“The internationalism of the doctors from Cuba who have gone to fight the virus in Italy is inspirational.”Jeremy Corbyn MP.
Ryan Smith writes on Cuba’s health internationalism and why we should campaigning against Trump’s blockade of Cuba
As the world fights an international battle against the coronavirus pandemic, Cuba has once again proved itself a paragon of internationalism and solidarity.
Not only is the island combating the virus at home with 396 confirmed cases, 11 deaths and more than 3,000 patients under observation as of 7 April; it is also sending teams of nurses and doctors across the world to support foreign health services that have been overwhelmed by the scale of the crisis.
The Cuban medical brigades have already arrived in 14 countries including Italy, Andorra, Angola and Jamaica. This act of global solidarity was recognised in parliament by Jeremy Corbyn MP, former Leader of the Labour Party, who said: “The internationalism of the doctors from Cuba who have gone to fight the virus in Italy is inspirational.”
At a time when most nations were beginning to close borders and enter state-wide lockdowns, the stricken British cruise liner, the MS Braemar, with more than 600 passengers, five with coronavirus, was allowed to dock in Havana after many other nations, including the United States had refused.
UK Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Dominic Raab publicly thanked the Cuban government from the dispatch box in Parliament for their “close cooperation.”
Cuba’s inspirational acts of solidarity amid the coronavirus pandemic is just the latest chapter in a longstanding history of internationalism.
Over the last 60 years, Cuban doctors, nurses and other specialists have worked in more than 160 countries through bilateral and international agreements as part of the small island nations international cooperation. This includes sending medical brigades to Pakistan in the aftermath of the Kashmiri earthquake (2005), to Haiti to assist with the devastating cholera outbreak following the earthquake (2010), and to West Africa in the region’s fight against Ebola (2015).
Cuba goes even further than just sending medical specialists abroad. In 1998, they established the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM), which trains medical students from less developed countries at what according to the UN, is the “most advanced medical school in the world.” Some 35,000 students from 136 nations, including the US, have graduated as health professionals from ELAM.
Many of the students go onto help in various programmes of international solidarity that Cuba have created. For example, in 2004, Cuba and Venezuela launched Operation Miracle in which victims of cataracts without the means to pay were operated on. More than 6 million people from 34 countries regained their sight thanks to Cuban doctors.
However, just like in all other aspects of Cuban life, the brutal and inhumane US blockade of Cuba is severely limiting Cuba’s ability to fight COVID-19 at home and abroad, and causing daily shortages of food, fuel and other basic necessities. Last year the cost to the Cuban health sector alone amounted to more than $104 million.
Just last week, a shipment of vital medical aid including 400,000 rapid diagnostic kits and 104 ventilators from China was stopped from reaching the island because of the continued US blockade of Cuba.
The Trump administration has intensified sanctions on Cuba to unprecedented levels, targeting one of its main sources of income, tourism. Direct flights from the US to nine Cuban airports ended earlier this year. Cruise ships were barred from calling at Cuban ports, and the already limited licenses granted to US citizens to visit the island, were reduced further by the White House. Sanctions on shipments of oil from Venezuela have already increased shortages on the island.
Cuba justifiably reacted angrily to a $3 million US government campaign to undermine the reputation of its medical brigades abroad, and pressure countries benefiting from its international brigades to send them home.
Cuban doctors were ordered to leave Bolivia following the coup d’état against Evo Morales last year, as well thousands of doctors in Ecuador and many more in Brazil. In the five years that Cuban doctors were operational in Brazil, they conducted more than 112 million consultations in more than 3,600 municipalities, offering medical coverage to 60 million Brazilians.
As recently as late March, the US government were issuing tweets urging countries not to accept the help of the brave medical brigades. By encouraging nations to expel Cuban doctors, the US government endangers the lives vulnerable people around the world by depriving many of their only access to health care.
That is why it is so important, now more than ever, as the world fights the coronavirus pandemic, to fight for the end of the 60-year long US blockade of Cuba.
That’s why the Cuba Solidarity Campaign is asking people to sign its open letter calling for the British government to call on the US to suspend the blockade to help Cuba fight coronavirus at home and abroad. The response has been amazing, with more than 13,000 signatures from 126 countries, including 32 British MPs and several trade union leaders.
- You can find out more about Cuba’s international response to the coronavirus outbreak, sign the letter and read the messages at www.cuba-solidarity.org.uk