Archive for the ‘health’ Category

‘In Cuba, a prisoner is another human being’

February 7, 2016

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The Militant
Vol. 80/No. 6 February 15, 2016
(feature article)

‘In Cuba, a prisoner is another human being’

Cuban Five: It’s different in US prisons, where the system
is organized to dehumanize you

“It’s the Poor Who Face the Savagery of the US
‘Justice’ System”: The Cuban Five Talk About
Their Lives Within the US Working Class, is a new book from Pathfinder. It
centers on a 2015 interview by Mary-Alice Waters and Róger
Calero with the Cuban Five in Havana. Each was incarcerated in
the U.S. from 14 to 16 years after the FBI framed them up for
activity in defense of the Cuban Revolution. The excerpt below
follows a discussion on how the capitalist rulers foster the
prevalence of drugs and gangs in U.S. prisons. Copyright ©
2016 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.

MARY-ALICE WATERS: We’ve had some experiences here in Cuba
that are the opposite of what you’ve been describing. We
have a friend in Matanzas, for example, a university professor
who also gives classes in prison and takes pride in it. She told
us about using some books Pathfinder has published in her classes
and the interest they generate. We’ve read about Silvio
Rodríguez and other musicians giving concerts inside the
prisons. …

We know things in Cuba are far from perfect. But social relations
— the way people relate to each other — are the
opposite of what you experienced in the US. And that’s
true in the prison system too. In Cuba the revolution carried out
by the workers and farmers eliminated the economic and social
system built on class exploitation, on retribution and
punishment, social isolation, punitive deprivation of medical
care, denial of culture and education. That’s why the US
government is so determined to punish the Cuban people and
destroy your example.

GERARDO HERNÁNDEZ: We were with many Cuban prisoners in the
United States who had been inmates in Cuba as well. …
They’d often say, “Yes, material conditions in
prison” — especially in the newer ones —
“are a lot better than where I was in Cuba.”

Obviously you can’t compare living conditions in the
richest country in the world with the economic resources in Cuba.
But most of them recognized that prison personnel here in Cuba
make a real effort to rehabilitate inmates, to help them. In the
United States, a prison counselor is someone who puts in his
hours at work and does his best not to ever have to see you.

The human part is essential. I often give the example of a young
neighbor of mine. When he was in high school, he was involved in
something that rarely happens in Cuba — what’s
known in the US as “bullying.” He was studying in
the countryside on a scholarship program and he was being
pestered and harassed. One day he took a knife, scuffled with the
other boy, and stabbed him in the wrong place, killing him.

That boy was sentenced to seven years. During that time he
completed high school and went on to university. … He took
classes all day, and the bus brought him back to prison. …

I recently had a conversation with a very prestigious young
artist here in Cuba, Mabel Poblet. She showed me some samples of
her work. One stood out to me — an installation with
hundreds of red plastic flowers. “Look at these
flowers,” she said. “They were made by a woman who
is a prisoner in Holguín.”

“We visited the women’s prison there and met an
inmate, Betsy Torres, who was making flowers,” Mabel said.
“I had in mind doing an installation using flowers, so I
asked her to make some for me — the ones you see here.
After she was let out for good behavior, I invited her to the
opening of my exhibition.”

This type of exchange is the opposite of the dehumanization that
takes place in the US prison system. …

FERNANDO GONZÁLEZ: Look at what the Bureau of Prisons calls
its Program Statement. It says the Bureau of Prisons encourages
social contact with the outside. But in practice it’s the
opposite. They put up obstacles to everything, including visits.

It’s not enough that the prisoner is 1,500 miles or more
from his family. It’s not enough that many families
can’t afford a plane ticket and a weekend in a motel to
come see you. On top of all that, the searches and other
alienating procedures family members and friends have to go
through to get into the prison, not to mention the tense,
uncomfortable layout of the visiting room. …

GERARDO HERNÁNDEZ: “The most important difference,
what I miss most,” some Cuban inmates in the US would tell
us, “is that in Cuba I had the right to conjugal visits,
or to get a pass to see my family.” But not in the United

In federal prisons and in all but four of the fifty states,
something so elementary as conjugal visits are not permitted. If
they were, it would greatly reduce tensions. It would humanize
people. It would be an incentive for good behavior. …

RAMÓN LABAÑINO: They don’t care whether
there’s money in the budget for another handball court.
That’s a big issue I had, since — in addition to
reading, studying, and playing chess — sports was one of
the ways I handled all those years in prison. I exercised, lifted
weights, and played lots of handball. But prison officials
didn’t want to paint the floor of the handball court with
the kind of rubber compound that makes it easier on your knees.

That’s how I injured my knee, in fact. But medical care in
prison in the US is terrible; they don’t want to spend
money on that either. I went to the doctor and he told me,
“Take two aspirin. Put ice on it, keep your feet up, and
tomorrow you’ll be better.” They only really take
care of you when you’re on the verge of dying. …

There’s money in the budget to buy better food for the
cafeteria too, but it’s never fully used. I know. I worked
in the cafeteria several times.

Actually, I didn’t like working in the cafeteria, because
a lot of people take those jobs in order to steal food. But we
don’t steal. It’s not our philosophy, not the
social values we learned in Cuba. With what I ate I had enough.
Frankly, I’m no good at stealing.

Here in Cuba it’s different. Our officers may not have
resources, but they are trained to really help you. I’d
venture to say that ethic goes far beyond the framework of the
prison system to the broader society here.

In Cuba a prisoner is another human being. He’s someone
who made a mistake and is in prison for that reason. It’s
not like the US, where the prison population is the enemy
— just as uniformed officers there see the people as the
enemy. Why? Because on some level they understand there could be
a social revolution in the United States some day. And their job
is to contain that revolution, in order to protect the social
layer that’s in power.

That’s pretty elementary. You don’t even need
Marxism-Leninism to see that. But if you don’t understand
this, you’ll never see why things happen the way they do
in the United States. Why the police act the way they did in
Ferguson, Missouri, last year. Why there’s no solution
within that system. …

FERNANDO GONZÁLEZ: In Miami we saw women who were pregnant
when they were arrested. When the time came to give birth, they
were taken to the hospital …

RAMÓN LABAÑINO: …in chains.

FERNANDO GONZÁLEZ: Yes, in chains. They gave birth in the
hospital, and two days later they were brought back to their
cells without their baby.

Recently I visited a women’s prison here in Cuba. …
In the United States, you know from miles away you’re near
a prison. You see the walls, fences, razor wire, towers, lights,
surveillance vehicles. But in Guantánamo, as we got closer, I
asked, “Where’s the prison?” There was a
wall you could easily jump over. Even as fat as I am, I could
have jumped over it!

Inside, some rooms are like small apartments. If a woman is
pregnant — or becomes pregnant, because they have conjugal
visits — she can stay in one of those rooms until the baby
is a year old. It’s a small room with a kitchen, where she
can cook. The prison provides food for the baby and other
necessities. There’s also a sewing shop.

Cuba on the Verge of Significant Nanotechnology Advance

September 25, 2015


By Alfredo Boada Mola

Havana (PL) Nanotechnology science and it’s application to the life
sciences in particular, could become, in conjunction with other
scientific sectors, one of Cuba’s development bases in the not too
distant future.

The role of this branch of science in the social and economic
transformation of Cuba, is a key element of the Cuban Center for
Advanced Studies (CEAC from it’s acronym in Spanish), a new
institution in the west of Havana currently preparing for the planned
commencement of operations next year.

The staff presently research distinctive therapeutic cancer medicinal
nano-formulations and nano-particles for the controlled release of
drugs whilst simultaneously seeking to extend the diagnosis of a
greater number of diseases from the same blood sample.

In conjunction with universities, research centers and national
enterprises agencies, CEAC foresee significant investigative cycle,
developmental and innovation results, enhancing technologically
advanced biomedical and environmental system applications.

Ariel Felipe, program director of the Council of State’s scientific
advisory office, told The Havana Reporter that in Cuba, the priority
focus for this science were nano-biotechnology and medicine, ranging
from medications and tissue regeneration to disease detection devices.

He added that the existence in the country of a robust biotechnology
industry was something positive that lent itself to future
advancements in this regard.

Through the Center for Advanced Studies, Cuba is endeavoring to boost
its presence in the rapidly growing sphere of nanotechnology and to
establish a presence in both the domestic and Latin American
biotechnology markets.

Another aim is to provide Cuban engineers and scientists with the
tools to create miniature devices that could revolutionize the health
care, environmental care and energy sectors.

The 10.3 hectare CEAC site will comprise various nano-chemistry and
nano-biology research laboratories and computer simulation and
modeling facilities.

According to its directors, the installations will be open for
national and international investigations and will serve as a training
center for advanced micro and nano fabrication, facilitating the
formation of human resources for Latin America.

The entity will have nano-characterization, nano-engineering,
standardization, energy and environmental laboratories. It will also
promote the obtaining of nano-structures, nano-metric visualization
and high resolution analysis of composites and structures.

It will also develop tools and devices for the controlled release of
medications, disease diagnosis and environmental controls and new
devices for the production and storage of energy.

translated by Sean Clancy

Cuba Eliminates Substances that Deplete Ozone Layer

September 23, 2015


By Alfredo Boada Mola

Experts in Cuba have undertaken the initialization of a new plant
based on Japanese technology to deal with the destruction of
substances that cause Ozone Layer depletion.

The fragile gaseous strata filters sunlight and impedes harmful solar
ultraviolet radiation reaching the surface of the Earth, thus
preserving human, plant and animal life.

Ozone Technical Office (OTOZ from the Spanish acronym) specialist,
Natacha Figueredo MSc, explained to the Havana Reporter that this
modern installation cosntructed in the Siguaney cement factory in the
province of Sancti Spiritus, commenced operations last April and is
presently in a functional stabilization phase.

During the first stage Ozone depletion substances (SAO from the
Spanish acronym) collected during the substitution of more than
2,500,000 refrigerators and almost 300,000 air conditioners in the
residential sector are to be destroyed.

The works form part of the “Energy Revolution” which fully eliminated
the use in Cuba of chlorofluorocarbons (CFC) in domestic

Hydro-fluorocarbons (HCFC) will later be destroyed in the plant which
will, over the coming months, be collected from refrigeration and
climatization units around the country.

Through this initiative, Cuba has attained the destruction this year
of some 258.4 kilos of SAO, a result which places the island within an
elite group of nations in the region with the capability to undertake
this complex process. Capacity will increase once the plant

The installation is part of a demonstrative collection, recovery,
storage, transport and regeneration of substances detrimental to the
ozone layer initiative, that is the result of a strategy developed by
the OTC and the Montreal Multilateral Protocol Fund, via the United
Nations Development Program (PNUD).

The project seeks to ensure an environmentally safe outcome to SAO
destruction by averting emission into the earth’s atmosphere, thus
contributing to Cuba meeting Montreal Protocol Commitments to
gradually eradicate  and reduce SAO use.

Cuba is the first country to totally eliminate CFC consumption in
domestic refrigeration, a significant contribution to the
confrontation of climate change related issues that affect the planet,
because the gasses that impact on the Ozone Layer have a potent
greenhouse effect. According to OTOZ data, the actions undertaken on
the island have reduced CO2 atmospheric emissions by 4 million tons
per year.

OTOZ director and doctor in Sciences, Nelson Espinosa explained that
one of the most notable Cuban achievements of the past twenty years is
the total elimination of a group of substances that deplete the Ozone
layer, including the use of CFC’s in the manufacture of pharmaceutical
and industrial aerosols and methyl bromide in the fumigation of crops,
storage units and other industrial installations.

translated by Sean Clancy

Cuban health care draws worldwide praise

September 21, 2015

Health care for Cubans and the care Cuba extends to the world have gained high praise. Cuba’s health care reforms, in the making for 50 years, became the basis for health care planners and providers to be able to extend medical care, medical education, and disease prevention throughout the world. This report surveys Cuban health care both at home and abroad.

1.     Health Care in Cuba

Numbers and narrative alike tell the story of a health care project comprehensive, effective and accessible to all Cuban people.  Actual health care in Cuba and public health – for U.S. health care planners, a separate entity – are identical. Both the community and individual are at once objects of care in Cuba. Payment for care is not an individual responsibility. Cuba has emphasized provision ofhealth facilities, services, and practitioners to rural areas in response to deprivations there prior to the Revolution. Health authorities have emphasized data collection, prevention strategies, health education for all, biomedical research, and medical-education capabilities. Cuba has devised full-spectrum health care, from specialty hospitals for complicated and unusual illnesses, to mid-level centers providing consultations, emergency care, and laboratory services, to thousands of family doctor-nurse teams providing first – contact care in rural areas and crowded cities alike. In developing their system of care, health care leaders frequently have resorted to improvisation, taking advantage of innovative examples elsewhere.

Article 50 of Cuba’s revised 1976 Constitution proclaims that, “Everyone has the right to health protection and care.” Political commitment is what drives planning. In 1965, Fidel Castro led 475 new doctors, the first to be educated under the Revolution, to the summit of Pico Turquino, Cuba’s highest mountain. There the students vowed “to expand rural medical services, to promote preventive health care among the population and to providing selfless aid to needy peoples.” (1)  Describing “RevolutionaryMedicine” to a group of soldiers in 1960, Che Guevara established the duty of the state, “to provide public health services for the greatest possible number of persons, institute a program of preventive medicine … and to orient the creative abilities of all medical professionals toward the tasks of social medicine.”

The role of political leadership was clear in 1983 when Fidel Castro urged specialists at Cuba’s principle infectious disease institute to make certain that the oncoming HIV/AIDS epidemic “does not constitute a health problem for Cuba.” (2) Thus preventative measures were already in place when Cuba’s first case of the disease was diagnosed two years later. Infection rates are still the lowest in the region.  

Data from the World Health Organization and Pan American Health Organization confirm Cuba’s own figures on health outcome. (3) Estimates of infant mortality rates (IMR) during the 1950’s, prior to the Cuban Revolution, vary widely, from 65 babies dying in their first year of life (out of 1000 births) to 39 infant deaths (in 1960).  Life expectancy at birth was 64 or less, according to varying tallies. Cuba had one medical school, eight small nursing schools, and 6286 practicingand teaching physicians, two thirds of whom were based in Havana. Within two years 3000 physicians would leave for foreign exile.

Data from the World Health Organization and Pan American Health Organization confirm Cuba’s own figures on health outcome. (3) Estimates of infant mortality rates (IMR) during the 1950’s, prior to the Cuban Revolution, vary widely, from 65 babies dying in their first year of life (out of 1000 births) to 39 infant deaths (in 1960).  Life expectancy at birth was 64 or less, according to varying tallies. Cuba had one medical school, eight small nursing schools, and 6286 practicing and teaching physicians, two thirds of whom were based in Havana. Within two years 3000 physicians would leave for foreign exile.

In 2013 Cuban life expectancy was 78.5 years (79 in the United States).  Cuba’s 2014 IMR was 4.2. The U. S. rate in 2011 was 6.1 and is unchanged since, with black infants dying at twice that rate. (The IMR for Canada was 4.8 recently – 15.7 for all of Latin America.)  Cuba’s rate of child deaths under age five, per thousand births, was 5.7 in 2014; the most recent U. S. rate was 7.1.  Cuba has recently spent 10 percent of its GDP on health care; the United States 17.6 percent; Canada 11.4; and the UK 9.6 percent. Cuba has one physician for 149 persons, 85,563 in all; the U. S. rate is one per 413 persons. Cuba, with 24 medical schools, graduated more than 10,000 physicians in 2013; the United States graduated 18,154 that year.  

Cuban health care extends to biomedical research and production, also export of multiple vaccines, diagnostic test kits, and generic drugs – including anti-HIV agents. That sector has prioritized immunotherapy products and anti-cancer vaccines. “In one section of Havana,” an observer notes,” there are 24 research and 58 manufacturing facilities, employing some 7000 scientists and engineers, and [that] accounted for $711 million (USD) in export earnings in 2011.”  (4)    Cuban scientists have developed innovative products, among them: interferons, a vaccine against Type B meningococcal meningitis, a drug directed at foot ulcers caused by diabetes, recombinant streptokinase used for myocardial infarctions, and epidermal growth factor helpful in the treatment of burns.  

2.     Cuban International Medical Solidarity

It started in 1960. Cuba sent a relief team of health workers to Chile after an earthquake there. They went to Algeria in 1963 to establish a public health system. Since then, according to Professor John M. Kirk of Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, over 325,000 Cuban medical personnel have provided assistance in 158 countries. (5) Indeed, the Cuban Constitution refers to “proletarian internationalism, brotherly friendship, help, cooperation, and solidarity with the peoples of the world.”

Kirk believes that,  “Cuba has provided an example for the planet, showing how its successful medical collaboration programs have been far more successful, and more far-reaching, than anything provided by all of the G-8 countries’ efforts combined. For over fifty years Cuban medical personnel have served the poorest and most neglected areas of the world, going where other doctors refused to go. At present they are looking after the well-being of some 70 million people.”

He adds that, “As of January 2015 there are 51,847 Cuban medical personnel (of whom 50.1% are physicians) working in 67 countries–mainly in the developing world … [I]n Africa over 4,000 medical personnel are working in 32 countries”  The situation, he says, is comparable to  “having 223,000 US doctors serving in developing countries.”

Some notable examples:

·        Cuban medical teams went to Sub-Saharan Africa in the 1970’s in conjunction with anti-apartheid military actions there.

·        Beginning in 1990 Cuba developed comprehensive medical-care programs centered in Tarará, Cuba, for the 21,874 children and 4,240 adults who were victims of the 1986 nuclear disaster in Chernobyl, Ukraine. Cuba provided medical care and provisions at no cost.

·        During the 1990’s, disaster relief efforts culminated in help given to Haiti and Central American countries following Hurricanes George and Mitch in 1998. The latter took tens of thousands of lives.

·        Hundreds of Cuban doctors remained in Haiti and were there when the disastrous 2010 earthquake occurred. New physician arrivals took the lead in providing care and rehabilitation for injuries and responding to the cholera epidemic that followed. They stayed; currently 700 Cuban doctors are working in Haiti. In all 11,000 Cuban health workers have served there since 1998.

·        Cuban doctors have cared for patients in East Timor since 2003; 350 were there in 2008, and four years later hundreds of that country’s young people were training as physicians in Cuba, also in an East Timorese medical school established and staffed by Cubans.

·        From 2004 on, as part of “Operation Miracle,” Cuban eye surgeons with logistical support from Venezuela have performed sight-restoring surgery, mainly for cataracts and glaucoma, for 3.4 million patients in 31 countries.

·        In 2005 in Pakistan within two weeks of an earthquake that killed 250,000 people, over 3000 Cuban medical personnel were caring for the injured in 32 field hospitals, in the snow and mountains. They stayed for six months. 

·        Earlier that year Cuban disaster-relief teams working abroad became the “Henry Reeve Brigade,” named in honor of a young U. S. soldier who joined rebel forces in Cuba’s first War for Independence.  Some 1500 Cuban doctors preparing to go to New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina – The U. S. government turned them down. – were the first contingent to be so designated. By that time 36 disaster relief teams had already worked in 24 countries.

·        In late 2014, 251 Brigade members traveled to East Africa to combat the Ebola epidemic. Recruited from 15,000 volunteers, they stayed for six months. For its anti-Ebola contribution, Norway’s Conference of Trade Unions in February 2015, nominated the Henry Reeve Brigade for the Nobel Peace Prize.  

·        “Brigade 41” of the Brigade, with 49 health workers, arrived in Katmandu, Nepal, in May 2015 to deal with suffering caused by a major earthquake.  This was the 41st mobilization of the Brigade since its formation in 2005.

·        In August 2015, 16 Cubans – physicians, nurses, and epidemiologists – were on the Caribbean island of Dominica helping victims of flooding caused by Hurricane Erika. They brought 1.2 tons of medical supplies and provisions. 

·        Since 2005, Cuban physicians, usually from 12,000 to 15,000 at a time, have served in Venezuela as practitioners and medical teachers. In return, Cuba gains an assured, reasonably priced supply of Venezuelan oil.

·        Some 11,000 Cuban physicians, the majority of them women, have been working since 2013 in underserved areas of Brazil, whose government reimburses its Cuban counterpart.

Medical education is a big part of Cuban medical internationalism.  Kirk reports that in Africa, for example, 5,500 Cuban professionals were working there in 2012, and also that “40,000 Africans have graduated from Cuban universities and there are currently 3,000 studying in Cuba.” 

Cuba has established medical faculties in 15 countries and provided teachers for 13 of them.  According to <spanstyle=”” id=”yui_3_15_0_1_1442845244782_1020″>journalist Salim Lamrani, Cuba annually provides training in medicine, nursing, or medical technology for some 29,000 students from over 100 foreign countries. (6)  Every year half of Cuba’s medical graduates are foreign students. Cuba-Venezuela cooperation has resulted in some 25,000 Venezuelans now studying medicine under Cubans’ tutelage as part of an innovative program that has students studying in their own communities. Kirk reports that Cuban teachers have helped train “more than 80,000 midwives, 65 health promoters and 3,000 nurses” in developing countries.

The jewel in the crown of Cuba’s overseas medical work is the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM).  Formed in 1999, the Havana-based institution, which utilizes teaching hospitalsacross the island, provides medical education at no personal cost to students who arrive from Africa, Latin America, Asia, and from the United States – almost 100 counties in all. Up to 1500 students graduate from the School every year and, as of August 2015, some 23,000 physicians have returned to their own countries, where, as promised, they will be serving where they are most needed. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, visiting the School, told students, “ELAM does more than train doctors.  You produce miracle workers.”

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Cuban health care relates to the community orientation of practitioners and teachers alike, in Cuba and abroad. 

<fontcolor=”#1e1c11″>Kirk quotes El Salvador’s Public Health Minister María Isabel Rodríguez:  “The Cubans treat them [their patients] as individuals, recognizing their human quality, and spending time with them. Their medical treatment is different – the Cuban doctors respect their patients and listen to them.”

Kirk suggests that patients “are not seen as suffering from a singular ailment … instead they are viewed in the wider bio-psycho-social context.”  And, “the system is based upon medical training in which ethical considerations and the responsibilities of professionals are emphasized far more than in medical schools of the industrialized world. … The result is that the Cuban system has developed a cost-effective, pragmatic, highly ethical and sustainable system of public healthcare.”

In January 2015 Professor Kirk wrote to the Norwegian Nobel Committee indicating he was “delighted to nominate the Cuban medical internationalism program for the Nobel Peace Prize.” Ban Ki-moon would concur: Cuban “doctors are with communities through thick and thin – before disasters strike … throughout crises … and long after storms have passed. They are often the first to arrive and the last to leave.”




3. The web site is a valuable resource providing access to epidemiologic data from the Cuban Ministry of Health, the World Health Organization, and the Pan American Health Organization.


5. The research and observations of Professor Kirk are fundamental to an understanding of Cuban medical internationalism




Cuban ebola team nominated for Nobel Peace Prize

May 20, 2015


by: Emile Schepers

The Annual Conference of Norwegian Trade Unions, meeting in Trondheim, Norway, voted unanimously in February to nominate Cuba’s Henry Reeve Brigade of internationalist health care workers for the Nobel Peace Prize.

The Henry Reeve Brigade, named for a U.S. born medical doctor who participated in Cuba’s war of independence from Spain in the 19th century, and which was formed in 2005, consists of doctors, nurses and other health  care workers who volunteer to provide care in dangerous and unusual emergency situations around the world.

When the Ebola outbreak began in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone in West Africa last year, 461 members of the brigade, trained by the Pedro Kouri Institute of Tropical Medicine in Havana, were quickly sent out to do the extremely dangerous direct face to face work with patients in a region where health care facilities and even basic infrastructure such as roads and communications systems are minimal.  Cuba’s role, far out of proportion to the countries small size and modest material resources, has been widely praised worldwide, including by the World Health Organization.

The Henry Reeve Brigade is only a small part of Cuba’s vast system of medical solidarity help to scores of poorer countries.

The Ebola epidemic has infected at least 22,000 people in the three countries, of whom 9,000 have died.  At least one of the  Cuban Reeve Brigade participants, Dr. Felix Baez, came down with the disease, but has survived.  One Cuban administrator died, but of malaria, not Ebola.  Currently the epidemic has been beaten down, but could flare up again, either in that area or somewhere else.

Surely there are few entities that are more deserving of the Nobel Peace Prize nomination!

Photo: Cuban health worker wearing protective gear.  |  telesurv,

Cubans’ ‘revolutionary ethics’ lead to advances against Ebola

April 6, 2015


The Militant

Vol. 79/No. 13      April 13, 2015

With only one new case of Ebola in Liberia in the last few weeks and a steep drop in new infections in Sierra Leone, Cuban volunteers, who have been at the forefront of combating the epidemic in those two countries, are returning home. The 38 internationalist volunteers in Guinea-Conakry, where the epidemic is not yet under control, continue to fight the virus.

At the outset of the epidemic, Cuba’s revolutionary government organized the largest delegation from anywhere in the world of medical personnel, all volunteers, to fight the disease.

“The Cuban doctors didn’t care about the risk, they said they were brothers from across the ocean and they came to help us as brothers,” Liberian Foreign Affairs Minister Augustine Kpehe Ngafuan told Cuban reporters in late March.

Juventud Rebelde reported that 150 Cuban doctors and nurses who have been fighting Ebola for the last six months in Liberia and Sierra Leone returned home March 23. The 66 volunteers remaining in Sierra Leone will return April 1. All will spend 21 days in quarantine to ensure that the disease is not introduced onto the island.

Dr. Leandro Castellanos Vivancos described his experience in Sierra Leone in an article on the Cubadebate website. Castellanos was stationed in the Port Loko district, a rural area 35 miles from the capital Freetown.

“We first arrived at a small camp very similar to what in Cuba are known as rural schools, with the difference that we had air conditioning for 12 hours a day,” Castellanos wrote.

“We could see all along the road some of the customs of the people, for example, the long treks of women, with huge logs on their heads and an ax in their hands,” he said. “Yes, here the women do the hard work and sometimes the men accompany them as if to raise their spirits.”

“The patients were not used to being in beds and we would find them on the floor. Some of them feared us, they didn’t have even a little bit of faith in the ‘astronaut’ they had in front of them,” Castellanos said, referring to the protective clothing doctors and nurses have to wear.

“Little by little we did what was necessary, it wasn’t easy,” he said. “Sometimes we had to communicate with gestures, crazy antics, since just a few of them spoke English.”

Brought down death rate

The Cubans worked out of a field hospital with volunteers from other countries, including the United States, and with local personnel, succeeding in bringing the death rate down from 70 percent to 30 percent, Castellanos said.

“We’ve done our duty, with revolutionary ethics, with medical ethics,” Dr. Leonardo Fernández, one of the Cuban brigadistas in Liberia, told Granma in an interview published in the March 20 issue.

Fernández said that the training they received at Cuba’s Institute of Tropical Medicine was excellent. “We left knowing what we faced, knowing the dangers, and prepared psychologically and technically,” he said. “During the first week we started out with a tremendous fear, but as time went by we had to slow down some of the volunteers, because they wanted to do more than what we had been asked to do.”

“We saw entire families die, children who were alone, their mom, their dad, three little brothers who died, it was terrible,” Fernández said. “But we also saw how Ebola survivors picked up and adopted orphan children. There isn’t any better pay for us than seeing this solidarity among the Liberians themselves.”

Fernández noted that when the brigade first arrived in Liberia the streets were deserted because of fear of contracting the disease. “Now, what a difference,” he said. “People on the street greet us, whenever we go out to eat or buy anything, they treat us with tremendous affection.”

Like other volunteers, Fernández has been on previous internationalist missions, including in Pakistan after an earthquake, in Nicaragua, East Timor and in Haiti.

‘I always volunteer for missions’

“Whenever they ask for volunteers I raise my hand and then I ask later what I’m volunteering for,” he said.

All the Cuban volunteers agreed to serve for at least six months. Only one of the Cuban volunteers, Félix Báez, contracted Ebola. He survived and returned to complete his assignment in Sierra Leone. Two Cuban volunteers were infected with malaria and died during the mission.

Fernández said he didn’t see what they did in Liberia as heroic. Thousands of Cuban internationalists have carried out missions around the world, he said, pointing to medical brigades deep in the jungle in Brazil, in indigenous communities in Venezuela and in villages in other parts of Africa. “The only difference is that this international mission is well known in the media,” he said. You had to be brave, “but it was just another assignment.”

“We don’t need any monetary compensation,” Fernández said. “I am recognized as a complete revolutionary, firm in my principles. That’s enough.”

“The first thing you feel is satisfaction at having carried out our assignment,” Dr. Ronald Hernández, who was part of the Liberia brigade, told Cubadebate. “Having helped those peoples is one of the best things I have personally ever done.”

“The people of Africa deserve a better destiny,” Hernández said. “I have seen social problems in my previous missions, but in Africa everything is more complicated. They need a few Fidels over there.”

The survival of the Cuban food ration card

April 3, 2015
A 52-year old ration card that guarantees a limited amount of staples for the peoples’ basic food basket at highly subsidized prices is still considered as necessary given unstable presence of certain products at the offer-and-demand domestic market and their very high prices, which most pockets cannot afford.
Every January, all Cuban families receive a new card containing 12 pages according to the months of the year in which the products are allocated at grocery stores in charge of distributing a series of staples like rice, beans, cooking oil, sugar, coffee, eggs, bread, powder milk, chicken and others, in a limited amount which must be complemented with purchases at other market modalities on the island.
This historic state subsidy, which also includes special diets for the sick and pharmacy products, translates into over one billion dollars spent by the country each year to at least guarantee the equalitarian distribution mechanism.
Though, the Cuban government has been applying a policy to eliminate unnecessary subsidies for some years now, the ration card continues to be a savior for many Cubans, despite the fact that it was largely criticized for being obsolete and a symbol of this egalitarianism that characterized Cuban socialism in its first decades. The ration card was the target of jokes on the streets and the media and it still has its detractors.
For those who are not very acquainted with this issue, I would say that Cuban society has lived on many subsidies, unbelievable ones for many around the world and this has brought a heavy burden on the state, which has to buy products at high cost at the world market. I could just cite examples like the tariffs on water and phone services , the cost of a home, and other services like sewage, gas, electricity; all of them so highly subsidized that not everyone understand, unless you touch it with your hand.
Now if we look at some vivid examples, Amanda a 57-year-old woman and worker says that for her, buying a pound of rice at five Cuban pesos (twenty five cents of a dollar) is a problem, on the ration card a pound of rice is just few cents of a Cuban peso.
Amanda buys rice at five pesos by the end of the month at the offer-demand market after she consumes her ration quota, but she says that “I could not afford that rice during the whole month. For me the ration card is a big relief, actually.
According to studies, the staples that Cuban families purchase on the ration card guarantee about 36 percent of the daily calories every person needs during 12 days, while proteins cannot cover more than 10 days, fats and oils only nine days.
A UN document issue by the United Nations Assistance for Development in Cuba says that the access to that rationed food basket is a right guaranteed to all citizens.
The ration card that still survives today in Cuba is quite different from that that existed in the 1960s, since in those times it provided many more products. It cannot either guarantee a full provision of food for the whole month, but many it is an important means to access food.
Although the gradual elimination of the ration card was officially announced in December 2010, many Cuban still defend that familiar distribution mechanism, since they say that if it disappears they will face more problems and lose benefits.
In Cuba there are several market modalities, some work on offer-demand, intermediaries in between, and prices very high. Others are linked to cooperative farms with lower prices and other with topped prices managed by the army, which dedicates part of their forces to producing food for the population. State markets, which have the poorest supply, also sell at very low prices.
Some experts think that its elimination is possible, while subsidizing persons and not food as part of a systematic process, but I insist, there are many Cubans that cannot imagine their everyday life without that 52-year old friend, La Libreta or the ration card.
Abel González Alayón
Chief-Editor Language Department
Cuban News Agency

3 Big Benefits for Americans to Ending the Cuba Embargo

March 28, 2015

Cuba has a lot more to offer the United States than just rum and cigars.

By Felicia Gustin,

This March, representatives from the United States and Cuba met in a third round of talks geared toward normalizing ties between the two long-estranged countries.

Ever since President Obama’s announcement last year that the diplomatic freeze was coming to an end, speculation has abounded on what this will mean. There’s no question that the Cuban people stand to benefit immensely from increased trade and tourism. But few seem to be talking about what the benefits might be for the people of the United States — except for access to Cuban cigars, rum, and beaches.

Yet this small, poor country has surpassed the United States in more than just nightlife and baseball. So here are three more serious ways the American people might benefit from lifting the embargo:

1 Disaster Preparedness

Cuba’s location puts it right in the path of devastating and frequent hurricanes. Yet the country’s disaster management infrastructure is considered an exemplary international model for disaster preparedness and relief by the United Nations, the International Red Cross, and Oxfam.

How is it that a country with fewer resources than the United States is better able to evacuate millions of people in the path of a hurricane and significantly reduce fatalities and property damage?

What sets Cuba apart is the level of grassroots community engagement before, during, and after a hurricane strikes. All Cuban adults take part in civilian defense training programs designed to edu­cate them on how to assist in evacuation procedures. And once a year, they participate in a hurricane drill in which these procedures are simulated and government officials are better able to identify vulner­abilities.

The level of national coordination is massive, and each of Cuba’s 14 provinces and 169 municipalities has intricate disaster plans in place. Strategic locations, such as hospitals, bakeries, food processing centers, tele­phone providers, and educational centers are pro­vided with power generators that operate independently for up to 72 hours.

In addition to preparing for natural disasters and providing immediate relief, the Cuban public health system, with its extensive network of hospitals and neighborhood clinics, has been fine-tuned to provide medical care to victims of hurricanes and other catastrophes.

There are elite medical brigades, specifically trained in the emerging field of disaster relief medicine, who have also been dispatched on numerous occasions to other countries.

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the Henry Reeve Brigade — made up of over 1,500 medical doctors and named in honor of the young Brooklyn man who fought alongside Cubans in their 1868 War of Independence against Spain — was poised to offer medical assistance to victims along the U.S. Gulf Coast. But Washington rebuked the offer, citing “national security concerns.”

Now, with the normalization of relations unfolding, the U.S. people can benefit from Cuba’s experience, expertise, and infrastructure, which can help save lives in the face of not only hurricanes but earthquakes, tornados, floods, and wildfires.

2 Health Care

Cuba has one of the most advanced medical biotechnology industries in the world. With 12,000 employees, including 7,000 scientists and engineers, it enjoys hefty government investment and prolifically produces new treatments and medications.

All told, according the World Health Organization, the Cuban biotech industry holds around 1,200 international patents and markets pharmaceutical products and vaccines in more than 50 countries — but not in the United States.

Ending the embargo on these products could make life better for millions of Americans suffering from a range of diseases.

For the 26 million people in the United States who have diabetes, this has special significance. Each year, some 80,000 American diabetics suffer amputations. Cuba has developed a safe and effective medication — Heberprot P — that reduces the risk of amputation by as much as 78 percent. It’s being used successfully by tens of thousands of patients in Cuba and in over 20 countries.

There’s also great potential to open up treatments for less familiar diseases.

Dengue fever, carried by the aedes aegypti mosquito, was previously only found south of the U.S. border. Yet according to Gail Reed — founder of the group Medical Education Cooperation with Cuba — due to climate change, the mosquito has been spotted in Florida, Texas, and California. “Cuba has the most expertise in dengue of any country in the hemisphere,” she pointed out. “They know more about this killer disease than the CDC.” Cooperation on dengue prevention and treatment is going to be crucial.

Cuba is also a leader in the development of therapeutic vaccines for lung, throat, and childhood brain cancer. A number of anti-cancer drugs and vaccines are in development at the Center of Molecular Immunology in Havana. Imagine the potential when these researchers are allowed to collaborate with their colleagues in the United States.

The list goes on and on. Cuban scientists have developed an advanced drug that effectively destroys coronary clots, an innovative burn treatment, and vaccines for meningitis B and hepatitis B and C. They’ve also made advances in developing a vaccine against HIV-AIDS.

“More than 90 new products are currently being investigated in more than 60 clinical trials,” says Dr. José Luis Di Fabio, head of the WHO Country Office in Cuba. “These numbers are expected to grow.”

For Americans who can benefit from these medical advances, ending the embargo isn’t just an ideological question. It’s a matter of their health, even life or death.

3 Arts and Culture

Art and culture help bring us together in ways that politics and ideology cannot.

Cuba and the United States, joined by shared histories and separated by just 90 miles of sea, have been exchanging art and culture for centuries.

In recent years, artists from both countries have found ways to circumvent the U.S. embargo.

U.S. musicians have performed at Cuban jazz festivals, U.S. ballerinas have danced in international ballet festivals Havana, and U.S. actors and directors have flown to the island to attend film festivals. Cuban bands have performed on U.S. stages, Cuban films have made their way into a few film U.S. festivals, and Cuban painters have exhibited in U.S. galleries.

From jazz to ballet, fine arts to folklore, and cinema to architecture, U.S. and Cuban artists have collaborated despite the limitations of the embargo and travel restrictions. The potential for expanding these collaborations as relations normalize is huge.

Edmundo Pino is a musician with the internationally acclaimed Cuban band Los Van Van. “The immense popularity of Cuban art and culture in Europe and throughout the world demonstrates how much we have to offer,” he says. He pointed to Cuba’s inexhaustible pool of musicians and its world-class bands and dance companies, who fill theaters and stadiums wherever they perform.

“For the American people to be able to enjoy Cuban artistic performances,” he adds, “to experience the evolution of our music for example, would go far in building people-to-people relations. The American people should have the opportunity to experience all that Cuban art and culture have to offer.”

These are but three examples of areas where normalization can benefit the U.S. people, but there are others — in the fields of agriculture, race relations, the rights of women and children, sports, education, and environmental sustainability, to name a few.

And there’s a great lesson in the fact that a country with significantly fewer resources can make major inroads in so many arenas. It’s about values that place people before profits, where taking care of the public is not market-driven.

Unfortunately, real collaboration won’t be possible with just presidential decrees. The embargo cannot be lifted without congressional action. Given the Republican-controlled Congress’ penchant for opposing everything President Obama favors and the superfluous influence of a handful of Cuban-American hardliners, overturning the laws that uphold the embargo is going to be a slow and lengthy process.

It’s going to take pressure on Congress by those who will benefit most from normal relations — that is, the American people themselves — to bring about these changes.

Felicia Gustin is a writer who first visited Cuba in 1974. She lived in Havana for ten years, working as a journalist from 1982-92 and travels to the island regularly. She has been a blogger at War Times/Tiempos de Guerra, works at the educational organization SpeakOut, and collaborates with BASAT (Bay Area Solidarity Action Team) and SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice).

Cuban medical team concludes a successful Ebola response support mission to Liberia

March 19, 2015

JSC: Jamaicans in Solidarity with Cuba

Source: WHO

Cubans thanked as Liberia marks the second week of zero cases of Ebola

As Liberia marks the second week of Zero cases of Ebola, the Cuban medical team through the Cuban Government Health Attaché announced conclusion of the team’s successful Ebola Response mission in the country. The Attaché was addressing a ceremony organized by the Ministry of Health in partnership with UNMEER, World Health Organization and US CDC to bid farewell to the team.

cuban doctors ready to leave liberia 2The Cuban team was comprised of 53 medical officers including, doctors, nurses, epidemiologists, intensive care doctors, general practitioners, surgeons, pediatricians, intensive care nurses, anesthetists, and license nurses. They were among the first largest foreign medical team from a single country to respond to this outbreak. Before deployment, the team underwent basic initial training on Ebola in Cuba and on arrival in Liberia received second training equipping them to safely work in an Ebola Treatment…

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Biogas Eases Women’s Household Burden in Rural Cuba

February 26, 2015

By Ivet González – IPS

Rural doctor Arianna Toledo heats water on her biogas stove at her home in the town of Cuatro Esquinas in the western Cuban province of Matanzas. Credit: Courtesy of Randy Rodríguez Pagés/Diakonia-Swedish Ecumenical Action

LOS ARABOS, Cuba, Feb 20 2015 (IPS) – On the blue flame of her biogas stove, it takes half as long for rural doctor Arianna Toledo to heat bath water and cook dinner as it did four years ago, when she still used electric power or firewood.

The installation of a biodigester, which uses pig manure to produce biogas for use in cooking food, cut the expenses and the time spent on food preparation for Toledo’s five-member family, who live in the town of Cuatro Esquinas, Los Arabos municipality in the western Cuban province of Matanzas.

“The main savings is in time, because the gas stove cooks faster,” Toledo told Tierramérica. She and the rest of the women in the family shoulder the burden of the household tasks, as in the great majority of Cuban homes.

Another 20 small biogas plants operate in homes in this town located 150 km from Havana, and over 300 more in the entire province of Matanzas, installed with support from a project run by the Christian Centre for Reflection and Dialogue (CCRD-C), based in Cárdenas, a city in the same province.

The ecumenical institution seeks to improve living conditions in rural areas by fomenting ecological practices, which mitigate environmental damage, soil degradation and poor use of water.

Another key aim of the biodigester project is also to ease the work burden and household expenses of rural women.

“Our monthly power bill has been reduced, and we spend less on cooking gas cylinders, while at the same time we’re protecting the environment by using a renewable natural resource,” Toledo said.

In Cuba, 69 percent of families depend on electricity for cooking.

Toledo’s husband, Carlos Alberto Tamayo, explained to Tierramérica that using the biodigester, the four pigs they raise for family consumption guarantee the fuel needed for their home.

“And the organic material left over is used as natural fertiliser for our garden, where we grow fruit and vegetables,” said Tamayo, an Episcopal pastor in Cuatro Esquinas, which has a population of just over 2,300.

He said the biodigester prevents bad smells and the spread of disease vectors, while the gas is safer because it is non-toxic and there is a lower risk of accidents or explosions.

With the support of international development funds from several countries, for 15 years the CCRD-C has been promoting household use of these systems, reforestation and renewable energies, which are a priority for this Caribbean island nation, where only 4.3 percent of the energy consumed comes from clean sources.

The biodigesters, which are homemade in this case, will mushroom throughout Cuba over the next five years.

The organic fertiliser produced by this biodigester effluent tank is used on a family garden in Los Arabos in the Cuban province of Matanzas. Credit: Courtesy of Randy Rodríguez Pagés/Diakonia-Swedish Ecumenical Action

The Swine Research Institute’s Biogas Promotion and Development Centre is designing a national plan to promote the use of biodigesters in state companies and agricultural cooperatives.

In 2014, the Centre reported that there were 1,000 biodigesters in these two sectors, which benefited 4,000 people, in the case of the companies, and 8,000 people, in the case of the farming cooperatives.

The plan projects the construction of some 1,000 biodigesters a year by 2020, through nine projects implemented by the Agriculture Ministry and the non-governmental National Association of Small Farmers, which will receive financing from the United Nations Small Grants Programme.

According to Rita María García, director of the CCRD-C, monitoring of the project has shown that replacing the use of firewood, kerosene and petroleum-based products with biogas makes household work more humane.

Women gain in safety and time – important in a country where unpaid domestic work absorbs 71 percent of the working hours of women, according to the only Time Use Survey published until now, carried out in 2002 by the National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI).

The study found that for every 100 hours of work by men, women worked 120, many of them multitasking – cooking, cleaning, washing and caring for children.

“In general, women manage the household budget, which becomes a burden,” said García. “That’s why they are thankful for the biodigesters, and many of them have been motivated to raise pigs and get involved in farming as a result.”

The methodology followed by the CCRD-C projects first involves training for the beneficiaries in construction and maintenance of the biodigesters, and in ecological farming techniques using organic fertiliser, said Juan Carlos Rodríguez, the organisation’s general coordinator.

The CCRD-C also promotes reforestation by small farmers and the use of windmills, to reduce the use of electricity in a country that imports 53 percent of the fuel it consumes.

Related IPS Articles
Cuba’s Sugar Industry to Use Bagasse for Bioenergy
Cuba on the Road to Clean Energy Development
Cuba’s Fragile Power Grid Needs Renewable Energy
Brazilian Hydroelectricity Giant Promotes Biogas
EL SALVADOR: Biogas – Killing Two Birds with One Stone

An additional benefit of the biodigesters is that they offer an alternative for the disposal of pig manure, which contaminates the environment.

In 2013 there were 16.7 million pigs in Cuba, 65 percent of which were in private hands in this highly-centralised, socialist economy.

Because pork is the most widely consumed meat in Cuba, and many private farmers and families raise pigs, the Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment are fomenting the installation of biodigesters, to help boost production.

The authorities require those who raise pigs to guarantee adequate disposal of their waste.

Biogas is a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide produced by the bacterial decomposition of organic wastes. It can be used for cooking food, lighting, refrigeration and power generation.

Biodigesters help reduce soil and groundwater pollution, and curb the cutting of trees for firewood.

Cuba introduced their use in the 1980s, with U.N. support. But they began to take off a decade later, thanks to the National Biogas Movement.

Studies reported by the local press say the annual national potential for biogas production is over 400 million cubic metres, which would generate 700 gigawatt-hours per year.

That would reduce the release of carbon dioxide by more than three million tons, and would reduce oil imports by 190,000 tons a year.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network.

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