Undaunted Cuba’s act of solidarity, in real terms, in today’s pandemic ravaged world is a modern day epic. Now, none, but the Empire, declines the fact.
Cuba’s role in facing the pandemic in countries is unparallel in human history: the island-country facing the longest-ever imperial economic blockade in human history is reaching humanity in countries with medical assistance in defeating the pandemic while the Empire obstructs, actually withholds, Cuba’s life-saving medical supplies – an act of humanity faces an act of imperial cruelty and brutality. In this reality, Cuba stands undaunted, and writes pages in human history: Humanity is one of the guiding principles of the socialist value system, and Cuba stands on this value system. Now, the mainstream can’t deny this Cuba-fact.
An AP report dispatched from Havana on April 3, 2020 was headlined: “Cuban docs fighting coronavirus around world, defying US”. The headline is enough to tell the Cuba-reality.
The report by Andrea Rodriguez describes a background: For two years, the Trump administration has been trying to stamp out one of Cuba’s signature programs – state-employed medical workers treating patients around the globe. The US has notched a series of victories as Brazil, Ecuador and Bolivia sent home thousands after leftist governments were replaced with ones friendlier to Washington.
However, the report went on to describe today’s scene: Cuban doctors have flown off on new missions to battle the pandemic in countries.
According to the report, Cuban doctors and nurses have set up a field hospital equipped with oxygen and ICU beds in the city of Crema in the hard-hit Lombardy region of Italy. The situation in Lombardy was extremely complicated.
The AP report describes another part of the background: Despite the pandemic, and countries in need of medical assistance, the Trump administration continues to discourage countries from contracting Cuban medical workers.
The report cites US State Department: “Host countries seeking Cuba’s help for #COVID-19 should scrutinize agreements and end labor abuses.”
[No reader should laugh, as the imperial power raises the issue of labor abuse while its practices, laws, deals related to labor in home is not a hidden fact today: It’s biased to the exploiting classes, it’s improper, unfair, barred of the minimum in many cases, it’s abuse and cruel. In real terms, it’s killing – in terms of the working classes, and in terms of profit. The imperial world, and imperial-speak is crook, full of nothing, live with lies!]
Cuba currently has about 37,000 medical workers in 67 countries. The most recent deployments of at least 593 doctors from the Henry Reeve International Medical Contingent Specialized in Disaster Situations and Serious Epidemics have been to Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, Nicaragua, St. Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Venezuela. A number of these teams have reinforced existing medical missions. Argentine officials have said they are discussing possible coronavirus help from Cuba. Another Cuban medical mission is planned for Angola. Brazil’s Bolsonaro, who sent back Cuban doctors months ago, is pondering inviting them to help fight out the coronavirus.
Fidel Castro found the Henry Reeve Medical Contingent in 2005. The medical team is named after a 19th-century American volunteer who fought for Cuban independence from Spain. The Medical Contingent was deployed to battle infectious diseases in countries. It was Fidel’s vision – build up solidarity, build up friendship, friendship for humanity, friendship is not for profit, never give up dignity.
However, the Empire is continuing its propaganda to tarnish image of Cuba’s medical work abroad. Cubans sometimes reply the propaganda. “Shame on you. Instead of attacking Cuba and its committed doctors, you should be caring about the thousands of sick Americans who are suffering due to the scandalous neglect of your government and the inability of your failed health system to care for them,” Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s ambassador to Canada, once wrote on Twitter.
Members of the Medical Contingent departed Cuba almost every day for many countries. Up to weeks ago, at least 11 medical teams left Cuba for countries to fight the pandemic.
Several Caribbean island countries have expressed the gratitude of their peoples with a warm welcome as Cuban doctors reached the countries to battle coronavirus as a gesture of solidarity.
In countries, highest political leadership received the Cuban medical missions at airports. For example, at the Lesser Antilles, the main island of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Ralph Gonsalves, the Premier of the country, received the mission. He thanked “the Cuba of Fidel and Raul”, and President Díaz-Canel, the “continuator.” In Antigua and Barbuda, the United Progressive Party offered a warm, fraternal welcome to the Cuban medical brigade while in Jamaica, Prime Minister Andrew Holness tweeted, “Jamaica appreciates Cuba’s support as we fight this pandemic.”
In Haiti, the Cuban doctors who were scheduled to return home after completing their mission are staying there. They joined the new medical team from Cuba to halt the virus. Marie Greta Roy Clement, Minister of Health, recalled the history of Cuba’s hand reaching out to the Haitian people during cholera, Hurricane Matthew, and an earthquake.
Over the last week, brigade from the Medical Contingent was landing in St. Vincent and the Grenadines while, simultaneously, another team was flying to St. Lucia, and another team was flying over sea to reach another country. No country has set such precedent.
Leydis Maria Labrador Herrera writes in Granma on March 24, 2020:
More than 400,000 children of this earth have delivered a message of hope around the world, taking on the noble task of saving lives. For 56 years, 164 nations can testify to what has been a feat of solidarity, considering that this is an island constantly struggling against economic strangulation by an arbitrary, genocidal blockade.
Our [Cuban] government has decided to maintain international medical collaboration, and in those nations where Cuban internationalists are present, their efforts are directed toward confronting the pandemic and supporting implementation of measures adopted by governments of respective countries.
To battle the pandemic, according to Leydis Maria:
Cuban specialists reached Venezuela in mid-March, to provide advice on effective control of the disease, followed by 136 members of Medical Brigade to reinforce primary care in communities, the front line in confronting the virus.
Medical professionals from Cuba reached Nicaragua on March 18.
On March 20, 51 members of the Contingent arrived in Suriname.
Medical professionals from the Contingent departed for Grenada on March 20.
On March 21, some 140 members of the Contingent departed for Jamaica.
In Europe, the world’s worst coronavirus-hit region, Italy was in the most chaotic and desperate situation, and Lombardy, the center of the outbreak, was recording high numbers of deaths every day. Its health system collapsed while its medical workforce was exhausted. A brigade of 52 doctors and nurses, from the Henry Reeve Contingent reached Italy on March 22. In April, another medical team went there.
Currently, of the countries where Cuban collaboration in the health sector existed before the coronavirus outbreak, more than 30 have confirmed the presence of coronavirus, and in these countries Cuban doctors and nurses are continuing their battle against the virus. The Cuban medical professionals have two essential weapons: proven professional ability and strong sense of responsibility.
Medical professionals from Cuba – 28,268 – are fighting the pandemic in, writes Abel Reyes Montero, in 61countries, up to filing the report. These countries, other than the countries mentioned above, include Algeria (891 members in 47 health centers), China, Guatemala, Kuwait, Qatar (499 members), South Africa (216 members), Togo.
Despite high risk
Reyes Montero’s report in Granma on March 17, 2020 cites Dr. Jorge Hidalgo Bustillo, director of Cuba’s Central Unit for Medical Collaboration (UCCM): 57% of the mission members are considered to be at high risk since they are over 59 years of age and have chronic diseases. The missions go to far-flung areas including border areas. Healthcare infrastructures are weak in some of the countries they serve. A number of members of the medical brigade went to 7-8 medical missions prior to the present mission. In Algeria, Fidel began Cuba’s efforts to offer solidarity around the world through Cuban medicine.
Several countries, writes Leydis Maria, “have requested Cuban support, and others, blinded by political instability, neoliberalism in its purest form and hatred of [Cuba’s] social system, have rejected [Cuba’s] help. But, for the record, [Cuba’s] policy as a country in this situation has been very clear since the communiqué reporting [Cuba’s] decision to give the MS Braemar cruise ship safe harbor was released, stating: ‘These are times of solidarity, of understanding health as a human right, of strengthening international cooperation to face our common challenges, values that are key to the humanist practice of the Revolution and our people.’”
The crew of the MS Braemar, owned by the British Fred Olsen cruise line, spent several days sailing the Caribbean with passengers suffering coronavirus infections, and no-UK ally allowed it to dock.
Enrique Moreno Gimeranez writes in Granma on March 18, 2020:
“Despite diplomatic efforts by the UK government, the ship was refused entry to several ports in the region. But there was nothing fictional about the urgent situation of passengers including the sick whose lives were endangered, with the rest facing possible infection, in the middle of the ocean.
“Cuba said yes, and offered a safe port in the midst of adversity, with modesty, not seeking headlines in the media, for absolutely nothing in return. Such a decision perhaps generated incomprehension on the part of some, those who are unaware of the value of a helping hand during a catastrophe.
“But, for most Cubans, the opportunity to help fills us with patriotic pride, with the emotion only understandable by women and men of good will in all latitudes. Because in ‘times of coronavirus’, the words ‘help, cooperate, work together’ should be the norm, across the planet. Because human civilization should understand, once and for all, that only together can we overcome common challenges and tragedies.
“Cuba, true to its principles, could not act otherwise, nor is this the first time we have done so. Solidarity is in the genes of the Cuban people. It is part of our unique identity and has written memorable chapters in our history.
“Perhaps for these reasons, in the time of Covid-19, the eyes of the world look hopefully to Cuba, and our people, who despite hardships and a fierce blockade, did not hesitate to respond.”
Cuban hands of solidarity in times of distress are not a recent development. Cuban medical professionals went to fight Ebola in Africa, blindness in Latin America and the Caribbean, and rescue earthquake victims in Pakistan. Twenty-six Cuban brigades from the Henry Reeve International Contingent also went to other countries including Indonesia, Mexico, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Venezuela.
The Cuban government said in mid-April: Cuba is ready to send more medical brigades to countries that need support to contain the pandemic. “We defend solidarity, even in times of pandemic”, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez said on Twitter.
These are, writes Enrique Moreno Gimeranez, “an expression of solidarity from the Cuban people, who understand health as a human right, help any way we can and share what we have, with those who need it most in difficult times.” The underlying philosophy and ideology of these acts – “help any way we can and share what we have, with those who need it most in difficult times” – are not capitalist.
Market has no role
These acts are not driven by profit motive, not by market, not by geostrategic moves for dominance. That’s the fundamental difference between the Cuban people’s acts and imperialist acts. These are examples of the politics Fidel seeded through the revolution he led. These are examples of the style people’s politics in command of a state machine should do – serve the people. Mao told the same years ago while he was leading revolution in his country – China.
Enrique Moreno Gimeranez quotes Martí said:
“Cuba does not go around the world begging. She goes as a sister […]”
Command over politics
Enrique Moreno cites the scheduled NATO-war drill in Europe, which was going to be the biggest since the Cold War. The military exercise was designed to be joined by thousands of sepoys, lieutenants and generals.
The pandemic forced its planners to downsize the drill. The planned NATO military exercise and the Cuban medical missions in countries went simultaneously on this pandemic-hit planet. These are two ways of life – the first act is of dominance and exploitation while the other act is for life and of solidarity.
Anyone can compare Cuba’s medical mission-fact with the fact related to the multilateral lenders. Multilateral lenders’ acts of ravaging countries, communities and people are well documented today. Throughout the years, more than 56, Cuba was struggling to improve its economy and living standard of its citizens; and not all improvements could be done with a wand, as the country had to face a hostile world imperialist order, an economic blockade, hostile world markets. These made life of its citizens difficult, and sometimes very difficult. But, the turbulent situation failed refrain Cuba from carrying out its internationalist duty, advancing its humane approach. The country, thus, stands as an example of people’s ideology and politics – the acts people carry on whenever it command politics and political power. Without command over politics /political power, people or its politics can’t take such moves. Without political power, such moves can be imagined or planned, but can never be implemented.
These acts of solidarity led Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, former Brazilian president, and a leader from people’s rank, to write:
Once again, the government and people of Cuba are giving the world an example of solidarity, overcoming all barriers, be they economic, geographical or political in nature. (Granma, March 25, 2020)
In his letter to Miguel Díaz-Canel, the President of Cuba, Lula wrote on March 23, 2020:
I am writing to tell you of the emotion I felt when I saw the image of Cuban doctors arriving in Italy to help the victims of the coronavirus pandemic in that country.
It is in times of crisis that we come to know the truly great. And in these hours, the Cuban people always stand tall before the world. Cuba’s active, militant and revolutionary solidarity has long been visible in various parts of the planet, in a proud, sovereign response to those who attempt to impose an economic blockade and political isolation on the island.
The leader from the rank of people recalled:
The Brazilian people will be eternally grateful for the role Cuba played in our More Doctors program, in a cooperative effort that saved countless lives and taught our own health professionals so much.
That cooperation was brutally interrupted by a government that is disdainful of the people and blinded by a self-centered, inhumane ideology.
How does the other side – the Empire – perform?
An AP report dispatched from Havana on April 4, 2020 (“Cuba: US embargo blocks coronavirus aid shipment from Asia”) said:
A shipment of coronavirus aid to Cuba was blocked by the six-decade U.S. embargo on Cuba. Jack Ma Foundation tried to send Cuba 100,000 facemasks and 10 COVID-19 diagnostic kits in March, along with other aid including ventilators and gloves. The Foundation is sending similar aids to the US and 24 countries including Cuba in the region. The cargo carrier of Colombia-based Avianca Airlines declined to carry the aid to Cuba because its major shareholder is a US-based company subject to the trade embargo on Cuba. The embargo has exceptions for food and medical aid but companies are often afraid to carry out related financing or transportation due to the risk of fines or prosecution under the embargo. Carlos Fernando de Cossio, Cuba’s head of US affairs, said, the blocking “doesn’t surprise us. It’s the type of obstacle that Cuba confronts daily in order to take care of the country’s basic necessities.”
The Empire’s blockade of Cuba is denying Cuba’s public health system access to two regular suppliers of ventilators. As a consequence of the US blockade of Cuba, the manufacturers IMTMedical AG and Acutronic, announced the end of commercial relations with Cuba, after the companies were acquired by the US firm Vyaire Medical Inc. “Unfortunately, the corporate guideline we have today is to suspend all commercial relations with Medicuba”, both of the companies stated. Eugenio Martínez Enríquez, director for Latin America and the Caribbean at Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, conveyed the fact on his Twitter account. The Cuban diplomat also denounced that fact that the blockade prevents Cuba from purchasing medicines from US firms. Lázaro Silva, vice president of Medicuba, the entity that imports drugs, equipment and medical supplies for the country’s public health system, confirmed the fact. Only hours before this development, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO chief, called for putting sanctions “in quarantine,” since “thousands of lives are at stake”. Cuba has attempted to acquire medicine and supplies with 60 US firms, but only two have made response. (Walkiria Juanes and Sánchez Ronald Suárez Rivas, “U.S. company buys ventilator supplier and cancels shipments to Cuba citing blockade”, Granma, April 13, 2020)
US sanctions take heavy toll from Cuba while Cuba always stands by the distressed people in countries. The sanctions, according to Cuban health officials, make it extremely difficult for Cuba to import essential supplies needed to battle the coronavirus. Nestor Marimon, the Cuban Health Ministry’s international relations director, told reporters: The economic-financial blockade is the most unfair, severe, prolonged system of sanctions of all time by one country against another. The US blockade has become “even more cruel and genocidal than it normally is when we don’t have an epidemic.” It has severely hindered Cuba’s procurement of medical supplies from foreign markets. It’s very difficult to buy equipment, supplies, medicines. We are forced to buy them in far away markets that double, triple the costs and on many occasions they arrive late. According to Marimon, the Cuban Health Ministry lost $160 million between April 2019 and March 2020 due to the sanctions, $60 million more than the year prior.
Two aspects & political question
Two aspects of the reality surface here. On the one hand, it’s Cuba’s approach to serve humanity with the spirit of solidarity; and on the other, it’s imperialist approach to destroy a revolution Cuba continues with. The two are antagonistic to each other. The first approach is people’s stand on issues of life while the imperialist approach is to destroy whatever is humane. The first approach can’t survive and move forward without serving people, without standing for people, without reaching people, without solidarity among people while the other, imperialist, is inherently anti-people, inherently incapable of serving people, inherently bent on killing people. Both have respective ideologies and economic interests. One is of people and the other is of imperialists.
The example Cuba is setting shows another fact: People’s capacity to create, fight and stand for life. A comparison between the resources Cuba and the Empire command is noteworthy. The resources Cuba commands are in no way comparable to the resources of the Empire. The Empire’s resources are huge. But it doesn’t go for people. Cuba’s is little. But, with an ideology and politics for serving people, the little resource plays effective role in serving people. This indicates the extent peoples in countries can reach if it can command more resources, if it can employ science for people, if it can engage expertise for people, which is possible if it can command politics. Cuba’s role in battling the pandemic, thus, stands as a political lesson, as a political question.
Hollowness of and treachery by moneybags – the owners of capitals at the world scale – have been exposed by Cuba’s battle against the pandemic. The geographically small country with little resource has the capacity to mobilize its medical professionals to countries within short notice to fight the pandemic. But the big bosses have no such capacity. The bosses need help.
Nevertheless, the big bosses are always lending huge money to countries for lucrative projects, many of which destroyed environment and ecology in countries. The bosses also have window to finance private sector. These financing always returns to the bosses’ pocket in size larger than the original. The bosses are always sermonizing people on “ways to improve livelihood, on ways to get out of poverty, on ways to democratize”. The bosses are always efficient in producing analytical reports with colorful covers, charts, graphs, etc., which market their ideas. But, the bosses are always failing to finance a research organization like Cuba’s that can produce weapons to fight such a pandemic. And, the bosses are always failing to feel ashamed for their devastating theoretical and practical acts. The research organization of Cuba that produced a number of effective medicines to fight such epidemics in countries/current pandemic was initiated in a building less than 200 sq meters. Anyone can imagine the level of resource the organization had or the fund Cuba could allocate for the organization, which is far, far less than the bosses spent for producing their fat reports over the decades, for marketing their ideas, for exploiting resources of public, for bribing minds in countries. The bosses failed to design through their deep analysis and finance an organization that can mobilize medical professionals in countries to counter such a pandemic. Yet, the bosses organize and train youth and social media activists to foment turmoil against political order they consider their enemy and get busy with delivering sermons on issues and finance areas ranging from agriculture, trade, industry, labor, health, education to legislation, judiciary and politics that includes election.
So, the Cuba-example raises fundamental questions related to politics and political power – who shall use resources for what purpose with what motive, and who is to be served – people or profiteers? The bosses shall never attend to the questions. They’ll shy away from the questions as they’re dignified gentlemen, and get busy with selling their ideas for loot. Then, people have to attend to the question – whether life or death, whether a humane world where life thrives or a world where negligence to issues critical for life and love for greed lead to murder of people at mass scale in countries as the current coronavirus pandemic witnesses?
Farooque Chowdhury writes from Dhaka.