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The Army of the White Gowns deserves to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize

A group of Cuban healthcare workers will assume duties in the Western Cape in the coming week, assisting the province in its fight against Covid-19. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency (ANA)

A group of Cuban healthcare workers will assume duties in the Western Cape in the coming week, assisting the province in its fight against Covid-19. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency (ANA)

Published May 28, 2020


A few days ago the mayor of the small Italian town of Crema, Cde Stefania Bonaldi, joined the growing calls by organisations of the world such as the alternative student organisation, Noi Restiamo, Communist network, the French organisation Cuba Linda, the Caribbean Studies Association, and many others for the nomination of The Henry Reeve International Medical Brigade (HRIMB) of Cuba for the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize. 

The growing calls in more than 50 countries of all continents for the nomination of the Army of the White Gowns is part of the worldwide effort by the world community of nations to recognise the leadership role of the Cuban revolution in our struggle for the advancement of human solidarity and internationalism.  

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This magnificent gesture is in appreciation of the extraordinary humanitarian efforts by the Cuban brigade throughout the world to fight the disastrous pandemic of the coronavirus. Through the interventions of the Cuban brigade, many countries saw a massive decline in the number of fatalities and those infected by the pandemic.   

The mayor echoed the gracious words of humility after the beautiful brigade of the men and women of the Army of the White Gowns marched through the streets of his small town, inspired by the humility of the residents and confident that together as the people of the world we shall triumph over the challenges posed by this deadly disease. Indeed the Army of the White Gowns is planting the revolutionary seeds of solidarity and internationalism into the streets and homes of the world metropolis.  

During the occasion of the historic ceremony which was held at the Duomo Square, in her emotional and befitting tribute to the outstanding feats of the heroic men and women from the homeland of Commander in Chief Comrade Fidel Castro, the mayor expressed the following profound and revolutionary words: “When you came here you said that your homeland is the world, so from now on you will always be our compatriots, in the vast world, often mistreated by the absence of the supreme value of solidarity."

The people of Lombardy have indeed taught the world that the highest form of wisdom is our virtue and kindness to humanity, that when you give, you must forget and when you receive, you must always remember. They have taught the world that the hand that gives is better than the one that receives. 

The people of this great region of the Republic of Italy have done so as a testimony that the Army of the White Gowns is like a mountain eagle, for they have proven to the world that they do not know any fear and are there to walk the difficult pathways of our Mother Earth to salvage humanity. They are the true friends of humanity and indeed belong to the heroic generations of humanity, the past, the present and the future.  

The Henry Reeve Medical Brigade has proven repeatedly, for several decades, that quality healthcare can be finally and permanently established internationally, as an inalienable human right. Since its formation, the medical personnel of the Brigade, now composed of 7,400 voluntary healthcare workers, have been on the coal face of our struggle to ensure that the people of the world get better health services.  

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Their first mission was in Pakistan assisting the earthquake victims in 2005. Since then they have been in many countries hit by earthquakes, hurricanes, floods and epidemics. Cuba has been sending more doctors to the developing world than the World Health Organisation, saving no less than 80 000 lives in the last 15 years by putting their own lives at risk. 

One of their most heroic acts was in 2014-2015 when the Brigade sent over 400 health workers to West Africa to confront the dangerous Ebola pandemic. In recognition, the World Health Organization awarded them the prestigious Dr Lee Jong-Wook Memorial Prize for Public Health.

Not only that, but Cuba is also home to the largest international medical school in the world, the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM) which since its founding in 1999, has trained over 35,000 doctors from 138 countries, including from the US. Many of those graduates of ELAM are now part of the frontline of health professionals treating Covid-19 patients throughout the work. 

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While media in the industrialized world have paid little attention to it, the Cuban record in medical cooperation is extraordinary. To put this all in context Cuba, a small developing country, has more medical staff working in the Global South than all of the G-7 countries combined. As Ban Ki-moon, former Secretary General of the United Nations, said in 2014 about the Cuban Brigade: “They are always the first to arrive and the last to leave and they always remain after the crisis. Cuba has a lot to show the entire world."

The courage comes from Commander Fidel Castro and Jose Marti's ideas, but also from the young man who gave his name to the medical brigade. Henry Reeve, a US citizen born in 1850, embarked for Cuba aged 19 years to participate in the Ten Years' War (1868-1978) against Spanish colonialism and 400 battles with 10 war wounds. He obtained the rank of colonel. 

I am emboldened and inspired by this human gesture, to rally the world community of nations, to support the campaign for the nomination of this glorious page of the Cuban revolution, for the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize. I, therefore, make a call to all progressive forces on the African continent, the African diaspora, to the entire world of Pan Africanism, to all the progressive forces in the North and South America, in the Caribbean, Europe, East Asia and indeed the whole world to support this noble initiative.  

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In doing so the revolutionary spirits of the heroes and heroines of the Amistad Ship slave revolt shall reverberate from their gravesides, confident that our present world is still engraved by the grateful virtues of solidarity and internationalism. This will be so because the heroes and heroines of the Amistad Ship Slave revolt appreciated that nothing great was ever achieved without revolutionary enthusiasm.  

When the contingent of the 53 African men, women and children arrived at the slave depot of Lomboko during the year 1839, at the coastal line of present-day Sierra Leone, chained and stripped naked by their slave masters, little did they know that theirs was a journey, which shall become the epitome of the heroic history of the struggle of the people of the world for freedom and dignity. Little did they know that their titanic actions would turn the most gruesome agony and sufferings of humanity, into an episode of great inspiration for our liberation.  

Two months after the odious long journey, which became a common place for the worst human torture, when they were shackled around the ankles, wrists and neck like animals, beaten day and night, before breakfast, lunch and dinner, forced to eat their faeces, forced to eat their flesh and those of the dead, witnessing horrible acts of rape of women and children and many of their own thrown into the depths of the Atlantic waves, the group ultimately landed in Havana, the capital city of Cuba, which at the time was a Spanish colony. 

The group of the slave women and men from Sierra Leone were purchased by two slave masters who were destined to use them as forced labour in their sugar plantations, in the present province of Camaquey. The slaves were loaded into a ship called Amistad which ironically means friendship in Spanish. 

On their way to their final destination, one of the slaves, a rice farmer from the hinterlands of the African country of Sierra Leone, called Sengbe Pieh, managed to unlock his fellow brothers and sisters from the chains during the night. Together with great determination, knowing well that their mission was about life or death, but with unending enthusiasm, they managed to kill some of the crew members, unarmed the two slave masters who purchased them, and forced them to redirect the ship back to the African continent.  

Though the ship ended up landing at the American shores, resulting in a long legal battle between the slave masters and the slaves, which was mainly about their freedom and where they should go, ultimately the judges ruled in the favour of the slaves, and with the help of the solidarity of progressive American people, they were assisted financially to take a ship back to their homeland of Sierra Leone.  

Never before in the history of the struggle of the slaves, has the world witnessed such an unprecedented historic episode, where the slaves saw the horizons of the mother nature they never imagined, navigating the horrific contours of the valleys of death, and returning to the land of their ancestors against all odds. Their extraordinary acts of heroism shall forever inspire generations to come.  

The heroic revolt of the Amistad slave ship is a great lesson to all humanity that the most determined are the pathfinders of our freedom and dignity. It was one of the finest relays of the struggle of our people against slavery and imperialism and colonialism, ever recorded in our history books.  

More than three centuries after the epic revolt, we are inspired by the great determination of these heroic men and women, we are inspired by their greatness and indeed, they have earned the right of being the heroes and heroines of the future of all generation of man. Our struggle for radical economic transformation is what they were prepared to achieve and die for in their lifetime.  

We are therefore dedicating the exemplary acts of the Army of the White Gowns to the memories of these great men and women of our motherland. Inspired by the heroism of the Amistad slave revolt, the Army of the White Gowns has earned the accolades of being the glory of the modern world of solidarity and internationalism.  

The Army of the White Gowns are not only occupying the forefront trenches of our struggle on the African continent where colonial forces harvested our people as slaves, but they are also occupying the same trenches in the Metropolis of imperialism. They are planting the seeds of radical economic transformation in the heartlands of capitalism.  

Borrowing the revolutionary words from the rhythm of the Algerian National Anthem:  

"In their revolution is the end of empty talk 

The Army of the White Gowns have resolved that Cuba shall live

From their heroes they shall make an army come to being 

And on their dead they build glory  

Their spirit shall ascend to immortality 

And on their shoulders they shall raise the standard 

To the Cuban revolution they have sworn an oath 

And they have resolved that Cuba shall live 

The cry of the fatherland sounds from the battlefields 

Listen to it and heed the call 

Let it be written with the blood of Martyrs 

And be read to the future generations 

Oh, Glory, they have held out their hands to you 

And have resolved that Cuba shall live”  

By taking the call for the nomination of the Henry Reeve Medical Brigade, the Noble Peace Prize Committee would have embraced the unique aura the prestigious award represents within the world community of nations. We need the world of humanity that appreciates righteousness to those who are determined to serve humanity.  

What they are giving to the world is what is coming from their deep conviction that our mother earth is the true cradle of humanity. It is a true world of harmony, tranquillity and prosperity.  

I hope millions and millions of the peace-loving people of the world, shall rise from the ashes of our mother continents, and give the overwhelming support to the Army of the White Gowns, for the nomination of this prestigious award. Together we shall build a better world of human solidarity and internationalism.  

* Phatse Justice Piitso is now the Chief of Staff in the office of the Secretary General of the African National Congress. He wrote this article in his personal capacity. 

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL. 

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