A shipment of assistance to deal with the coronavirus, sent to Cuba by Asia’s richest man, Jack Ma, has been blocked by the embargo that the United States imposed on the island for six decades, Cuban officials said.
The Cuban Ambassador to China, Carlos M. Pereira, said in his blog this week that the Ma foundation tried to send 100.00 masks and 10 kits to diagnose COVID-19 to Cuba last month, as well as other materials, such as artificial respirators and gloves.
Cuba was one of 24 countries in the region that would receive donations announced on March 21 by the Jack Ma Foundation, which also sent similar assistance to other countries, including the United States.
Cuban officials assure that the cargo transportation division of Avianca Airlines, based in Colombia, declined to move assistance to Cuba because the airline’s main shareholder is a company based in the United States and is obliged to abide by the trade embargo against Cuba. The embargo has waivers when it comes to food and medical assistance, but companies are often afraid to get involved in financing or transportation operations because of the danger of being fined or facing lawsuits over the embargo.
Various human rights groups have called on the United States to lift sanctions against Venezuela, Cuba and Iran during the coronavirus pandemic in order to allow for a greater flow of assistance. The government of President Donald Trump says that the governments of those countries would be the only ones that would win with a decrease in sanctions.
An Avianca spokeswoman forwarded a question from The Associated Press to a spokeswoman for Ma’s company, Alibaba, who has not responded to an email requesting comment.
Cuba has closed its air and sea ports except for essential cargo and government flights to prevent new imported cases of coronavirus on the island. As of Friday morning, Cuba had 269 confirmed cases, 3,241 people in quarantine, 15 recovered patients and six deceased.
A town in western Cuba was completely isolated to prevent the spread of the disease.
Cuba has a free universal health system and a high rate of medical personnel, 95,000 for a population of 11 million, but it works without much of the equipment that is usually available in developed countries.
Blocking aid should be “an inconceivable action in a time of global crisis,” but “we are not surprised,” said Carlos Fernando de Cossío, director general for the United States of the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “It is the type of obstacles that Cuba faces on a daily basis to ensure the basic needs of the country.”