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House Foreign Affairs Committee Holds Hearing on Cuba

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Although Tuesday’s meeting intended to address Cuba’s pro-democracy protests, officials focused more on contrasting opinions.

What We Know:

  • José Miguel Vivanco, Human Rights Watch’s executive director of the Americas, and Rosa María Payá, the director of Cuba Decide and daughter of the late Cuban activist Oswaldo Payá, were witnesses at the hearing. Alongside Congress members, they discussed ways to help the island’s citizens.
  • The witnesses reminded Congress that the Cuban regime was committing human rights violations by jailing political opponents and acting violently towards demonstrators, among others. Additionally, Vivanco and Payá stressed they hold limited knowledge of the situation due to the island’s unreliable internet access.
  • However, Vivanco and Payá disagreed on ways to control the situation; Payá called for the United States to sanction the Cuban leaders and anyone who attacks the protestors. She also suggested that Congress make “full use” of the Magnitsky Act; doing so would let the president freeze the human rights abusers’ assets and prevent them from entering the United States. Payá insisted that Congress review “all options under international law.” On the other hand, Vivanco asked politicians to end the embargo, which was “an ongoing policy of isolation.”
  • Politicians experienced the same discord. Although Democrats and Republicans alike agreed that the United States should consider sanctioning regime officials and encourage allies and that the U.S. should encourage its allies to speak out in favor of the July 11th protests, they clashed on other terms. For example, Cuban-American Miami Republican Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar argued with Cuban-American New Jersey Democrat Rep. Albio Sires on restoring the island’s internet access. Salazar stated the Biden administration should consider boosting the network capabilities around Havana’s U.S. Embassy and Guantánamo Bay’s U.S. Naval Base; she declared the Department of Defense should hold the capabilities to increase internet signals from U.S. territory. Rep. Salazar also informed Congress the Cuban exile community would fund the project if the Biden administration cannot. Rep. Sires dissented Salazar’s statements, sating that America alone could not circumvent Cuba’s internet blockages.
  • Florida representatives also called out several congress leaders for their hypocrisy. Democrat Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz attacked Republicans for supporting governmental change in Cuba while also pushing for voter restriction in the United States. She referenced how the party largely denies viewing the events of Jan. 6 as an insurrection yet suggests they are “the champions of freedom.” New York’s Cuban-American Republican Rep. Nicole Malliotakis denied Wasserman Schultz’s claims.
  • Recently, the Biden Administration declared it would look into sending internet access to the island, reinstate remittances, and work with international organizations to sanction Cuban leaders for human rights violations. This follows protests and complaints from Cuban-American citizens and leaders alike. However, the White House has not taken any affirmative action in following its promises.

The Miami Herald declared that further discussions of Cuba policy in a divided Congress would be viewed “through a political lens” ahead of next year’s midterm elections.

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Race and equity collide amid Biden travel ban in Africa over omicron variant

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In remarks from the White House on Monday, President Biden emphasized the need for vaccine boosters as a new strain of COVID-19 makes its way to the United States.

President Joe Biden on Monday said that the new omicron variant of the coronavirus is “a cause for concern, not a cause for panicâ€� during presidential remarks on Monday at the White House.  

The president said any plans to face the current virus mutation and any new COVID-19 threats will be met with a push for vaccines and boosters — not by “shutdowns and lockdowns.â€�  

From the Roosevelt Room with Vice President Kamala Harris and Dr. Anthony Fauci by his side, President Biden responded to questions about his call for travel restrictions to eight African nations that took effect Monday. 

U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the Omicron COVID-19 variant following a meeting with his COVID-19 response team, including U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris (L) and Anthony Fauci (R), Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and Chief Medical Advisor to the President, at the White House on November 29, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

“Travel restrictions slow the spread [of omicron] although it does not prevent it,â€� said the president as he stood in front of a festive holiday garland around a fireplace. He added, “sooner or later we will get it (Omicron)â€� in the United States. 

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, however, wants the travel ban lifted against the Sub-Saharan African nations after scientists in his nation first identified the presence of the omicron variant. President Ramaphosa called the travel restrictions to his country and others “scientifically unjustifiedâ€� and “disappointing.â€� 

Officials in Africa are upset and expressed feeling penalized for simply having the science and technology to determine the new variant before other nations, including the United States.

Dr. Ayoade Alakija, chair of the African Union’s Africa Vaccine Delivery Alliance, also slammed the travel bans on southern African nations as a singling out of Africa. “This is discriminatory and xenophobia and it is wrong,” Dr. Alakija said in an interview with the BBC.

“The only thing the prohibition on travel will do is to further damage the economies of the affected countries and undermine their ability to respond to, and recover from, the pandemic,� said Ramaphosa.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa (Photo: Filip Singer/Getty Images)

Here in the U.S., activist and civil rights icon Reverend Jesse Jackson Sr. took to Twitter over the holiday to call on the United States and other world leaders to “helpâ€� African and poor nations, not punish them. 

“Africans are 1/8th of the human race. For [years] the US imported Africans & exported cotton. The U.S. & World are in Africa’s debt … We need less bans &more vaccine,� Jackson tweeted.

National Urban League President Marc Morial told theGrio on Monday that he “strongly� believes that the U.S. and other western nations have an obligation to make “many more vaccines� available to Africa “and other emerging nations as the vaccine is the best weapon against the pandemic.�

During his remarks, President Biden acknowledged that “vaccinating the world is just one more tool� to combat the pandemic, emphasizing that the United States “shipped for free more vaccines to other countries than all other countries in the world combined.�

Providing hard numbers, the president said that 275 million vaccines have been sent from the U.S. to 110 countries. He called on other world governments to step up as well.

After meeting with the White House COVID-19 Response Team, President Biden gave credit to the scientists and technologies in South Africa for identifying the omicron variant.

Despite criticisms the Biden administration has received for its travel restrictions in Africa, Morial of the National Urban League told theGrio that he believes “the travel ban is necessary.�

“I cannot second guess health professionals on the need for it,â€� he said. Morial did, however, acknowledge that there are potential economic impacts that “can’t be ignored due to this ban.â€� 

“An extended ban could impact business and leisure travel to the U.S. from these countries and of course these countries could in turn ban travel by U.S. citizens,� he added.

In this Oct. 18, 2019, file photo a JetBlue Airways flight flies in to Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City. JetBlue says it plans to increase the number of seats it will fill on planes starting in December. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

President Biden said the best prevention against any form of COVID is to be fully vaccinated and get a booster shot. 

In the United States, over 80,000 locations coast to coast are offering free boosters and vaccinations to prevent death and severe disease or disability. 

Research is underway on the effectiveness of the current vaccines against the new strain. In the event that the current vaccine is not effective against the new variant, or any other variant that comes, the Biden administration is working with Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson “to develop a contingency plan if needed� for a vaccine.

Concern over the omicron variant and decisions that have been made so far regarding U.S. travel in southern Africa comes as the United States is seeing an uptick in COVID-19 cases. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci told theGrio that “the vaccines are waning� and therefore the nation is seeing more vaccinated people being hospitalized with COVID infections. The president’s chief medical advisor is urging the nation to get boosters right away, especially as Americans go indoors and as they come together during the winter months and holidays.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks during a recent White House press briefing. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

“It is a complicated situation,� Fauci told theGrio, as the nation approaches 100,000 infections per day. The infections are driven not exclusively but “predominately� by people who are not vaccinated, he said. Dr. Fauci said roughly about 30% of the adult population are not vaccinated. In total, 60 million Americans who are eligible for vaccinations are not yet inoculated.

Emphasizing the urgency to get a booster shot, Fauci said it has even greater effectiveness than the initial doses. 

When it comes to the omicron variant and the Black community, doctors are weighing in with concerns about equity.

�Pervasive racial inequities are as problematic for the uptake of booster vaccines as they were for the initial doses. These inequities are predominantly attributable to gaps in access to primary healthcare,� Dr. Alison Galvani of the Yale Center for Infectious Disease told TheGrio.

“If you don’t have a primary care provider recommending the booster vaccine, you are less likely to receive one�

Unfortunately, omicron will likely have a disproportionately negative impact on communities of color, especially Black Americans, as is consistent with almost every other disease outside of COVID-19.

EMS medics transport a man with possible Covid-19 symptoms to the hospital on August 07, 2020 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

But Dr. Gigi El-Bayoumi, founding director of the Rodham Institute and a professor of medicine at George Washington University, told theGrio that although the mutations that omicron exhibits are concerning, “we are still learning whether or not it will be as infectious as the delta variant.�

“We have had other variants such as alpha and gamma that did not prove to have the same devastating impact that the original covid and variant delta has had.

“However, like any rapidly developing story, it is important that the public understand that as new information becomes available, there will be updates,� Dr. El-Bayoumi added.

El-Bayoumi said there is “promisingâ€� new treatment that appears to kill viral replication and reduces both death and hospitalization “when given at the first onset of COVID symptoms.â€� 

However, she cautioned that there are “theoretical concernsâ€� about the medication’s potential impact on human DNA. 

An often overlooked but growing concern of the pandemic is its impact beyond the coronavirus itself. A recently published report by the DC Department of Health, found five major concerns: Delayed Preventative and Chronic Disease Care; Long-term Effects of COVID-19 Infection; Economic Impact and Job Loss; Mental Health Stress, Social Isolation, Trauma, and Grief; and Loss of Academic, Social, and Emotional Growth in Children.

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The post Race and equity collide amid Biden travel ban in Africa over omicron variant appeared first on TheGrio.

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Former Alabama track star, Olympian Emmit King killed in shootout

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King, 62, was a sprinter and a member of the U.S. relay team for the Summer Olympics in 1984

A former University of Alabama track star and Olympian was killed in a shootout with another man, authorities say.

The Jefferson County Coroner’s Office on Monday identified Emmit King and Willie Albert Wells as the two men who died after exchanging gunfire in Bessemer on Sunday, AL.com reported.

Emmit King thegrio.com
U.S. athlete Carl Lewis raises his arms in victory as he wins the 100-meter final ahead of third-place Emmit King, left, at the U.S. Olympic track and field trials at the Coliseum in Los Angeles, June 18, 1984. (Credit: (AP Photo/Lennox McLendon, File)

King, 62, was a sprinter and a member of the U.S. relay team for the Summer Olympics in 1984 and 1988, but he didn’t compete.

He ran for Jefferson State Community College and for the University of Alabama, where he became the 1983 NCAA national champion in the 100 meters. That same year, he won the bronze in the 100 meters at the first World Championships.

Authorities said King and Wells, 60, knew each other and were arguing outside a house Sunday afternoon when they both pulled out guns and fired. Wells was pronounced dead at the scene, and King died later at a hospital.

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The post Former Alabama track star, Olympian Emmit King killed in shootout appeared first on TheGrio.

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Virgil Abloh’s final Louis Vuitton collection to be presented Tuesday

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The fashion designer passed away at age 41 after a two-year battle with a rare form of cancer.

Following the passing of Virgil Abloh, the beloved menswear designer for Louis Vuitton and founder and CEO of Off-White, the French fashion house will “pay tribute to the life and legacy of a creative genius” by showing his spring-summer 2022 collection this week in Miami.

Abloh passed away at age 41 after a two-year battle with a rare form of cancer called cardiac angiosarcoma, theGrio reported

Louis Vuitton announced on social media that it will show Abloh’s final menswear collection Nov. 30 at 5:30 p.m. EST. The spring-summer 2022 show will “pay tribute to the life and legacy of a creative genius.”

“It is with profound sorrow that I learned of the passing of Virgil Abloh,” said Michael Burke, Louis Vuitton’s chairman and CEO, in a statement shared on Instagram. “Virgil was not only a friend, great collaborator, creative genius, visionary and disruptor, but also one of the best cultural communicators of our times. He paved the way for future generations.”

Paper Magazine, Sprout By HP
DJ Virgil Abloh attends Paper Magazine, Sprout By HP

“As a devoted supporter of his community through his charities and passions, he was an eternal optimist who believed anything was possible In this same spirit, we at Louis Vuitton will proudly continue to celebrate his legacy with a final show in Miami, per his wishes. I am honored to have called him my friend. My deepest thoughts are with his wife, children, parents, family and the entire community that was touched by his greatness.”

In 2018, Abloh was named men’s artistic director for Louis Vuitton – the first African American to helm a line at the company.

“It is an honor for me to accept the position of men’s artistic director for Louis Vuitton,” Abloh said at the time. “I find the heritage and creative integrity of the house are key inspirations and will look to reference them both while drawing parallels to modern times.â€�

Abloh was a frequent Kanye West collaborator and worked with myriad A-List celebrities, many of whom paid tribute to LV’s artistic director on social media following news of his death on Sunday.

As reported by theGrio, Ye dedicated his latest Sunday Service concert to Abloh, his longtime friend, protégé and artistic director, with a rendition of Adele’s “Easy on Me� performed by the Sunday Service choir.

Pharrell Williams wrote on Instagram that his “heart is broken� following Abloh’s death.

“Virgil you were a kind, generous, thoughtful creative genius,� he wrote, adding that Abloh’s “work as a human� and “work as a spiritual being will live forever.�

“Sending love and light to your wife, children, family and day ones,� he continued, “you’re with the Master now, shine.�

“��🕊Rest In Peace Great One! Such a Visionary!��🕊,� wrote R&B superstar Kelly Rowland. “Sending my love and prayers to his family!���

“Rip Virgil prayers to your family thank you for always supporting the youth always kind we just spoke bro smh,� rapper Offset tweeted.

Abloh is survived by his wife, children, sister and parents. Information about a memorial service was not immediately available.

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The post Virgil Abloh’s final Louis Vuitton collection to be presented Tuesday appeared first on TheGrio.

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