As deadly Corona virus had began spreading its tentacles in the world, a contingent of doctors and nurses from the Communist Island country Cuba were the first international Corona warriors team to embark upon the worst affected Italy in March.
Cuba has sent its teams in many Latin American, Caribbean nations and African countries to help people fight against Corona Virus.
There are reports that other countries have also sought Cuba’s medical help in meeting their health requirements to face the deadly virus.
Cuba is a center of attraction for its tradition of offering medical expertise in the service of mankind. Over the years, Cuban Medical teams have helped a large number of countries in natural calamities such as hurricanes, earthquakes and epidemics. The tradition of sending Cuban medical team to different parts of the world in emergency situations can be traced from early 60s when the country sent its contingent to Chile after an earthquake.
In the last fifty years tens of hundred thousands of medicos were sent as a team to help other countries. Fidel Castro would always say that America sends her army for war but Cuba sends its Doctors to help in crisis.
Cuba is one of the best countries in providing free health care with enormous funding in medical research. They believe that free health care of public is most important factor of human rights. Cuba has one of the highest doctor to patient ratio of around 2.7 per 1000 people. They have a huge and very advanced Latin American Institute of Medical Sciences with students from world over specially from NAM and other third world countries. Years of allocation of heavy funding research and biotechnology has helped in creating good infrastructure for free health and a huge team of medicos paramedics to help the world in need.
As expected this angered US who again threatened the Countries not to accept medical help from Cuba. US described Cuban Medical teams as human trafficking mission. There had been profound ideological and real war like differences between Communist Cuba and Capitalist America separated by a distance of 90 miles only since mid 50s. The world was at the blink of third world war when US under John Kennedy and USSR under Nikita Khrushchev were at the verge of taking on each other. US has imposed a trade embargo on Cuba for decades. US is putting different forms of curbs on Cuba from time to time. Cubans say U S agencies attempted hundred times to eliminate grand old man Fidel over the years but failed. He was the most loved and respected figure of Island who left his indelible mark on the debris of times in the world history.
The differences were prominently witnessed by us when we stayed for a week in beautiful Cuban Capital Havana for the NAM summit in 2006. Decades’ old hostility was so obvious that Cubans raised hundreds of tall pillars with big black flags to hide the façade of American Embassy from public view!!!
Despite such political hate Americans like expensive Havana Cigars and Cubans like Earnest Hemingway. Nobel Laureate American novelist Hemingway would love to stay in Havana frequently for longer periods to accomplish his writings. He loved Cuban cocktails Mojito and Daiquiri in a restaurant called El Floridita in evening over drinks to meet his friends, mostly women.
The city Havana has real fascinating charms despite American embargo. Old model Russian and American cars made in the forties, fifties and sixties still running in the with streets which are full of life. At every street corner one can find musicians and singers with mellifluous Spanish songs on their lips. Most of the Cubans are happy with their ordinary way of life with least requirements amid long time restrictions of communist regime. They are happy in their small world with their Cuban drinks and food.
However, there are many in young generation who have aspirations to enjoy the new world class facilities and atmosphere. Over the years big chunks of population flee the country in search of new pastures. The people of Cuba do not suffer from status or color racial taboos. Our non-white driver took us to his home where his beautiful wife served us a great dinner. She was a medical doctor. The climate of Havana is humid. People are habitual of spending their afternoons on sea shore and beaches. Most of the Cubans have respect for their mother country Spain as they are of Spanish origins and speak Spanish.
The legendary old man of Havana world figure Fidel Castro had retired as head of the country and reins of state had come in hands of his younger brother Raul Castro. Fidel who had just recovered from a long illness was meeting heads of the nations attending NAM Summit. The meeting with Indian Prime Minister Dr Man Mohan Singh was slotted much late. As Indian diplomats were trying hard to arrange a meeting, a whisper went around that Fidel was reluctant to meet because he considered Indian Prime Minister as pro-American. Fidel loved, liked and respected Indira Gandhi for her rigid and strong anti America stances. In the 1981 NAM summit while giving charge to India, his hug to Mrs. Gandhi became widely splashed photograph. I was part of AIR’s NAM coverage team then and saw the moment closely.
Finally, Fidel met Dr Singh around midnight during the summit. Dr Manmohan Singh was waiting. A few moments later frail grand old man Castro entered and hugged Manmohan Singh. During chats Fidel asked him “I wonder how you feed your one billion people!” Economist Dr Singh suitably replied “Excellency now we grow enough to feed one more billion people “. Hearing this, a blissful Fidel pulled Dr Singh close to him and told photographers “ Take a good photo of both of us and show to your one billion people that I am together with your Prime Minister “.
Despite his fragile health and growing age comrade Fidel Castro till a few months before his death regularly wrote his observations on the world scenario vis-a-vis United States! He was a great revolutionary but a stubborn dictator too. Despite American rigorous sanctions Cuba survived creating a free excellent medical and education system. Cuba also prepared a large contingent of medical experts for helping the different countries during wars and natural calamities. Oldies were his followers who were happy with non luxury lives but not youngsters like my interpreter Anabel who is now in Canada. They too have aspirations like others in world.
We also saw house of José Julián Martí Pérez who was a Cuban poet, philosopher, essayist, journalist, translator, professor, and publisher, who is considered a Cuban national hero because of his role in the liberation of his country, and he was an important figure in Latin American literature.
(The writer is a widely travelled senior journalist now based in Delhi.)