Caring in Crisis: Medical Internationalism in Cuba

Solidarity and Care During the Covid-19 Pandemic is now publishing the Caring in Crisis newsletter of the Platform for Innovation and Dialogue with Cuba, including this edition. This newsletter began March 20, 2020 and is released in both English and Spanish every other Friday. Past issues can be found in their original location here. The Platform was created to foster connections and collaborations between Atlantic Fellows, Cuban counterparts and other global stakeholders. Our mission is to create space for important conversations regarding equity, empathy and the future.

Cuban doctor attends to a humble municipality in Brazil. Photo: EFE, from Telesur.

2 October 2020

This week, with support from every member country except the United States, Cuba joined the executive committee of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and made a commitment to continue supporting south-to-south medical collaboration.

Cuba’s approach to medical internationalism and solidarity has long been an inspiration to our work at the Platform. It serves as an entry point to many important and complicated questions: What does it mean to create international relations based on solidarity and care? What are the implications of basing an economic model around the provision of care? And – what motivates or should motivate a healthcare worker?

Cuba sent its very first international brigade abroad in 1960. Since then, it has sent over 130,000 medical personnel abroad on aid missions, primarily to the Global South. In 2005, the country commissioned a new volunteer brigade of emergency responders, which then-President Castro offered to the U.S. to aid in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The U.S. declined the offer, but the brigade has gone on to help mitigate extreme crises in 21 other countries, including in Haiti after the earthquake and Ebola outbreak. 

As we’ve reported previously in our newsletter, Cuba has mobilized hundreds of medical professionals this year to help contain and treat COVID-19 in over 20 countries; attracting the ire of the U.S. administration, which has sought to paint the missions in a negative light. This week, after the latest COVID-19 figures, we highlight Cuba’s collaboration with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and Brazil, and re-share several of our favorite interviews with Cuban doctors.

Cuba and Covid-19:  Current State of Affairs

Cuba ended its 29th week of the battle against COVID-19 with a 10% decrease in cases compared to the previous seven days. On Wednesday, the governor of Havana announced that the city is lifting the curfew and partial lockdown that was put in place on September 1 to contain a second wave of cases. Today, the Ministry of Public Health reported 48 new cases for a 7-day average of 46.86 and a total of 5,718 cases since the beginning of the pandemic. In regards to re-opening and education, the next academic year for universities is now proposed to start on February 1, 2021, and several provinces have reported that – despite the many complications imposed by the virus – the current K-12 school year maintains good quality and safety.

Cuba and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)

This Monday, Cuba’s Minister of Public Health reiterated his country’s commitment to strengthen international cooperation and solidarity in the face of the global COVID-19 crisis. The following day, the country celebrated the news that Cuba was elected to the Executive Committee of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) for a three-year term, with the support of every member state except the U.S. Earlier this summer, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attacked Cuba’s Henry Reeve Brigades, calling Cuban doctors “slaves”; questioned PAHO’s involvement in facilitating Cuban medical solidarity; and threatened to cut the international organization’s funding. 

The program under scrutiny, Mais Médicos (More Doctors), began in 2013 as a trilateral cooperation between Brazil, Cuba, and PAHO in order to bring more doctors to underserved areas in Brazil. In 2015, PAHO heralded it as “a prime example of South-South cooperation with potential application to other member states whose health needs are not being met.” The program was cancelled in 2018 by Brazil’s right wing president Jair Bolsonaro, leaving many Cuban doctors who had settled and started families in Brazil stranded without work. However, the doctors were re-authorized this year to assist in the fight against COVID19 in Brazil, which has experienced the world’s second worst outbreak of the coronavirus. 

Our short film reveals the daily life of a Cuban doctor – and the true motivations for her work.

In this clip by our friends at Belly of the Beast, Cuban doctors react to the accusation that they are “slaves.” 

Tagged: #Fronteras #Class #Colonialism #Economy #English #Geopolitics of care #Health care #Migration #State volunteer initiatives #Welfare state

28 octubre 2020 — Sarah Stephens, Justine Williams and Mariakarla Nodarse

Sarah Stephens, Justine Williams and Mariakarla Nodarse

Washington DC, US & Cuba

Sarah Stephens, Cuba Platform founder and director, is a veteran leader in human rights and social justice, focused for the past 20 years on US relations with Cuba. She founded the Center for Democracy in the Americas, which played a key role in bringing about the historic opening between the United States and Cuba in 2014 and has led delegations for hundreds of cultural and political leaders, including over 60 members of the U.S. Congress and Senate. Her newest project, CARE LAB, is designed to bring together people and ideas in support of a more care-centered world.

Dr. Justine Williams, is managing director at the Cuba Platform and co-founder of the CARE LAB. She is an experienced ethnographic researcher, advocate, nonprofit manager, educator, author and anthropologist with 15 years of experience leveraging knowledge(s) and human experience for social change on issues of food, economic, land and racial and gender justice. She has worked for university centers and non-profit think tanks and is the editor of the volume Land Justice: Re-imagining Land, Food and the Commons.

Mariakarla Nodarse, program coordinator for the Cuba Platform, is a lawyer with a Master’s Degree in International Legal Studies and a specialization in international organizations. Her thesis explored the legal barriers to effectiveness that NGOs in Latin America face. Born in Cuba and later moving to Italy and then the U.S., Mariakarla is trilingual and experienced working across cultural and linguistic divisions.