Date: Fri, 1 Jan 1999 19:44:26 -0800 (PST)
It is time to solve the problems in Haiti and Central America
By Marelys Valencia Almeida, Granma International, 31 Dec 98 13:32:03 -0500
Cuban President Fidel Castro elaborates on the integral public health program proposed by Cuba to mitigate the disaster in Central America and reduce the region's high infant mortality rate - Cuban doctors in 13 brigades currently working in Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala - Cuba confirms its readiness to send 2000 doctors to those countries and provide medical training on the island for Central American students
SPEAKING during the closing session of the 12th National Science and Technology Forum, President Fidel Castro stated that if a one-percent tax was charged on monetary speculation, the money collected could save the entire Third World. The Cuban leader devoted his speech to the need for a program of reconstruction and socioeconomic development in Central America.
Based on the premise that as many lives could be saved annually in the region as those taken by Hurricane Mitch - to date 30,000 persons are estimated missing - Fidel calculated the cost of such a program at a minimum of 200 million dollars. With one dollar for every 1 250 of the 250 billion dollars in the U.S. defense budget, what is needed for the program would be in hand, he affirmed.
Prior to detailing Cuban aid to Central America, the president made a brief reference to the efforts of the medical brigade which spent approximately 40 days in the Dominican Republic, in the wake of Hurricane Georges, and defined the aid that could be given to Haiti, where 135 children die each year for every 1000 live births.
And he recalled something he had expressed some time ago: the idea that what is needed by that nation is an invasion of doctors and teachers and millions of dollars for its development.
"What is occurring in Haiti is a disgrace for the entire hemisphere and also for Europe. Everyone knows the cause of poverty." Later, Fidel affirmed: "It's time that these problems - in Haiti and Central America - are solved."
The Cuban leader spoke with his pride of the fact that Cuba, together with France, were the first countries to cancel Nicaragua's debt, adding that France's action was far more significant because of the example it set for Europe. In the case of Cuba's position, he referred to the moral value of such a decision coming from a poor and blockaded nation.
"The Central American countries," he added, "direct 30-40% of their budgets to paying their debts. If these were annulled it would be a great relief for them, as that money could be used for their social development," he continued, expressing his hope that 100% of the debts would be condoned. "If we can do it, that other world - the industrialized one - must be able to," he exclaimed.
The Cuban president reflected on another idea: the fact that the world has seen images of the disaster, the bodies floating or submerged in the mud; and yet the television channels never refer to the hundreds of thousands who die in silence every year.
"There's a hurricane that kills more people every year than Mitch," he commented.
Reverting that situation is a relatively easy task. Fidel explained that Cuba can cooperate with its experience, emphasizing that the proposal is for the medical brigades to be located in rural areas, based in huts and field tents rather than in hotels in the cities.
Fidel announced that Cuba is prepared to send 2 000 doctors to the nations devastated by Mitch, and that the government has already proposed a plan to receive 5 000 students from those countries over a 10-year period, to study medicine on the island. He subsequently stated that there could be an intake of 1 000 in the first year, given the chaotic situation in those nations. "We will take great pains in their training," he confirmed.
Fidel went on to clarify that if the aid offered by the Cubans has been publicized - although it hasn't been covered by the U.S. media - we don't want to brag, but to create an awareness on the international level, in the wealthy nations; and because of the need for support and comprehension on the part of the people, given that an effort of this kind has to be explained.
He recalled the many solidarity missions undertaken by Cubans in different parts of the world, out of the limelight, and in countries with a political ideology distinct from our own.
"Cuban aid," he stressed, "responds to a tradition, in harmony with our way of thinking.
"We are a people with many ideas that can offer a lot to the world, a world that needs solutions. Our nation has been writing this page of honor and humanity for people like you."
We need to go beyond weeping for those who have died
As tragic as these images may appear, the hurricane of poverty annually kills more people than Mitch.
In his closing speech at the Science and Technology Forum, Fidel recalled that three days earlier Cuba had immediately supported the seven measures requested by the Central American governments of the international community, to aid their countries' reconstruction, and had proposed an integral public health program.
The text of the Cuban statement was made public by Foreign Minister Roberto Robaina during a visit to the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa, where he arrived on November 17.
The essence of the program is revealed in one sentence: "We need to go beyond weeping for those who have died, and engage ourselves in saving those who die in silence every year." Cuba's initial response to the hurricane's effects was to announce the cancellation of the debt owed Cuba by Nicaragua, the only Central American country with financial obligations to the island, amounting to 50.1 million dollars.
Acting on the premise that there can be no reconstruction and economic development without a public health program in the region (with the exception of Costa Rica), where over 50,000 persons - the overwhelming majority infants under five years - die every year, the Cuban government reiterated its readiness to send all the medical personnel needed, for as long as necessary to Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala, the countries devastated by the hurricane.
Cuba's attitude of solidarity was acknowledged by the Nicaraguan authorities. President Arnoldo Alemssn and Vice President Enrique Bola+/-as individually expressed their gratitude. The Nicaraguan president noted that parts of Nicaragua still lack doctors or nurses and, for that reason, the specialists offered by Havana were needed.
The Honduran government likewise welcomed the initiative and stated that almost all the places for medical studies on the island would be reserved for its poorest citizens.
Five Cuban medical brigades are now in Honduras and two further groups are expected, while two are already working in Guatemala. The first team left for Nicaragua on November 21, where the personnel split into six groups to cover various areas. Currently, over 100 Cuban physicians of distinct specializations and auxiliary personnel are lending their services in these countries.
Robaina, considered the first international public figure to arrive at the disaster areas, visited the majority of the island's medical and technical personnel in the Mosquitia region of Honduras, where they are treating an entirely indigenous population, and went on to tour the Atlantic coast.
The Cuban foreign minister informed the press that the objective was to see for himself the real situation in that country and the living and working conditions of the Cuban personnel. He also stated that he was the bearer of a solidarity message to the Central American peoples from Cuba and President Fidel Castro.
One of the main Honduran newspapers, El Heraldo, noted that the Cuban doctors are seeing 400 patients per day. Another, El Nuevo Doa, stated that entire families from various localities came to the island's field hospitals, and stand in long lines to be treated for anything from a simple flu to pneumonia and viral diarrhea.
Honduras has 12,000 missing persons, close to 11,000 casualties and over 7000 dead; 80% of its bridges have been destroyed and material damage is estimated at over three billion dollars.
Unemployment is making itself felt; a trade union representative informed IPS that at least 25,000 workers are to be temporarily laid off due to hurricane damage to the factories where they worked. Official figures indicate that 70% of the productive apparatus has been affected.
On November 20, Robaina traveled to Guatemala, to continue the special Cuban government mission for developing a similar program to the one under way in Honduras.
Official figures record 258 deaths, 278 injuries, over 102 homeless and 120 missing. Material losses are calculated at 341,500,000 dollars.
"We have seen so many terrible things on top of each other that it feels like years have gone by since our arrival, or that we've gone through a new specialization in medicine," orthopedist Santiago Alfonso, a member of one of the Cuban brigades, told Robaina.
He is working in a little hospital set up by the Cubans, with a laboratory, wards and a consultation area. Its 14 professionals and health technicians have expressed their desire to remain in San JosTheta municipality as long as they are needed.
Dr. Jorge Delgado, epidemiologist and brigade leader, stated that they had admitted 234 patients, over half of them with cholera and the majority of them infants. The members of the Cuban team are being confronted with various diseases which they only know of from medical journals, but they have handled those cases quite well.
Guatemala's infant mortality rate stands at 58 per 1000 live births, in other words, 23,000 children under the age of five die every year.
The response by that country's authorities to Cuba's proposal for an integral program aided by the Pan American Health Organization and the World Health Organization, as well as other countries, came through clearly in the words of its president, Alvaro Arz.: "It's very important for us; we have massive problems and are extremely interested in taking advantage of that offer."
[c] 1998. Latin American News Agency
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