If any one country has displayed in actions the human solidarity required to build a better world amid grinding poverty, malignant malnutrition, and endless bloody wars it is surely Cuba.
Amid the treacherous global COVID-19 pandemic the small socialist island in the Caribbean with just over eleven million citizens has defiantly declared in words and practice that another world is possible. Selfish greed, obscene hoarding of wealth and grotesque disparities in access to health, housing, and education are the realities of life in it’s rich and powerful American neighbour ninety miles away but Cuba embarrasses the US every day in terms of healthcare, education, housing and welfare.
Recently nominated for the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize the Cuban Medical Brigades have reminded the world of the importance of human compassion and solidarity. It really is one of the greatest stories that has never been told. The billionaire owned mainstream media carry meaningless and vacuous stories daily but how many of you were aware that 3,300 Cuban doctors, nurses and technicians were formed into 34 COVID-19 international medical brigades to assist in the fight against the pandemic in 28 countries across the world? Or that 28,000 medical professionals from Cuba are currently providing healthcare in 59 countries, many at no cost to the host countries or, of course, the recipients of the care?
How many have heard of Operation Miracle, the programme that has given free sight-saving operations to four million people in need, or the thousands of child victims of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster treated by Cuba, or the island’s response to the Pakistan earthquake in 2006, or its offer of help to the US following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, or it’s medical teams despatched to the frontline in Haiti’s battle with cholera, and the medical teams it sent to West Africa to combat Ebola in 2014?
Cuban Medical Brigades Win Awards for Self-Sacrificing Care
As soon as the COVID-19 virus engulfed other countries and threatened to over-run their respective health systems Cuba offered medical assistance. By March 21st, a 52-strong brigade was sent to Italy to assist the worst affected Lombardy region and other cities, the first time Cuba has sent an emergency contingent to Italy, one of the world’s richest countries. Only two weeks ago thirty-eight Cuban doctors and nurses were awarded Civil Merit medals by the Piedmont Regional authority in Italy recognising their dedicated and lifesaving efforts:
“The Cuban health professionals worked alongside Italian medics in Turin for three months. Their awards recognise “the role the medical team has played during the 2020 health emergency, dedication and high professionalism lavished daily caring Piedmontese patients with Covid-19”.
The words of one of the doctors on the day they flew out to Italy in March are inspirational from a human solidarity point of view:
“We are all afraid but we have a revolutionary duty to fulfil, so we take out fear and put it to one side,” Leonardo Fernandez, 68, an intensive care specialist, told Reuters late on Saturday shortly before his brigade’s departure.
“He who says he is not afraid is a superhero, but we are not superheroes, we are revolutionary doctors”.
Cuba Lost Over Half its Doctors After the 1959 Revolution
Immediately after the January 1959 Cuban revolution that overthrew the brutal Military General Batista who ruled for the rich and was in the pockets of the US government and big business concerns such medical solidarity across the world would have been impossible. Over half the island’s doctors, the best paid ones, fled for Florida leaving only 3,000 in a country of eleven million. Undeterred by the obstacles Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and the other revolutionary leaders set about building a society which prioritised welfare over warfare and dedicated maximum available resources to health and education across poverty ravished Cuba.
Remarkably, and despite a cruel and illegal economic embargo, blockade and very punitive sanctions regime imposed by successive US governments but recently increased by Trump, Cuba today has a life expectancy comparable with the world’s richest nations and an education system and literacy rate comparable with the best in the world and better than its rich bad neighbour.
Today in Cuba 26% of the national Gross Domestic Product is dedicated to free public health care. In the US, 56 million people struggle to pay for health insurance and inability to pay healthcare bills is the number one cause of family bankruptcy.
Cuba’s Primary Healthcare System Now World Admired
Cuba’s vast and universal primary healthcare system is now studied admiringly from across the world as it places over 10,000 family doctors and over 10,000 family nurses into every community with a pro-active agenda targeting at risk families and promoting early intervention strategies based on the time served maxim that prevention is better than cure. Cuba’s healthcare system is genuinely local and universal. A key plank of that system, and one which an independent Scotland must pursue urgently, is its publicly owned pharmaceutical and biotech industry. Public health not private profit drives the pharmaceutical research and development in Cuba which is why life enhancing breakthroughs are regularly made.
In the US and UK, the pharmaceutical industry is underpinned by maximising profits and therefore drugs that actually cure illnesses are supressed as there is more money to be made in drug treatments than drug cures. Cuba has had to develop its own vaccines, cancer treatments and medicines, and continues to develop more. At first Cuba only produced pharmaceuticals for its own population but in recent years it has started exporting them around the world.
From lung cancer to neck and various head cancers through to diabetes treatment Cuba, despite the atrocious blockade on essential equipment and supplies imposed illegally by the US, has pioneered new treatments with remarkable prospects of success but it is in the interests of the big and powerful privately owned pharma companies to encourage the continued blockade and refusal of patenting licences.
One Cuban medicine, Interferon Alpha 2b, is now being used in China to fight Coronavirus. Wouldn’t it be ironic indeed and worthy of celebration if the treatment for COVID-19 is developed not by one of the profit-obsessed private pharmaceutical companies benefiting from lucrative rich government research grants but socialist Cuba committed to the production of drugs and vaccines for the health of the world not the further enrichment of the few.
Cuba Combatted Covid-19 with Minimal Loss of Life Despite Blockade
Fourteen days ago, Cuba reported four new cases of Covid-19, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 2,432. There were no new deaths, 2,275 people had recovered and 70 were still infected. In the whole month of June, only four people had died, bringing the total number of deaths from Covid-19 since March to 87.
Unlike in the UK and US where hundreds of frontline health and care workers have died for lack of Personal Protective Equipment and sufficient testing and tracking of the virus, in Cuba not a single health worker, from cleaners to doctors, has died of COVID-19. Its early quarantine and active testing strategy, despite the US blocking the import of 28,000 testing kits from China, resulted in the virus getting put under control early and without major loss of life. Compare Cuba’s 87 deaths with the 45,878 in the UK and 152,037 in the US.
Cuba is poor and economically sabotaged by the US with its illegal and immoral sanctions and blockade of trade, but its health system is a shining example of what can be achieved when healthcare is prioritised in a society. The fact Cuba has consistently sent its doctors, nurses and technicians across the world to help other people in other countries is a tribute to its socialist philosophy of human solidarity and everyone who values human life should applaud Cuba and demand the lifting of the US economic blockade.
Noam Chomsky Recognises Cuba’s Genuine Internationalism
Outspoken and wise US philosopher and linguist Noam Chomsky spoke truth to power recently when he said:
“The only country that has demonstrated genuine internationalism has been Cuba, which has always been under economic strangulation by the United States, and by some miracle they have survived to continue showing the world what internationalism is.
But you can’t say this in the US because what you have to do is blame them for human rights violations. In fact, the worst human rights violations take place in south-eastern Cuba, in a place called the Guantanamo that the United States took at gunpoint and refuses to return”.
We should all support and show solidarity with Cuba, the small socialist island which practices internationalism and human solidarity every day.