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2005-09-23 19:29:43

Cuban Medical Assistance Rebuffed by US

No-one would believe that this aid could be taken as an offence or a humiliation.

The following speech was delivered by Dr. Fidel Castro Ruz, President of the Republic of Cuba, at the foundation ceremony of the 'Henry Reeve' International Contingent of Doctors Specialized in Disaster Situations and Serious Epidemics, and the national graduation of students of Medical Sciences, in the Ciudad Deportiva, on September 19, 2005.

Both of us, in the name of the peoples of Venezuela and Cuba, are deeply committed to supporting healthcare, literacy, education, Mission Miracles, PETROCARIBE, ELECTROCARIBE, the struggle against HIV and other important social and economic programs with a strong humane and integration component in our region.

The enormous task of preserving and restoring the sight to no less than six million people from Latin America and the Caribbean, and of training 200 thousand healthcare professionals in 10 years, is completely unprecedented.

However, I am convinced that these programs will be bettered. On June 30, it was suggested that Mission Miracle be extended to other countries in the Caribbean. Today, 81 days later, I can say here that the number of people from the Caribbean who have undergone eye surgery is now 4,212 and the number of Venezuelan brothers and sisters who have been operated on so far this year is 79,450, which combine for a total 83,662 patients.

There is nothing strange about the behavior of Cuba, which did not hesitate to offer the people of the United States the immediate dispatch of experienced doctors with the essential resources needed to administer emergency care to people in mortal danger following a serious natural disaster. Also, our country was closest to the area hit by the hurricane and was in the position to send over human and material aid in a matter of hours. It was as if a big American cruise ship with thousands of passengers aboard were sinking in waters close to our coast.

We could not remain indifferent. No-one would believe that this aid could be taken as an offence or a humiliation. Our message was sent to the federal authorities of the United States just after Katrina, with her devastating force, battered New Orleans. It hurts to think that maybe some of those desperate people, trapped by the water and at death's door, could have been saved. It is a harsh lesson for those whose false pride and mistaken concepts led them to decide not to respond, even belatedly, to our offer, which isn't the first time in these circumstances.

Some have tried to justify this behavior, citing Cuba's decision to reject the ridiculous financial offer of 50 thousand dollars, which, due to obvious historical and moral reasons, in the midst of a blockade which has cost tens of billions of dollars, as well as the harassment and aggression of half a century that has cost the lives of thousands of people, we had to reject. We didn't offer money, we were offering to save lives, and our offer still stands today and the next day, as it is and always will be Cuba's practice towards any country in the world.

We discussed this issue publicly because on the long list of countries that offered help, the name of Cuba was omitted, which confused and even startled many friends of our country around the world. We explained this on September 2, three days after making our offer, specifying that we were prepared to send 1,100 doctors by air, in a period of between 12 and 36 hours, with 24 tons of essential medications in their backpacks; 48 hours went by, and on September 4, that force already composed of 1,586 professionals and ready to leave with 36 tons of medication, was meeting at the Convention Center where it was given the name of 'Henry Reeve' Medical Force, in memory of that exceptional young American combatant who died fighting for Cuba's independence.

Now, it is September 19, another five days have passed and the federal authorities haven't said a word. There is, therefore, growing reason to believe that on this occasion the generous and timely offer made by our people will not be accepted.

As the tragedy experienced by the world is increasingly evident, we confirm today, September 19, 2005, the decision to create the 'Henry Reeve' Contingent. This brigade will be primarily composed of members of the current force bearing this name. Successive members will be 200 volunteers from the current graduation of doctors, 200 from the previous graduation of 2003-4, 600 students in their sixth year of Medicine from the 2005-6 course, and 800 in their fifth year from this same course. Later, others will follow. Nobody should feel left out.

The number of Latin American and Caribbean students from countries in South, Central and North America graduating from the Latin American School of Medicine, together with the young Cubans who graduate here today, amounts to 3,515 new doctors who will be at the service of our peoples and the world.

This figure will increase until ten thousand doctors are graduated every year, to meet our commitment of training one hundred thousand doctors from Latin America and the Caribbean in Cuba in ten years, under the principles of ALBA, signed between Cuba and Venezuela, which will contribute an equal number, in an unwavering attempt to integrate our peoples.

While statistics speak of developed countries with child mortality rates lower than 10 for 1000 life births, and some boast a life expectancy that reaches or surpasses 80 years of age, others, such as many African countries, have to settle for child mortality rates of over 100 for children under one year of age and often 150 for 1000 life births, and a decreasing life expectancy rate that in some countries fluctuates between 30 and 40 years of age. While the world watches this happen, military spending amounts to one trillion dollars every year, a figure only comparable to one other absurd expense, that is, commercial publicity, which also equals one trillion. Either of these sums, invested wisely year after year, would be more than enough to ensure that all the people of the world lived a decent life.

After more than four decades, and with the special period drawing to an end, the healthcare system has become the most important sector in the exchange of goods and services between our country and the rest of the world in economical terms; but despite this Cuba has not failed to offer its medical assistance completely free of charge to more than 60 Third World countries lacking economic resources. That is how it has always been and how it always will be.

By: The Embassy of Cuba in The Bahamas

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