"Cuban Interferon is a False Hope" for Coronavirus

Cuba has given more than 8,000 doses of interferon to the regime in Nicaragua. (Confidencial)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Wilfredo Miranda Aburto, Managua, April 14, 2020 — A Venezuelan flight, Conviasa, coming from Cuba, landed last Wednesday in Managua. The aircraft brought 8,000 doses of Interferon Alpha-2B, a pharmaceutical with which the regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosadio Murilla “will combat the coronavirus.” Since Covid-19 arrived in Nicaragua, the Sandinista Government has praised the Cuban medicine as a panacea.

The hepatologist, Edward Mena, who has spent years working with this medication in the United States, learned of the official response plan, and his reaction was not positive. “Interferon isn’t going to help anything,” he warns.

Mena is one of the most respected medical specialists in the hepatic field. He is Nicaraguan but received his professional training in California. He is the Director of the Pasadena Liver Center and the California Liver Research Institute, where he has been able to study the use of interferon in several hepatic illnesses. continue reading

Since the spread of COVID-19, regimes with close ties to Cuba have promoted the idea that the medication commercialized by Cuba helped to stop the epidemic in China. In fact, the Sandinista government spread the idea among its sympathizers that “interferon is the cure for coronavirus.”

However, Dr. Mena’s medical practice contradicts this idea. “Up to now, there has never been a study showing that interferon helps with this type of virus. In this family of viruses, COVID-19 is new, but not that new. There have been similar virus types, like SARS in 2003 and MERS in 2011, and interferon has never cured them,” said the specialist.

In an interview with Confidencial, Dr. Mena said there isn’t any proof that interferon stopped the spread of COVID-19 in China, because other medications were also used. He explained that up to now, no pharmaceutical has been able to destroy the coronavirus, but interferon does cause harmful side effects. He described it by saying “It’s like having chemotherapy.”

Before the uncertainty of the medical world, which is hurrying to find a cure for coronavirus, Doctor Mena prescribes a cure that up to now has proven to be the most effective way to stop the contagion: social distancing, quarantine and isolation. This what he said:

Question: The Government of Nicaragua has announced that Cuba has given it more than 8,000 doses of Interferon Alpha-2B to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. Can this medication help arrest coronavirus, taking into account that there is still no vaccine?

Answer: In my opinion, interferon won’t help anything. I have used Interferon Alpha-2A and 2B for hepatitis B and hepatitis C and have never seen good results. Now, typically when we use interferon, we use it with another medicine called ribavirin, and the two medicines are used to treat viruses. Interferon alone is not going to work. The other problem we have with interferon is when do we start treatment? Do we start it when there is contact with someone? When someone has symptoms? Or when someone is very ill? My opinion is that if interferon is used when someone is very ill, more harm is done. My professional opinion, with decades of using interferon, is that it doesn’t help anything.

Q: If interferon is used for hepatitis, what other type of illnesses can it help? What are its advantages and disadvantages?

A. With hepatitis B and C, in my experience, we use interferon for one year to kill the hepatitis C virus, and we have only a 40% chance of killing it. With hepatitis B, after one year, the probability of killing the virus is 10%. We use interferon for certain types of cancer and blood problems, and, again, the effectiveness of interferon is not very good.

Q. Is there clinical proof that interferon can help to stop the coronavirus?

A. No. Up to now there hasn’t been any study that says that interferon helps in curing this type of virus. COVID-19 is new, but not that new. There have been other similar viruses like SARS in 2003, MERS in 2001, and interferon has never been able to cure these viruses.

Q. Does interferon have side effects for patients?

A. It’s a horrible medication. The side effects are like you are in chemotherapy. Patients have nausea, vomiting, body aches, anemia; it decreases their platelets, their white blood cells. It’s a very harsh and difficult treatment. There are many side effects.

Q. Many Nicaraguans think it’s a kind of vaccine against the coronavirus. What do you say when a government implies this type of thing?

A. They’re giving people false hope. I don’t think it helps. Interferon does more harm than good. As I said, the side effects are horrible and the benefit is zero.

Q. The U.S. has now become the country with the most cases of COVID-19 in the world. What medications are used there to treat coronavirus?

A. We don’t have treatments for coronavirus. The best treatment is keeping a social distance of two meters [six feet], quarantine and isolation. All the medicines we use are in the research phase. The first is hydroxychloriquine; the second is a medicine called remdesivir, made by Gilead Science; and the third is opinavir/ritonavir, which is used for AIDS. All are medicines under investigation. It’s too soon to say which one will work and which one won’t.

Q. In Nicaragua, the government has not ordered social isolation and also is promoting gatherings. As a specialist, what do you think?

A. It’s horrible, because if you don’t have isolation, social distancing and quarantine, half of the country will be infected, and there will be people dying in the streets.

Q. In Nicaragua, health personnel have denounced the order forbidding them from using personal protection equipment, like masks, because it supposedly creates alarm among the patients. What is the risk for those who are on the first line of defense against the virus?

A. It’s a terrible order. What’s going to happen is that they’re going to infect more patients. It’s important to use protective equipment to protect doctors and nurses who are on the front lines. If they don’t have masks, they’re going to catch the virus and spread it. This will make the situation worse. Not giving them protection will create harm, and this has to be done now.

Q. What message would you give to the Ministry of Health in Nicaragua in the face of this pandemic?

A. The most important thing for the pandemic is to take it seriously. This virus kills people. You must have testing, social distancing, quarantine and masks to protect the population. If you don’t, 50% of patients will die. Nicaragua is six weeks behind the rest of the world. The effects that we are seeing in the rest of the world, like the U.S. and Italy, we will see in Nicaragua in six weeks. They can’t conceal the number of deaths. When there are deaths from pneumonia, they will be related to the virus. There is no other explanation.

Note: This interview is reprinted with permission from Confidencial, an online Nicaraguan source, which also experiences censorship in its own country.

Translated by Regina Anavy


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Ortega’s Paramilitaries Are More Lethal Than Those of Venezuela

Ortega’s paramilitaries in Masaya. (Carlos Herrera)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Wilfredo Miranda Aburta, Managua | February 18, 2019 — Giancarlo Fiorella, a Venezuelan and author of the Bellingcat investigation detailing the paramilitaries’ arsenal during the Ortega massacre, is surprised by the level of collusion between the paramilitaries and the police in their lethal operations, something which, he insists, he hasn’t seen in Venezuela.

“As a point of comparison, the level of cooperaction between paramilitaries and police is higher than in Venezuela. In Venezuela, the Chavista groups don’t have this type of arms, and it isn’t clearly seen that they collaborate closely with the police,” explained Fiorella in an interview with the journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro on the TV program Esta Noche.

The analysis he carried out shows the deployment of at least seven types of weapons of war employed, and also suggests that the Police Tactics and Arms for Intervention and Rescue (TAPIR) unit was involved in the massacre. continue reading

Bellingcat is a portal dedicated to carrying out journalistic investigations from open sources. To analyze the paramilitary arsenal, Bellingcat was based on different videos of the repression, the final report of the Independent Group of International Experts (GIEI), and the investigation of Confidencial, “They fire with precision: to kill!,” a piece that won the 2018 King of Spain Iberoamerican Journalism Prize.

Fiorella is currently pursuing a doctorate at the Center of Criminology of the University of Toronto, in Canada, and previously published another revealing investigation on the execution of the rebel Venezuelan pilot Óscar Pérez at the hands of Chavista security forces.

“The groups in Venezuela have a greater proportion of civilians or of individuals that have no connection with the State, like the paramilitary groups in Nicaragua. The chief of police said that many of them were police officers who were in secret operations,” explained the journalist.

Bellingcat focuses on two of the most brutal episodes of paramiltary repression: the attack on the UNAN-Managua and the church of Divine Mercy on July 13, and the taking of Masaya on July 17 and 18.

From a detailed analysis of video and photographic proof, Bellingcat identifies a deployment of military rifles used by the paramilitaries: AK-74, Dragunov sniper rifles, PKM machine guns, and M16 rifles. They also found Remington 700 rifles, Jericho 941 pistols, and magazines of Soviet-model drum bullets with capacity of up to 75 bullets.

A few weeks ago, the Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet published an interview with the first commissioner and police chief, Francisco Díaz, who assured that the paramilitaries were, in the majority, professional police carrying out covert operations. The rest, he said, were “volunteer police.” The statements of the relative by marriage of the presidential Ortega-Murillo couple left clear the responsibility of the institution in the worst massacre committed since after the war in Nicaragua. The casualty toll is at least 325 confirmed dead and thousands of wounded, in accordance with international human rights bodies.

In the videos analyzed by this investigation, it was found that paramilitaries used MOTOTRBO brand radio communicators (like the DP4800, XPR 7000, and Tait TP8100 series). “These radios are sold for commercial and industrial use, and there is evidence that suggests that the TAPIR unit of the National Police has used similar radios in the past, as can be seen in these videos,” affirms Bellingcat.

“One of the videos shows the close connection between the Nicaraguan Police and the paramilitaries. At minute 1:40 in the video, a man in a black uniform appears. The word Police is written in white on his back. At minute 1:50, the man turns around and begins to walk. When he does so, a patch on his right sleeve becomes briefly visible. The patch seems to be that of the TAPIR unit of the National Police,” specifies Bellingcat, in a video on the massacre of Masaya. “The patch of the man in the Police uniform in the video (left) seems to be that of the TAPIR unit of the National Police,” it sustains.

Fiorella explained that in the two pieces of evidence there is participation of uniformed agents. The attacks on Masaya and the UNAN-Managua are being referred to. After seeking open-source information, Fiorella found in YouTube videos that the TAPIR unit was using similar radios to those of the paramilitaries who massacred the UNAN students.

“In Venezuela, although there is participation of armed groups in the repression of protests, the number of dead has never reached what was seen in Nicaragua. The arms aren’t even of the same caliber. Normally, in Venezuela they only have pistols. There are cases of bigger weapons, but not like has been seen in Nicaragua,” said Fiorella.

“The Confidencial investigation offers even more evidence that the government of President Ortega is resolved to put a stop to the demonstrations by any means. The indiscriminate use of arms in the hands of paramilitary groups and of the Police meant that the type of wounds discovered by Confidencial were not only possible, but practically inevitable,” concludes Bellingcat.

According to Fiorella, the findings of his investigation squares with everything that was already known and was established by bodies like Amnesty International and the Independent Group of International Experts (GIEI), who worked with sources in Nicaragua, proving that the paramilitary groups who operated during the repression were working very closely with police squads.

“This is evidenced in the weapons used. Weapons of war, as the study has highlighted. We can say that the paramilitaries, probably, shared weapons with the police forces of the State of Nicaragua,” emphasized Fiorella.

Editors’ note: this text was published by the Nicaraguan digital outlet Confidencial, which has authorized us to reproduce it.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey


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