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Brazil’s Covid wave hits pregnant women especially hard

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Brazil’s Covid wave hits pregnant women especially hard

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Following two difficult pregnancies, it seemed it might be third time lucky for Vanessa de Oliveira Silverio. But in her 34th week of gestation, she began to feel unwell and developed a cough. A coronavirus test returned positive, and breathing became difficult. 

“She was very scared. She said that she was afraid to die, of having a caesarean [birth] and the baby not surviving,” said Douglas Silverio, her husband. Yet it was Vanessa, 33, who died during an emergency operation to deliver her baby in March.

Her death is one of hundreds of such tragedies to strike families in Brazil, leading to a mortality rate among new or soon-to-be mothers that has alarmed doctors and public health experts.

In total, more than 1,600 pregnant or post-partum women have succumbed to the respiratory disease since the start of the pandemic, according to the Brazilian Obstetric Observatory.

A pregnant woman from Para state who was diagnosed with Covid-19 is taken to hospital © Tarso Sarraf/AFP via Getty Images

“Before the pandemic began, we already had a maternal death ratio of 55.3 for every 100,000 babies born alive, which is considered extremely high,” said Rossana Pulcineli Vieira Francisco, a professor at the University of São Paulo’s department of obstetrics and gynaecology who leads the research.

“It is not possible to say for sure that Brazil is the country where pregnant and post-partum women die the most by Covid, because there are not many population studies on death by Covid in these women,” added Francisco. “But we can certainly say that the numbers here are very high.”

Overall, maternal deaths in Brazil averaged 10 each week in the country during 2020, according to analysis by the observatory. This year that number has quadrupled to above 40, as mortality in the general population doubled. 

The pandemic exacerbated maternal mortality in Brazil; pregnancies and post-partum deaths in Brazil

Many explanations proposed echo those for the country’s wider coronavirus disaster, which has already claimed more than half a million lives. 

The Covid-19 death toll in Latin America’s most populous nation is the second-highest in absolute terms after the US, and seventh on a per capita basis, according to FT analysis.

In the case of pregnant women, experts blame the combination of a strained healthcare system, inadequate and unequal provision of services, a lack of experience in treating such patients and the circulation of a more contagious variant of the virus.

Dr Lílian Cristina Moreira, a paediatrician for Rio de Janeiro, said research showed around half the pregnant women in certain Brazilian states who died from coronavirus did not have access to an intensive care unit or intubation.

“In every 100 pregnant women diagnosed with Covid, 12 die. It’s very high. Whereas in the population, the fatality rate is 2.8 per cent,” she said.

Brazil has one of the world’s highest per capita Covid tolls; Total excess deaths per million people

Pregnancy suppresses a woman’s immune system, leaving her more vulnerable to infectious diseases, while pressure on abdominal organs and the diaphragm can restrict breathing. Together with greater inflammation, the body is under stress.

Although congenital infection with Covid-19 is thought to be rare, mothers without symptoms can pass the virus on to newborns. More than 600 children in Brazil under a year old have died from the illness during the pandemic, according to government data.

Multiple experts said they did not believe the Gamma, or P. 1, strain of Sars-Cov-2, which originated in the Amazon, was in itself more harmful to pregnant women. But its greater transmissibility — around twice that of earlier variants — has resulted in a surge of infections over recent months that sometimes overwhelmed hospitals.

A midwife in the western Para state bathes her pregnant daughter © Tarso Sarraf/AFP via Getty Images

The effective shutdown of many regular health services during the pandemic also affected the availability of prenatal classes and family planning services, Moreira added.

“We believe that pregnant women were more vulnerable due to access to the health system and socio-economic status”, she said. “Black women and poor women died more.”

Even where the proper facilities and equipment are available, medical personnel are often unprepared to deal with severely ill pregnant women, said Marcelo Otsuka, a doctor and co-ordinator at the Brazilian Society of Infectology.

Treatment involves finely balanced clinical decisions. What happened in Vanessa de Oliveira Silverio’s case haunts her widower, Douglas, who lives in the city of São José dos Campos, in São Paulo state. “The doctor said she was stable, and then she died,” he said. “One of the doctors told me they didn’t know why the caesarean didn’t happen earlier. If they had, would it have been more effective?”

Fabiana Alves Sousa, from Ceará state in the poorer north-east, credits medical intervention for saving her and her baby’s lives.

The 31 year-old underwent an emergency caesarean at almost 30 weeks of pregnancy after contracting coronavirus. Now she says her son, Benjamin, is “full of health”. But the experience left a mark on her: “There were several mothers with Covid. And many did not survive childbirth.”

Many health professionals cite a failure of public health policy as a factor. Critics accuse the government of a lax, even negligent, attitude to the pandemic that has contributed its spread.

With fears rising about the Delta variant, another highly contagious mutation, experts stress the importance of inoculations. To date, around 14 per cent of Brazil’s population of 212m is fully immunised against the virus.

Brazil’s health minister, Marcelo Queiroga, announced on Thursday the resumption of vaccinations for expectant and new mothers without comorbidities. They had been restricted to those with underlying conditions in May, following the death of a 35 year-old pregnant woman who received the AstraZeneca jab.

“More than 2.5m women are expected to benefit from this stage of immunisation,” he tweeted.

It will be too late for Douglas Silverio, who now faces bringing up his three children alone. He collected his youngest, Maria Helena, from hospital on the day of his wife’s requiem mass.

“It was a day of tears, and suddenly there was the relief of bringing my daughter home. I was happy.” 

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The Cuban Missile Crisis of 60 Years Ago Is Very Much with Us Today 

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The Cuban Missile Crisis of 60 Years Ago Is Very Much with Us Today 
A soldier poses for a photograph on the outer casing of an old, empty Soviet missile on exhibit at the military complex Morro Cabana, Cuba. (AP Photo / Ismael Francisco)

October 16 marks 60 years since the Cuban missile crisis — the 13-day standoff between the United States and the Soviet Union widely regarded as the closest we ever came to global nuclear war. On this anniversary, as we veer terrifyingly close to the brink of Armageddon once again, we should look to that crisis to guide us in resolving our present one.

On October 7, President Biden warned that in the Ukraine war, “for the first time since the Cuban missile crisis, we have a direct threat to the use of nuclear weapons.” The warning is well founded. Top Kremlin ally Ramzan Kadyrov, head of the Chechen Republic, recently wrote that Russia should consider “the use of low-yield nuclear weapons.” Russian TV and military blogs echo such suggestions. And Russian President Vladimir Putin has stressed that he is willing to use “all means” in the conflict.

It’s impossible to know whether Putin is willing to follow through on his threat. Harvard Kennedy School professor Matthew Bunn pegs the chances at about 10 to 20 percent. But we do know how to reduce the risk of catastrophe. The Cuban missile crisis proved that even in the face of potential nuclear devastation, de-escalation is possible and diplomacy can prevail.

Experts and scholars have relitigated the crisis for decades. But in recent years, archives and memoirs have clarified the picture of what happened during those 13 days starting on Oct. 16, 1962. The tale is clearly articulated in “Gambling With Armageddon,” a 2020 book by Pulitzer-winning historian Martin J. Sherwin that the New York Times declared “should become the definitive account” of the event. The book offers urgently relevant lessons — both about the circumstances that can bring humanity to the edge of annihilation and how we can step back from that brink.

One chilling reminder of how crises are sometimes averted was first offered by former secretary of state Dean Acheson in 1969. Reviewing “Thirteen Days,” Robert F. Kennedy’s posthumous memoir, Acheson, who advised President John F. Kennedy during the Cuba crisis, strikingly contended that nuclear war was averted thanks to “plain dumb luck.” Sure enough, it has since come to light that a nuclear missile came close to being fired not once but twice — once by the 498th Tactical Missile Group on Okinawa, Japan, and once by a Soviet submarine in Cuban waters. In both instances, the resistance of a single individual derailed a launch.

Of course, the world cannot rely on luck alone to prevent nuclear disaster. In 1962, according to political scientist Graham Allison, Kennedy put the odds of nuclear war “between one in three and even.” If Kennedy’s assessment was accurate, then after just a few more comparable confrontations, “the likelihood of nuclear war would approach certainty.” Humanity cannot afford to spin the cylinder again in this game of Russian roulette; we must unload the gun. Our only path forward is de-escalation.

And de-escalation, as Sherwin makes clear, begins with dialogue. During the Cuban missile crisis, people such as Gen. Curtis LeMay argued that negotiation was tantamount to appeasement. But levelheaded discussion is essential to avoiding certain doom. To sacrifice it in the name of jingoistic posturing is not just absurd; it’s potentially apocalyptic. As Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev recalled, “The biggest tragedy, as [my military advisers] saw it, was not that our country might be devastated and everything lost, but that the Chinese or the Albanians might accuse us of appeasement or weakness. … What good would it have done me in the last hour of my life to know that though our great nation and the United States were in complete ruins, the national honor of the Soviet Union was intact?”

Today, as the world faces the threat of obliteration once more, figures of all stripes are calling for dialogue to prevent doomsday. A small but growing list of progressive members of Congress (along with several peace advocacy organizations) are increasingly focused on how best to promote de-escalation and dialogue, inspired by a truth that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has himself maintained: This war “will only definitively end through diplomacy.” Pope Francis issued an unprecedented statement calling for global leaders “to do everything possible to bring an end to the war.” Even former secretary of state Henry Kissinger has reiterated the importance of dialogue. As he recently argued, “This has nothing to do with whether one likes Putin or not. … We are dealing, when nuclear weapons become introduced, with a historic alteration in the world system. And a dialogue between Russia and the West is important.”

We cannot waver from the conviction that nuclear weapons must never be used again under any circumstances. We would be wise at this grave moment to recall the lessons of history — encapsulated in Sherwin’s work — and repeat, loudly and often, the November 1985 declaration of President Ronald Reagan and Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev, restated as recently as January by the leaders of the five nuclear weapons states: “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”

Globetrotter______________________

Katrina vanden Heuvel is the editorial director and publisher of the Nation and is president of the American Committee for U.S.-Russia Accord (ACURA). She writes a weekly column at the Washington Post and is a frequent commentator on U.S. and international politics for Democracy Now, PBS, ABC, MSNBC and CNN. Find her on Twitter @KatrinaNation. This article is distributed by Globetrotter in partnership with The Nation.

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The Bewildering Vote in Chile That Rejected a New Constitution

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The Bewildering Vote in Chile That Rejected a New Constitution
Supporters of "I Reject" option react to early results of the referendum on a new Chilean constitution in Santiago, Chile, Sept 4, 2022. [Photo/Agencies]

On September 4, 2022, more than 13 million Chileans—out of a voting-eligible population of approximately 15 million—voted on a proposal to introduce a new constitution in the country. As early as March, polls began to suggest that the constitution would not be able to pass. However, polls had hinted for months at a narrowing of the lead for the rejection camp, and so proponents of the new constitution remained hopeful that their campaign would in the end successfully convince the public to set aside the 1980 constitution placed upon the country by the military dictatorship led by General Augusto Pinochet. The date for the election, September 4, commemorated the day that Salvador Allende won the presidency in 1970. On that date, those who wanted a new constitution suggested that the ghost of Pinochet—who overthrew Allende in a violent coup in 1973—would be exorcized. As it happened, Pinochet’s constitution remains in place with more than 61 percent of voters rejecting the new constitution and only 38 percent of voters approving it.

The day before the election, in the municipality of Recoleta (a part of Chile’s capital city of Santiago), Mayor Daniel Jadue led a massive rally in support of passing the new constitution. Tens of thousands of people gathered in this largely working-class area with the hope, as Jadue put it, of leaving behind the “constitution of abuses.” It, however, was not to be. Even in Recoleta, where Jadue is a popular mayor, the constitution was defeated. The new constitution received 23,000 more votes than Jadue had received in the last election—a sign that the number of voters on the left had increased—but the vote to reject the constitution was larger, which meant that new voters made a greater impact on the overall result.

On September 7, Jadue told us that he was feeling “calm,” that it was a significant advance that nearly 5 million Chileans voted for the constitution and that “for the first time we have a constitutional project that is written and can be transformed into a much more concrete political program.” There is “no definitive victory and no definitive defeat,” Jadue told us. People voted not only on the constitution but also on the terrible economic situation (inflation in Chile is more than 14.1 percent) and the government’s management of it. Just as the 2020 plebiscite to draft a new constitution was a punishment for former President Sebastián Piñera, this was a punishment for the Boric government’s inability to address the problems of the people. Jadue’s “calm” stems from his confidence that if the left goes to the people with a program of action and is able to address the people’s needs, then the 5 million who voted for the constitution will find their numbers significantly increased.

Within hours of the final vote being announced, analysts from all sides tried to come to terms with what was a great defeat for the government. Francisca Fernández Droguett, a member of the Movement for Water and Territories, wrote in an article for El Ciudadano that the answer to the defeat lay in the decision by the government to make this election mandatory. “Compulsory voting put us face to face with a sector of society that we were unaware of in terms of its tendencies, not only its political tendencies but also its values.” This is precisely what happened in Recoleta. She pointed out that there was a general sentiment among the political class that those who had historically voted would—because of their general orientation toward the state—have a viewpoint that was closer to forms of progressivism. That has proven not to be the case. The campaign for the constitution did not highlight the economic issues that are important to the people who live at the rough end of social inequality. In fact, the reaction to the loss—blaming the poor (rotear, is the disparaging word) for the loss—was a reflection of the narrow-minded politics that was visible during the campaign for the new constitution.

Droguett’s point about compulsory voting is shared across the political spectrum. Until 2012, voting in Chile was compulsory, but registration for the electoral roll was voluntary; then, in 2012, with the passing of an election law reform, registration was made automatic but voting was voluntary. For such a consequential election, the government decided to make the entire voting process mandatory for all Chileans over 18 years old who were eligible to vote, with the imposition of considerable fines for those who would not vote. As it turned out, 85.81 percent of those on the electoral rolls voted, which is far more than the 55.65 percent of voters who voted in the second record turnout in Chile during the presidential election in 2021.

A comparison between the second round of voting during the presidential election of 2021 and the recent vote on the constitution is instructive. In December 2021, Chile’s President Gabriel Boric—leading the center-left Apruebo Dignidad coalition—won 4.6 million votes. Apruebo Dignidad campaigned for the constitution and won 4.8 million votes. That is, the Apruebo Dignidad vote in December 2021 and the vote for the new constitution was about the same. Boric’s opponent—José Antonio Kast—who openly praised Pinochet—won 3.65 million votes. Kast campaigned against the new constitution and was defeated by 7.88 million voters. That is, the votes against the constitution were twice more than the votes that Kast was able to garner. This figure does not register, as Jadue told us, as a shift to the right in Chile, but rather is an absolute rejection of the entire political system, including the constitutional convention.

One of the least remarked upon elements of political life in Chile—as is in other parts of Latin America—is the rapid growth of evangelical (notably Pentecostal) churches. About 20 percent of Chile’s population identifies as evangelical. In 2021, Kast went to the thanksgiving service of an evangelical congregation, the only representative invited to such an event. Forced to vote in the polls by the new mandatory system, a large section of evangelical voters rejected the proposal for a new constitution because of its liberal social agenda. Jadue told us that the evangelical community failed to recognize that the new constitution gave evangelicals “equal treatment with the Roman Catholic Church because it ensured freedom of worship.”

Those who were not in favor of the constitution began to campaign against its liberal agenda right after the constituent assembly was empaneled. While those who were in favor of the new constitution waited for it to be drafted, and they refrained from campaigning in the regions where the evangelical churches held sway and where opposition to the constitution was clear. The constitution was rejected as an expression of the growing discontent among Chileans regarding the general direction of social liberalism that was assumed by many—including the leadership of Frente Amplio—to be the inevitable progression in the country’s politics. The distance between the evangelicals and the center-left is evident not only in Chile—where the results are on display now—but also in Brazil, which faces a consequential presidential election in October.

Meanwhile, two days after the election, school children took to the streets. The text they circulated for their protest bristles with poetry: “in the face of people without memory, students make history with organization and struggle.” This entire cycle of the new constitution and the center-left Boric government began in 2011-2013, when Boric and many of his cabinet members were in college and when they began their political careers. The high school students—who faced the brutal police and now answer to Boric—want to open a new road. They were dismayed by an election that wanted to determine their future, but in which they could not participate due to their age.

Globetrotter___________________

Taroa Zúñiga Silva is a writing fellow and the Spanish media coordinator for Globetrotter. She is the co-editor with Giordana García Sojo of Venezuela, Vórtice de la Guerra del Siglo XXI (2020). She is a member of the coordinating committee of Argos: International Observatory on Migration and Human Rights and is a member of the Mecha Cooperativa, a project of the Ejército Comunicacional de Liberación.

Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is an editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations. His latest books are Struggle Makes Us Human: Learning from Movements for Socialism and (with Noam Chomsky) The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Fragility of U.S. Power.

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The Most Important Election in the Americas Is in Brazil

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The Most Important Election in the Americas Is in Brazil
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, second from left, at the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles on June 10.Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

Former Brazilian President Luíz Inácio Lula da Silva (known as Lula) runs about on stage at the Latin America Memorial in São Paulo. He was there on August 22, 2022, speaking at a book launch featuring photographs by Ricardo Stuckert about Lula’s trips around the world when he was the president of Brazil from 2003 to 2010. Lula is a man with a great deal of energy. He recounts the story of when he was in Iran with his Foreign Minister Celso Amorim in 2010, trying to mediate and end the conflict imposed by the United States over Iran’s nuclear energy policy. Lula managed to secure a nuclear deal in 2010 that would have prevented the ongoing pressure campaign that Washington is conducting against Tehran. There was relief in the air. Then, Lula said, “Obama pissed outside the pot.” According to Lula, then-U.S. President Barack Obama did not accept the deal and crushed the hard work of the Brazilian leadership in bringing all sides to an agreement.

Lula’s story puts two important points on the table: he was able to build on Brazil’s role in Latin America by offering leadership in far-off Iran during his previous tenure as president, and he is not afraid of expressing his antipathy for the way the United States is scuttling the possibility of peace and progress across the world for its own narrow interests.

The book release took place during Lula’s campaign for president against the current incumbent—and deeply unpopular—President Jair Bolsonaro. Lula is now in the lead in the polls ahead of the first round of Brazil’s presidential election to be held on October 2.

Fernando Haddad, who ran against Bolsonaro in 2018 and lost after receiving less than 45 percent of the vote, told me that this election remains “risky.” The polls might show that Lula is in the lead, but Bolsonaro is known to play dirty politics to secure his victory. The far right in Brazil, like the far right in many other countries, is fierce in the way it contests for state power. Bolsonaro, Haddad said, is willing to lie openly, saying offensive things to the far-right media and then when challenged about it by the mainstream media, he tends to feign ignorance. “Fake news” seems to be Bolsonaro’s best defense each time he is attacked. The left is far more sincere in its political discourse; leftists are unwilling to lie and eager to bring the issues of hunger and unemployment, social despair and social advancement to the center of the political debate. But there is less interest in these issues and less noise about them in a media landscape that thrives on the theatrics of Bolsonaro and his followers. The old traditional right is as outflanked as the far right in Brazil, which is a space that is now commanded by Bolsonaro (the old traditional right, the men in dark suits who made decisions over cigars and cachaça, are unable to supplant Bolsonaro).

Both Bolsonaro and Lula face an electorate that either loves them or hates them. There is little room for ambiguity in this race. Bolsonaro represents not only the far right, whose opinions he openly champions, but he also represents large sections of the middle class, whose aspirations for wealth remain largely intact despite the reality that their economic situation has deteriorated over the past decade. The contrast between the behavior of Bolsonaro and Lula during their respective presidential campaigns has been stark: Bolsonaro has been boorish and vulgar, while Lula is refined and presidential. If the election goes to Lula, it is likely that he will get more votes from those who hate Bolsonaro than from those who love him.

Former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is reflective on the way forward. She told me that Lula will likely prevail in the election because the country is fed up with Bolsonaro. His horrible management of the COVID-19 pandemic and the deterioration of the economic situation in the country mark Bolsonaro as an inefficient manager of the Brazilian state. However, Rousseff pointed out that about a month before the election, Bolsonaro’s government—and the regional governments—have been rolling out policies that have started to lighten the burden on the middle class, such as the lifting of taxation on gasoline. These policies could sway some people to vote for Bolsonaro, but even that is not likely. The political situation in Brazil remains fragile for the left, with the main blocs on the right (agro-business, religion and the military) willing to use any means to maintain their hold on power; it was this right-wing coalition that conducted a “legislative coup” against Rousseff in 2016 and used “lawfare,” the use of law for political motives, against Lula in 2018 to prevent him from running against Bolsonaro. These phrases (legislative coup and lawfare) are now part of the vocabulary of the Brazilian left, which understands clearly that the right bloc (what is called centrão) will not stop pursuing their interests if they feel threatened.

João Paulo Rodrigues, a leader of the Landless Workers Movement (MST) is a close adviser to the Lula campaign. He told me that in the 2002 presidential election, Lula won against the incumbent Fernando Henrique Cardoso because of an immense hatred for the neoliberal policies that Cardoso had championed. The left was fragmented and demoralized at that time of the election. Lula’s time in office, however, helped the left mobilize and organize, although even during this period the focus of popular attention was more on Lula himself rather than the blocs that comprised the left. During Lula’s incarceration on corruption charges, which the left says are fraudulent, he became a figure that unified the left: Lula Livre, “Free Lula,” was the unifying slogan, and the letter L (for Lula) became a symbol (a symbol that continues to be used in the election campaign). While there are other candidates from Brazil’s left in the presidential race, there is no question for Rodrigues that Lula is the left’s standard-bearer and is the only hope for Brazil to oust the highly divisive and dangerous leadership of President Bolsonaro. One of the mechanisms to build the unity of popular forces around Lula’s campaign has been the creation of the Popular Committees (comités populares), which have been working to both unify the left and create an agenda for the Lula government (which will include agrarian reform and a more robust policy for the Indigenous and Afro-Brazilian communities).

The international conditions for a third Lula presidency are fortuitous, Rousseff told me. A wide range of center-left governments have come to power in Latin America (including in Chile and Colombia). While these are not socialist governments, they are nonetheless committed to building the sovereignty of their countries and to creating a dignified life for their citizens. Brazil, the third-largest country in the Americas (after Canada and the United States of America), can play a leadership role in guiding this new wave of left governments in the hemisphere, Rousseff said. Haddad told me that Brazil should lead a new regional project, which will include the creation of a regional currency (sur) that can not only be used for cross-border trade but also for holding reserves. Haddad is currently running to be the governor of São Paulo, whose main city is the financial capital of the country. Such a regional currency, Haddad believed, will settle conflicts in the hemisphere and build new trade linkages that need not rely on long supply chains that have been destabilized by the pandemic. “God willing, we will create a common currency in Latin America because we do not have to depend on the dollar,” said Lula in May 2022.

Rousseff is eager for Brazil to return to the world stage through the BRICS bloc (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), and offer the kind of left leadership that Lula and she had given that platform a decade ago. The world, Rousseff said, needs such a platform to offer leadership that does not rely on threats, sanctions and war. Lula’s anecdote about the Iran deal is a telling one since it shows that a country like Brazil under the leadership of the left is more willing to settle conflicts rather than to exacerbate them, as the United States did. There is hope, Rousseff noted, for a Lula presidency to offer robust leadership for a world that seems to be crumbling due to the myriad challenges such as climate catastrophe, warfare and social toxicity.

Globetrotter_____________________

Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is an editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations. His latest books are Struggle Makes Us Human: Learning from Movements for Socialism and (with Noam Chomsky) The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Fragility of U.S. Power.

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Sanctions Fuel the Fire at Cuba’s Matanzas Oil Storage

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Sanctions Fuel the Fire at Cuba’s Matanzas Oil Storage
Flames spread like an "Olympic torch" from one tank to the next, the Matanzas governor said. (EPA PHOTO) Credit: EPA

On August 5, a major oil storage facility in Matanzas, Cuba, 65 miles east of Havana, was hit by lightning. A tank that contained 25,000 cubic meters of crude oil caught fire after being struck. Since then, an enormous fire has been raging in Matanzas. Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Ávalos Jorge, deputy head of Cuba’s fire department, said that it was impossible to estimate when the fire would be completely extinguished. This tremendous explosion and hard-to-control fire has led to several people being reported missing (including firefighters), many others injured with severe burns, and hundreds more evacuated from their homes. Cuba’s president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, rushed to Matanzas on August 6, interacted with the local officials who were trying to get the fire under control, met residents of the town, and the next day, interacted with the press and spoke about the heroic work done by the firefighters and the solidarity of the Cuban people. “We are going to overcome this adversity,” he said.

Four of the eight tanks at the storage facility have been impacted by these fires. By August 8, Matanzas Governor Mario Sabines Lorenzo also confirmed that three tanks had been compromised. Clouds of dust now hover over the island. Elba Rosa Pérez Montoya, Cuba’s minister of Science, Technology, and Environment (CITMA), said that scientists from various backgrounds were monitoring the situation to see if the smoke resulting from the fire will lead to any negative health effects for the residents of the surrounding areas. As of that point, she said, “We have no evidence that there are effects on human health.” Nonetheless, strange substances have been detected in the water supplies in Yumurí Valley, Matanzas. Diosdado Vera, an 89-year-old farmer, showed journalist Arnaldo Mirabal Hernández the unusual color and odor of the water in an old bathtub that serves as the water source for her cows. “There are approximately 3,200 particles in the air right now,” said CITMA Minister Pérez Montoya. “The clouds have sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, among other substances that are falling on Matanzas, Mayabeque, and Havana.” Meanwhile, Pérez Montoya said that a team of scientists is investigating the strange substances found in the Yumurí Valley.

This tragedy has also had immediate repercussions for the entire population in the province of Matanzas and the whole island of Cuba since it affects their electricity supply and access to health care, which already are strained under the weight of the U.S. blockade, due to lack of availability of spare parts and scarcity of medicines in Cuba, respectively.

The fire has already led to the Antonio Guiteras thermoelectric plant in Matanzas being out of service due to a shortage of water and the contamination of the water cycle. This will likely lead to severe electricity outages amid record heat waves this summer. Ricardo Ronquillo Bello, president of the Union of Cuban Journalists (UPEC), tweeted that this tragedy will be “another test for Cuban journalism that will know how to honor with its humanism and social responsibility.” Ronquillo was referring to the onslaught of fake news that swept through social media, leading to a sense of alarm during an already difficult period.

In this dire crisis, the people of Cuba and their government have responded immediately, and this has resulted in on-site efforts to contain the fire, prevent a major environmental disaster, and keep the population safe. It has also led to a call for international aid and solidarity. The governments of Mexico, Venezuela, Russia, Nicaragua, Argentina, Chile and several others have promptly offered material aid, and some countries like Mexico and Venezuela have also sent experts and firefighters to confront this complex situation. Cuba’s Credit and Commerce Bank (Bandec) has set up an account so that people in the country can donate money to the people of Matanzas.

“Cuba is Matanzas,” said President Díaz-Canel, in the context of both the impact of the fire on the entire island and the solidarity that is visible across Cuba.

Sanctions

The U.S. blockade of Cuba fuels the fire that rages on in the country, despite denials by authorities in the United States. The U.S. government has both been stiffening up the blockade of Cuba and denying that sanctions have any impact on the functioning of the country (in fact, in 2021, then-White House press secretary Jen Psaki had said that the problems in Cuba are not due to the U.S. sanctions but rather are due to “the Cuban government’s economic mismanagement”). The U.S. Embassy in Havana has made assurances that the blockade authorizes U.S. entities and organizations to provide disaster relief and response. But organizations tell us that this is not the case, with the 243 sanctions imposed on Cuba working as a stranglehold against pursuing any activity in the country. Many of these organizations say that the process to send aid to Cuba is lengthy, with a licensing regime in place that requires expensive lawyers. Cuba’s inclusion in the state sponsors of terrorism list means that banks in both the United States and abroad are reluctant to process humanitarian donations.

While Washington says one thing and does another, the firefighters in Matanzas—aided by the reinforcements from Mexico and Venezuela—have been spraying foam on the fire to prevent it from spreading further, and helicopters have been pouring water on the other oil tanks to stop them from combusting. Even after the fire settles and the ashes remain, Cuba will struggle to rebuild these tanks and to solve its energy crisis. These are not merely domestic problems but rather are problems created and exaggerated by the harmful U.S.-imposed blockade that has been in existence for the past six decades.

Not long after the lightning strike, users on social media shared the hashtag #FuerzaMatanzas (be strong, Matanzas) on various platforms. Within 24 hours, the hashtag was shared by nearly a billion users, according to Dayron Avello, social media manager at Clínica Internacional Camilo Cienfuegos. A billion people have signaled their support for Cuba, a solidarity the U.S. blockade is unable to prevent.

This article was produced by Globetrotter.

________________________

Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is an editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations. His latest books are Struggle Makes Us Human: Learning from Movements for Socialism and (with Noam Chomsky) The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Fragility of U.S. Power.

Manolo De Los Santos is the co-executive director of the People’s Forum and is a researcher at Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He co-edited, most recently, Viviremos: Venezuela vs. Hybrid War (LeftWord Books/1804 Books, 2020) and Comrade of the Revolution: Selected Speeches of Fidel Castro (LeftWord Books/1804 Books, 2021). He is a co-coordinator of the People’s Summit for Democracy.

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AMERICA

Mexico’s President Gives Joe Biden a Big History Lesson

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Mexico’s President Gives Joe Biden a Big History Lesson
AMLO presses Biden on bilateral agreement © 2022 Latin American Financial Publications, Inc.

Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) visited the United States on July 12 and offered five proposals to U.S. President Joe Biden. These proposals are based on AMLO’s in-depth knowledge of Mexican history and his reading of the economic crisis in the United States, which seems to be losing its edge as a global leader.

The first of the proposals that AMLO made was about Mexico allowing U.S. consumers to fill gasoline tanks on the Mexican side of the border. By doing so, it is permitting the United States to ease its inflation crisis. AMLO offered to double the supply of gasoline in Mexico in his show of support to further ease the crisis.

Second, AMLO said that Mexico would provide for more than 600 miles of gas pipelines along the U.S.-Mexico border to help transport natural gas from Texas to Arizona, California, and New Mexico. This would benefit 3 million people in the United States. This is indirectly reminiscent of the Texas gas crisis, which cost Mexico more than 65 billion Mexican pesos.

Third, AMLO suggested the elimination of red tape and tariffs on food and general consumer goods to reduce the cost of living for U.S. and Mexican families.

Fourth, AMLO noted that since the pandemic and the war in Ukraine are the main causes behind the current inflation, Mexico will conduct import substitution to reduce some of the import inflation. Production of oil will go alongside the development of alternative energy sources in Mexico, and the country will also enter the lithium industry.

Fifth, given that the United States will need labor to implement its infrastructural modernization plans, AMLO proposed to organize the migration of workers northward to prevent labor shortages and asked the U.S. to provide these workers with temporary work visas for this purpose. He also asked Biden to “regularize” the legal status of the migrant population in the United States to guarantee the rights of the Mexican diaspora.

A close analysis of these proposals indicates that the United States finds itself in a position of relative weakness vis-à-vis both its competitors abroad (such as China) and trade partners such as Mexico (as well as the rest of Latin America). The United States’ weakness coupled with AMLO’s active leadership in Latin America, as well as the Mexican national population and diaspora’s historic support for the Mexican government, finds parallels with other moments in the history of U.S.-Mexican relations.

López Obrador’s History Lessons

In his speech in the Oval Office, López Obrador recalled that when former U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) came to power after the economic crash of 1929, he found the United States in crisis due to the global recession and stock market crash. At that time, Roosevelt promoted state intervention to develop welfare programs, namely a mixed-Keynesian system known as the New Deal.

In addition to FDR’s New Deal, the United States eased, but did not cease, its interventionist policy in Latin America. It withdrew its troops from Haiti and allowed the elimination of the Platt Amendment, which undermined the sovereignty of Cuba. Driven by the imminent threat of World War II, the United States was forced to seek solidarity in the American hemisphere to protect its interests and its territory from potential attacks.

FDR’s term in office (1933-1945) coincided with that of Mexico’s President Lázaro Cárdenas (1934-1940). Cárdenas, a general in the Mexican Revolution of 1910, is known in Mexican history for his initiatives to ensure the development of public infrastructure, land reforms, the vindication of the rights of the working class, and his socialist education project.

But above all, Cárdenas is remembered for his decree to nationalize oil in 1938. All these actions and positions led to protests by powerful sectors in the United States. However, the internal and external balance of political-economic forces prevented the White House from stopping the nationalist process of Cárdenas, who also had strong popular support within Mexico. López Obrador has also done something similar with public investment in sovereign development projects like the Mayan Train, the Transisthmian Corridor, oil refineries, and the nationalization of lithium.

López Obrador also reminded Biden that during Roosevelt’s presidency, Mexico and the United States created a legal migration program, the Bracero program, between 1942 and 1964, to reactivate the U.S. economy. AMLO closed his White House speech by urging Biden to be bold, to accept the end of neoliberalism in the world, and to stand up to the right wing in the United States: “I know that your adversaries—the conservatives—are going to be screaming all over the place, even to Heaven… But without a daring, a bold program of development and well-being, it will not be possible to solve problems. It will not be possible to get the people’s support. In the face of this crisis, the way out is not through conservatism. The way out is through transformation. We have to be bold in our actions [and] transform, not maintain, the status quo.”

The Political Vanguard of the Continent

López Obrador has not only established himself as the political reference point for the Latin American left but has also been leading the process of integration in the south of the region through the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) summit and his diplomacy in Central America. He has managed to undermine the interventionist capacity of the United States without losing the friendly relationship with Mexico’s northern neighbor, as this official visit to the United States demonstrates. Besides this, Mexico has proposed solutions to inflation and the global ailments caused by the pandemic and the Ukraine war, encouraging its U.S. counterpart to follow Mexico’s political economy.

Latin America and the Caribbean are increasingly being seen as equals to the United States; are putting themselves on the front line in the battle for the sovereignty of countries such as Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela; and are backing progressive processes such as those in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, and Honduras. Likewise, López Obrador has put on the table a political subject that will be of paramount importance in U.S. domestic life: the rights of the Mexican and Latino migrant workers. AMLO has asked them to use their votes to monitor and shape the immigration legislative reforms in the United States and to ensure that the interests of the Global South are no longer ignored during policymaking in the West.

Globetrotter________________

Rodrigo Guillot works in the International Department of the Instituto Nacional de Formación Política (INFP), the political education institute of Mexico’s Morena (Movimiento de Regeneración Nacional) party. He is a student at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) in Mexico City. Find him on Twitter @RodrigoGuillot.

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AMERICA

Venezuela says Those Behind NATO Expansion Should de-escalate Ukraine Crisis

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Venezuela says Those Behind NATO Expansion Should de-escalate Ukraine Crisis
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro speaks in Caracas on Dec. 8, 2020.Manaure Quintero / Reuters file

President Nicolas Maduro insists that Moscow’s conflict with Kiev was ‘provoked’ by the Wes.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro accused the West of provoking Russia’s conflict with Ukraine on Monday, after senior US officials met with his government over the weekend.

In a speech, Maduro said that “those who provoked this conflict with decades of non-compliance with agreements, with decades of threats against Russia, with decades of preparing plans for the extension of NATO are the first ones who are responsible for de-escalating this conflict.”

https://twitter.com/VTVcanal8/status/1501046559936552963?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1501046559936552963%7Ctwgr%5E%7Ctwcon%5Es1_&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.rt.com%2Fnews%2F551455-venezuela-says-nato-expansion%2F

Maduro called on those responsible to seek “a favorable scenario of negotiation and agreement” to end the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

The president also said Venezuela was “seriously concerned about the possibility of a war in Europe and an extension to other regions of the world,” and criticized the “public media campaign of hate” and “economic measures that aim to aggravate conditions” and extend the conflict, rather than de-escalate the situation.

Maduro’s words came after senior US officials traveled to Venezuela over the weekend to meet with Maduro’s government in their highest-level visit since the US broke off diplomatic relations in 2019.

While the US refuses to identify Maduro as the legitimate leader of Venezuela, instead recognizing pro-US politician Juan Guaido as the ‘interim’ president, the New York Times reported that the Biden administration was looking to “separate Russia from its remaining international allies” amid Russia’s conflict with Ukraine.

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RT

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