Friday, 5 December 2014

The Greatest Story never told with Aleida Guevara March

Dr Aleida Guevara March was invited to our Students’ Union to address the student body and other guests about the Ebola crisis and Cuba’s position on the international stage.  She gave an informative and captivating speech which provided insight into Cuban internationalism and much more than just Cuba’s role in combatting Ebola.  Matthew Wilde and Polly Winn were able to interview Guevara March, and learn more about her perspective on Cuba, international healthcare, and the power of the media.

Recently the Ebola crisis in West Africa has created a media storm and dominated press, even motivating good ol’ Bob Geldof to step in with a brand new rendition of ‘Do they know it’s Christmas?’ for the sole purpose of helping people suffering with Ebola.  Yet the prevailing picture of Ebola and the response to it that is portrayed in the media is predominantly from a USA perspective.
Dr. Aleida Guevara March, daughter of famous revolutionary Che Guevara, was invited by the “Comrades of the Cuban Solidarity campaign” to Sheffield, and then to talk at our Students’ Union.  In her talk she painted a different picture, not just of Ebola, but of the international relations surrounding global response to health. Cuba’s influence in the Ebola Crisis and in other health crises is seemingly under told in international media.
When Guevara March told Features that the World Health Organisation (WHO) directly asked for the help of Cuban authorities to work towards resolving the Ebola crisis, it came as a slight surprise. We fully acknowledge – disclaimer alert – that this was completely down to our naive ignorance of Cuba and its prevalence in international health.  Perhaps if we’d taken Steve Ludlam’s POL3021: Cuba in the Post-Bipolar Age, we may have been slightly better informed! However, the talk was enlightening and broad, and Guevara March has a gift of storytelling, even with the barrier of an interpreter.
Features asked Guevara March whether she felt that the WHO’s decision to approach Cuba and their recognition of Cuba’s medical efforts would impact their position on the world stage, she responded; “No, because what we are doing now we have been doing it for a long time. Now it’s just that they’ve come to us to specifically ask for this. But a few months ago they asked for Cuban doctors to go to Brazil, and there are nearly 1400 in Brazil, so we have been doing this for a long time.”
In the UK press the story of Cuba’s influence is rarely told, it is only from the point of view of the USA. Guevara March commented on this saying; “This is a problem of UK journalists. Unfortunately, a lot of the time they just parrot what is said in the US press. It is not just the UK but Europe in general. They need to respect themselves as professionals, they need to investigate the information, not just replicate it.” Being given journalistic advice by Guevara March certainly was a story to write home about and gave Features food for thought.
The history of Cuba and the USA is one of conflict and tension;the Bay of Pigs and Guantanamo Bay are examples of this. Given this we asked Guevara March how it would be for Cuban health workers working alongside Americans to fight Ebola.  She gave us a clear and definitive answer: “There’s no problem. We get on well with the American people. The problem is not with them. The problem is with their government.”
The Cuban Embargo – or as Guevara March said the Cubans call it the “blockade” – makes life more than difficult for Cubans. Guevara March told us of how Cuba have to pay three or four times the market price for goods (including baby milk formula) because the blockade limits their options to access global free trade.  Boats that harbour in Cuba cannot travel into the USA for six months after, meaning that the transportation and purchasing of vital drugs can be extremely complicated and take a long time. Guevara March mentioned how sometimes there are loopholes through which Cuba can trade, but if these companies are found out they can be fined just for trading with Cuba.  This has detrimental effects on the Cuban economy, and Guevara March suggested that if the blockade were to be lifted, the Cuban economy would flourish immediately.
But these policies are not isolated to just Cuba. Cuba has been developing new drugs and vaccines and they continue to do so, but due to the embargo put in place by the USA, they are unable to sell them around the world. This means that the rest of the world could be missing out on life saving treatments. Guevara March even suggested that Cuba had been developing cures for forms of cancer.
Features wanted to know more on what Guevara March thought about the USA and the media. She pointed out that the “United States is the country which consumes the most oil in the world” and draws attention to conflict between the USA and Venezuela; “There is [an] extraordinary campaign against Venezuela, why?” Guevara March explains that it is “because the United States used to buy a barrel of oil from Venezuela for between five and seven dollars, and now they have to pay the market price.”
She highlights how ”for the first time, the people of Venezuela are the owners of what they produce. They can use their money for free hospitals, free universities, decent housing, and making work for their people, and this really doesn’t suit the United States” it is “economically affected” by the fact it has to pay the market price for oil. Guevara March stated that the USA “can’t accept that” and as a result, the USA has made efforts to “[turn] round international opinion.”
It was obvious that Guevara March had a strong message she wanted to tell; about global health, economies, politics but perhaps most importantly about international cultural respect. Guevara March told Features that she was once asked her opinion of Saddam Hussein, when she gave a relatively apathetic answer, the woman confidently claimed that Saddam Hussein was a “tyrant”.
Guevara March responded: “Well, I am not going to argue with you about whether he was or wasn’t a tyrant. I don’t have sufficient information, I didn’t live in that reality, I can’t judge something I haven’t lived.”
Guevara March expanded this story to encompass her experiences of her time in Iran; “it was a huge sacrifice for me because from the moment I arrived I was forced to cover my head and I didn’t understand why, because that’s not my culture. And I said it to them, you have to respect all cultures, you can’t say that your cultures better or the only one in the world, I came because of respect of a people who that are brave, but you haven’t respected me, that’s a problem you are going to have to resolve in the coming years.”
Through these stories, Guevara March relayed a strong and significant message: “one thing I can say is no country in the world has any right to go and intervene in internal affairs of another country. You have to respect countries, you have to respect cultures.” Going on to say: “If you demand respect, you have to respect other people as well, and this is a basic question so that we can understand each other as human beings.”
Dr. Aleida Guevara March’s talk and the interview that followed was to say the least, inspiring.  She spoke with impassioned messages of respect and solidarity. What we thought would be a talk about Cuba’s role in the Ebola crisis became so much more than that, and Guevara March’s readiness to answer our questions, and her gift for storytelling made it an eye-opening experience.
If you’d like to hear more about the talk, or more about Dr. Aleida Guevara March and her message check out News on Page 4, or go online and watch Forge TV’s interview here.

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