[R-G] Ron Ridenour explains Cuba's mission to extend solidarity around the world
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Wed Jun 14 16:14:49 MDT 2006
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June 13, 2006 Tuesday
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HEADLINE: Feature - International aid;
Ron Ridenour explains Cuba's mission to extend solidarity around the
BYLINE: Ron Ridenour
Cuba's constitution is based on "proletarian internationalism, on the
fraternal friendship, aid, cooperation and solidarity of the peoples
of the world."
In the nation's 2004 report to the United Nation's Millennium
Development Goals, adopted in 2000 by 189 heads of state, it
demonstrated that it had met three of the eight humanitarian goals
aimed at eliminating extreme poverty by 2015 and that it was on track
with the rest.
Cuba's foreign policy is, in fact, based upon the eighth goal:
"Develop a global partnership for development."
Twenty-five thousand of the nation's 70,000 doctors and several
thousand other medical personnel are serving in 68 countries. A
similar number of teachers and technicians serve in a total of 100
Cuba is building a medical university in Venezuela. Over the last
three decades, it has built others in Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia,
Uganda, Ghana, Gambia, Yemen, Guinea Bissau, Guyana and Haiti.
In addition to providing health care and education, Cuban
collaborators assist 24 of the most underdeveloped nations with other
techical advice, aid to HIV victims and sugar.
The export of "human capital," as the state characterises these
missions, is provided to individual recipients free of charge. In
most cases, the states which receive Cuba's aid pay in some form,
such as by bartering oil, other resources and manufactured products.
Cuba's commitment to serving the poor, the sick and victims of
natural catastrophies is a glaring contrast to the conduct of world
capitalism led by the US and particularly its current government.
A good example of this is how the governments confronted the damage
caused by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and the surrounding area.
Cuba immediately offered to help save survivors with the especially
formed Henry Reeves International Team of medical specialists in
disasters and epidemics.
Fifteen hundred medical professionals committed themselves to assist
Katrina's victims. Each was equipped with 50 pounds of medicines and
field hospital equipment. These missionaries had an average of 10
years clinical experience and had served in 43 countries. The Bush
regime rejected their relief effort.
The Henry Reeves teams were, instead, sent to aid Pakistani
earthquake victims and Guatemalans affected by Hurricanes Stan and
Wilma. Seventy-three percent of patients hit by the Pakistan disaster
were served by these teams.
Most of the 2,500 doctors and paramedics serving for half a year in
Pakistan have recently returned to Cuba after training 660 Pakistani
medics and turning over the 32 field hospitals that they brought with
The Cuban government also donated 241 tons of medicines and surgical
instruments and 275 tons of hospital equipment. Now 3,000 strong,
Henry Reeves volunteers are required to speak at least two languages
and be competent in epidemiology.
This mission's namesake was taken from the US Civil War veteran who
served in Cuba's first war of independence from Spain. Reeves, a New
Yorker, earned the rank of brigadier-general. He died in battle in
1876, after having fought in 400 battles.
"Recognition of Cuban expertise in disaster preparedness and
response" prompted the UN development programme and Association of
Caribbean States to select Havana as the headquarters for the new
Cross Cultural Network for Disaster Risk Reduction, which is to
facilitate regional co-operation in disaster management, wrote Cuban
medical journal MEDICC Review in the summer of 2005.
"The world has never witnessed anything equal to this health
programme," commented St Vicent and the Grenadines Prime Minister
Ralph Gonsalves upon landing in Havana last February.
Gonsalves had come to thank Cuba for having cured 1,000 blind
citizens in yet another foreign aid programme, Operation Miracle.
Two years ago, Cuban doctors began applying in 25 countries what
their associate scientists had created, a simple surgery which cures
many forms of blindness within two to three days.
A quarter of a million people have already been cured of cataracts,
retractile disorders, corneal leucoma, myopias and strabismus.
Another six million Latin Americans so affected are targeted for
cures over the next decade.
Fidel Castro and Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez have agreed to
provide funds, medicines and medical personnel to treat those
suffering from these eye afflictions, which are frequently caused by
malnutrition. Over one million Latin Americans are affected annually.
Cuban medical missionaries carrying backpacks with hospital equipment
and medicines reach into the far corners of Latin America to perform
the surgery. In the case of St Vincent and the Grenadines, only a few
personnel can arrive at a time, in small aircraft, since there is no
international airport for larger craft.
So Cuba and Venezuela, through their cooperative trade pact ALBA
(Bolivarian Alternative for Latin America), agreed to build one.
Tens of thousands of blind patients not treated where they live are
transported to Havana for the surgery. This programme is paid for
through ALBA. The largest number are from Venezuela, but they also
come from the entire continent and the Caribbean. Poor blind people
in the US may apply as well.
Many patients spend a short recovery in spacious top-floor rooms in
the tall apartment building, Focsa, where I lived for four years.
Thousands more occupy hotel rooms previously used by the tourist
As many as 1,650 patients received eye operations at 20 hospitals in
one single day, August 20, last year.
Mission Robinson is Cuba's educational humanitarian programme for
hundreds of thousands of illiterates and out-of-school children in a
score of Third World countries and in New Zealand.
Besides providing literacy and further education, Cuba also provides
cultural and sports programmes. Artists and coaches impart their
knowledge and skills across the globe. It sometimes occurs that a
sport teams trained by Cubans compete with Cuban teams. The coaches
often feel double loyalties when it comes to which team they wish to
In addition to the free solidarity aid that Cuba provides to millions
of people in their own countries, it also offers free higher
education, emphasising medical training, to hundreds of thousands
more at Cuban schools.
International enrollment in Cuban medical schools more than doubled
between 2004-5 and 2005-6. Thirty thousand students from 30 countries
are currently studying to become doctors, nurses, dentists, allied
health personnel and health psychologists.
Ever since the beginning of Cuba's revolution, its foreign policy has
been oriented to assist all Third World nations, especially in Latin
America, the Caribbean and Africa, to tear themselves away from
foreign domination, which keeps their peoples in poverty, ignorance
and ill health.
The strong voice of President Fidel Castro has been a beacon to many
of these nations, which have recently been taking heed.
The new and progressive-oriented leaders of Argentina, Brazil and
Uruguay, along with Paraguay, have formed the regional trade
organisation Mercosur, whose agenda is similar to that of the more
progressive ALBA, which now includes Bolivia.
It is noteworthy that Paraguay has joined despite strong protest from
the US, which is seeking to impose its imperial trade plan, ALCA,
over both American continents. Paraguay's government has otherwise
been quite compliant in allowing the US to build military bases aimed
at threatening progressive Latin American governments and the
people's guerilla movements in Colombia.
Yet another regional trade plan, CAN, covers the Andes area. Bolivia,
Chile, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Surinam, Venezuela and even Colombia
Mercosur adopted 32 projects, at the end of 2005, amounting to $4
billion, to be completed in the next five years.
It is the hope of most Latin American leaders and people that
Mercosur, CAN and ALBA will eventually lead to the formation of the
United States of South America, bringing an end to US imperialism in
its "back yard."
- Ron Ridenour is the author of Cuba at the Crossroads and Backfire:
The CIA's Biggest Burn (Editorial Jose Marti, 1991) two other books
and many articles about Cuba. To catch up on his continuing series on
Cuba, visit the Morning Star homepage at www.morningstaronline.co.uk
or Ron Ridenour's website.
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