The Human Side of Revolutionary Cuba
The following is a report of a meeting of the Cuban delegation to the Sixth World Social Forum with Cuba’s President Fidel Castro. We think that it is a testimonial to the overriding principle that guides the policies of revolutionary Cuba—e.g., human rights and needs above property rights—a principle diametrically opposed to the capitalist principle of profits above all rights.
—The Editors of Socialist Viewpoint
Almost seven hours of conversation took place in a light and friendly atmosphere. From 7:30 p.m. Monday night until just after 2:00 a.m., President Fidel Castro spoke with the 843 members of the Cuban delegation returning from the Sixth World Social Forum (WSF) in Caracas. The delegation is Cuba’s largest and most diverse to participate at this event, held annually since January 2001.
Fernando Remirez, head of the department of International Relations of the Central Committee of the Communist Party and of the Cuban delegation in Caracas, opened the exchange with a brief recap of the intense week of activities at the Forum. This year’s gathering attracted close to 72,000 participants, more than half of which were foreigners, united in the goal to fight against imperialism and the unfair global order.
Cuba had a large, active and intense participation—said Remirez—in the many meetings and solidarity gatherings and was one of the main participants in dozens of debates. Among the topics of discussion at workshops, seminars, rallies and conferences were the condemnation of state terrorism practiced by the U.S., the struggle to obtain the extradition of the terrorist Luis Posada Carriles from the U.S. to Venezuela and the demand of freedom for the Cuban Five—still being held in U.S. prisons. Cuba’s experience in solidarity programs in health and education with the Third World were exposed as a concrete expression that a better world is possible—the slogan of those gathered at the Forum.
Intellectuals and artists from around the world that make up the international In Defense of Humanity network released statements during the event regarding the main themes and presented a special declaration demanding support for the Operation Miracle eye-surgery program, “one of the most humane solidarity projects ever undertaken in the field of medicine.” In barely a year, the project has returned sight to some 210,000 patients from 25 countries of Latin America and the Caribbean. Hundreds of organizations gathered at the WSF signed on to the declaration presented by indigenous leader Blanca Chancoso.
Cuba to Educate 100,000 Doctors from the Third World
A contingent of doctors and health workers selected from those working in 30 international missions, including in Venezuela, represented the tens of thousands of Cubans working in the most remote corners of the planet at the WSF.
In tents, theaters and open spaces, using graphic displays, documentaries and in verbal exchanges, these women and men had the diverse audiences in tears with their stories. A doctor stationed in Pakistan noted that the female medical personnel “are the real heroes of our mission.” They were also at the heart of the encounter with Fidel.
The experiences of the Henry Reeve International Medical brigade, working with earthquake survivors in the most remote mountainous areas of Pakistan, where only Cuban doctors are present, was a highpoint at the Havana Convention Center, where the exchange with Fidel took place. The meeting turned into a more profound and intimate continuation of the WSF.
After listening to testimonies and statistics from the doctors and coordinators of the medical missions in Pakistan, Guatemala, Venezuela, Bolivia, Honduras and East Timor, Fidel Castro said, “I really appreciate what you have done.”
One of the many testimonies worth mentioning involved Joaquin Garcia, a pediatrician commended by the prime minister of East Timor for his exemplary attitude. Dr. Garcia slept alongside his patients making sure that none of his 73 patients with dengue fever died.
“The most important thing about our delegation to the WSF is what it represents,” said Fidel Castro. “Each member represents many millions of people from around the world,” he added, in reference to the several programs carried out by Cuba to help other nations. These include the Henry Reeve contingent, the Operation Miracle eye-surgery program, the Barrio Adentro community healthcare program in Venezuela and various education missions. In each of these international humanitarian missions, the Cuban approach is to have its specialists live side by side with and share the daily living experiences of those in the poorest regions on Earth that they are helping. “Wherever there was suffering, they were there,” said Fidel speaking of those who live their lives committed to finding ways to alleviate the pain and suffering of all those in need.
President Castro went on to compare these experiences with the hypocritical stance of the world’s wealthiest countries that continually slander Cuba and send soldiers around the globe, spending huge sums that should be used to help solve the problems of hunger and disease that ravage the planet.
“The price that the commercial market places on such a noble undertaking as medicine is inconceivable and perverted,” said Fidel. He cited as an example cataract surgery that in the Americas cost at least 600 dollars for the operation and a similar amount for other related assistance. This, he said, has created a situation whereby not even 10 percent of the millions of persons blinded by cataracts are treated in cases that could be resolved in so little time. He noted that instead of lowering prices and performing more operations, they prefer to perform fewer surgeries with higher profit margins. As an example of what could be done, he noted that a Cuban eye specialist is capable of operating up to 55 patients in a ten-hour day.
Cuba’s Operation Miracle program will return sight to an estimated 300,000 people from 25 countries from throughout the region in the year 2006.
Integration, solidarity and the search for solutions to the major problems facing humanity are fundamental tasks for progressive forces to take on, said Fidel Castro. He added that stopping war, terrorism, genocide, torture, lies and imperialism are the other top priorities.
Among the immediate actions will be supporting the protest announced by women from around the globe who oppose the hypocritical and genocidal war that Bush is carrying out in the name of fighting terrorism. Cindy Sheehan, called a “Woman of Hope” by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, is leading the protest call for March 8, International Women’s Day. Following, on March 18, there will be simultaneous marches around the world to protest against the war in Iraq organized by groups and movements that participated in the World Social Forum.
“Many doctors are needed in this world. Hundreds of thousands of doctors are needed, but we already know how to educate them, because Cuba has trained its own physicians,” said Fidel Castro. He added that in Cuba, some 100,000 future doctors from the Third World will graduate in the coming years and others will study in their own countries with assistance from Cuban professors and professionals. Already nearly 20,000 Venezuelans are studying in the Barrio Adentro II community health program in that South American country.
“I hope that this Forum has strengthened consciousness and the internationalist spirit,” said the Commander in Chief in dispatching the delegates, with whom he will meet again after they spend a few days with their families and before returning to the countries where they are stationed.
At 2:10 a.m., the large Cuban delegation concluded its unforgettable participation in the Sixth World Social Forum, where it brought much more than just the hope that a better world is possible. As Cuban singer/songwriter Silvio Rodriguez would say: “You don’t need wings to make a dream. It’s enough to have hands, a chest, legs and determination.”
—Granma (Havana), February 1, 2006