An emergency contingent of Cuban doctors and nurses arrive at Italy’s Malpensa airport, near Milan, after travelling from Cuba to help the country in their battle against the deadly Covid-19 outbreak. Picture: Daniele Mascolo/Reuters
An emergency contingent of Cuban doctors and nurses arrive at Italy’s Malpensa airport, near Milan, after travelling from Cuba to help the country in their battle against the deadly Covid-19 outbreak. Picture: Daniele Mascolo/Reuters

Cuba puts lives before ideology in response to Covid-19 pandemic

By Brian Williams Time of article published Apr 1, 2020

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Peace is intertwined with human dignity and health is a recognised human right. The coronavirus attacks human dignity and ends a human life. It creates havoc in personal, economic and global relations. The arbitrary nature of the virus and its blind assault on human dignity across the world threatens humanity.

In the face of this violent force of nature, the Cubans have emerged as global peace champions despite suffering illegal blockades and aggression. The US death rate will escalate and they have the most people in the world who have tested positive for the virus. Washington must reach out to Cuba to assist in saving American lives.

Pope Francis, Raul Castro, and Barack Obama, diverse as they are in ideological terms, have one enduring common factor. These three leaders contributed to the breakdown of one of the last relics of the Cold War by starting a process of normalisation between Cuba and the US.

In March 2016, Obama became the first US sitting president to visit Cuba since Calvin Coolidge in 1928. An article on December 17, 2014 (The Washington Post) stated that “Barack Obama and Raú* Castro thanked Pope Francis for helping to broker a historic deal to begin normalising relations between the US and Cuba which brought a sudden end to decades of cold war hostility”.

Tensions between the US and Cuba have re-emerged under President Donald Trump. Cuban mercy medical missions are under attack. On February 17, the Guardian stated that “US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo depicted the deployment of Cuban doctors in countries from Venezuela to Brazil and Ecuador as sinister interference in their affairs”. 

Deputy Secretary of State Michael Kozak stated: “The Castro regime sends 50000 Cuban medical staff overseas to work in harsh conditions. Stories of abuses abound.”

Faithful to calls from the current right-wing American administration, Brazil expelled 8000 doctors in November 2018 but strangely no US doctors replaced the Cubans. Brazilians suffered and the virus ravaged Brazil. On March 15, Secretary of Health João Gabbardo publicly requested the Cubans to return. A total of 5000 Cuban doctors responded as peace champions to go to the front lines in Brazil.

There is something obscenely wicked in the actions of those who use structural violence to pressure countries to abandon medical help from the Cubans.

Structural violence can be defined as the violence that arises from those who are entrusted with public power but who use it in a way that is negative to the human dignity and rights of others. Structural violence is the mobilisation of collective power in the hands of individuals who occupy leadership positions which they prejudicially use to exercise political, economic and social power.

When Hurricane Katrina devastated the US in 2005, Cuba offered “1600 medics, field hospitals and 83 tons of medical supplies to ease the humanitarian disaster”, which was not accepted (Mary Murray, September 14, 2005). This was a missed opportunity to forge human solidarity across ideological divides and to elevate human lives and dignity above all else.

The coronavirus has hit Italy with deadly intensity and the country faces its worst crisis in modern history. The EU and US administration have been unable to send medical expertise needed by the Italians. Cubans have been openly welcomed by the Italians. The coronavirus sweeping the world has forced humanity to refocus on peace as a transformative force to reshape human relations.

Peace missions are needed because human freedoms and lives are at stake. Director of the Cuba Documentation Project at the National Security Archives, Peter Kornbluh, stated: “You have a leading European nation accepting support in the form of a medical team And it goes to the history of Cuba’s deep and long-lasting commitment to humanitarian solidarity.

“Cuba was on the front lines of the fight against Ebola in Africa. They received the utmost compliments from former American UN ambassador Samantha Power And it’s a similarly awesome thing for Cuba to be sending doctors to Italy to fight this pandemic.”

Italy is in a crisis but the current US administration has not sent doctors to Italy and neither to any poor countries in the world. Cuba is tiny, the “David” of the world that Italy called upon during the worst crisis it faces in modern history. They placed the lives of Italians above ideology and elevated a principle of human solidarity to save lives. Italians and Cubans are the new peace symbols for humanity

Peace and human dignity are at the centre of the medical missions of mercy undertaken by the Cubans across the world. The response to the coronavirus can help to unite humanity to reveal the best versions of ourselves.

* Professor Brian Williams is visiting professor in Peace, Mediation and Labour Relations: University of the Sacred Heart, Gulu-Uganda. Chief executive: Williams Labour Law and Mediation Thought Leader Award Recipient for 2018 (Black Management Forum).

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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