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Castro, Chavez, Bush, and a Christmas Miracle

by Chris Kulczycki Sun Dec 18th, 2005 at 10:43:10 AM EST

This post is about a Christmas miracle in Cuba. But this miracle comes neither from God nor Santa Claus. It is a gift from president Castro of Cuba and President Chavez of Venezuela. It is the gift of sight to six million poor and previously blind Latin Americans.

Operation Miracle has brought daily planeloads of the poor from across Latin America and the Caribbean to Havana for surgery. Most of them arrive nearly blind; but all will be able to see perfectly before they leave. Cuban doctors provide the free eye surgery, Venezuela the dollars that make it possible. The surgery treats cataracts and other eye conditions.

More below:


What do our neighbors to the South think of this, and what does it have to do with Bush? Robert Buddan writing in the Jamaica Gleaner says it better than I can:



THE SPIRIT of Christmas was predictably absent from the World Trade Organisation (WTO) meetings in Hong Kong last week. Here the rich and powerful countries of Christendom once again employed this 'rich man's club' to ensure that the manna only fell on their tables while the poor countries scramble for the crumbs.

The real spirit of Christmas is closer to home, demonstrated remarkably by some who do not consider themselves Christians at all. The project that has done the most for poor people in 2005 is Operation Miracle, a project headed by Fidel Castro who no one ever accused of being a Christian; and Hugo Chavez, a Christian socialist, who George Bush calls a tyrant.

Under Operation Miracle, started only in July 2005, thousands of visually impaired people are receiving eye surgery for free in Cuba. In contrast, George Bush has boasted that his army has killed 30,000 Iraqis. We would love to know how many were women, children, and the aged, and how many more have lost limb and sight to Mr. Bush's bombs.

George Bush and his Republican fundamentalists are more fascinated by the miracle of power, particularly military power and its ability to blast limb and life from people. Operation Miracle, on the other hand, is about the power of miracle, specifically the miracle of the human spirit, in doing good to others. Cuba and Venezuela have made this more than theology. They have made it reality.


As I was writing a post for tomorrow about Bolivia's election, it occurred to me that many Americans don't know why Chavez, and even Castro, have the respect of many of Latin America's poor, while Bush is hated.

This, you see, is a small part of the story of why Evo Morales, a man who has been called Bush's nightmare, will probably win today's election.

But back to the miracle; here is Robert Buddan again:

For Castro, Operation Miracle is socialism in action. For the rest of us, it is about South-South co-operation th poor hlping th poor. It is an alternative, in the spirit of Venezuela's Bolivarian Alternative of Latin America (ALBA), to the self-serving free trade favoured by the Christian west, because it emphasises sustainable human development and job creation. The Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) and the WTO are not miracles. They are more like turning wine into water. -snip-

Jesus did the best he could. He fed the 5,000. But in 10 years, 4.5 million people will benefit under Operation Miracle. It is a miracle of human effort. In a single day, Cuban doctors once performed 1,648 eye operations, which must be a world record for any country. It is a miracle of sacrifice. Cuba has closed many hotels to tourists despite the need for foreign exchange because of Bush's embargo against remittances. Those hotels house the thousands of poor people waiting for operations. It is a miracle of human economy. Cuba has more doctors per population than the U.S. or the U.K.

Operation Miracle is also a miracle of government-to-government co-operation. Cuban doctors operate for free and Venezuela pays for the flights, accommodation, and food for the patients. At the same time, 17, 000 Cuban doctors help out in Venezuela's free National Health Service. Cuban doctors also work in 69 countries and if we in Jamaica can provide room space, more of them will be able to do more operations here.

I urge you to read the whole article. This story has been widely reported in the press around the world, but not in the US. I guess that's not surprising since the US can't even provide healthcare for their own poor.


Merry Christmas.

Display:
Cross posted on Daily KOS, should you feel this warrants recommending.

Thanks.


Do not feel safe. The poet remembers.
Czeslaw Milosz

by Chris Kulczycki on Sun Dec 18th, 2005 at 11:27:45 AM EST
Dziekuje za te dzienniki. I always appreciate seeing your diaries about environmental issues, and other topics that are not always brought to the forefront as the rule of latest news prevails, which is quite understandable. Although I am a very modest contributor, I feel diversity in topics should be promoted on Eurotrib.

When through hell, just keep going. W. Churchill
by Agnes a Paris on Sun Dec 18th, 2005 at 11:49:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I hope you crossposted this to Kos as well.

This is what people have trouble understanding with Cuba.  It's a dollar a day economy for most people, but it has this immensely successful medical and biotech sector..  Cuban doctors developed a vaccine for Meningitis B that GSK is marketing worldwide now. Can you think of any  other country in Lating America save Brazil that has a biotech sector?

And I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage-Billy Bragg

by ManfromMiddletown (manfrommiddletown at lycos dot com) on Sun Dec 18th, 2005 at 11:58:27 AM EST
The Cuban Commander in Chief, Fidel Castro Ruz, has also responded to the misery of the Pakistani earthquake victims and immediatly deployed (within 7 days after the calamity) 950 doctors, equipped with fully functioning field hospitals, to the desaster areas. It is very likely that the number of Cuban health specialist is meant to outmatch the number of US military and torture personnel who operate very much in the same regions of Pakistan.

Ten days ago Fidel Castro also announced at the annual general assembly which preceeds the opening of the new accademic year that the Cuban government has appropriated the resources to launch a new medical staff training programme. This new intiative is directed towards several ten thousands of students from South and Central American countries and from the Caribbean island nations to study at Cuban universities and become medical doctors.

In his speech Fidel Castro pointed out that Cuba must ever more develop a strong and flexible science based economy which has to focus particularly on the fields of technical assistance, science transfer and cross border communications with the world's developing nations.

Link to ad free Cuban tv from La Havana:

http://www.cubavision.cubaweb.cu/portada.asp

Article on the Cuban doctors health support efforts in Pakistan by Alina M. Lotti:

Llegar al campamento de médicos cubanos en Garhi Habibullah se convierte en una odisea cuando cae la noche. Las carreteras en esa zona del noroeste de Paquistán, exactamente en el distrito de Mansehra, parecen jugar con la geografía en todo momento.

Para los cubanos el trayecto es incómodo por la sensación que produce el zigzagueo de los caminos, a lo cual se le suma el hecho de que en este país surasiático la circulación vehicular es al estilo británico, o sea se circula por la izquierda con el volante a la derecha.

El campamento está en un valle despoblado de árboles, lo que quizás haga de la zona un lugar muy frío. Hay corriente eléctrica y desde allí se ven luces en las gigantescas montañas adonde acuden los médicos cubanos cada día.

Las casas de campaña, donde descansa la "tropa" (86 personas, de ellos 77 médicos, el resto personal paramédico y dos auxiliares de cocina) están ordenadas. Al final, la última y no menos importante es la cocina. La comida se sirve caliente para aliviar el frío, es sabrosa.

Justo al lado del campamento corre el río Kunhar, de donde se extrae el agua necesaria para todo.

Al final de la noche, antes de la película que se proyecta en una de las casas de campaña, se revisa el trabajo realizado durante el día. El doctor Alfredo Arias González, vicedirector del Centro Cubano de Toxicología, ahora jefe del campamento de Garhi Habibullah, chequea todo. Por las condiciones geográficas del lugar, cada jornada se convierte en heroica.

Cerca de allí aún pueden verse las devastadoras imágenes del terremoto del pasado 8 de octubre. Balakot conmueve.

EN CAMINO HACIA JO SACHA MAGRA

Cada mañana los médicos cubanos abandonan temprano Garhi Habibullah para asistir a los pobladores de aquella zona, muchos de los cuales nunca habían visto un médico.

Los caminos son estrechos, y solo asfaltados por tramos, pero los jepps en que se transportan son seguros, y los choferes experimentados.
Jo Sacha Magra es nuestro destino; una montaña de más de ocho mil pies de altura, que se viste de nieve en el crudo invierno, donde una nunca imagina que puedan vivir seres humanos.

Al atravesar Balakot, la recién nombrada "ciudad perdida", pues se calcula que en este lugar murió más del 80% de la población, los comentarios son imprescindibles. Las miradas de los médicos, y de quienes los acompañamos en ese momento, se pierden en las edificaciones totalmente aplastadas en el suelo, en los miles de escombros que parecen no tener nunca fin, en esos hombres y mujeres para los cuales la reconstrucción comienza ahora.

Balakot produce tristeza, desespero, lágrimas. Hay mezcla de pobreza y desolación y los visitantes comprenden con total exactitud que tendrán que pasar muchos años, ¡muchos años!, para volver a levantar lo que otrora fue una ciudad.

VALENTÍA Y SENSIBILIDAD NO FALTAN

Las médicas Sandra Peña e Isvet Martínez, de la provincia cubana de Camagüey, el clínico intensivista de Guantánamo, Luis Felipe Díaz, y el especialista en Medicina General Integral José Acuña, del municipio habanero del Cotorro, integran ese día el pequeño colectivo que trabajará en Jo Sacha Magra.

El traslado se hace en un jepp pequeño y sirve de guía un joven paquistaní, de las tropas ingenieras de Garhi Habibullah, nombrado Inaya, quien alegra el viaje con su buen carácter y su acostumbrada frase de "no problem".
Los médicos saben que el destino es una montaña, pero no imaginan cuán difícil es el camino, ni la cantidad de habitantes que los están esperando.

Balakot va quedando atrás, los pinos se van haciendo cada vez más diminutos y el río Kunhar, de cauce ancho, ahora parece una hebra de hilo fino.

La escalada de Jo Sacha Magra toma una hora de camino, durante el cual apenas se ven pobladores. Algunos pocos pastorean rebaños de ovejas y de otros animales y suben bidones de agua sobre sus espaldas. Los niños se quedan atónitos al ver rostros desconocidos; ni siquiera comprenden que los forasteros son médicos, y mucho menos que provienen de un país tan lejano llamado Cuba, que ahora les ha abierto los brazos de la solidaridad humana.

EN LA CIMA
La llegada a la cima es impresionante. Jo Sacha Magra es una de las tantas montañas que se empinan en la zona. El cielo queda más cerca de nosotros y el río ya apenas se ve.

Pero en aquel descampado, ya llano, donde una parece poder alcanzar las nubes con las manos, cientos de paquistaníes, de todas las edades, aguardan con curiosidad la llegada de quienes vienen a ayudarlos.

Posiblemente no conozcan lo que es un médico, pues no es común encontrar la presencia de ellos por aquellos lugares.

En los primeros momentos hay sólo miradas, reconocimiento. Luego los galenos comienzan a preparar condiciones para las consultas. Sandra e Isvet se acondicionan en una casa de campaña, si así puede llamársele a cuatro telas cogidas por los costados. Luis Felipe y José comienzan el trabajo a cielo abierto.

Hombres y mujeres se dividen para ser atendidos. La religión así lo exige. Así comienza el trabajo que se extenderá por más de cuatro horas. Más de cien personas son reconocidas por los médicos, les toman la presión arterial, los inyectan y les entregan medicinas. El agradecimiento es visible; primero toman las manos, luego obsequian pequeños paquetes de nueces. Al final hay abrazos. En la cima de Jo Sacha Magra, donde la pobreza es indescriptible, se funden dos culturas, dos pueblos. La sensibilidad y valentía de los cubanos está más que probada.


"The USA appears destined by fate to plague America with misery in the name of liberty." Simon Bolivar, Caracas, 1819

by Ritter on Sun Dec 18th, 2005 at 12:21:15 PM EST
The Cuban government systematically denies its citizens basic rights to free expression, association, assembly, movement, and a fair trial. A one-party state, Cuba restricts nearly all avenues of political dissent. Tactics for enforcing political conformity include police warnings, surveillance, short term-detentions, house arrests, travel restrictions, criminal prosecutions, and politically-motivated dismissals from employment.  In April 2003, authorities sentenced seventy-five dissidents to prison terms ranging from six to twenty-eight years, and all but fourteen--released in 2004 for humanitarian reasons--remain incarcerated at this writing. Raul Rivero, a poet and journalist, and Marta Beatriz Roque, a prominent independent economist--and the only woman sent to prison during the crackdown--were among the fourteen who were released.  

Legal and Institutional Failings  
Cuba's legal and institutional structures are at the root of rights violations. The rights to freedom of expression, association, assembly, movement, and the press are strictly limited under Cuban law. By criminalizing enemy propaganda, the spreading of "unauthorized news," and insult to patriotic symbols, the government curbs freedom of speech under the guise of protecting state security. The government also imprisons or orders the surveillance of individuals who have committed no illegal act, relying upon laws penalizing "dangerousness" (estado peligroso) and allowing for "official warning" (advertencia oficial).  

The government-controlled courts undermine the right to fair trial by restricting the right to a defense, and frequently fail to observe the few due process rights available to defendants under domestic law.
[...]

HRW 2004 Overview  

You might also like to browse the Amnesty International Cuba archives

by MarekNYC on Sun Dec 18th, 2005 at 01:01:16 PM EST
This is not meant as a pro-Cuba post, but as a pro-charity post. I don't think anyone here supports Cuba's political system, though we might support some of their actions and ideals.

Do not feel safe. The poet remembers.
Czeslaw Milosz
by Chris Kulczycki on Sun Dec 18th, 2005 at 01:07:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not going to dispute that there are human rights abuses in Cuba, but I don't think that invalidates the good that does exist there.

As for all the spying allegations, have you been reading the newspapers lately?  The US doesn't have a clean slate on this either.  This stuff about locking people up, the petty bullshit about going after people for what they believe is wrong, but Cuba is far from the only place this happens in the western hemsiphere.  It's not like they've got something like the Chinese laogai which is essentially a whitewashed gulag.

The abuses in China are far far worse than what's happening in Cuba, yet we have an embargo against Cuba, and China is one of our largest trading partners. Where's the justice in that?  

It isn't about human rights, it's about a few hotheads in Miami who want their plantations back.

And I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage-Billy Bragg

by ManfromMiddletown (manfrommiddletown at lycos dot com) on Sun Dec 18th, 2005 at 01:38:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not going to dispute that there are human rights abuses in Cuba, but I don't think that invalidates the good that does exist there.

I disagree. To me that sort of argument is the mirror image of the neoliberal love affair with Pinochet. Regardless of what sort of economic system one favours, democracy and freedom of expression are a prerequisite.

As for all the spying allegations, have you been reading the newspapers lately?  The US doesn't have a clean slate on this either.  This stuff about locking people up, the petty bullshit about going after people for what they believe is wrong, but Cuba is far from the only place this happens in the western hemsiphere.  It's not like they've got something like the Chinese laogai which is essentially a whitewashed gulag.

Well it is certainly better than Cuba but that's not much of an endorsement.  As for the US - plenty of worrying things, but it is ludicrous to compare the domestic situation in the US with that of Cuba. If it were the same then, just to cite one example, every single left wing blogger would be being blacklisted from all employment and the more prominent ones would be in jail.

_The abuses in China are far far worse than what's happening in Cuba, yet we have an embargo against Cuba, and China is one of our largest trading partners. Where's the justice in that?

Ain't no justice. Cuba is far from being the worst dictatorship in the world and on both left and right the choice of which human rights abuser to turn into a cause celebre has elements of arbitrariness. Iran is bad, but not as bad as our ally Saudi Arabia or the complete insanity in Turkmenistan.  Darfur is horrible, Congo is worse. Venezuela's got worrisome tendencies, but nothing compared to our Columbian allies, why Israel and not Russia, China, or India  - the list is endless.

It isn't about human rights, it's about a few hotheads in Miami who want their plantations back.

You're right that the embargo isn't about human rights, but wrong about it just being 'a few hotheads in Miami who want their plantations back.' Cubans form a crucial voting block in a major state. Castro is deeply unpopular among them regardless of their social background.  As Cuba is also a small, economically insignificant country, the countervailing pressure from  the business community is not sufficient to get rid of the embargo.  

But to return to the original point, Cuba should not be held out as a model of anything for the left unless one truly believes that socio-economic policies trump civil rights and democracy. Those left wingers who do believe that should perhaps consider the hypocrisy of their complaints about torture, secret prisons, government harassment of protesters and all the rest since presumably all would be forgiven if only the Republicans were to institute universal health care.

by MarekNYC on Sun Dec 18th, 2005 at 07:22:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I disagree. To me that sort of argument is the mirror image of the neoliberal love affair with Pinochet. Regardless of what sort of economic system one favours, democracy and freedom of expression are a prerequisite.

In your pursuit of purity you're not being reasonable. You're being contrary here. So because Castro is bad it means that this act of charity is tainted and is bad also. It's the fruit of a poisoned tree?

What's the end game here?

Maybe you want to leave these people blind  that truth and justice, and democratic purity prevail?

You're right that the embargo isn't about human rights, but wrong about it just being 'a few hotheads in Miami who want their plantations back.' Cubans form a crucial voting block in a major state. Castro is deeply unpopular among them regardless of their social background.  As Cuba is also a small, economically insignificant country, the countervailing pressure from  the business community is not sufficient to get rid of the embargo.  

But to return to the original point, Cuba should not be held out as a model of anything for the left unless one truly believes that socio-economic policies trump civil rights and democracy. Those left wingers who do believe that should perhaps consider the hypocrisy of their complaints about torture, secret prisons, government harassment of protesters and all the rest since presumably all would be forgiven if only the Republicans were to institute universal health care.

The people who get worked up about Castro, who strongly support the embargo, who support military action, who oppose dialogue between the dissident community and the government are predominantly from the generation that left in the immediate aftermath of Castro.  The people who came after 1985 are far less militant about Castro.

See this poll about Miami Cubans opinons.

If you look at this Crosstab table  you'll see that on the issues people who actually were in the country  and suffered under Castro are in general the least militant.

For the people who left Cuba in 1959 thinking that the US government would send in the Marines and they'd be back on the plantation it isn't about opposing Castro's methods, even if Castro were to permit democratic elections they'd still want to overthrow Castro.  The various exile groups have been involved in plans to assassinate Chavez, a democratically elected leader. This isn't about democracy, the rule of law, or flower and puppy dogs.  It's a political game.

Hate the game not the player.


And I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage-Billy Bragg

by ManfromMiddletown (manfrommiddletown at lycos dot com) on Sun Dec 18th, 2005 at 10:58:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Interesting polls you link! I also note it shopws that support for the embargo is 'weak': while in general, 59% support continuing it, majorities are against barring US companies from doing business in Cuba (which AFAIK is part of the embargo), and believe that the embargo didn't work so far.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Dec 19th, 2005 at 09:57:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I very much doubt that the US would refuse Cuban tourists and long distance swimmers to enter America if the above allegations were true. The mere fact that the US government doesn't allow Cuban new comers to embark on their shores and to move freely in any of the 50 states demonstrates that their refutation is not at all based on human rights issues, but politically motivated.

As a matter of fact it is that US citizens are BY LAW hindered to visit Cuba (and some other countries, too)and cannot even send money gifts to family relatives who live on the Caribbean island.

As to elections: Contrary to US Senate and House of Representative elections, where more than 60% of the seats are not contested by a challenger of a different party to the incumbent Member of Congress, Cuba has a wide array of parties, worker councils representatives, student unions, and other NGOs who's candidates run for office. Also, the voter participation is much higher in Cuba and they elect far more women, black people, latinos, atheists, blue collar workers, students etc. to represent them in parliament in in the various government ministries.

The US is far, far behind Cuba when it comes to representing minorities and different societal groups of the country.

They also have better mass media, where films are not constantly interrupted by advertisments and where people are offered premium products like opera, classic music, history, comedy, music variety programmes free of hidden 'product placements'.

Even manual factory workers have free and constant access to the realm of classic world literature, especially to the great works of Shakespeare, Dante, Cervantes, Goethe, Schiller, Voltaire, Descartesn Hugo and many others because of the unique workers lectures culture programme. At every work shift several lectures are given by university graduated personnel in liberal arts.

Und so weiter.

"The USA appears destined by fate to plague America with misery in the name of liberty." Simon Bolivar, Caracas, 1819

by Ritter on Sun Dec 18th, 2005 at 02:31:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Contrary to US Senate and House of Representative elections, where more than 60% of the seats are not contested by a challenger of a different party to the incumbent Member of Congress,

??? I think you are confused about US election terminology. In the US, if the previous election was won by a wide margin, it is considered a 'safe' seat/state.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Dec 19th, 2005 at 09:48:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It is true that a large number of "safe" seats (by your definition) are not constested in subsequent elections.
Counterpunch: Human Rights in the US - China's Report No Caricature by Dave Lindorff
I remember when I was teaching a group of journalism graduate students in Shanghai, I received my mail ballot from home, which at the time was a small town in upstate New York. I was happy to receive it because I wanted to show it to my class, where the students were anxious to see first-hand how American democracy works. Imagine my chagrin when I opened the envelope and saw that the ballot was composed entirely of single candidates for each post. Republicans so dominated the upstate region that no one bothered to run against them for any town or county post! "These look just like our ballots!" the students said in amazement. Nor in our current red state/blue state polity, are things much different across most of the country, where campaign funding laws, or the lack thereof, make incumbency virtually a guarantee of re-election.


A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Dec 19th, 2005 at 03:21:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Good points - nevertheless, if you check the 2004 election (for example here or - xls! - here), you'll find only in 30 out of 435 districts did a candidate for Congress run unopposed.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Dec 19th, 2005 at 05:31:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Ritter, can a Cuban worker drive down on a highway with a 300HP Mercedes at 240 km/h? :-)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Dec 19th, 2005 at 09:50:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Absolutely. Cuban police drive old Ladas. They'd have no chance to catch him.

The Cuban worker could only be surpassed by one of the three hundred Mercedes ambulances which were bought by the national health service two months ago.



"The USA appears destined by fate to plague America with misery in the name of liberty." Simon Bolivar, Caracas, 1819

by Ritter on Tue Dec 20th, 2005 at 04:06:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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