Fidel Castro, 88-year-old revolutionary
hero and anti-imperialist icon, recently published in the Cuban daily Granma that
his island nation would readily cooperate with the US to wrestle Ebola. This is
not the first gesture of goodwill that Cuba has made toward the US regarding
cooperation, either; rather, it is one of many invitations to solidarity that
happen to echo across an icy political tundra spanning years of embargo. Perhaps the newest aspect of Cuba’s
long-lived medical internationalism is that, in 2014, it yet defies decades of imperial embargo. Cuba’s international
medical mission yet survives Yankee economic
terrorism, and does so with an
outstretched hand for partnership! Other than Cuba’s remarkable magnanimity
that persists well into the 21st century, there is little new about
Cuba’s maverick ethos of serving the Third World and its public health.
Despite unimaginable economic
hardship, Cuba has had no qualms with proffering (and actually sending) America
its vital resource: human capital. Facts amassed within the last few years are
worth revisiting, especially given that the size of the Cuban population is a
decimal of US numbers, and that Cuba’s financial capability does not compare with
America’s. Consider the following:
- For more than 40 years, Cuban doctors have worked
abroad, and Cuban hospitals have received patients from around the world.
- Cuba has had more than 30,000 health care personnel
(19,000 physicians) in over 100 countries.
- Cuba has sent medical teams to Chile, Nicaragua, and
Iran, responding to devastating death tolls and destruction caused by
- An emergency
medical team of almost 2,500 Cubans treated 1.7 million people affected by
the 2005 Pakistan earthquake alone.
- Cuba has sent medical personnel to El Salvador to
assuage the outbreak of dengue fever, donating more than 1,000,000 doses
of meningitis vaccinations to Uruguay after an outbreak there.
- Cuba sent medical task forces to Iraq during the Gulf War
(which remained there after international relief organizations left); it
sent medical crews to the beleaguered peoples of Kosovo, too.
- Cuban medical personnel went to Guyana in 2005, to aid
in flooding, and also to Paraguay so as to work with infectious diseases
100 Cuban doctors worked in Botswana in 2005, combating the HIV/AIDS
has also offered thousands in medical staff to work with HIV/AIDS in
The foregoing list in no way
exhausts Cuba’s extensive history of medical internationalism. Again, it goes
without saying that Cuba’s medical endeavors are decades old. It has been an
enduring, if unofficial, pillar of the Cuban Revolution.
During times of war, Cuba
sent medical contingents at no cost to Algeria (in the early 1960s), and to
Guinea-Bissau and Angola in order to work with denizens of those countries and
to train them. In 1987, journalists confirmed the importance of Cuba’s
presence—medical and otherwise—in the newly-independent Angola. Numerous
victims of land mine violence (by government estimates, some 20,000) comprised
a large contingency of amputees. Additionally, about 90 percent of Angola’s
white population fled the country at the dawn of independence. Cuban teachers,
construction workers, and doctors (roughly 9,000 in all), assuaged the ensuing
paucity of skilled assistance.
Reporters also told of Cuba’s
generosity to Children from Chernobyl in the early 1990s. More than 2,600
children from the worst-affected areas of Byelorussia, the Ukraine, and Russia
received treatment in Cuba. The impoverished island nation provided the larges
convalescent program for affected children. Teachers accompanied patients while
translators and health workers assisted with family members in severe cases.
Fidel Castro backed Cuban spending for the sake of the children, providing a
355 pediatric hospital and special equipment. Cuba invited 30,000 children to
come from the Soviet Union, promising to pay local costs.
Cuba’s Latin American School
of Medicine not only continues to send doctors abroad, but it also provides students
from rural and marginalized areas in Africa, Asia, and Latin America—and the
United States—with a six-year medical education, gratis. In an article entitled
“Cuban Medical Internationalism and the Development of the Latin American
School of Medicine,” Robert Huish and John M. Kirk discuss Cuba’s response to
1998’s Hurricane Mitch, which claimed over 30,000 lives. “Cuba,” the authors
note, “sent medical brigades to the affected region and constructed the Latin
American School of Medicine just outside Havana.”
As for the US, Cuba also responded
to the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina, disastrous storm whose wrath
continues to affect poor Americans. Huish and Kirk note that Cuba offered “at
no cost, some 1,586 medical personnel and 36 tons of emergency medical supplies
to help the affected communities,” though the Bush regime tragically, and
intractably, rejected Cuba’s generosity.
Already, Cuba has already sent
some 550 medical personnel (doctors, nurses, etc.) to West Africa, plus
additional medical supplies. For whatever it is worth, US Secretary of State,
John Kerry, lauded the effort. The US committed as many as four thousand military
to establish clinics and train health care workers, along with the troops will
go officials from the Centers for Disease Control. Graciously, Fidel Castro
wrote in the Cuban daily Granma, that, “With pleasure we will cooperate with US
personnel,” not to establish peace between the two countries, but “for the
peace of the world.”
Current President, Raúl
Castro, averred that Cuba believes politicizing efforts is unadvisable; doing
so, he warns, “diverts us from the fundamental objective, which is the help to
face this epidemic in Africa and prevention in other regions.” In accordance
with United Nations advice from early September, Cuba has instructed its representatives
(participating in World Health Organization and the United Nations events) to assert
that Cuba will work side-by-side with even the US to approach Ebola, which has
already killed thousands in West Africa, and more than 230 health workers.
In all, Cuba continues to do
what it has always done to treat and heal the world. Doing so despite the
embargo only further proves its undying commitment neighborliness to the
world’s marginalized. But proffering world-class medical capabilities for the
greater good is ultimately nothing new.
Mateo Pimentel lives on the Mexican-US border.
© Copyright 2014 by AxisofLogic.com
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