PR Stunt or Third World Solidarity? Cuba & Ebola

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 10/22/2014 01:30:00 AM
Next stop for Cuban doctors: the Hot Zone.
 Despite Cuba's (largely US-imposed) isolation from the rest of the world for the sin of being least in the Americas when the US has long since cottoned up to the likes of China, Vietnam, and other so-called Reds, its medical system has remained one of the world's best against all odds. The World Health Organization (WHO) lauds it as being a model for the world, while even citizens of its oppressor nation say it is "unreal" in care being free yet of high quality. So much so that it has exported doctors in exchange for petroleum.

I am of two minds about Cuba. While I do believe that the US has unfairly singled it out for sanctions in an age where it no longer views being socialist as grounds for isolation, Cuba's leadership has a lot to answer for in keeping the country in a time freeze (medical care aside). That said, it does what it can to take up an international role--especially among developing countries. The brothers Castro chaired the Non-Aligned Movement from 1978 to 1979 and again from 2006 to 2009.

Naturally, a way Cuba has built its international influence is by sending medical missions abroad. Heck, there's even an entire Wikipedia post on "Cuban medical internationalism" detailing instances of such aid being sent when crises occur abroad. Always being in touch with the times in this regard, we now have the superannuated Fidel Castro vowing to dispatch Cuban medical professionals to the Hot Zone itself during the current Ebola outbreak. With characteristic Latin brio, he writes that "the hour of duty has arrived" as the UN has called on Cuba to make a contribution to the Ebola containment effort:
The medical professionals who travel to any location whatsoever to save lives, even at the risk of losing their own, provide the greatest example of solidarity a human being can offer, above all when no material interest whatsoever exists as a motivation. Their closest family members also contribute to such missions what they most love and admire. A country tested by many years of heroic struggle can understand well what is expressed here.

Everyone understands that by completing this task with maximum planning and efficiency, our people and sister peoples of the Caribbean and Latin America will be protected, preventing expansion of the epidemic, which has unfortunately already been introduced, and could spread, in the United States, which maintains many personal ties and interactions with the rest of the world. We will happily cooperate with U.S. personnel in this task, not in search of peace between these two states which have been adversaries for so many years, but rather, in any event, for World Peace, an objective which can and should be attempted.
In an op-ed, the New York Times notes it is partly self-aggrandizement and grandstanding driving the Cuban effort, but at the end of the day, there is no denying that Cuban medical professionals are knowingly placing themselves in grave danger, and that the US should at least acknowledge the risks they are taking by offering support:
It is a shame that Washington, the chief donor in the fight against Ebola, is diplomatically estranged from Havana, the boldest contributor. In this case the schism has life-or-death consequences, because American and Cuban officials are not equipped to coordinate global efforts at a high level. This should serve as an urgent reminder to the Obama administration that the benefits of moving swiftly to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba far outweigh the drawbacks.

The Cuban health care workers will be among the most exposed foreigners, and some could very well contract the virus. The World Health Organization is directing the team of Cuban doctors, but it remains unclear how it would treat and evacuate Cubans who become sick. Transporting quarantined patients requires sophisticated teams and specially configured aircraft. Most insurance companies that provide medical evacuation services have said they will not be flying Ebola patients.

Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday praised “the courage of any health care worker who is undertaking this challenge,” and made a brief acknowledgment of Cuba’s response. As a matter of good sense and compassion, the American military, which now has about 550 troops in West Africa, should commit to giving any sick Cuban access to the treatment center the Pentagon built in Monrovia and to assisting with evacuation.

The work of these Cuban medics benefits the entire global effort and should be recognized for that. But Obama administration officials have callously declined to say what, if any, support they would give them.
As ever, I am in favor of immediate US removal of antiquated sanctions against Cuba dating from the Cold War. While they are partly to blame for their isolation, a certain neighbor has deepened and prolonged it beyond reason.

To paraphrase Fidel via Moses, let my people go.