Empowering Cuba to Save More African Lives
Date: Saturday, August 23 @ 21:50:57 UTC
By Obi Egbuna
August 23, 2008
The bravery and fervor Cuban Revolutionaries have displayed since time immemorial, from Jose Marti (whom Fidel Castro affectionately refers to as the Apostle of the revolution) and General Antonio Maceo to Che Guevara and Vilma Espin, have always been an inspiration to those who truly love freedom and justice. This passion for world peace stems from the revolutionary values which are at the core of Cuban society. Often times, the world has seen how willing Cubans are to give their lives and resources in pursuit of freedom and justice-such as they did at the US led Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961,and in Angola, Mozambique and Guinee Bissau. A more current example of this courage are the 5 Cuban patriots, who are illegally imprisoned in US jails, because they decided to risk their lives to prevent further acts of naked aggression and terrorism against their beloved homeland, by the counter revolutionary Cuban forces in Miami who are openly aligned with the Bush administration. It is quite interesting that despite this rich history of sacrifice, Commandante Fidel Castro has humbly indicated on many occasions that the greatest army ever assembled in Cuba, is that of the medical brigades. These professional and well trained brigades have many times represented their country patriotically not only at home but throughout the world.
Whether speaking in our indigenous or colonial languages, no one can ever find the right words with which to express our gratitude for the countless lives Cuban medical personnel have saved across Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America .The commitment that the Cuban medical brigades have demonstrated is truly inspiring whether or not one supports Cuba's political and social ideology. The poorest people in the world have benefited from free treatment that has been extended by the government of the largest island of the Caribbean. This level of commitment and exemplary service has put Cuba at the forefront of intervention in containing the spread and impact of HIV and Aids on both the African continent and Diaspora. While medical advocacy groups when revealing tragic statistics in relation to this deadly disease might have created a climate of panic that many of those with HIV or Aids never psychologically overcome, several top medical experts estimate there will be 18 million Aids orphans on the African continent by 2010.Already close to a decade into the second millennium, it is time for Africa to fully appreciate a standing offer that Cuba has made to the continent to assist in dealing with the pandemic. While the United Nations and various organizations such as the Global Fund were still busy setting up the millennium fund, Cde Castro communicated to the then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan that Cuba would like to lend its assistance to the cause. He told Mr. Annan that because Cuba was under a decades old blockade the country could not give any monetary aid but there was still a way in which he could give help. Cde Castro said Cuba was willing to send 4,000-that's right 4,000 of Cuba's best HIV and Aids doctors and specialists directly to Africa and they would remain on the continent until the pandemic was defeated. That offer unfortunately was not taken up because the UN apparently feared the reaction feared the reaction from the United States-Cuba's age old enemy-if it emerged that the Socialist country was doing far more than anyone else in combating HIV and AIDS. So, sadly, nothing came out of this most generous offer. It is fortunate that the region on the continent worst affected by HIV and Aids is also the same region that has the closest ties with Cuba on the continent: Southern Africa.
There are numerous Cuba friendship associations across the SADC region and is time these bodies jointly approached the African Uni0n and make it clear that the entire continent accept Cuba's offer. People are always saying that Africa should be left to come up with solutions to its own problems and in Cuba's magnanimous offer, the continent has an opportunity to cast aside the conditional aid that comes from the West and effectively do something about HIV and AIDS. The time is more than ripe to submit a joint proposal to the AU, through the proper channels and established protocol, using the various Cuba Friendship Associations and through the offices of the SADC health ministers. The proposal should call on the AU to create a joint fund from each member of the continent wide body to finance the 4,000 strong brigade that Cuba wants to send to Africa.
This money would be used for the Cubans upkeep and necessary supplies. The AU should agree to let Cuba develop a training program that helps African countries deal with droughts, floods and other natural calamities and disasters as these have a huge impact on HIV and AIDS. We know that the immediate reaction from some in Africa will be that such a decision will place the continent on a collision course with the United States, which does not want the rest of the world to develop strong ties with Cuba. The case of Zimbabwe and its courageous leader President Mugabe has shown the world exactly the kind of onslaught the US can unleash when a third world country resists big power hegemony and makes decisions that empower its own peoples. But can the US really afford to antagonize the whole of Africa? Can it try to do to the entire continent what it has been trying to do to Zimbabwe? After all, the US needs Africa's resources and there should not be any fear of US reaction to accepting Cuba's compassionate offer, if these countries consistently vote against the US imposed blockade on Cuba at the UN every year, than embracing a measure to save the lives of everyone form the elderly to small children is just a drop in the bucket. It is also important to highlight that Africa already hosts almost 3,000 Cuban doctors dispersed throughout the continent wherever duty calls. What will make this statement even more powerful is if the Africans in the Diaspora do something equally as bold and visionary. The African community inside US borders are only three years removed from Hurricane Katrina-one of the most devastating disasters in US history.
In the midst of all the political grandstanding that characterized the Bush administration's response to the catastrophe, the most significant and genuine offer was almost totally ignored. Twenty four hours after the hurricane struck, Cde Castro contacted the US State Department in Washington and offered to send 500 environmental disaster specialists to the Gulf region within the next day. That was not all. A further 1,500 would be dispatched over the next 48 hours. The personnel would remain in place, assisting victims of the disaster until the health infrastructure was resurrected and the people were adequately cared for. In the next 48 hours, the US Health and Human Services Department declared public health emergency in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. The emergency was then extended to nine other states where survivors were evacuated to but still the US would still not accept Cde Castro's offer. Later on, it is estimated that apart from the innumerable deaths and damage to property, over 500,000 people were said to have needed psychological counseling following the disaster and the government's inadequate response to it.
An interesting point to note: Louisiana supplies 30 percent of the oil and gas produced in the US but has a poverty rate of 23 percent. The poverty rates in Mississippi and Alabama are 23 and 20 percent respectively and these are the worst three states in the entire country. For some reason, the non white community, who were the worst affected by Hurricane Katrina, failed to unite and confront the Bush administration for their poor response to the tragedy and refusing to take up Cde Castro's offer. The US Department of Health was well aware of what Cuba did during the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 in Russia where they offered similar assistance. A similar offer was made by Cde Castro to the US Government shortly after the September 11th attacks. Despite this sterling humanitarian record, the US still lists Cuba as a terrorist country and little girls like Condoleezza Rice have the temerity to paint the country as an outpost of tyranny. While conventional wisdom says the reaction of US Imperialism to Cuba's offer was predictable and it would be idealistic to expect otherwise, the former Ambassador to the Cuban Interests Section Dagoberto Rodriguez, said the offer was not just rejected, but simply ignored. But at the same time, the response of the 40 million Africans living inside the belly of the US was at best mediocre. We chose to waste time on television and radio panels discussing the sound byte of hip hop star Kanye West when he said "George Bush doesn't like black people", rather than tackle real issues affecting us. The internationally acclaimed director and filmmaker Spike Lee made the film "When The Levees Broke" which shed light on the disaster and the impact it had on the Gulf Region, however this 2 ½ hour documentary made no mention of Cde Castro's offer to the people of the Gulf Region. There was a segment in which the entertainer and activist Harry Belafonte discussed the offer of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to the victims of Hurricane Katrina, because Mr. Belafonte is an ardent supporter and long time friend/admirer of Cuba, three years later it is difficult to determine whether he genuinely forgot to mention Cuba or if this was another classic hatchet job by the Zionists calling the shots in Hollywood. While the cultural workers failed to shed light on Cuba's offer the medical and political sectors of our community fared no better. Neither the National Medical Association or the Black Nurses Association-out two largest medical advocacy groups failed to aggressively promote this offer. Civil Rights Organizations like the NAACP, National Council of Negro Women, National Urban League, the Children's Defense Fund and the Congressional Black Caucus whose leadership have visited and support Cuba, collectively chose to take a domestic approach to the Hurricane Katrina situation and were silent about the offer made by Cde Castro. The churches-many who have visited the Martin Luther King Center in Cuba-also did very little to expose the Bush administration's decision to ignore Cuba's act of good will to the people in the Gulf region. The National Newspaper Publishers Association and the National Association of Black Journalists in a three year time span also as a unit did close to nothing to promote this magnificent offer from Cuba, even though many of the Publishers and Editors frequently highlight the health disparity between the African(African-American) and White Communities inside the United States. While they were efforts to raise the issue, such as those by Nation Of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, these were far and between. And now three years later while Africans at home should be pushing for the Cuban medical brigade to be deployed forthwith to help us win the battle against HIV and AIDS, the Africans in America should realize we lost a similar opportunity and should be campaigning to ensure the US Government does not continue to block this offer. We must demand that Bush not interfere because several countries who attack Cuba politically, accept help from their medical brigades, we must challenge US Presidential hopeful Senator Barack Hussein Obama raise this issue on every campaign stop he has from here to November and his opponent Senator John McCain resist the temptation to sabotage this effort in traditional US military fashion.
Obi Egbuna is a member of the Pan African Liberation Organization and Zimbabwe Cuba Friendship Association and also is the US correspondent to the Zimbabwean Herald. He can be reached on email@example.com