TIME ebola

Why Cuba Is So Good at Fighting Ebola

The first members of a team of 165 Cuban doctors and health workers unload boxes of medicines and medical material from a plane upon their arrival at Freetown's airport to help the fight against Ebola in Sierra Leone, on October 2, 2014. Florian Plaucheur—AFP/Getty Images

It's the only country besides the U.S. to send substantial human resources to West Africa

As the first nation to dedicate hundreds of health care workers to West Africa, Cuba is an unlikely hero in the Ebola outbreak.

In spite of not being among the wealthiest countries, Cuba is one of the most committed when it comes to deploying doctors to crisis zones. It has offered more than 460 Cuban doctors and nurses to West Africa, and currently, 165 are working there under the direction of the World Health Organization (WHO). More than 50,000 health care workers from Cuba are working in 66 countries around the world.

“Cuba is world-famous for its ability to train outstanding doctors and nurses,” said WHO director Margaret Chan in a Sept. press conference announcing Cuba’s surge of health care workers. In the same meeting, Cuban Minister of Health Roberto Morales Ojeda called on all countries to “join the struggle against this disease.”

But why is Cuba so uniquely prepared to treat Ebola? It comes down to a national priority that even has its own name, coined by academics: “Cuban Medical Internationalism.”

Cuba’s global health crisis response system is a Doctors Without Borders-like program, but instituted by the government. When Cuban doctors graduate medical school, they are given the opportunity to volunteer to be called upon for medical missions, like an Ebola outbreak or a natural catastrophe. Often, these are one to two-year commitments. To prepare for something like Ebola, health care workers not only undergo aggressive training for the specific disease they are treating, but they also take courses on the region’s culture and history as well.

“This is something built into the psyche of Cuban doctors and nurses—the idea that ‘I am a public servant,’” says Gail Reed, co-founder of Medical Education Cooperation with Cuba (MEDICC). “It’s coming from a commitment to make health care a universally accepted right.”

It started around 1960, shortly after the Cuban Revolution. A massive earthquake killed up to 5,000 people in Chile, and Cuba sent health care workers into the disaster aftermath. A few years later, a medical team of more than 50 people went into war-torn Algeria. In 1998, two major hurricanes—Georges and Mitch—ravaged Latin America and the Caribbean. Once again, Cuba went in. Even during Hurricane Katrina, a team of Cuban doctors trained to go into the U.S., but President Bush said it wasn’t necessary.

In 1998, Cuban medical teams discovered that they were treating a lot people who had never before had access to doctors, and they decided that leaving the health care systems as they found them was irresponsible. So Cuba founded the Latin American Medical School (ELAM), which offers scholarships to low-income students from around the world with the expectation that they will graduate and return to their home countries as health workers.

“There are not many schools founded on the belief that poor people can become doctors and serve their community and be part of the solution,” says Reed. More than 23,000 physicians from low-income communities in 83 countries (even the U.S.) have graduated from ELAM, and nearly 10,000 are currently enrolled.

Not surprisingly, Cuba’s leadership in the current Ebola epidemic has become political in the U.S.—Republicans are angry that a CDC worker recently went to Cuba for an Ebola meeting. And many argue that Cuba’s motivations aren’t purely altruistic. Some countries pay Cuba for their services, though price tags differ by country.

Others argue that Cuba’s deep reverence for solidarity among the marginalized is the real motivator and that working in countries that don’t provide adequate care to their own citizens is a political statement. Besides payment, Cuba also gains international goodwill and cooperation between countries. “The very fact that Cuba is the only other nation than the United States to contribute human resources to the Ebola crisis in a big way creates enormous international political capital, especially when most nations are unwilling to send their own people into the center of the calamity,” says Robert Huish, an assistant professor of international development studies at Dalhousie University in Canada.

On Oct. 17, Fidel Castro wrote an op-ed in the country’s state-run newspaper, arguing the U.S. and Cuba should work together on Ebola, if only for better coordination. “We 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,” Castro wrote.

At the very least, the Cuban model has a message for the international community: that local people can work for the greater health of their homelands, and that constant preparation is more sustainable than being caught off-guard. “Cuba’s lesson for us is that health, and global health in particular, needs to be addressed with pro-active, forward-looking commitment to strengthening health systems, not just by reacting to [disaster],” says Huish. Aid groups like the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders have been calling for more physical boots on the ground, and so far Cuba has been the only country well poised to answer that call.

Read next: How Guinea Found the Best Way to Survive Ebola

TIME Foreign Policy

Records: Kissinger Made Plans to Attack Cuba

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger talks about his views and his new book "World Order" with Bob Schieffer on "Face the Nation" in Washington, Sept. 3, 2014.
Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger talks about his views and his new book "World Order" with Bob Schieffer on "Face the Nation" in Washington, Sept. 3, 2014. Chris Usher—Reuters

In several White House meetings, Kissinger advocated for strong action to stop Fidel Castro, fearful that his incursion in Africa was making the U.S. look weak

(NEW YORK) — U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger ordered contingency plans drawn up nearly 40 years ago to attack Cuba, incensed over the small island’s deployment of troops to Angola, according to declassified government documents posted online Wednesday.

In several White House meetings, Kissinger advocated for strong action to stop Castro, fearful that his incursion in Africa was making the U.S. look weak. He argued that Cuba’s actions were driving fears around the world of a wider race war that could spill over into Latin America and even destabilize the Middle East. In a series of contingency plans that followed, options ranged from a military blockade to airstrikes and mining of Cuban ports. But the documents also warned of heavy risks, including a wider conflict with the Soviet Union and a ground war to defend the U.S. Naval base at Guantanamo Bay.

“I think we are going to have to smash Castro. I don’t think we can do it before the election,” Kissinger told President Gerald R. Ford, according to a transcript of a Feb. 25, 1976 meeting in the Oval Office. Ford replied, “I agree.”

Jimmy Carter ultimately won the 1976 presidential election.

Kissinger, who had returned from a trip to Latin America, and told Ford that leaders in the region “are scared to death about Cuba. They are afraid of a race war.”

The documents were declassified by the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library at the request of the National Security Archive, which published them online Wednesday. An account of the episode is being published in a new book, “Back Channel to Cuba,” written by William M. LeoGrande, a professor at American University, and Peter Kornbluh, director of the Cuban Documentation Project at the National Security Archive.

At another Oval Office meeting on March 15, 1976, Kissinger said “even the Iranians are worried about the Cubans getting into the Middle East countries. I think we have to humiliate them. If they move into Namibia or Rhodesia, I would be in favor of clobbering them.”

Nine days later, Kissinger chaired a high-level “Special Actions Group Meeting” at the White House Situation Room to discuss options.

“If there is a perception overseas that we are so weakened by our internal debate so that it looks like we can’t do anything about a country of 8 million people, then in three or four years we are going to have a real crisis,”Kissinger said.

The contingency plans outlined military options from blocking outgoing Cuban ships carrying troops and war material to airstrikes against Cuban bases and airfields. The documents discussed risks, including the possibility that the Soviet Union would thwart a blockade by seizing or sinking ships. “Escalation to general war could result,” one document said.

The contingency plans sounded a cautious note about what sort of Cuban provocation would trigger a U.S. military response. They stated that while the “threshold” should be low if Cuba moves against U.S. territories, it should be “highest” for Africa.

TIME celebrities

Jay-Z and Beyonce Cleared Of Potential U.S. Sanction Violations

U.S. singer Beyonce and her husband rapper Jay-Z walk as they leave their hotel in Havana on April 4, 2013.
U.S. singer Beyonce and her husband rapper Jay-Z walk as they leave their hotel in Havana on April 4, 2013. Enrique De La Osa—Reuters/Corbis

Several Republicans criticized the famous couple for a trip they took to Cuba to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary

The Treasury Department said Wednesday that there was “no indication” that Beyoncé Knowles-Carter and her husband Jay-Z (Sean Carter) violated U.S. sanctions in Cuba in 2013.

The announcement Wednesday comes a year and four months after the famous couple took to a trip to the country to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary.

The department’s inspector general concluded that the Office of Foreign Assets Control, which issues licenses to organizations that sponsor educational exchange programs in Cuba, was “reasonable” for having passed on a formal investigation into the Carters’ visit, despite speculation in the media implying suspicious motives.

In April 2013, three Cuban-American Republicans—Sen. Marco Rubio and Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart—raised concerns that the Administration wasn’t properly enforcing the travel regulations between the U.S. and Cuba. At the time, the Treasury Department countered that the Carters’ trip was legal under a cultural exchange program.

Brushing off Republican speculation about his Cuban getaway, Jay-Z released “Open Letter,” featuring the lyrics: “Obama said, ‘Chill, you gonna get me impeached,’” he rapped. “You don’t need this s— anyway, chill with me on the beach.’”

“Politicians never did s— for me except lie to me, distort history,” he rapped. “They wanna give me jail time and a fine. Fine, let me commit a real crime.”

TIME Disasters

No, Fidel Castro’s Niece Wasn’t on the Algerian Plane

Mariela Castro, director of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education and daughter of Cuba's President Raul Castro, gives a press conference in Havana, Cuba on May 5, 2014.
Mariela Castro, director of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education and daughter of Cuba's President Raul Castro, gives a press conference in Havana, Cuba on May 5, 2014. Franklin Reyes—AP

"I’m alive and kicking"

Multiple news outlets reported Thursday that Cuban President Raul Castro’s daughter—Fidel Castro’s niece—was on the Air Algérie flight that disappeared earlier in the day, citing information from the airport in Burkina Faso. Mariela Castro, a sexologist and gay rights activist, is the director of Cuba’s National Center for Sex Education.

But she wasn’t on the flight.

“I’m at a meeting, happy and healthy,” she told the television network TeleSUR. “I’m alive and kicking.”

The Facebook post which appeared to have first reported the news was later deleted.




Google Boss Eric Schmidt Leads a Visit to Cuba

The New Digital Age - 2014 SXSW Music, Film + Interactive Festival
Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt speaks during the 2014 SXSW Festival in Austin on March 7, 2014 Heather Kennedy / Getty Images

The visiting team spent two days in the Cuban capital to encourage an open Internet

Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt has visited Cuba to promote “a free and open Internet,” the country’s independent online newspaper 14yMedio reported on Saturday.

Company executives Jared Cohen, Brett Perlmutter and Dan Keyserling also joined the trip, said the news site, which is run by dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez.

The visiting team reportedly “met with officials,” spoke “with youth at polytechnic schools” and visited the University of Computer Sciences.

According to AFP, Google’s visit was not reported in any official Cuban media.

In her blog, Generation Y, Sanchez wrote, “We didn’t ask him any questions, and we didn’t want any answers, we just told him who we are and what we are trying to do.”

U.S.-based Schmidt confirmed the business trip in a Google+ post and criticized the U.S. embargo on the Latin American country.

“Cuba will have to open its political and business economy, and the U.S. will have to overcome our history and open the embargo. Both countries have to do something that is hard to do politically, but it will be worth it,” he wrote.

Only government-approved professionals and specialists can access the Internet from their homes in Cuba.



Fidel Castro Apparently Irked By Comrades’ Neglect

Fidel Castro Makes Rare Public Appearance In Havana
Fidel Castro, Cuba's former President and revolutionary leader, makes a rare public appearance to attend the inauguration of an art gallery in Havana on Jan. 8, 2014 Sven Creutzmann—Mambo Photo/Getty Images

Cuba's 87-year-old ex-president acknowledged that he would have sent flowers for a deceased colleague, if only someone had told him about the funeral

Cuba’s ex-president Fidel Castro published a rare confession on the front page of a communist party daily Tuesday: His comrades are keeping him out of the loop.

CNN reports that Castro, 87, acknowledged that he missed the funeral of an old colleague, former volleyball coach Eugenio George, because no one had thought to tell him the news.

“Many comrades noticed the absence of a floral arrangement from us,” he wrote in Granma. “I always admired him but did not know of his passing until some hours later.”

The thinly-veiled rebuke comes as Castro’s role in state affairs quietly recedes from public view. Once famous for his four-hour-long speaking marathons and minute oversight of every facet of the economy, Castro relinquished power to his brother Raul Castro in 2008 after he was diagnosed for an undisclosed intestinal illness. He staged a brief return in 2012, writing hundreds of columns on issues ranging from international affairs to yoga, before retiring again from the public stage.




USAID Denies ‘Cuban Twitter’ Was Meant To Subvert

Rajiv Shah, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development testifies before a subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee April 8, 2014 in Washington, DC.
Rajiv Shah, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development testifies before a subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee April 8, 2014 in Washington, DC. Win McNamee—Getty Images

The government's international development agency has rebutted claims that the U.S. aimed for the social network ZunZuneo, which failed to nab a massive user base, to spark a revolution in Cuba as administrator Rajiv Shah prepares to be grilled by lawmakers

The administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development pushed back against reports it created a “Cuban Twitter” to foment revolution in the Communist country at a hearing on Capitol Hill Tuesday.

Senator Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs, which controls USAID spending, told USAID administrator Rajiv Shah that launching the social network in Cuba had been a “cockamamie idea.”

A recent report by the Associated Press described ZunZuneo, which is slang in Cuba for a hummingbird’s tweet, as a social network designed to “renegotiate the balance of power between the state and society” and incite a “Cuban spring.”

Leahy said the work USAID did in Cuba knowingly put government contractor Alan Gross, who has been imprisoned on the island for four years, in direct danger. He voiced concerns that the project’s discovery will put other USAID workers around the globe at risk.

But Shah, who took the helm in 2009, denied the program’s purpose extended beyond improving communication networks within the country. “Working to improve platforms of communication is a core part of what USAID works to do,” Shah said. “It’s inaccurate that [the program] goes beyond that.”

The government agency had published a blog post ahead of Shah’s testimony, saying that the AP’s story “makes for an interesting read, but it’s not true.” The article went on to rebut eight of the AP’s claims, denying there was any attempt to trigger unrest and saying ZunZuneo was merely an attempt to overcome the “information blockade” in Cuba.

Shah claimed he did not know whose idea it had been to set up the program.



Report: U.S. Officials Created a ‘Cuban Twitter’ to Overthrow Castro

Washington covertly made ZunZuneo, Cuban slang for a hummingbird's tweet, to woo mobile users with news stories. Once the platform's audience would balloon, the supposed—and failed—goal was to flood it with “content aimed at inspiring Cubans to organize ‘smart mobs'

Fifty-three years after the C.I.A. failed to overthrow Fidel Castro’s government with a group of armed Cuban exiles at the Bay of Pigs, the U.S. government is still trying to dislodge the Caribbean island’s communist regime, according to a new report.

The Associated Press, citing documents and people involved in the project, reports the U.S. government has been working covert backchannels with aid agencies funneling money through front companies for years to create a social media platform designed to “renegotiate the balance of power between the state and society.”

The social media platform called ZunZuneo, Cuban slang for a hummingbird’s tweet, was designed to entice the country’s mobile users with non-controversial news stories. Later, once the platform had engaged hundreds of thousands of followers, ZunZuneo was then supposed to be flooded with “content aimed at inspiring Cubans to organize ‘smart mobs.’”

During its peak, the service attracted 40,000 followers, but fizzled out due to funding issues among the front companies in 2012. In the end, the U.S. government’s Cuban social media platform failed to incite a revolution and Fidel’s brother Raul Castro remains firmly in power.


TIME World

Industrial Band Claims U.S. Government Used Their Music To Torture Gitmo Prisoners

Young man covering ears, shouting
Rainer Elstermann / Stone / Getty Images

Skinny Puppy invoiced the government through their album Weapon

While Bob Marley once said, “One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain,” music has a troubling history as a wartime torture device.

George Bush Sr. famously blasted Van Halen’s “Panama” to drive out Panamanian president Manuel Noriega from his refuge at the Vatican embassy. Metallica, AC/DC, Eminem, Barney the Dinosaur and even the MeowMix commercial (Meow Meow Meow Meow, (Meow Meow Meow Meow) have all been used by the government “to induce sleep deprivation, prolong capture shock, disorient detainees during interrogations – and also drown out screams.”

Vancouver’s iconic industrial rockers Skinny Puppy now believe they have joined the ranks of bands included on the government’s playlist.

“We heard through a reliable grapevine that our music was being used in Guantanamo Bay prison camps to musically stun or torture people,” said Skinny Puppy founder cEvin Key speaking to the Phoenix New Times. “We heard that our music was used on at least four occasions.”

The band decided to seek compensation from the U.S. government for using their music in such a way and issued them an “invoice” in the form of their 12th studio record. “We thought it would be a good idea to make an invoice to the U.S. government for musical services,” said Key. “Thus the concept of the record title, Weapons.

This is not the first time that the U.S. government has been under-fire from a band for using their music to torment inmates at Guantánamo Bay. Both Nine Inch Nail and Rage Against the Machine went after the government when they learned that their music was used to interrogate prisoners by being played at loud volumes for weeks at a time until inmates couldn’t take it anymore. Nine Inch Nail’s Trent Reznor and Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello petitioned the U.S. government for information about how their music was used and on whom.

Morello and Reznor also joined forces with the likes of R.E.M., Pearl Jam and the Roots to form a coalition of musicians fighting against the use of their music in interrogations. “Just as we wouldn’t be caught dead allowing Dick Cheney to use our music for his campaigns,” said the Roots in a statement, “you can be damn sure we wouldn’t allow him to use it to torture other human beings.”

Skinny Puppy agrees. “We never supported those types of scenarios,” Key said. “Because we make unsettling music, we can see it being used in a weird way. But it doesn’t sit right with us.”

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