How Cuba Globalizes Solidarity

July 16, 2012 | Print Print |

Elio Delgado Legon

John Paul II and Fidel Castro during the Pope’s 1998 visit to Cuba.

HAVANA TIMES — I will never forget a phrase used by Pope John Paul II during his 1998 visit to Havana: “Globalizing Solidarity.” The word “solidarity” stands for one of the most sublime feelings of human beings, along with love and friendship.

We Cubans have learned the true meanings of those words through our socialist revolution, while the notions of selfishness and “every person for themself” are what prevail under capitalism.

Many of those people who criticize each of the policies of the Cuban Revolution argue that the country isn’t in a position to help other people when our nation has so many difficulties to face.

However, as our historical leader, Fidel Castro, once said, “Demonstrating our solidarity is nothing more than paying back our debt to humanity.”

Throughout its history, Cuba has received solidary and selfless assistance from many peoples. In its wars of independence, for example, those who fought side by side with the Cubans included a group from the Dominican Republic, many Venezuelans, as well as US citizens, Poles, and Chinese – none of whom expected anything in return.

In our Revolutionary War, which ended with the victory of January 1959, the most well-known example of international solidarity was embodied in Comandante Ernesto “Che” Guevara.

Since the triumph of the Revolution, Cuba acted in solidarity with all those who fought against the bloody dictatorships that oppressed their countries and with those seeking to throw off the yoke of colonialism.

When Angola was about to gain independence and an attack was being prepared by South Africa to prevent that, the leader of that colonized country, Agostinho Neto, appealed to Cuba to train its troops. The history of this military cooperation is known. Thousands of Cubans fought voluntarily in Angola and the end result was the complete independence of that country, the liberation of Namibia and the end of apartheid in South Africa.

However the civilian partnerships in which our country has participated have been principally in the areas of health and education. Cuba has carried these out extensively in many countries.

It is impossible to relate all the examples of Cuba’s solidarity with other peoples, the list would be too long; but I can cite some of the most well-known instances in the medical field.

As early as 1960, a Cuban medical brigade — with several tons of equipment and supplies — left for Chile, which had been hit by an earthquake

Cuban medical personnel in Venezuela. Photo: Caridad

In 1963, the country sent a medical brigade to Algeria, which was facing a difficult situation in that field. There was no excess of doctors in Cuba at that time. Of the 6,000 who were here at the moment of the revolutionary triumph, 3,000 left for the United States. But another people needed help from the island and they received it for 14 months.

Medical cooperation was also received in Africa in the 1970s and ‘80s, in Angola and Ethiopia, as well as in Central America, particularly Nicaragua.

Following the battering by two hurricanes in Central America at the end of the 90’s, those peoples’ need for attention led to the Cuban government’s creation of a comprehensive health program (“Programa Integral de Salud,”), which was extended to the Caribbean and later to Africa and the Pacific region.

The establishment of the Latin American School of Medicine (la Escuela Latinoamericana de Medicina, or ELAM) for the training of youth, primarily from poor countries, was an important step in meeting the objectives of compreshensive health program. To date, that institution has graduated some 15,000 doctors from 100 countries – including ones from the United States.

In 2003, Cuba began collaboration in Venezuela with the special program called “Barrio Adentro.”

In August 2005, the island created the Henry Reeve International Contingent of Doctors Specialized in Disaster Situations and Serious Epidemics. This unit is composed of some 10,000 aid workers of whom more than 4,000 have served in assistance missions in countries that have included Guatemala, Pakistan, Bolivia, Indonesia, Mexico, Peru and China. This operation offered its assistance to the US when that country was hit by Hurricane Katrina, but the aid was not accepted.

When the earthquake occurred in Haiti in January 2010, this contingent reinforced the Cuban medical team that was already working there and then continued when that country was struck by a cholera epidemic. Cuba, along with Brazil and Venezuela, is currently working on the creation of a comprehensive health system in Haiti.

In 2004, Operation Miracle eye surgery program began with patients coming from Venezuela, and in 2005 it was extended to 15 Caribbean countries and 12 nations of Latin America. There have been about two million operations on patients from 34 nations in Cuba and in 51 eye centers created in 12 other countries.

The fact that there are 37 million people who are blind around the world — 80 percent of them as a result of treatable causes — should be a source of embarrassment for the developed countries. Cuba, however, does what it can to alleviate the suffering of millions. More than 4.5 million lives have been saved by our doctors in the places where they have served, and most of the Cuban people consider this to have been worth the sacrifice.

For reasons of space, I have only highlighted the most important examples of solidary aid provided by the island, though none of that is reflected in the so-call major transnational media.

This silence is also part of the campaign against Cuba.


What's your opinion?

  • http://www.jerzymade.com jerzy

    I can’t believe this article has been published in US. Is this a sign of things to change? (hopefully). How can I become a part of it? please make sure stay in touch. World loves you. Jerzy.

  • Moses

    Cuba’s accomplishments for a small, poor country are indeed noteworthy. But, to assume that there is a campaign of silence against Cuba and it’s contributions is incorrect. “Feel good” news has its place but it seldom sells newspapers. Tragedy, crime and gossip sell newspapers. Once again, Elio expects that the role of press in Cuba, which is to “cheerlead’ for the Cuban dictatorship, is the same role played by the media in the rest of the world. Personally, I don’t care about Cuban crop reports or how many blind kids in Malawi were treated by Cuban doctors. I don’t think there are a lot of busy people who do. If the New York Times led with those stories, sales would drop that day. Sorry Elio, if you want to read about Cuban successes, buy a Granma.

  • Michael N. Landis

    I suspect you are correct, Moses, when you say that “feel good” news seldom sells papers. Yet any perceptive person eventually tires of this constant diet of tragedy, crime and gossip. In short, we become weary of this worm’s eye (?pun intended?) view of the world, and yearn for stories that highlight altruism and selflessness. We find these stories refreshing. On the other hand, a constant diet of such stories would also become a bore. Somehow, there has to be a “golden mean” of stories exploring both the less appetizing, and the more endearing, aspects of human nature. I’ve noticed, however, that in good literature when the observer explores the underside of human nature, s/he at least has some empathy for the “fallen angels.” (Note Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s characters, for example, and Luis Bunuel’s, also). Those authors taking “cheap shots” at the foibles of their characters, such as Tom Wolfe, are intuitively recongized as being of a lesser rank. Finally, the heroic efforts of the Cuban volunteers, be they medical volunteers in Haiti, or military volunteers who fought against Aparteid in Angola, deserve more recognition.

    • Moses

      I know, secondhand, that CNN would be far more likely to cover Cuban altruism if they were also allowed to cover Cuban foibles. That is to say that Elio and Cuba wants the good without the bad. It was considered a journalistic coup a few days ago for CNN just to be allowed to report from inside a Cuban hospital to cover the cholera outbreak. Even so, I am told that the CNN crew were carefully directed to specific recently-painted rooms of the hospsital. Unfortunately, when the news is “managed” with such a heavy hand, it only discourages the real journalist who might have otherwise also covered a puff piece like Cuban doctors in Haiti. The balance that you speak of is a prerequisite from the newsmaker as well.

  • http://www.cubaverdad.net Cubaverdad

    TRADE, NOT AID: FALSE SOLIDARITY

    In fact: most of so called Cuban “aid” is in fact trade. With the possible exception of Haiti and maybe some other country most countries pay for the Cuban “solidarity” (1).
    This trade has become Cuba’s biggest earner of foreign currency (2)
    Zimbabwe has been paying millions of dollars to Cuba for the doctors there (3)..
    South Africa recently gave a nearly 3 million dollar grant to Sierra Leone to pay for 20 doctors in that country. A whopping 150,000 dollars a year per doctor.. (4)
    This is the result of a strategy of the Cuban regime to use the doctors of Cuba to earn cash for the regime (5). with most of the funds coming from Chavez in Venezuela.
    Cuban doctors are enticed and even forced to go abroad leaving the Cuban part – of course not the tourist part – of the health service without much needed doctors.

    References.
    (1) “It has also been an important source of foreign currency for Cuba, with earnings from the export of medical services, including 37,000 health workers overseas, estimated at more than $2 billion. Ms.
    Hansing said that these days the Cubans typically ask host countries to pay a sliding scale that averages $2,500 per doctor, per month. But Haiti, she said, is one of a few countries that are not charged.”
    Cuba Takes Lead Role in Haiti’s Cholera Fight
    By RANDAL C. ARCHIBOLD
    Published: November 7, 2011
    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/08/world/americas/in-haitis-cholera-fight-cuba-takes-lead-role.html
    (2) “The sale of medical services

    The Cuban government manages these statistics with great discretion, but all sources conclude that there are about 40,000 of their health care workers serving overseas – most of them in Venezuela, but also in 69
    other countries.

    According to studies by centers specializing in the analysis of the Cuban economy, health care personnel bring in $5 billion USD annually, a significant figure when compared with the $2.4 billion received from
    tourism or the $1.2 billion from remittances.

    The doctors spend periods of two years working in one country or another, during which time they receive part of their salary there while another part goes to their family in Cuba (who are paid in regular pesos
    and convertible pesos, and are given a discount card to make purchase in stores). Likewise, on their return to Cuba, these workers are allowed to import a large amount of goods with them.

    However, the salaries received by these doctors represent a small part of what the Cuban contracting company charges customers who demand their services. This means the bulk of the money goes into the state treasury, making it one of the government’s highest profit-generating activities.”

    May Day in Cuba: The Doctors Out in Front
    May 2, 2012
    http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=68998
    (3)”The income to Castro’s purse from this “doctor diplomacy” in Zimbabwe alone is estimated at $1.2 million (U.S.) per month.”
    Gaither C. Diserción en Zimbabwe empaña la “diplomacia médica” de Castro. El Nuevo Herald, June, 12, 2000.
    (4) “funds were allocated to Sierra Leone (R24 million) to fund 20 Cuban doctors to offer medical services”
    South Africa: SA allocates R268m in aid to 19 countries
    http://7thspace.com/headlines/416664/south_africa_sa_allocates_r268m_in_aid_to_19_countries.html
    (5) “I think medical services will have replaced tourism as our most important source of revenue in 2005,” said Garcia, who directs the Cuban Economy Study Center at Havana University.
    Source :”Cuba’s medical services becoming major moneymaker”, South Florida Sun Sentinel, Dec.18 2005.
    See: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/CubaVerdad/message/19469

    • http://www.GRDPublishing.com Grady Ross Daugherty

      If what you say is true, Cubaverdad, then I applaud the Cuban government, the governments of countries that pay for the services of Cuban medical aid workers, and the valiant Cuban medical aid workers themselves who have done so much good in the less affluent countries of the world.

      Your comments intend to be a chop on the Cuban government and system. It is instead a clarification of how the Cuban Revolution is making a big difference in the world, with regard to the common people. Shame on you for your silly nonsense.

      • http://www.cubaverdad.net Cubaverdad

        My comments that the Cuban so-called solidarity is a lie and how the regime abuses it people to make the money it needs to survive.
        Cuba doctors are denied the right to leave Cuba to settle elsewhere as they have a potential cash value for the regime.
        http://cubaverdad.net/freedom_of_movement.htm#Medical_doctors:_the_special_case._

        Fuedal Serfdom: The Fate of Health Professionals in Cuba
        http://www.huffingtonpost.com/yoani-sanchez/fuedal-serfdom-the-fate-o_b_521920.html

        Cuba’s Cash-for-Doctors Program
        Thousands of its health-care missionaries flee mistreatment.
        http://groups.yahoo.com/group/CubaVerdad/message/54763

        The recent epidemic of cholera in Cuba has again shown how the absence of medical staff and the lack of medicines in Cuba add to the suffering of the Cuban people.

        • Luis

          While some countries donate (drop) bombs, I’m glad to hear that Cuba export doctors.

          • http://www.cubaverdad.net Cubaverdad

            Cuba exports bombers (IRA) not doctors.
            Doctors – as I have shown above – aren’t free to leave and go where they are needed.
            The Castro regime expropriates their work and charges $150,000 a year in “rent” from desperate countries like Sierra Leone.
            If Cuba was indeed a country in “solidarity” with others it would allow its doctors to freely emigrate.
            Various doctors had to defect to be able to remain in Africa.
            Get your facts right.

      • Luis

        Grady, what can you expect from a hate site?

        Cheers!

        • http://www.GRDPublishing.com Grady Ross Daugherty

          What, indeed! Cheers, Luis.

  • http://www.GRDPublishing.com Grady Ross Daugherty

    Thank you, Elio, for another fine piece on the noble soul of the Cuban Transformation (if I may coin a phrase). Your article reminds me of Fidel’s 2001 speech “Without Socialism” that details the many accomplishments of Cuban statist socialism (and which I have included as an appendix in my latest book Hope for the Future: Foundations of the Cooperative Republic Movement).

    Now, if you would just do an article suggesting possible tweaks to the present statist form of socialism, it might be a smash hit! Best wishes.