets in protest against the harsh abuses they experience courtesy of state-sponsored police. The pandemic has exacerbated an old problem. While it would be easy to blame the USA for its decades-long (and unnecessarily punitive) embargo against Cuba, I am learning from Afro-Cubans on the ground that the USA’s embargo is not the primary cause of their hardships and grievances.

Many Black Americans are all too familiar with the late Fidel Castro’s visit to the USA where he deliberately stayed in Harlem with us. I remember the late Kwame Ture (né Stokely Carmichael) received medical care on the island. Then there is Black activist and fugitive Assata Shakur who received asylum on the island and has lived there for decades. Therefore, we Black Americans were not prepared to hear or fully accept what we were seeing on the ground in Cuba, namely young Cubans throwing rocks and bottles at police officers, marching in the streets, denouncing Castro, and telling Black American pundits to hush up because none of us have a clue what these young folks have been dealing with. And I have to agree; it is time for us Black Americans to stand down, shut up, and listen without the American-centricity we all carry but often fail to acknowledge.

I wrote back in January of this year that I wanted President Joe Biden to return to Obama-era normalization with Cuba. I still stand by that wish because as the government of Cuba has exported its best doctors to other countries to pay the island’s bills, it has also done so at the expense of the health and well-being of Cubans on the island. The medical miracle that Cuban medicine has been (a vaccination for meningitis, successfully preventing an HIV-positive mother from transmitting the virus to her unborn child, and fighting Ebola) is threatened by a more systemic problem that we do not want to face—plain, old-fashioned racism that Cuba claimed was finished decades ago, and a government that silences anyone that disagrees with its policies, which has apparently been in place for decades.

Right now the American Embassy in Cuba warns Americans not to visit Cuba due to potential violence and the continued spread of SARS-CoV-2. Biden unfortunately intends to sanction individual members of Cuban government. Sanctions have not worked, ever. As material shortages have always been a problem on the island for at least 5 decades, the pandemic has pushed everyone to their limits. Many Cuban protestors have stated that the folks in the government are eating and living just fine. Yet, the masses of Cubans now face severe food and medical shortages, and incarceration and/or death for daring to speak out about the abuses they suffer. Even worse, many Afro-Cubans complain that we don’t listen to what they are truly trying to tell us.

I still believe that the coordinated efforts of Cuban doctors, American doctors, and scientists from around the world can help us stem the tide of this pandemic, where, at minimum this disease only remains as a treatable and preventable disease. Yet, I also know that history tells us that any revolution that goes on too long eventually imitates the regime it was trying to replace. We must also be prepared to acknowledge and work toward a future where we Black Americans listen first to our kith and kin Afro-Cubans to stem the tide of state-sponsored racism, murder, and deprivation that they face—And those diseases are far more difficult to treat than any virus.

Copyright © by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

This blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives-4.0 International License. Any partial or total reference to this or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: https://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

Of Violence and LO$$

By Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © by Leslye Joy Allen

As the Trump administration orders and sanctions attacking immigrant women and children with teargas at the US-Mexico border, let’s consider the long term effects, not just in terms of human physical and psychological suffering which will go on for the rest of these women and children’s lives, but what it can cost the United States. I offer you two smaller historic examples: Atlanta, Georgia in 1906 and Birmingham, Alabama in 1963.

For the record, I am the granddaughter of an Atlanta Race Riot survivor. My maternal grandmother Lorena, born in 1886, was a 20-year-old student at Clark College when the Atlanta Race Riot broke out over roughly three days in 1906.  Georgia’s candidates for governor claimed that Black people, graduating from our numerous historically Black colleges, were going to take over and rule over White people in the city.  Of course there was also the usual rhetoric about Black men raping White women. So, on September 22, 1906 an angry mob of Whites began to attack Black people and Black businesses in Atlanta’s downtown area.  I won’t bore you with the details except to say that my grandmother and Black scholar, W. E. B. DuBois basically said the same thing: If White folks began the riot against Black people, it was Black people who ended it. Everybody who was Black bought or stole a gun.  By September 24 the riot was over. Black Atlantans did not just fight back, they shot back. My grandmother remembered the sounds of gunfire well into the night. Grandma roomed with a lady and her small daughter on Thirkield Avenue near where the original Clark College campus used to be, long before any colleges and universities in Atlanta had dormitories.  You can read more about the riot here: Atlanta Race Riot of 1906

As Atlanta’s population shrunk, due to deaths as well as from people who fled the city in the aftermath of the the riot, the City Fathers—always, always keeping an eye on business—vowed to never let anything like this happen again.  They weren’t playing.  They created interracial coalitions, successfully defended a Black man charged with the rape of a white woman who misidentified him as her assailant—and he lived to tell about it!  From that point on, measures were taken not to make Black people socially equal, but to insure that the city didn’t descend into violence and chaos…Now, take Birmingham, Alabama.

In a nutshell, when Commissioner Bull Connor ordered Birmingham’s fire department to turn its hoses on innocent Black children and adolescents and ordered the police to unleash dogs against Black protestors, the whole world saw it unfold on television. Whatever steps Birmingham took to alter this image were minimal; and the city went from being the number one industrial city in the South to being abandoned by businesses that would not, could not operate in a city filled with violence and destruction.  Birmingham survived, but it never fully recovered nor regained the title of industrial giant. You can watch a couple of quick videos about this here: Bull Connor used fire hoses, police dogs on protestors (May 3, 1963) (videos)

So, what is my point. Because Trump ordered the US Military and Border Patrol to unleash tear gas on innocent immigrant women and children at the US-Mexico border, the entire nation suffers. In addition to these actions being immoral and inhumane and illegal, it also sets a precedent that will inevitably provide other nations the excuse to mistreat and mishandle US citizens once they set foot on foreign soil. It also tells major corporations that the United States is not safe to do business in.  If Trump supporters—and there are many of them—don’t give a rat’s ass about people of color, that’s their prerogative.  Their hatred is nothing new; and people of color have neither the time to pray for or worry about converting “the unconvertable” to anything resembling people with basic human decency.  These are not and never have been rational people. Yet, in addition to these immigration policies being heartless and cruel, these policies are really, really bad for business.

The white business people who court and bait white racists and xenophobes and sexists and misogynists of all colors and ethnicities, along with the white politicians who tell these white masses that their world is coming to an end—because people of color are ending it—have proven for centuries that Money is their God. In a week where General Motors announced its laying off 15,000 American workers while the company enjoys a Trump tax cut; in a week where Trump is attempting to build a wall at the US-Mexico border and doesn’t have any way of forcing Mexico to pay for it; in a week where Mueller’s Russia investigation seems to have Trump constantly spinning the news and tweeting endlessly, I hope the folks who follow/ed Trump, who are so easily duped every single time, I hope they can learn to live with less money.  They could, very soon, find out the true cost of hate—the only cost any of them ever understands.

Copyright © by Leslye Joy Allen

This blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: https://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.