Cuban doctors help the world against COVID-19, US criticizes

Published on 2020-04-10 by Norlan Echevarria

Hundreds of Cuban doctors have recently arrived in countries where the coronavirus pandemic continues to wreak havoc and keep its health systems on the brink of collapse. Wearing white robes, carrying flags and chinstraps, they were seen landing in Jamaica, receiving applause on their way to Andorra, and setting up field hospitals in Lombardy.

Two years ago, the administration of President Donald Trump - in the framework of the campaign that the United States maintains against Havana - began to criticize the programs for sending health personnel, alleging that the island government abused workers and profited from their work. .

Cuba insisted that the brigades showed the humanistic nature of the revolution, although part of them translated into income for the State.

Now, the pressure from Washington that brought home thousands of Cuban doctors working in poor sectors of Brazil, Ecuador and Bolivia in 2018 and 2019, resurfaced amid the worsening of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Flights with doctors, nurses and laboratory technicians went in less than 10 days to at least 14 countries, including Italy, Andorra, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Suriname, Jamaica, Dominica, Belize, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Kitts and Nevis .

"I am aware of the position of the United States, but we are a sovereign country and we can choose the partners with whom we are going to have collaboration," said María Ubach, the Andorran foreign minister when questioned about the Cuban presence in the European principality.

Thirty-nine islanders arrived in Andorra over the weekend. Shortly before, 52 Cuban specialists opened a field hospital in Cremona, Lombardy. Shortly after, another 39 left for the Principality of Andorra.

130 traveled to Venezuela, Cuba's main political and economic ally.

Cuban Health Minister José Ángel Portal said over the weekend that 590 doctors from the Henry Reeve Brigade have traveled in these two weeks to fight the coronavirus.

In parallel, and despite the fact that the number of infections and deaths is increasing, the United States tried to dissuade the nations of the world from benefiting from Cuban personnel.

"Cuba offers its international medical missions to those affected with # COVID-19 only to recover the money it lost when the countries stopped participating in the abusive program," the State Department said on Twitter last week.

"Host countries seeking Cuba's help for # COVID-19 should analyze the agreements and put an end to labor arbitrariness," added the US agency.

One of the island's most important diplomats, Josefina Vidal - Cuba's former negotiator with the United States and current ambassador to Canada - was quick to respond harshly.

"You should be ashamed," he wrote on Twitter. "Instead of attacking Cuba and its compromised doctors, they should be concerned with the thousands of sick Americans who suffer and die ... due to the scandalous neglect of their government and the inability of their failed health system to care for them."

Collaboration in health with other countries began in the 1960s after the triumph of the Revolution led by the late leader Fidel Castro with the dispatch of experts to underdeveloped countries, but it was not until 2005 - with the passage of Hurricane Katrina in southern United States - that the International Brigade of Specialized Doctors in Disaster Situations and Serious Epidemics "Henry Reeve" was formed.

The name denotes Castro's intention to contrast the philanthropic policy of the revolution on the island - where health is free and universal - with the difficulties that the capitalist model represents. Reeve (1950-1076) was an American soldier who fought for Cuban independence.

Since 2005, Henry Reeve doctors have traveled wherever they are required: that same year, for example, they went to Guatemala to help after registering floods and to Pakistan after an earthquake. They were also in Haiti and Chile in 2020, in Ecuador in 2016 and in Mexico in 2017 to support after their respective earthquakes.

His most recognized participation, including by the World Health Organization (WHO), was during the Ebola outbreak in Africa in 2014 and was an element in the approach fostered by then-US President Barak Obama.

Trump gave a radical turn to the White House's policy towards the Caribbean nation, increasing sanctions to suffocate the island economy as a way to provoke a change in the political model of more than six decades little related to Washington.

Currently, the criticisms that the United States makes against the Cuban medical service abroad follow this same line.

Cuban support - especially to poor nations - is in many cases free, but in others it is charged for. Part of the payment goes to doctors and another goes to the Budget or national, precisely what the United States seeks to restrict.

The conditions of each country's agreements with the island are unknown, but in the case of Brazil - from where 8,000 doctors withdrew in 2018 after a dispute with President Jair Bolsonaro - Cuba charged $ 3,100 per month for each doctor. . Of that amount, the government kept 70%, although it kept the positions, salaries and benefits of those experts at home.

The program has worked since 2013 with the help of the Pan American Health Organization, but after his election Bolsonaro began harassing the doctors, doubting their university credentials and calling them "slaves" in accordance with the adjectives used by Washington.

In 2018, it was estimated that Cuba received around 6 billion dollars for these professional services in the world, a considerable figure for the context of a small island with a sanctioned economy.

"Which slaves save lives in the world?" Asked Dr. Jorge Delgado, head of the group that traveled to St. Kitts and Nevis this week in front of 33 other health specialists. "I want to tell you that more than 12,000 people were willing to go (face) Ebola and right now, there are thousands of Cubans willing to fulfill this mission."

Official figures indicated that, beyond the punctual Henry Reeve disaster brigades that have now emerged from an emergency, there are 37,000 Cuban medical collaborators in agreements with 67 nations.


Andrea Rodríguez is on Twitter as @ARodriguezAP


(Taken from AP)


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