“’Cuba’ means dignity,” Subcomandante Marcos once said. And certainly, even in the face of COVID and under an embargo that has only tightened, the island has remained—going beyond any mistakes and contradictions—a source of inspiration for many and a model of international solidarity, with over 600,000 health workers sent abroad (more than the entire World Health Organization).
The fact that the Cuban revolution has managed to embody José Martí’s saying, “Homeland is humanity,” was even more evident during the pandemic, as the medical brigades of the Henry Reeve Contingent, whose presence was enjoyed by Italy as well, did not hesitate to go and fight COVID in over 50 countries around the world. But Cuba, one of the countries with the highest number of doctors relative to the size of the population, is also an example for the manner in which it has waged the battle against the virus within its national borders, producing at least two public vaccines: Soberana 2 and Abdala, the latter with an efficacy of over 92%.
Nevertheless, none of this is enough to shield the island from all kinds of attacks from its enemies, who, as Eduardo Galeano pointed out, are careful not to acknowledge that “Cuba is one of the few countries that does not compete in the World Cup of being a pushover,” and that “it has built the least unjust Latin American society.”
We talked about all of this with Cuban pediatrician Aleida Guevara, Che’s eldest daughter, at the end of her visit to Italy, where she was invited by the Italy-Cuba National Friendship Association.
After Biden came to the White House, none of the 240 anti-Cuba measures enacted by Trump have been eliminated. Did you expect that?
The truth is that we thought he would at least make some attempt to improve the dialogue with our government. Instead, he has put new economic and financial pressure on Cuba, preventing us from using the U.S. dollar as an international exchange currency. This is a serious problem for a country whose development depends on tourism and services.
And what about the European Parliament’s “forceful” condemnation of human rights violations in Cuba?
It doesn’t even deserve a response. It is simply a lack of respect for a people who have shown such solidarity that—even though they haven’t yet overcome the effects of the pandemic at home—they’ve sent health professionals to more than 50 countries in order to contain the disasters caused by the virus. Including to the countries of the so-called “first world,” members of the European Union, which is judging us so superficially—perhaps giving in to misinformation or manipulation, or, even worse, serving the interests of its larger partner, the U.S. government. The same government that has systematically violated the human rights of my people for more than 59 years, illegally supporting a cruel economic and financial embargo that denies us free trade with other countries.
The U.S. government is now launching a campaign against Cuban medical cooperation, describing health missions as “human trafficking.”
I went to Nicaragua and Angola as a pediatrician, and it was one of the most significant experiences of my life. In exchange for our work, we received nothing more than the salary of a Cuban doctor, but I must say that this never bothered me in the slightest: I felt like I was the most complete woman on the planet, simply because I felt useful, I saved lives, I felt the affection of my patients and the gratitude of their families, and this has always been, and will always be, the best reward for a pediatrician. The world has changed, the European socialist camp is gone, life has become more commoditized, but the education I received has stood the test of time: a child’s smile continues to be the best reward. My colleagues fill me with pride: I feel fulfilled both professionally and as a revolutionary when I see them working in every corner of the world with the same love and respect we show towards our own people. After all, who did the WHO call to fight Ebola? Cuban doctors! Because we are professionals, we show solidarity and we respect life. Clearly, we need money as well, but that’s not the core element of our lives. That’s why we’re not servants to anyone, and we understand that the life of a human being is worth more than all the gold in the world. That is why I support giving the Nobel Peace Prize to the Cuban medical brigade.
What would you say to those who are denouncing the repression against the initiative of dissident artists and intellectuals known as the San Isidro Movement?
But do people know what that is about? There are some well-known artists within it—and we hope that they’re simply confused—but the supposed leaders of this movement have publicly expressed their wish that our country should be invaded by the U.S. military. Can anyone imagine what that means for my people? Does anyone have any idea about what we have achieved in these years of Revolution in the fields of culture and health, about the dignity with which we live? Who could respect what some mercenary individuals are saying, who don’t care about their people but only about the amount of money they’re receiving to attack them? My government has had extraordinary patience, which I personally don’t share. It bothers me enormously to keep seeing and hearing these characters who don’t represent the interests of the majority. And I want, and like, to see the state make use of the right that we as a people have granted it, applying the laws that were approved by an overwhelming majority.
What do you think of the “La joven Cuba” group, which aspires to “achieve a socialist democracy with a robust rule of law”? Are its criticisms helpful to the Revolution?
The only criticisms that help the Revolution are those that are based on the commitment to perfect it, and must therefore be accompanied by feasible solutions to improve the lives of the people without any kind of foreign interference.
Between the embargo and the pandemic, the island is going through a serious crisis. How can it get out of it?
The situation is truly difficult: there is a shortage of food and medicine, and a tropical storm is approaching, which could make things even worse. However, we remain united as a people, we are in solidarity with one another and we can count on many friends in many parts of the world, starting, for example, with the Italy-Cuba Association, which has stood by our side for 60 years. There are thousands and thousands of men and women in this world who are supporting us and showing profound solidarity: without them, it would be difficult to resist, and above all to continue to promote our development. It’s not easy, but we have already shown that when a united people decides to fight for an ideal, there is no force that can bend it. Let’s keep moving forward.
Cuba has its own vaccines now. What is the significance of this scientific success?
How is it possible for a country with so many economic problems to obtain something that other much richer and more powerful countries have failed in? What is it that sets us apart? Without a doubt, it’s the social system. Within the framework of the socialist model, what is most important is the human being, their security, their well-being. Therefore, it is essential to ensure that each individual has the opportunity to develop their intellectual resources so that they’re more useful to society. Since the embargo has always burdened us in buying medicines, we have sought alternative ways, one of which has been prevention: it is easier to prevent a disease than to cure it. This is where the scientific development comes from that allows us to protect the people. Yes, we have shown that it’s possible to live another way, not turning life into something bought and sold, but respecting it.
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