By Johana Tablada – April 29, 2020
The State Department’s new pamphlet, shamefully entitled “The Truth about Cuba’s Medical Missions,” is full of lies.
The truth is that its objective is to try to hide the failure of the campaign of pressure initiated more than a year ago by the United States government to end Cuba’s international cooperation in any country, to impossibly distort its nature, and to present it as what it is not.
The opposite has happened.
The despicable material also seeks to divert attention from the universal questioning of the US government’s handling of the pandemic at the national and multilateral levels.
A year ago, John Bolton promised that they would end the “myths” of the Cuban revolution, such as the one about health, and tighten the blockade. He also talked about ending what could be considered romantic about the Cuban revolution and stopping travel and income to our economy. Surely many remember the full application of the Helms-Burton Act; the elimination of cruise ship travel and the already limited categories of people-to-people exchange; the reduction of flights and travelers from the United States, and the persecution of the fuel that Cuba purchases on the international market, among many other things.
They’ve already accomplished with high grades on what only depends on them. In 2019 alone, 86 new blockade measures were implemented, which are doing us a great deal of harm, and even hindering our ability to respond to COVID-19 as we might under other conditions. Still, we are doing well.
However, it has been impossible for them to dispel the myth of Cuba’s health and cooperation. These are decades of effort and results. Their slanders – embedded in very well-funded campaigns – still confuse many, but they intensify the glow of the contribution of health personnel and the true nature and scope of Cuba’s public health system.
Their campaign to try to justify in the eyes of all, the policy of blockade that has no legal or moral basis, has been a resounding failure.
The truth is that today this cooperation is even more extensive and enjoys worldwide recognition for its professional and humanistic quality. It could be even greater if Cuba’s priority were not, of course, to guarantee protection and medical care for its population, which is also under attack from the pandemic. There are more requests than we can respond to today, and the country has many more doctors and nurses willing to participate in these cooperation missions.
Today, there are many more countries that, due to the positive experience and the results achieved, request Cuban medical services in their different modalities.
None of them can be considered or qualified, even remotely, as Human Trafficking or Slave Trade, as the United States maliciously intends to spread, with purposes far from those proclaimed by the State Department. This shows how little seriousness they give to the fight against international crime, a fight in which Cuba has been exemplary.
The State Department is well aware of this after five rounds of bilateral exchanges to cooperate in combating this scourge in the recent past. Trump’s handing over of Cuba policy to the most reactionary figures in the anti-Cuba lobby also put an end to these spaces.
United Nations officials in charge of combating trafficking have never said such things. It is an offense to Cubans that in the end affects much more the credibility of those who use it.
Yes, statements of homage and praise, awards, distinctions, recognitions, and even Nobel Prize nominations have been accumulating for Cuba’s medical brigades.
Despite the fact that pressure from the United States managed to force the cessation of medical services provided by Cuba to people such as those in Bolivia and Brazil, countries where they orchestrated coups d’état, the vast majority of countries rejected the threats and sometimes even the incentives of the crude diplomacy imposed by the demolition team that controls policy towards Cuba in the United States White House. That course of action embarrasses many United States diplomats who also know, from direct experience in countries where they work, the positive contribution and prestige of Cuba’s medical missions. Never before has the morale of American diplomacy been so low, dedicated now to the priority of pursuing and trying to dynamite the cooperation that it should be fostering.
Life goes on, and it takes on the task of proving, painfully, that those doctors who were called everything from spies to political election activists were real, good doctors, provided millions of consultations and saved many lives. Few doubt today that it was the United States that directed, politicized and manipulated the campaign of harassment and incitement to violence that led to the departure of the Cuban medical brigade in Bolivia and the regrettable loss of valuable services they provided daily to communities, most of which remain unprotected to this day.
Our doctors were doubly offended by the accusations and by the risk to their own physical well being. The slanders included the vulgar accusation that they were not really there to cure the population but to intervene in the country’s politics. Much more serious was the unprecedented action of the State Department in conducting the operation of kidnapping doctors, illegal searches and detentions, and invasion of the homes of collaborators, documented in the videos and photographs taken at the sites of the outrage and opportunely denounced by Cuba.
That same crude campaign is today being re-edited by the United States and the oligarchies in some countries that requested the presence of Cuban doctors to support the fight against COVID-19.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, 24 Cuban medical brigades have traveled to other lands; always responding to the request for help from those countries. Furthermore, Cuban medical brigades were already working in 59 countries before this health emergency, with more than 28,000 collaborators.
Doctors, nurses and health advisors have left in these weeks for more than 20 countries that requested our help: Italy, Andorra, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Suriname, Jamaica, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada, Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Saint Lucia, Dominica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Haiti, Barbados, Qatar, Angola, South Africa, Honduras, among others.
Regarding the permanent and shameful slander that Cuba exploits its doctors, it must be said that in all cases the Cuban government pays the entire salary of doctors in Cuba while they are serving in other countries, to which they travel on the basis of individual agreements, on a total voluntary basis.
In addition, they are paid in the country where they work.
I personally saw them work hard and well in Belize and Portugal and I am immensely proud of that. In both countries, the doctors were free to move around and in many places, they were all or almost all alone, far from their colleagues and home. Many times they were the only doctor in a community, without the supervision of Cuban bosses or officials, in towns that other national doctors could not reach or there were not enough staff to work. In all cases, the Cubans offered a service that was appreciated and respected by the population and by the medical teams, institutions and services of the host country, to which they were inserted with respect and naturalness, in a single health team; also learning daily from them and they from us.
Cuba is not a rich country, we have limited resources and we suffer from an atrocious blockade that affects our entire population without distinguishing between the state, cooperative or private public sector. The goal is to stifle the entire economy and bring about a change of government to one that is in the interest of the United States.
It is known that there are countries with greater economic resources than Cuba and they pay for these services. In some cases, due to disasters or great need, without economic resources, only the expenses of Cuban medical personnel in its territory are covered by the host country, without paying anything to the Cuban counterparts and medical or medical service entities with which the agreement is established. This was the case in Central America after Hurricane Mitch, and also in Italy now, where the urgency and emergency was tremendous. There are other examples of selflessness such as the Henry Reeve Brigade’s assistance after earthquakes in Pakistan, Haiti, Chile and Peru, the offer to the United States after Hurricane Katrina, Operation Miracle and many more.
In those countries where income is received by mutual agreement since the requesting country has the resources and lacks the personnel, there is a part that is contributed to Cuba’s budget. From the individual contract with each doctor, it is known and it is clear what their personal income is and that a significant part goes to the contribution to help sustain Cuba’s free and universal public health system, which they also enjoy. The same thing happens in Cuba in other sectors that generate convertible currency for the social expenditure of all. What a pity that the United States is much more bothered by a blockaded country where everyone is guaranteed access to services and rights, than others where they are only exclusive to a minority that can pay for them. Nor do they say that education, including university and medical studies, are free in Cuba as millions of people around the world claim today.
The United States, which blockade Cuba’s public health and wants to strangle the economy and the income of any kind of our people -including those from pharmaceutical and biotechnology exports or medical services-, is not concerned with the nature of Cuba’s cooperation schemes and it is a supreme act of hypocrisy to pretend to care about the wages of those whom it despises and attacks every day with any kind of insults and sanctions.
With that part of the income from Cuba’s medical services, legitimate in any UN South-South cooperation scheme under which they are governed, expensive inputs are acquired for the entire population, including diagnostic tests, inputs for Cuba’s pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry, cancer treatments, etc. These are resources to which doctors hired abroad and their families also have free access.
We live in a country where most of us work together to improve the lives of all and not just a few. This is the case in all spheres; and it is no secret that Cuban salaries are low, just as it is no secret that in Cuba other costly services are free, which, together with health care, occupy more than 80 percent of the spending of any family in the world.
No one is forced to live in Cuba, emigration is a recognized right and a minority cannot pretend to impose on the majority to live in another kind of society, or vice versa, much less a foreign government giving voice and funds to its favorite Cubans to arm, artificially, a mockery of “opposition” devoted and disciplined to the orders of Washington, which our people do not respect for representing the interests of domination and abuse of the country that punishes it. Few things characterize the history of Cuba more than the struggle to free ourselves from the yoke of a foreign country.
In exchange for visas and promises, so often unfulfilled afterward, the U.S. government has managed to get a minority of doctors to speak out against the program in which the vast majority remain, tens of thousands of them voluntarily, with unwavering dedication. Some of those went to Congress to visit Marco Rubio and company and have their picture taken to give content to the script and the slander.
A handful of doctors have been blackmailed and encouraged by programs such as Medical Parole to abandon their missions in exchange for certain benefits and to the detriment of the populations they served and the country that trained and prepared them to do so. Some have gone so far as to say things that only fit the muddy heads of the officials who now oversee them. It goes without saying that Cuban doctors eat children.
Many Cuban diplomats know of the altruism and sensitivity of the women and men who form Cuba’s medical brigades.
I also know many Cuban doctors who legally chose to live outside Cuba after completing their missions, attracted by better salaries and conditions for a better life for them and their families in developed societies. Others have left for love. The great majority are doctors who will never raise their hands to ask for the blockade to be tightened or to attack the Cuban public health system or the country that trained and prepared them to work abroad; a country, moreover, where their colleagues still live practicing medicine for the people under the blockade. Today there are also Cuban doctors fighting against COVID-19. Their relatives live here, they receive free medical treatment and they suffer the adversity of living in a country that has not been given the opportunity by its closest neighbor to breathe and dedicate itself to improving its project without abusive measures or pressure or intervention or demonization campaigns like this one.
The United States is lying and undermining cooperation by calling this work exploitation and trafficking.
The United States spends more money than any other country in the world for a health care system that is crippled and dominated by the private business of insurers, which cannot provide decent services for 28 million uninsured people, and the other 50 million with incomplete services or faulty profit-based health insurance programs.
Healthcare should not be a business. Access to health care is a human right. The United States deliberately misleads the public when it attacks legitimate international medical cooperation.
Our experience is based on the notion that access to health care for all is a human right, and that ensuring such access is an obligation of all States with a minimum sense of social justice. In our case, that obligation is written into the Constitution. Only with an honest commitment and strong political will from the Government can a relatively small country, with limited natural resources and wealth, and suffering from a brutal economic blockade, achieve the remarkable health indicators that the world celebrates in Cuba today. That is how we have been able to guarantee our entire population indicators of well-being and health comparable to those of the world’s advanced societies, and we know what we could achieve if there were no such brutal blockade that takes oxygen away from the economy and constitutes the main obstacle to the development of Cuba and its people, beyond our own well-known shortcomings.
Cuba has about 100,000 active doctors. Over 60 years almost 380,000 have graduated from medical school, and 35,600 doctors and health professionals from 138 countries have been trained in Cuba on a non-profit basis. There are graduates of the Latin American School of Medicine scholarships in many countries giving their contribution to save lives.
The U.S. government cannot block the sun with one finger, but it is embarrassing that this and not cooperation is its priority.
We have agreements, exchanges, respect for our medical and scientific communities willing to collaborate for the good of our peoples and the international community.
Johana Tablada is the Deputy Director of the United States Desk at the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs