Cuba’s role in the struggle against Covid-19 is that of a moral giant, Washington’s that of a moral pygmy
Coronavirus, as well as reminding us of our vulnerability as a species no matter how technologically advanced we may be and how complacent we had allowed ourselves to become, has also made clear that the richest country in the world, the United States, is also the poorest when it comes to common decency, honour and humanity. At the same time it has provided the world with unassailable proof that one of the poorest in terms of GDP, Cuba, also happens to be among the richest.
The recent arrival of Cuban doctors and nurses in Italy, Europe’s coronavirus epicentre, allows us to believe that another world is possible, one in which solidarity, compassion and human connectedness occupy paramount importance in international affairs. The country’s legacy of sending medical missions to poverty and disaster-stricken countries began soon after the revolution of 1959 succeeded in overthrowing the Cuba’s then US-aligned dictator Fulgencio Batista.
Two of the Cuban revolution’s key priorities were universal healthcare and education in a country in which both had been the preserve of Batista’s ruling clique and supporters. The first long term international Cuban medical mission overseas was dispatched to Algeria in 1963, replacing French doctors who’d left the North African country at the end of French colonial rule after a long and bloody war of national liberation. However Cuban doctors had already previously been sent to Chile in 1960 to help that country deal with the devastation wrought by an earthquake.
Fidel Castro, who died in 2016, even extended the offer of a Cuban medical mission to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and surrounding areas in 2005. This despite the tightening of US sanctions by the Bush administration in Washington. Of the offer of help, Castro said at the time:
We weren’t offering money; we were offering doctors to help save lives, and that offer stands today and tomorrow, and represents Cuba’s attitude towards any of the world’s peoples.
Literally thousands of Cuban doctors are operating around the world at any given time, saving countless lives. Such international medical missions mar a truly astonishing legacy given the country’s own plight under US-directed sanctions, first imposed in the early 1960s and which despite the intention of strangling the country’s socialist system to death have merely reinforced its force as a beacon in a hemisphere cursed to exist under the shadow of a brutal hegemonic beast perversely referred to as the land of the free.
Moreover, in 1999 Cuba opened its Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM) in Havana, designed to train medical students from out with Cuba, including the US. By enrolment, ELAM is the largest medical school in the world today, from where 500 students from 84 countries graduated last year.
To date in Italy there have been 5,476 deaths from coronavirus (Covid-19). Fourteen of those who’ve died were doctors. This means that those Cuban doctors and nurses who’ve arrived in the country do so in the sure knowledge that they are risking their lives. They haven’t arrived completely unarmed, however. With them has arrived stocks of Interferon Alfa-2B, a drug developed by the world renowned Cuban biotech industry which has proved effective in treating Covid-19.
Compare and contrast Cuba’s response to this global pandemic with that of Washington. There, in the richest country in the world, Covid-19 has been weaponised and to all intents deployed as a biological weapon of mass destruction against Iran and Venezuela, both of which have pleaded for sanctions relief in order to allow them to obtain the necessary medical supplies and equipment they so desperately need and are short of.
Iran in particular has been badly hit by the virus, where at time of writing 1,812 have died and where a shortage of face masks in particular has compounded the humanitarian catastrophe the pandemic has produced there.
‘Hell is empty and all the devils are here’ is a line from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. In the midst of a global pandemic which has shown the world the difference between those countries that are guided by moral and ethical principles of international solidarity, and those guided by motives of brute power and callous disregard for human life, they are words that should now be engraved on the Statue of Liberty.
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