Corbyn praises Cuba’s ‘inspirational’ coronavirus efforts – part of its longstanding medical solidarity around the world

Jeremy Corbyn in parliament 770 x 403
Mohamed Elmaazi

Jeremy Corbyn described the internationalism of Cuban doctors who’ve travelled to Italy to help fight the new coronavirus (Covid-19) “as inspirational”. He did so during his final speech as leader of the Labour Party on 25 March.

The BBC previously called Corbyn “a long-time supporter of the Cuba Solidarity Campaign [CSC] – which campaigns against the blockade on, and foreign intervention in, Cuba”. And as CSC’s Rob Miller highlighted to The Canary, Cuba’s support for countries battling coronavirus is actually part of a “long history of international medical solidarity”.

Cuba’s coronavirus support

As The Canary reported on 22 March, dozens of Cuban doctors and nurses arrived in Italy, which has recorded 8,215 coronavirus-related deaths at the time of writing (the highest toll in the world by far). Less than a week earlier, the Cuban government allowed a British cruise ship with five suspected cases of coronavirus (and 1,063 crew and passengers) to dock after other countries had refused it permission. The Cuban foreign ministry explained that the current crisis requires “understanding health as a human right and strengthening international cooperation in order to address our common challenges”.

Over the past few days, Cuba has reportedly sent 144 health workers to Jamaica, 136 doctors to Venezuela, and 50 doctors to Suriname. In all of these cases, the medical workers will be assisting in the fight against coronavirus. Miller told The Canary that the Jamaican delegation belonged to “the Henry Reeve Brigade, a group of doctors specialising in disasters and epidemics”.

Meanwhile, the brutal US blockade continues

Miller said that the current situation “once again highlights the stark contrast between Cuba and the disgraceful actions of the United States” as the latter continues to impose a devastating, decades-long blockade on the island. “At a time when the world community must pull together to share resources and knowledge in the fight against coronavirus, the US continues to implement its disastrous 60-year-old blockade of the island” Miller told The Canary. The blockade has prevented medical supplies from reaching the island as recently as February 2020.

Miller explained that the blockade:

stops companies and countries from across the globe from trading with Cuba and punishes those that do so with huge multi-million-dollar fines. The blockade seriously impacts across Cuba, affecting the daily lives of the people. The effects are most keenly felt across the hospitals and clinics where much-needed medicines and equipment are in short supply.

The blockade includes denial of access to both food and medicine, with severe health implications for the population. This is detailed in the first comprehensive analysis of the sanctions regime by the American Association for World Health, as well as by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

On 24 March, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called for the easing or suspension of sanctions against countries like Iran, Venezuela, North Korea and Cuba on the basis that “obstacles to the import of vital medical supplies, including over-compliance with sanctions by banks, will create long-lasting harm to vulnerable communities”.

Sanctions couldn’t stop Cuba’s “long history of international medical solidarity”

Despite the blockade, Miller said, “Cuba prioritises its health services and delivers excellent results mainly through an extensive primary care programme”. He added:

At the same time, Cuba has developed a large bio-pharmaceutical industry to produce many of the medicines that it is not able to buy abroad. It has developed a number of medicines including an anti-viral medicine – Interferon Alpha 2B – that could save thousands of lives in the COVID-19 pandemic. The Cuban drug has been produced in China since 25 January and, so far, has managed to effectively treat more than 1,500 patients from the coronavirus there. It is one of 30 drugs chosen by the Chinese National Health Commission to combat the respiratory disease. It is now being used by many other countries including South Korea and Germany.

Miller also explained that Cuba’s current behaviour is part of a “long history of international medical solidarity”. This includes:

  • Supporting the World Health Organization in its battle against the Ebola epidemic in western African countries Sierra Leone and Liberia. In at least one case, a Cuban doctor ended up contracting the illness, only to fully recover and return to Sierra Leone to treat other victims of the highly contagious disease, which has an approximately 50% mortality rate.
  • Providing international medical and disaster relief include to Dominica and to Antigua and Barbuda following the onslaught of hurricanes Maria and Irma in 2017.
  • Sending additional medical brigades to Haiti in 2010 following an earthquake which rated 7.0 on the Richter scale. There were already 152 Cuban doctors on the island.
  • Providing medical treatment to an estimated 1.5 million people in the Pakistani region of Kashmir between 2005 and 2006 following a devastating earthquake that left three million people homeless and 100,000 injured.
  • Offering support following the disastrous hurricanes in New Orleans in 2005 and Puerto Rico in 2017, which the US government rejected (both cases required its approval).
The list goes on…

Cuba’s internationalism isn’t new either. In the 1970s, Cuba sent hundreds of thousands of troops and civilians to back Angola’s government against the invading US/UK-backed apartheid government of South Africa. These forces included doctors, teachers, technicians and construction workers. The country also aided Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress in its struggle against apartheid at a time when the UK and US governments both supported the white supremacist regime.

In 1960, meanwhile, Cuba sent relief workers and doctors to Chile following the world’s largest earthquake, and helped set up Algeria’s healthcare system following its independence from France.

In more recent years, Venezuela has benefitted from the presence of Cuban doctors. The country has also suffered heavily under crushing US sanctions, which killed around 40,000 Venezuelans between 2017 and 2018 alone, according to one study. Around 8,000 Cuban medical practitioners were also working in Ecuador, Brazil and Bolivia until right-wing administrations took over the governments in those countries and ordered them to leave. In Brazil, however, the government recently made a complete U-turn, asking Cuban doctors to return after it realised it didn’t have enough local doctors to fill the vacancies.

Socialism or barbarism

The UK began its coronavirus lockdown on the night of 23 March, with the government calling upon the public to help “protect the NHS”. This is somewhat ironic given the 40 years successive Tory (and New Labour) governments have spent deliberately undermining Britain’s public health care system in order to ready it for full privatisation.

Today, a right-wing government has put evictions on hold, set aside competition laws so supermarkets can work together, and the public are being told to “think of others” when they shop. Maybe it’s worth considering right now just how much better societies are able to tackle adversity when people work together rather than competing to pursue what they think is in their short-term self-interest.

Miller told The Canary that “since the early days of the Cuban Revolution, the country has worked to help some of the world’s poorest countries with medical assistance”. This includes providing healthcare services “in over 160 countries across the globe”. But solidarity isn’t a one-way street. Perhaps it’s time the rest of us step up our game and do more to help Cubans end the suffering caused by the decades-long US blockade.

Featured image via Parliament TV

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  • Show Comments
    1. The lies are endless and have a massive influence over what people think. I was always lead to believe that Castro was a cruel dictator until l learned after his death that Cuba has a lower infant mortality rate than America, has free education from Nursery to PhD and free health care, and that’s despite the stranglehold America has on it. So Castro couldn’t have been that bad. Cuba’s good work needs to be endlessly promoted to get it into British minds that it’s America that is the problem not their neighbours.

      1. What an example! You are quite right, Brits really need to take note of Cuba’s example, a nation that despite being on the USA’s doorstep, has successfully resisted the destruction of its NHS, AND made it the best in the World, whilst still holding true to humanitarian values.

        What excuse have we and the USA got then? … Oh, yeah, money and profit are far more important than human life or dignity in our neo-liberal cultures. Both the UK and The USA know categorically that socialist healthcare is a very effective measure for any society, but we live in times where profit, any profit, trumps the needs of the many.

        We no longer have the best healthcare system in The World, and that is despite the very best efforts of those within in it. It is because of constant Tory plans to replace our NHS with an American Private Healthcare model that our NHS is performing well below what it was created to be.

        Cuba proves we could have resisted American and Tory pressure, and that we still can. Healthcare for profit is a guarantee of illness, and drug-dependency for eternity, and for profit from misery and death. Anyone that thinks that isn’t profoundly wrong is in a deep delusion that does not recognise humanity as a living, feeling, thinking, creature, but just as a means to generate profit and misery, and more of the same on top of that to maximise profits. The social ills that that mentality causes are plethora, and are the politics of slavery, misery, and death, not of a progressing, caring society.

    2. Cuba’s resistance, despite over 60 years of oppression from the US, to a world order driven solely by greed, has been exemplary. Under circumstances of extreme economic deprivation, imposed by the US, you have only to look at what they excel in, globally, to know their values – health and education. Their medical expertise is second to none. Cuban people have been looked after in the essentials, despite the economic squeeze. They have values beyond profit – unlike us.

      1. “As The Canary reported on 22 March, dozens of Cuban doctors and nurses arrived in Italy, which has recorded 8,215 coronavirus-related deaths at the time of writing (the highest toll in the world by far). Less than a week earlier, the Cuban government allowed a British cruise ship with five suspected cases of coronavirus (and 1,063 crew and passengers) to dock after other countries had refused it permission. The Cuban foreign ministry explained that the current crisis requires “understanding health as a human right and strengthening international cooperation in order to address our common challenges”.

        Over the past few days, Cuba has reportedly sent 144 health workers to Jamaica, 136 doctors to Venezuela, and 50 doctors to Suriname. In all of these cases, the medical workers will be assisting in the fight against coronavirus. Miller told The Canary that the Jamaican delegation belonged to “the Henry Reeve Brigade, a group of doctors specialising in disasters and epidemics”.”

        How many have we sent to anyone? But then we’re not in a position to, are we?

        Yes, I think Corbyn is on the ball for praising Cuba’s healthcare, and its generosity in affording it to those that need it in this time.

    3. Yes I agree . But still it’s a pity about Cuba’s grotesque record on human rights. Or do you think this is a price worth paying for a one party socialist state ? If you do just say so.

      1. It is entirely likely that Cuba’s reputation for torture etc., are at least in part over-inflated to suit Western political ideologies, and if talking about appalling human rights, America is by far the worst.

        Cuba may have attacked Gays, but then so have all our countries at one time or another, and in terms of actual numbers, the majority of Cubans (not to mention other nations), benefit greatly from their healthcare system.

        Yes it is sad and sick that ANY country flouts human rights and dignity, but if you think you are living in a country that doesn’t have its ‘fair share’ of human rights abuses, you are very much mistaken.

        Even now The UK is flouting International law, UN sanctioned Human Rights, our own Human Rights, and yes it does torture and murder innocents as well as supply (illegally) weapons for the express purpose of mass murder to despotic regimes.

        It seems you are happy to focus on Cuba’s negatives, but to do so without acknowledging our own, and other nations’ abuses like America (who is the de-facto #1 Human Rights abuser on Earth), but hey, you have a great health service and society too. Also, if you’re going to drag up unpleasant history, are you saying that The UK got it’s empire without all of that evil? From my recollection, OUR nation’s hands are dripping with blood in a way The USA is excelling at exceeding.

        It’s not a case of having a great health service at the cost of other lives, conflating the two is intellectually and factually dishonest, try applying that logic to your own country and see how far you get before it becomes abundantly clear that your logic is flawed.

        Cuba has an excellent health service, and yes they do have a history too, so does the UK, The USA, France, Germany, and so on. Cuba’s One-party Socialist State as you put it, is far superior to the Neo-liberalist, Extreme-Capitalist state of its neighbour, which has all the might and money to subject the rest of the World to the kind of anti-human behaviour you seem to hate.

        Let’s never forget that The USA murders and tortures people on a scale unrivalled in history by any single state, just because some of that occurs through political and economic means, doesn’t mean the people on the receiving end are any happier than those on the receiving end of any nation’s vile behaviour. America has an appalling attitude to even its own citizens, enshrining the concept of punishing the poor and sick within its neo-liberal politics and structure.

        Some may take umbrage at my claim the The USA killed and tortures on a scale larger than anyone else, The British Empire, The Roman Empire etc, etc, all killed a vast amount, but what took them hundreds of years, The USA is doing in a much shorter period of time. The USA has its fingers in everyone’s pie … oh but hey, they have a great Healthc … no they don’t, no they don’t at all.

        Healthcare for profit is evil, it’s very purpose is NOT the health of the nation, but the wealth of individuals at the expense of the nation. Profit in healthcare is an absolute guarantee that all the World’s illnesses will remain and be added to by man’s activities (how many new pathogens now exist because of man’s direct creation of them?), all because profit needs people to NOT be cured, the preferred system of care by these types of Medical Businesses being the alleviation of symptoms, and the prescription of extortionately expensive drugs to treat the side effects of those treatments.

        Fact: First US Victim of Covid-19 in Russia, well again after 2 days treatment with approximately 8-cent drugs, which in the USA are approximately $8.

        So yes, even with Cuba’s human rights issues, the fact that they have the #1 healthcare system in the World (used to be us here in Blighty btw), AND exports their medical expertise and staff globally to help in conjunction with the WHO, certainly does make for praise of their one-party-socialist-state, and even though they do have some things, like us, to be ashamed of, their continued drive to improve their nation and the well-being of others around the World, is noteworthy, and praiseworthy.

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