HAVANA – Fidel Castro accused Mexico of failing to disclose the spread of swine flu until after U.S. President Barack Obama had visited, as Cuba confirmed its first case of the virus in a Mexican medical student studying on the island.
The Health Ministry said the “young male” became ill during a vacation in Mexico and returned to his studies at a medical clinic in Matanzas province, east of Havana. A statement read on state television Monday night gave no details on his current condition.
Castro, the former Cuban president, reacted hours later, writing in a column posted on a government Web site that “Mexican authorities did not inform the world of the presence (of swine flu), while they waited for Obama’s visit.”
Obama stopped in Mexico en route to the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad last month, days before Mexican health officials closed schools and announced swine flu was spreading, prompting an eventual mass shutdown that brought many parts of the country to a virtual halt.
The Cuban Health Ministry statement said a group of Mexican students began arriving on April 25 — four days before Cuban authorities halted airline flights to and from Mexico to keep swine flu from spreading to the island.
Relations between Cuba and Mexico have been chilly for several years, since a diplomatic spat involving the government of then-President Vicente Fox. Mexican authorities had said Fox’s successor, Felipe Calderon, would visit the island during the first quarter of 2009 as part of an ongoing effort to improve ties.
But Calderon recently said he may have to delay plans for a Cuba visit, quipping that the island’s grounding of flights to and from Mexico may leave him with no way to make the trip.
Cuba’s 82-year-old former president blasted Calderon for that comment and chided Mexican authorities for failing to disclose the spread of swine flu sooner.
“At this moment, we and dozens of other countries are paying the consequences and, on top of that, they accuse us of taking hurtful measures toward Mexico.”
He added that the measures that the Mexican president was complaining about “met established norms and had not even the slightest intention of affecting the brother country of Mexico.”
In its statement Monday, Cuba’s Health Ministry said other Mexican medical students returning from vacation at the same time as the young man diagnosed with swine flu experienced cold symptoms and were quarantined for observation, but most were deemed healthy and released.
Tests by the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Havana confirmed the first case of swine flu, though it was unclear how many Mexican students might still be isolated for more testing.
The ministry said that in all of Cuba, authorities tested 84 possible cases in people of eight nationalities and had only found the one positive result.
The official ban on flights between Mexico and Cuba has since been eased to allow Cuba’s national airline to send a few planes a week to pick up its citizens in Mexico. Still, several flights a day between Havana and the resort of Cancun or Mexico City continue to be canceled, stranding hundreds of passengers.
A study published Monday in the journal Science estimated Mexico alone may have had 23,000 cases by April 23, the day it announced the epidemic. The study estimates swine flu kills between 0.4 percent and 1.4 percent of its victims, but lead author Neil Ferguson of Imperial College, London, said the data remain incomplete.
The number of countries reporting swine flu cases stands at 31, with the World Health Organization confirming about 4,800 cases. At least 61 people have been killed by swine flu around the world: 56 in Mexico, three in the U.S., one in Canada and one in Costa Rica.