The simple fact that Cuba and the United States are in the same boat fighting the Ebola epidemics in Western Africa demonstrates how the level of conflict between the two countries is irrational.
While Havana and Washington have considerable differences — and no parallel efforts against a common enemy as Ebola can bridge them — it is evident that narratives of suspicion and intransigence prevent such joint efforts for the benefit of both countries and the world in general.
But, words matter. The recent statements by John Kerry and Samantha Power praising what Cuba is doing to fight Ebola in Africa on behalf of the U.S. State Department — as well as the declarations by Fidel and Raul Castro that Cuba would welcome collaborative efforts on Ebola with the United States — show that a revision of the bilateral relations is long overdue.
President Obama now needs to apply the dictum of his former chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, and not waste the opportunity presented by the Ebola crisis. Cuba and the United States should advance long-term cooperation in international health efforts under the auspices of the WHO.
Political leadership in the White House and the Palace of Revolution would transform a fight against a common threat into joint cooperation for the advancement of human rights (the right to health is a human right) all over the developing world and the national interests of the two neighbors.
Political conditions are ripe for such turn. Americans strongly support aggressive actions against Ebola and would applaud a president who put lives and medical cooperation with Cuba above ideology and resentment.
As more information comes out about Cuba’s international health effort, it is becoming clearer how unreasonable it is to assume that all Cuban presence in the developing world is damaging to U.S. national interests. The more than 40 000 Cuban doctors and health personnel working in 80 countries are playing a key role to improve human development and protect the world from the spread of Ebola and other contagious diseases.
During the Bush administration and even under Obama, the United States spent lavishly to support groups in Miami that focus on undermining Cuba’s international health presence in Africa and Latin America.
The U.S Cuban Medical Professional Parole Immigration Program (CMPP) is reminiscent of the Cold War. The program encourages Cuban doctors to abandon their contracts in third countries and immigrate to the United States.
Washington’s ideology-driven hostility toward Cuba’s international health efforts has further divided the United States from other democratic countries. The trouble for Miami die-hard Cold Warriors is that examples of how Cuba shares the burden and merits of international health efforts with U.S. allies are expanding.
Cuba is cooperating with several institutions of the European Union, Brazil, Canada and Norway in projects of medical education on the island, and in Haiti and other countries. The programs might even grow as result of the current negotiation in Brussels between the EU and Cuba for a comprehensive agreement on cooperation and political dialogue.
The good news is that two former U.S. presidents, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, have talked positively about Cuba’s health achievements and international programs. President Carter and former first lady Rosalyn even visited Cuba’s Latin American School of Medicine in 2002.
In a meeting with then Cuban minister of health Carlos Dotres, Mrs. Carter mentioned that their presidential center’s Global Health program would like to collaborate with Cuba’s international medical educational assistance. There is no moral, political or national security explanation for why such humanitarian endeavors are not happening already.
As a senator and presidential candidate, Obama was one of the loudest critics of looking at Cuba through the glasses of the Cold War. As a president, it isn’t enough for him just to retune the same policy of embargo implemented by his predecessors. He must adjust the official U.S. narrative about post-Fidel Cuba: It is not a threat to the United States but a country in transition to a mixed economy, and a positive force for global health.
By Arturo Lopez-Levy, The Cuban Economy
Special To The Tampa Tribune; October 28, 2014
Arturo Lopez-Levy is a visiting lecturer at Mills College in California and a PhD candidate at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver.