Cuban government officials say the six-decade US embargo on the island has been an obstacle to purchasing the medicine and equipment they need to fight the coronavirus pandemic, though they say they have managed to acquire all the supplies they need for now.
“At this moment, we have all the resources and are purchasing additional supplies as we continue,” Doctor Lázaro Silva, vice president of MediCuba, the purchasing department in the Ministry of Public Health, said.
Cuba has 620 confirmed coronavirus cases and 16 fatalities on Saturday. The government has taken measures to help stop the spread of the virus, like closing its borders and telling Cubans to only go out if necessary.
But the dramatic decline in tourism and remittances from Cubans overseas, grappling with job losses and lockdowns, have starved the communist-run country of the cash it needs to import basic goods. Shortages have worsened and Cubans line up in long queues outside stores to buy products, like chicken, when they become available.
Silva said the government began working on importing medical supplies a while back in order to be prepared once COVID-19 cases began to pop up in Cuba.
Tweets by Cuban Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodríguez, paint a slightly different picture and suggest a more challenging situation.
The US embargo is “the main obstacle to purchase the medicines, equipment and material required to confront the pandemic,” he tweeted last week. The US government denied that’s not the case.
According to a US State Department spokesperson, in 2019 the US exported $3.7 million worth of medicine and supplies to Cuba, including diagnostic equipment and supplies “to support the Cuban people.” They also authorised the export of hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of medical goods in 2019.