The daughter of Che, Aleida Guevara, in London to address today the Latin America Conference, spoke to Ollie Hopkins about Cuba’s role in the developing world, the US obstacles to its development and the Miami Five anti-terrorists.
Cuba currently has the largest contingent of foreign health workers volunteering in Ebola treatment centres in Sierra Leone and has recently seen Felix Baez, one of their team, contract the disease.
He is being treated by the World Health Organisation for the disease in Switzerland and is said to be responding well to the treatment.
Cuba’s swift action in West Africa is part of a longstanding tradition of medical solidarity in times of need.
Often, such as with Ebola in Sierra Leone and the Haiti earthquake, Cuban medical professionals were already on the ground before the disaster struck, helping the poorest communities and crucially, they remain long after the disaster is over to assist in building up medical expertise in the area.
Cuba is not a wealthy country. Its GDP per person is less than one sixth of Britain’s. Yet it punches far above its weight in its humanitarian response to international disasters.
Since the revolution, 325,000 Cuban health workers have volunteered in 158 countries. Today there are 50,731 working in 66 countries, including 4,048 in 32 African countries.
This internationalism has seen it take a lead in Latin America, in the formation of the restoration of vision Operation Miracle, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (Alba), the enourmously successful literacy method Yo, Si Puedo (Yes, I can) and supporting and training the continent’s health workers, teachers and technicians of the future.
Cuba has been an inspiration over the years for many of the continent’s current progressive leaders and Guevara believes her father would approve of the social progress taking place in the region: “He would be backing all the revolutionary movements, I guess. He was a great revolutionary himself and he would be helping all the men and women who are trying to change their lives … My father always appreciated staunch advocates of a certain ideology who know exactly what they want in life. No matter if he agreed or disagreed with them, he would certainly give a hand to those leaders who are willing to change their peoples’ lives for the better,” she said in a recent interview with Russia Today.
After another resounding victory at the UN in October where 188 countries, out of the total of 193, voted against the blockade, the US position on Cuba is becoming increasingly untenable in Latin America.
The next Organisation of American States (OAS) meeting in Panama in April 2015 will see Cuba in attendance for the first time despite US protests.
And the US is also facing growing internal pressure to end the blockade as the recent New York Times editorial — Obama Should End the Embargo on Cuba — attests.
However, despite international outrage the effects are still affecting the Cuban economy and its people depriving it of essential supplies, including medical equipment and medication.
The Cuba Solidarity Campaign has purchased vital medical equipment for Guevara to take back to Cuba with her because the blockade makes it impossible for the hospital where she works to obtain it through the usual channels.
The current cumulative damage to the Cuban economy from the blockade is now estimated at $1.1 trillion over the last half century.
“If the blockade was lifted today, the Cuban economy would be thriving tomorrow. And if our everyday life improved, if there was affordable housing, then our public transport, diet and entertainment industry would take a turn for the better as well. More things and services would become available to our people. A time of prosperity would begin for our country,” says Guevara.
Another cause close to her heart is the campaign for freedom for the Miami Five and on Wednesday December 3 she will be speaking alongside MPs, trade unionists, legal experts, artists and activists outside the US embassy in London to urge its government to free the the Five, who have now spent 16 years in prison since their unjust imprisonment.
On her last visit to Britain, Guevara supported the British trade union movement involvement in the campaign to free the Five and urged more people to get involved with the campaign: “We need to multiply our force. Let’s break the blockade of silence imposed on the truth. As Jose Marti said, bad people triumph when good people sleep.”
This article originally appeared in the Morning Star