Translated by Diana Barahona
Occasional miracles are achieved as a result of the close relations between Cuba and Venezuela, as numerous people can attest. Since June 2004, 20,000 Venezuelan citizens who had lost their sight to cataracts and other eye diseases, some of them decades ago, had their vision restored thanks to the prodigies of the Cuban revolution and its incomparable health system.1 But the international press has remained silent about the medical services performed by Cuban specialists, evidently because it is too busy covering the now-ideological subject of â€œhuman rights violations.â€
Venezuelan patients who hadn’t had access to medical care in their country for many years have become a priority for the government of Hugo ChÃ¡vez, which decided to pay particular attention to the dispossessed. They were able to receive free operations in Cuba by virtue of the humanitarian and internationalist policies in place since 1959.
Cuba plans to extend this service to the rest of the nations of Latin America, where close to 4 million indigents suffer from eye diseases. By the end of 2005, close to 100,000 afflicted Latin Americans will benefit from the expertise of the 600 ophthalmic surgeons on the Caribbean island. No other country in the world has launched such an important humanitarian program to alleviate the misfortunes which devastate the American hemisphere.2
Beyond the 100,000 foreign patients treated every year in Cuba, the Havana government currently accepts more than 76,000 students from poor countries, offers them a high-level university education and covers all of the costs. Close to 6,000 new foreign students will be accepted next year. The Latin American Medical School of Havana is one of the most famous in the Americas and has trained tens of thousands of health professionals from more than 123 countries.3
During a meeting in Havana about the fight against AIDS in March 2005, the United Nations and Harvard University had words of praise for the Cuban health system. The Cuban model of AIDS prevention and treatment is considered to be one of the most efficient in the world by specialists from the United Nations Development Program, Harvard Medical School and the Pan American Health Organization. UN representative Bruno Moro emphasized the importance of the meeting in Cuba, a country where research on the illness has reached a very advanced level.4
On its part, the World Health Organization (WHO) indicated through its representative in Cuba, Lea Guido, that the island is a model for developing nations with respect to maternal and pediatric care. The infant mortality rate in Cuba reached the record low of 5.8 for every 1,000 live births in 2004 (only Canada has a lower infant mortality rate on the American continent). Guido emphasized that â€œan investment in health and education such as that made by this country will guarantee strong, capable citizens for future economic progress.â€ She expressed her surprise at seeing the â€œsuccesses achieved in favor of life.â€5
Doctor David R. Buckley, inspector for the WHO, also admitted he was pleasantly surprised by the high scientific and technological level of the Cuban pharmaceutical industry. According to him, the training of professionals and respect for regulatory norms in effect for pharmaceutical products constitute two fields of excellence. Experts from Spain, Italy, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Australia, Argentina, Mexico and Uruguay went to Havana to study the Cuban method.6
The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) recognized Cuban excellence in science by awarding it a gold medal for the invention of a vaccine against the haemophilus influenza bacterium, type B, the first in the world created from synthetic antigens. Every year this bacterium leads to half a million deaths worldwide among children under five. This is the sixth time WIPO has recognized Cuba, an exceptional accomplishment for a Third World nation.7
Even Costa Rica, considered the neoliberal social model of developing countries, went to Cuban professionals for help. Authorities asked the Havana government to extend the stay of its doctors in Costa Rican hospitals; these doctors had gone to offer their services to their colleagues in Central America. Naturally, the doctors agreed to stay on â€œin order not to affect service to the patients.â€8
Cuban international aid extends throughout Latin America and to the underdeveloped regions of the planet. For example, in the small Central American nation of Belize, the Cuban medical brigade comprised of 103 people allowed more than 1,257,000 patients, the majority of whom had never received a doctor’s visit, to receive care during the past five years. In 2004 nearly 400,000 patients in that country were treated by the Cubans. Currently nearly 160 students from Belize are being trained in Cuban universities.9 No country in the world, including the developed world, has contributed so much human aid as that provided by the government of Fidel Castro to poor regions of the Third World.
In April 2005 the Mexican government joined the petty U.S. political maneuver at the Geneva Human Rights Commission when it voted for a resolution against Cuba. As a response, Cuban doctors successfully operated on Randu Contreras, a young 30-year-old Mexican suffering from elephantiasis, who had been discharged by Mexican specialists after numerous studies.10 On its part, Peruvian television designated Cuba â€œthe island of health.â€11
Ecuador also benefits from Cuban internationalism. The municipality of Cotacachi became the first region in the country to free itself of illiteracy thanks to the Cuban method, â€œYo sÃ puedoâ€. After one year of work there is hardly an illiterate inhabitant left in the municipality. More than 1,700 people received assistance from professionals from the Caribbean island and the illiteracy rate dropped from 22.3 percent to 3.8 percent, which allowed UNESCO to declare the municipality free of illiteracy.12
The Cuban program to fight illiteracy extends to the rest of the countries of Latin America. The Argentinean province of Santa Fe requested the services of Cuban teachers after seeing the efficiency of their method in other Argentinean regions such as Buenos Aires, Chaco, Corrientes, Rio Negro, Neuquen, Cordoba, Mendoza and others. The governor of Santa Fe expressed its gratitude to the Cuban government.13 In El Salvador, Cuban teachers taught nearly 1,000 people to read in three months.14
The international aid the Cuban government provides is not to the detriment of its own population. In effect, the regional director for the Americas of the International Labor Organization (ILO) called the Cuban social safety net a â€œmiracle,â€ on discovering the protection it provides workers. â€œIt’s almost a miracle when compared to other countriesâ€, announced Daniel Martinez, also very impressed by the low unemployment rate in Cuba (1.9 percent). According to the ILO, 11 percent of people in Latin America are unemployed and nearly 65 percent of inhabitants don’t have access to social security. In Latin America, one of the great paradoxes lies in the fact that 25 million children are forced to work while 19.5 million adults are unemployed.15 Cuba is the only country in the world which allows workers in sectors undergoing restructuring, as is the case with the sugar industry, to receive a university education while continuing to draw their full salary.
Developed countries in search of fat profits plunder the riches of the Third World, drain them of educated people, and support the local elites who defend their interests. At the same time, they have the indecency to give lectures about democracy to countries that refuse to give in. Cuba on its part prefers to give a hand to the needy and continue on its path toward the construction of a more just society.
1 Granma, « ExtenderÃ¡n Cuba y Venezuela servicios oftalmolÃ³gicos », May 1st, 2005. http://granmai.co.cu/espanol/2005/mayo/domingo1/oftalmologicos-e.html (site consulted May 9, 2005).
3 Orfilio PelÃ¡ez & Rafael PÃ©rez ValdÃ©s, « MÃ¡s de 76 000 jÃ³venes estudian en las facultades de Medicina y otras dependencias », Granma, May 6, 2005. www.granma.cu/espanol/2005/mayo/vier6/intervencion.html (site consulted May 9, 2005).
4 Alberto PÃ©rez, « La ONU y la Universidad de Harvard elogian el Sistema Cubano de Salud », Granma, April 5, 2005. www.granma.cu/espanol/2005/abril/mar5/15harvard.html (site consulted May 13, 2005).
5 Granma, « Elogia OMS trabajo de Cuba en salud materno-infantil », April 8, 2005. www.granma.cu/espanol/2005/abril/vier8/oms.html (site consulted May 13, 2005).
6 Orfilio PelÃ¡ez, « Experto de la OMS elogia industria farmacÃ©utica », Granma, April 25, 2005. www.granma.cu/espanol/2005/abril/lun25/elogia.html (site consulted May 13, 2005).
7 Granma, « Entregan medalla de Oro a novedosa vacuna cubana », April 28, 2005. www.granma.cu/espanol/2005/abril/juev28/medalla.html (site consulted May 13, 2005).
8 El Nuevo Herald, « Aceptan que mÃ©dicos sigan en Costa Rica », May 13, 2005.
9 Raisa Pages, « MÃ¡s de un millÃ³n de pacientes de Belice atendidos por mÃ©dicos cubanos », Granma, May 12, 2005. www.granma.cu/espanol/2005/mayo/juev12/21belice.html (site consulted May 13, 2005).
10 Granma, « Operan con Ã©xito en Cuba a joven mexicano aquejado de elefantiasis », April 4, 2005. www.granma.cu/espanol/2005/abril/lun4/operan.html (site consulted May 13, 2005).
11 Granma, « Televisora peruana considera a Cuba como la isla de la salud », May 12, 2005. www.granma.cu/espanol/2005/mayo/juev12/televisora.html (site consulted May 13, 2005).
12 Granma, « Declaran municipio ecuatoriano primer terrotorio libre de analfabetismo », April 25, 2005. www.granma.cu/espanol/2005/abril/lun25/municipio.html (site consulted May 13, 2005).
13 Alfredo LÃ³pez PerÃes, « Programa cubano contra analfabetismo en provincia argentina de Santa Fe », Granma, April 8, 2005. www.granma.cu/espanol/2005/abril/vier8/analfabetismo.html (site consulted May 13, 2005).
14 Ivan Terrero, « MÃ¡s de mil alfabetizados en tres meses », Granma, March 11, 2005. www.granma.cu/espanol/2005/marzo/vier11/11salvador-e.html (site consulted May 13, 2005).
15 Granma, « Director regional de OIT califica de â€˜casi un milagroâ€™ sistema cubano de seguridad social », March 30, 2005. www.granma.cu/espanol/2005/marzo/mier30/califican.html (site consulted May 13, 2005).