By Cheryl LaBash – Oct 11, 2021
(Orinoco Tribune) Today a People’s Peace Prize was awarded to Cuba’s Henry Reeve International Medical Brigade — not the Nobel Peace Prize, although more than 100 organizations and 40,000 individuals from the U.S. alone supported the Henry Reeve Brigade’s nomination.
As the global community stumbled under the coronavirus assault, Cuba’s army of whitecoats rushed to hot spots when called, not shirking the danger. It’s nothing new for them. In 2014, 10,000 Cuban medical professionals volunteered to go to Liberia and Sierra Leone to fight terrifyingly deadly ebola in West Africa.
In 2017, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) recognized the Henry Reeve Brigade with its prestigious Dr. Lee Jong-wook Memorial Prize for Public Health at a World Health Assembly (WHA) ceremony.
The PAHO press release says it all:
“The Henry Reeve International Medical Brigade has ‘spread a message of hope throughout the world,’ said the award presenter, John Linto, president of the Korean Foundation for International Health Care (KOFIH). Linto explained that the brigade’s 7,400 voluntary healthcare workers have treated more than 3.5 million people in 21 countries ravaged by many of the world’s worst natural disasters and epidemics throughout the past decade.
“He added that an estimated 80,000 lives have been saved as a direct result of the Brigade’s front-line emergency medical treatments to patients in these countries.”
Cuba’s Henry Reeve Brigade was formed in 2005 from more than 1,500 fully-equipped doctors assembled to aid the people of New Orleans, who were displaced, suffering and dying in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
Named after a young U.S. Civil War veteran who joined Cuba’s war of liberation and died fighting there, the brigade was rebuffed by President George W. Bush. But many of those same doctors then traveled to the snowy hills of the Himalayas to treat earthquake survivors in Pakistan.
Cuba’s global struggle against COVID
Fast forward to 2021 and the coronavirus pandemic. Suddenly these same internationalist heroes are widely slandered by the U.S. State Department. Intentionally coded terms like “human trafficking” were used to create a negative initial reaction. But according to the standard applied to Cuba by the U.S. State Department, the biggest human trafficker is capitalism itself.
Countries that need more doctors and can afford to do so pay Cuba for medical or other professional services. The Cuban workers are paid for their international work, and they also receive their regular pay at home. Countries that can’t afford to pay still get help.
Yes, the total contract price may be more than is paid to the doctors, but it doesn’t go into the pocket of a billionaire. Instead, the additional money goes for the public good, to provide free healthcare for all the Cuban people.
U.S. slander of the Henry Reeve Brigade and other economic interference is part of a regime-change plan to create unbearable hardship for the Cuban people, in the vain hope they will turn against their government. It has been an acknowledged plan since April 6, 1960, in the Mallory-Rubottom State Department memo. And it is cynically still being used, as demonstrated by U.S. involvement in the anti-Cuban government protests of July 11, 2021.
Even in a global medical crisis, the Trump and Biden administrations continue the anti-Cuba “maximum pressure” campaign to intentionally hurt Cuban families on both sides of the Florida straits.
But more than that: the U.S. financial stranglehold has prevented Cuba from accessing raw materials to produce two of the five vaccine candidates developed by Cuban scientists. Slowing the vaccination of the Cuban people is biological warfare, using the coronavirus as a weapon.
On June 23 at the United Nations, the world voted for the 29th time for the U.S. to end its economic, financial and commercial blockade on Cuba. As the U.S. angled to use “humanitarian aid” as a knife against Cuba, other countries — including Mexico, Argentina and China — sent personal protective equipment, food and medicine. Supporters around the world united to send solidarity syringes to let Cuba live.
Cuba’s vaccination program is moving forward, now including children as young as 2. Cuba is on target for 100% vaccination by the end of this year. Infection and death rates are declining.
Hope for Global South
Cuba’s vaccines hold hope for the Global South, particularly Africa. According to Our World in Data, only 2.4% of people in low-income countries have been vaccinated.
In March, Cuba and Zimbabwe announced construction of a state-of-the-art pharmaceutical production plant in that blockaded southern African country.
Reuters reported Oct. 7 that Moderna has announced plans to build a plant in Africa. However, “Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, said he had not seen the Moderna statement and the company had not consulted with him.
“At a news conference, he welcomed any efforts to address the continent’s medium-to-long term needs, but said Moderna’s plans would not solve its problems securing COVID-19 vaccine doses now.”
The World Health Organization continued its criticism of vaccine hoarding by the imperialist countries, reported CNBC Sept. 7: “‘This is not just unfair, it’s not just immoral, it’s prolonging the pandemic,’ said Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead on COVID. ‘And it is resulting in people dying.’”
Kerkhove’s words echo the summary of the June 18-21 Summit for Vaccine Internationalism. Summit coordinator Varsha Gandikota-Nellutla said:
“A new international health order is in formation. It is desperately needed to overcome the vaccine apartheid which threatens our very survival, calls the South’s sovereignty into question and risks further murderous mutations of this virus.”
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At that summit, “Cuba committed to not only open collaboration but affordable prices, with Dr. Regla Pardo, Cuba’s vice minister for health, telling the summit: ‘Cuban vaccines will be affordable and will benefit those most in need.’”
This raises an interesting question. Is the blockade of Cuba also an international weapon to expand Big Pharma profits from COVID-19 vaccines?
It’s happened before. In 2001, BBC reported that Cuba announced it would make generic forms of patented HIV/AIDS drugs, but the move was being challenged before the World Trade Organization by “some developed countries and large pharmaceutical companies.”
It is in the interest of the world’s people to #unblockCuba, so #USAstopLying!
Cheryl LaBash is Co-Chair of National Network on Cuba, activist and writer