By Albor Ruiz
When it comes to Cuba, everything — even an unusual and worrisome cholera outbreak — is a propaganda occasion for those who, even after 53 years of a failed economic embargo, prefer a policy of hostility and isolation over one of dialogue and engagement. That’s why it is so refreshing finding someone like Romy Aranguiz, 33, a doctor born in Havana who is not afraid to call it as she sees it.
Aranguiz is part of a new generation of Cuban-Americans who believe that dialogue and engagement is precisely the way to affect positive changes in Cuba.
“As always I remain puzzled about the things that are written about Cuba,” said Aranguiz, who came to the U.S. in 2002 and is now a Rheumatology Fellow at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester. “Now, with this matter of cholera, there are a lot of people focused on using it for anti-Castro propaganda instead of thinking of what they could do to help their brothers and sisters on the island.”
On Monday, in an official report published in the state newspaper Granma, Cuba’s Health Ministry admitted a cholera outbreak occurred in the town of Manzanillo located in Granma province along Cuba’s southern coast, about 415 miles east of Havana.
The newspaper said three people had died, all over 60 years old, something that Aranguiz says makes sense. Although cholera is easily treatable with antibiotics, diarrhea and vomiting cause dehydration that can be fatal.
“Most at risk are children and the elderly,” Aranguiz said. “What Cuba is saying sounds logical.”
The report said that the outbreak has been controlled as a result of sanitary and other measures. Since the outbreak, approximately 1,000 people have been treated for cholera, according to the newspaper.
Unconfirmed sources quoted by the Cuban exile blog Café Fuerte reported that the number of deaths due to cholera was 15. The implication is that Havana is not informing the population and is hiding the truth from the rest of the world.
Other news outlets cite “independent journalists” who say the illness has already reached Havana, where, they say, at least one case has been reported.
Aranguiz has as little patience for the things she sees as stagnant and wrong in Cuba as for the unremitting enmity some Cuban-Americans have for the island nation.
“If they really care about Cuba they should be thinking about sending antibiotics to the island and stop talking so much nonsense,” she said.
There had not been cholera in Cuba for many decades thanks to a well-established health care system. But as Aranguiz said, that is not the case in Haiti — where many Cuban doctors are fighting the epidemic that devastated that country after the 2010 earthquake — or even the Dominican Republic.
“It’s ironic that some people are saying that we cannot travel to Cuba because of the cholera,” Aranguiz said. “But many Cuban-Americans go to the Dominican Republic on vacation and no one has alerted them against it.”
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), a Cuban-American and a ferocious enemy of any changes in the anachronistic U.S. policy toward Cuba, has issued a warning about the dangers of traveling to Cuba.
“It seems some people are exaggerating their criticism for political motives,” said Aranguiz who believes Cuba has the knowledge and the doctors to really control the outbreak.
“But even if that is the case, one would think that at times like this ideological differences should give way to solidarity with our fellow Cubans.”