February 22, 2002

Cuba News / The Miami Herald

The Miami Herald, Feb. 22, 2202

U.S., Cuba talk about malaria

By Carol Rosenberg. Posted on Fri, Feb. 22, 2002.

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba -- U.S. medical officers met with Cuban doctors earlier this month to reassure the government that suspected terrorist prisoners are not introducing malaria into this island, which has been free of the mosquito-borne disease for 50 years.

At the same time, Cuban medical personnel used the Feb. 8 session just across the Northeast Gate, on Cuban territory, to brief U.S. authorities on their efforts to control dengue fever, a mosquito-transmitted viral disease that has been detected in nearby Santiago Province.

''We talked about dengue, and they wanted to know what we're doing about malaria,'' said Navy Capt. Al Shimkus, commander of the Naval Hospital at the base. "I think both sides needed reassurances that we're going by public health standards of the World Health Organization, that we're doing the right thing.''


Steps to stop the spread of malaria include impregnating the uniforms of both prisoners and troops who handle prisoners with mefloquin and other agents to kill the parasite that causes the malady. Four of the 300 prisoners at Camp X-Ray have malaria; 40 percent of Afghanistan's population is afflicted with the disease, Shimkus said. They are being treated to make sure they are no longer contagious, although they will suffer the condition for life.

The existence of dengue in Cuba is on record with the World Health Organization. So Cuban medical personnel ''discussed the details of their eradication process,'' Shimkus said, including increased sanitation efforts and pest control.

Commanders say there is little concern on the American side that dengue will spread to this 45-square-mile base that is home to about 4,500 military and civilians. They cite WHO literature that says the range of the mosquito species that carries dengue is 200 to 300 yards; the nearest known cases are more than 10 miles away.

Local U.S. and Cuban commanders have held monthly ''fence-line meetings'' since 1995 at the seam between the Navy base and Cuban-controlled territory -- now separated by 17.4 miles of razor-wire-topped fence and a Cuban minefield -- to keep down tensions by alerting the others to unusual activity.


Commanders forewarned the Cuban military, for example, about a Monday lunchtime 21-gun salute in celebration of Presidents Day.

But the Feb. 8 session was ''the first time that a real-time public health issue has arisen around the fence-line,'' said Tom Gerth, a State Department official assigned to deal with the Guantánamo issues.

As of Thursday, there were 300 prisoners from Afghanistan at Camp X-Ray.


The officers briefed The Herald on the latest medical exchange after an inquiry from U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Miami Republican, who had expressed concern about increasing medical contacts in a formal letter.

The Feb. 8 discussion between ''technical experts'' lasted about 45 minutes, Shimkus said. It was requested by Cuban commanders. There were three U.S. representatives at the session: a translator, a U.S. public health officer and a preventive medicine physician. Cuba sent three equivalent envoys.

UM receives grant to study a post-Castro Cuba

By Elaine De Valle.

When Fidel Castro loses his hold of power on Cuba, there will be a lot of questions.

How to begin the privatization of businesses? How to rebuild the infrastructure? How to change institutions left over from the Castro regime? Foreign investment? Cuban Americans?

Among the thorniest: What to do with confiscated properties?

Some of those questions will now be studied by renowned Cuba experts thanks to a $1 million grant from the United States Agency for International Development to the University of Miami's Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies.

The funds will go to the Cuba Transition Project, a pioneer academic program which will examine the issues that would affect the communist-ruled island's transition to democracy. It is the first time the federal agency has funded a program outside Cuba, said USAID spokesman Luigi Crespo:

"Our aid has traditionally been directed toward [non government organizations] to promote democracy in Cuba but we think we think helping a smooth transition to democracy is very important right now.''

ICCAS director Jaime Suchlicki said the goal is to provide a post-Castro government alternative recommendations drawing on academic studies and the lessons learned in Eastern Europe and Nicaragua.

''The overriding concept of this project is that this would lead to a democratic, open market economy. The idea is not to perpetuate the system that exists in Cuba,'' Suchlicki said. "The people in a free Cuba can accept our recommendations, reject them or ignore them. But there is going to be a body of studies, both in English and Spanish, for anybody who is interested in Cuba's transition in the future.''

To that end, the project hopes to include independent organizations and dissident groups on the island. ''We want them to have an input into this process,'' Suchlicki said.

But first, the questions: 19 research studies are the first step in the Cuba Transition Project. One will examine the telecommunications industry. Another will look at the culture of corruption in Cuba and yet another will study the growing economic disparities among islanders.

''These are practical, analytical papers,'' said Suchlicki, drawing a distinction between the Cuba Transition Project and so-called ''post-Castro Cuba plans'' of U.S. and local governments and organizations.

A second component of the project is the creation of four comprehensive databases, expected to go online by next spring to be available as a free resource to the public.

''The first one is in general about Cuba and its infrastructure,'' Suchlicki said. "The type of ports there are, the hotels and infrastructure in tourism, economic demographics.''

A second database will list foreign investment and a third will collect all the major laws that exist on the island.

The fourth is a full-text bibliographical database on studies done on the transitions in Nicaragua and countries of Eastern Europe -- though Suchlicki says Cuba's change in power will not necessarily mirror those.

"It may be slow and more difficult. So it is important that we have a set of ideas, recommendations, analyses, to see how we accelerate the process once the transition begins.''

Even after it begins, the transition project will continue to help Cubans on the island with an interactive center that can facilitate long-distance learning.

"So 100 people can sit in a room in Havana and listen to a professor at the University of Miami talk about how to start a business. Or faculty at the medical school in Havana can sit down with our medical school staff and have conferences.''

The project -- made possible by the efforts of U.S. Senators Bill Nelson and Bob Graham and U.S. Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Lincoln Diaz-Balart -- will bring together nationally and internationally renowned Cuba scholars from Harvard, UCLA and Florida International University, among others, as well as experts from the private industry and government agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Labor.

Ambassador Vicki Huddleston, the principal officer at the U.S. Interest Section in Havana, says a blueprint will make things easier in any change of tide.

''The more we know what our options are and the more the Cuban people know what their options are, the better the chance we have and they have to see a rapid, peaceful transition to democracy,'' said Huddleston, who will speak at the campus ceremony this morning when the grant is presented.

"If you plan for things, they usually turn out better.''


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