UNDAUNTED Cuba’s act of solidarity in today’s pandemic ravaged world is a modern day epic.
Cuba’s role in battling the pandemic is unparallel in human history: The island-country facing the longest-ever imperial economic blockade in human history is reaching countries with medical assistance 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 of history: Humanity is one of the guiding principles of the socialist value system, and Cuba stands on this value system.
Fidel’s vision across seas
CURRENTLY about 37,000 Cuban medical professionals from the Henry Reeve International Medical Contingent Specialised in Disaster Situations and Serious Epidemics are delivering assistance in 67 countries. Among the most recent deployments from the Contingent are in Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Haiti, Jamaica, Nicaragua, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Venezuela.
Fidel Castro found the Henry Reeve Medical Contingent in 2005. Named after a 19th-century American volunteer who fought for Cuban independence from Spain, the Contingent was Fidel’s vision — build up solidarity, friendship for humanity, friendship is not for profit, never give up dignity. In Algeria, Fidel began Cuba’s efforts to stand in solidarity around the world.
In Haiti, they fought cholera, Hurricane Matthew, and earthquake. They fought Ebola in Africa, blindness in Latin America and the Caribbean, and rescued earthquake victims in Pakistan. Twenty-six brigades from the Contingent also went to other countries including Indonesia, Mexico, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, and Venezuela.
To battle the pandemic, Cuban specialists reached Venezuela by mid-March, followed by 136 members. Cuban medical professionals reached Nicaragua on March 18 and Suriname on March 20. They departed for Grenada on March 20 and for Jamaica on March 21. Two teams from the Contingent reached Italy on March 22 and in April.
Medical professionals from Cuba, about 28,268 of them to be precise, are fighting the pandemic, writes Abel Reyes Montero, in 61countries. These countries, other than the countries mentioned above, include Algeria, China, Guatemala, Kuwait, Qatar, South Africa, and Togo.
However, the Empire is continuing propaganda to tarnish image of Cuba’s medical work. 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.
For more than half a century, more than 400,000 medical professionals from Cuba worked in scores of countries. At the same time, Cuba is constantly struggling against economic strangulation by the Empire. But, Cuba has decided to continue international medical collaboration to confront the pandemic (Leydis Maria Labrador Herrera, Granma, March 24, 2020).
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: 57 per cent of the mission members are considered high risk since they are over 59 years of age and have chronic diseases. A number of members of the medical brigade went to 7-8 medical missions prior to the present mission.
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. Cuba’s policy is very clear: ‘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 [Cuban] people.’
The British cruise liner MS Braemar spent days sailing the Caribbean with passengers suffering coronavirus infections, and no-UK ally allowed it to dock despite UK’s diplomatic efforts. Cuba offered a safe port, with modesty, not seeking headlines in the media, for absolutely nothing in return. ‘Cuba, true to its principles, could not act otherwise…Perhaps for these reasons, in the time of COVID-19,…the world look hopefully to Cuba, and [the Cuban] people, despite hardships and a fierce blockade, did not hesitate to respond.’ (Enrique Moreno Gimeranez, Granma, March 18, 2020)
Havana 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.
The Cuban people, writes Enrique Moreno Gimeranez, ‘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 are not capitalist.
AN AP report (‘Cuban docs fighting coronavirus around world, defying US’, April 3, 2020) cites US State Department: ‘Host countries seeking Cuba’s help for COVID-19 should scrutinise agreements and end labour abuses.’
No reader should laugh, as the imperial power raises the issue of labour abuse while its laws, deals and practices related to labour 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!
Market has no role
CUBA’S acts are not driven by profit motive, market, geostrategic moves for dominance. That’s the fundamental difference between Cuba’s acts and imperialist acts. Cuba’s acts are examples of the politics Fidel seeded through the revolution he led. These are examples of a people’s politics in command of a state machine — serve the people. Mao told the same years ago while he was leading revolution in his country — China.
Command over politics
NATO planned biggest war drill in Europe since the Cold War. But the pandemic forced its planners to downsize the drill.
The 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.
Cuba’s medical mission-facts and facts related to multilateral lenders are also comparable. Multilateral lenders’ acts of ravaging countries, communities and environment are well documented. Cuba faces an imperialist world order, economic blockade, hostile world markets. But, the turbulent situation failed desist Cuba from carrying out its internationalist duty. The country, thus, stands as an example of people’s ideology and politics — the acts people carry on whenever it commands political power. Without command over political power, people can’t take such moves. Without political power, such moves can be imagined or planned, but can never be implemented.
HOW does the other side — the Empire — perform?
An AP report (‘Cuba: US embargo blocks coronavirus aid shipment from Asia’, April 4, 2020) said:
A shipment of coronavirus aid to Cuba was blocked by the US embargo. Jack Ma Foundation tried to send Cuba 100,000 facemasks in March, along with other aid including diagnostic kits, ventilators and gloves. The cargo carrier of Avianca Airlines declined to carry the aid to Cuba because its major shareholder is a US-based company — subject to 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 is denying Cuba’s public health system access to two regular suppliers of ventilators. As a consequence of the blockade, the manufacturers IMTMedical AG and Acutronic, announced the end of commercial relations with Cuba, after the companies were acquired by 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 blockade prevents Cuba from purchasing medicines from US firms. Lázaro Silva, vice president of Medicuba, the organisation that imports drugs, equipment and medical supplies for Cuba’s public health system, confirmed the fact. Cuba attempted to acquire medicine and supplies with 60 US firms, but only two 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)
The sanctions 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 US blockade has become ‘even more cruel and genocidal than it normally is when we don’t have an epidemic.’ It severely hinders Cuba’s procurement of medicines, medical supplies and equipment from foreign markets. Cuba is forced to buy those from far away markets that double or triple the costs, and on many occasions, those reach Cuba late. According to Marimon, the Cuban Health Ministry has lost $160 million between April 2019 and March 2020 due to the sanctions, $60 million more than the year prior.
Two aspects and 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 Empire’s. 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 resource plays effective role in serving people. This indicates the extent peoples in countries can reach if it can command resources, if it can employ science for people, if it can engage expertise for people, which is possible if it — people — 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 mobilise 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 projects, many of which have already destroyed environment and ecology in many project areas. The bosses also have window to finance private sector. This financing always returns to the bosses’ pocket in size larger than the original. The bosses are always sermonising people on ‘ways to improve livelihood, to get out of poverty, to democratise’. The bosses are always efficient in producing analytical reports with colourful covers, charts, etc to market their ideas. But, the bosses are always failing to finance a research organisation such as Cuba’s that can produce weapons to fight such a pandemic. The research organisation of Cuba that produced a number of effective medicines to fight such epidemics/current pandemic was initiated in a building less than 200 sq meters in size. Anyone can imagine the level of resource the organisation had, which is far, far less than the bosses spent for producing their fat reports over 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 organisation that can mobilise medical professionals in countries to counter such a pandemic. Yet, the bosses organise and train youth and social media activists to foment turmoil against political order they consider their enemy. The bosses get busy with delivering sermons on issues and finance areas ranging from agriculture, trade, industry, labour, health, education to legislation, judiciary and politics that includes election. And, the bosses are always failing to feel ashamed for their devastating theoretical and practical acts.
So, the Cuba-example raises fundamental questions related to politics and political power — who shall use resources 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 gentlepersons, 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 to life and love for greed lead to murder at mass scale in countries as the current coronavirus pandemic witnesses?
Farooque Chowdhury writes from Dhaka.
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