Elio Delgado Legon
HAVANA TIMES — I will never forget a phrase used by Pope John Paul II during his 1998 visit to Havana: “Globalizing Solidarity.” The word “solidarity” stands for one of the most sublime feelings of human beings, along with love and friendship.
We Cubans have learned the true meanings of those words through our socialist revolution, while the notions of selfishness and “every person for themself” are what prevail under capitalism.
Many of those people who criticize each of the policies of the Cuban Revolution argue that the country isn’t in a position to help other people when our nation has so many difficulties to face.
However, as our historical leader, Fidel Castro, once said, “Demonstrating our solidarity is nothing more than paying back our debt to humanity.”
Throughout its history, Cuba has received solidary and selfless assistance from many peoples. In its wars of independence, for example, those who fought side by side with the Cubans included a group from the Dominican Republic, many Venezuelans, as well as US citizens, Poles, and Chinese – none of whom expected anything in return.
In our Revolutionary War, which ended with the victory of January 1959, the most well-known example of international solidarity was embodied in Comandante Ernesto “Che” Guevara.
Since the triumph of the Revolution, Cuba acted in solidarity with all those who fought against the bloody dictatorships that oppressed their countries and with those seeking to throw off the yoke of colonialism.
When Angola was about to gain independence and an attack was being prepared by South Africa to prevent that, the leader of that colonized country, Agostinho Neto, appealed to Cuba to train its troops. The history of this military cooperation is known. Thousands of Cubans fought voluntarily in Angola and the end result was the complete independence of that country, the liberation of Namibia and the end of apartheid in South Africa.
However the civilian partnerships in which our country has participated have been principally in the areas of health and education. Cuba has carried these out extensively in many countries.
It is impossible to relate all the examples of Cuba’s solidarity with other peoples, the list would be too long; but I can cite some of the most well-known instances in the medical field.
As early as 1960, a Cuban medical brigade — with several tons of equipment and supplies — left for Chile, which had been hit by an earthquake
In 1963, the country sent a medical brigade to Algeria, which was facing a difficult situation in that field. There was no excess of doctors in Cuba at that time. Of the 6,000 who were here at the moment of the revolutionary triumph, 3,000 left for the United States. But another people needed help from the island and they received it for 14 months.
Medical cooperation was also received in Africa in the 1970s and ‘80s, in Angola and Ethiopia, as well as in Central America, particularly Nicaragua.
Following the battering by two hurricanes in Central America at the end of the 90’s, those peoples’ need for attention led to the Cuban government’s creation of a comprehensive health program (“Programa Integral de Salud,”), which was extended to the Caribbean and later to Africa and the Pacific region.
The establishment of the Latin American School of Medicine (la Escuela Latinoamericana de Medicina, or ELAM) for the training of youth, primarily from poor countries, was an important step in meeting the objectives of compreshensive health program. To date, that institution has graduated some 15,000 doctors from 100 countries – including ones from the United States.
In 2003, Cuba began collaboration in Venezuela with the special program called “Barrio Adentro.”
In August 2005, the island created the Henry Reeve International Contingent of Doctors Specialized in Disaster Situations and Serious Epidemics. This unit is composed of some 10,000 aid workers of whom more than 4,000 have served in assistance missions in countries that have included Guatemala, Pakistan, Bolivia, Indonesia, Mexico, Peru and China. This operation offered its assistance to the US when that country was hit by Hurricane Katrina, but the aid was not accepted.
When the earthquake occurred in Haiti in January 2010, this contingent reinforced the Cuban medical team that was already working there and then continued when that country was struck by a cholera epidemic. Cuba, along with Brazil and Venezuela, is currently working on the creation of a comprehensive health system in Haiti.
In 2004, Operation Miracle eye surgery program began with patients coming from Venezuela, and in 2005 it was extended to 15 Caribbean countries and 12 nations of Latin America. There have been about two million operations on patients from 34 nations in Cuba and in 51 eye centers created in 12 other countries.
The fact that there are 37 million people who are blind around the world — 80 percent of them as a result of treatable causes — should be a source of embarrassment for the developed countries. Cuba, however, does what it can to alleviate the suffering of millions. More than 4.5 million lives have been saved by our doctors in the places where they have served, and most of the Cuban people consider this to have been worth the sacrifice.
For reasons of space, I have only highlighted the most important examples of solidary aid provided by the island, though none of that is reflected in the so-call major transnational media.
This silence is also part of the campaign against Cuba.