Cuban President Fidel Castro and Bolivian president-elect Evo Morales signed a bilateral cooperation and solidarity agreement Friday evening in Havana. The accord covers primarily the areas of health care, education and sports. The visiting dignitary publicly read the agreement, whose first clause deals with the establishment of a non-profit Cuban-Bolivian entity to provide free eye-care for Bolivians.
Cuba will contribute with the most advanced equipment and specialists, who will work alongside Bolivian doctors graduating from the Havana-based Latin American School of Medical Sciences.
The National Ophthalmology Institute of La Paz, recently equipped by Cuba, will also have a center in Cochabamba and another in Santa Cruz. In addition, Cuba will offer Bolivia 5,000 scholarships for future doctors and specialists. The agreement further includes Cuban assistance for a nationwide literacy campaign in Bolivia. The program is due to start in July and will extend over a 30-month period. Cuba will also provide assistance to the Andean nation in several sport disciplines.
In a very lively exchange with Bolivian parliamentarians and with students undergoing courses in Cuba, Castro explained that the talks had extended over many subjects and said he was very satisfied and happy, and eager for greater cooperation. He spoke at length about Bolivian students in Cuba, most of them to study medicine.
The Cuban president noted that following the October earthquake in Pakistan that caused countless deaths and injured, there are now more than 2,300 doctors including full teams of orthopedic surgeons, intensive care experts and other specialists, all of whom he said are carrying out very important work in the face of the catastrophe.
Castro said that nearly a third of humanity — billions of people — are in need of doctors. He added that even in the United States there are many people who can’t afford medical or dental services.
In a moving statement in which she defended Latin American unity and the ideals of Bolivar and Marti, a young Bolivian student declared: “Here is an army of Bolivians willing to serve anywhere in the world as well as struggle for a better future in Bolivia.” She added, “We will make up the army of white coats that our Americas should have always had.”
The student’s statement was followed by the words of several Bolivian legislators who expressed their gratitude to Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution for their assistance in the struggle for social justice and against U.S. imperialism.
A Bolivian miner then presented Castro with a miner’s helmet, which the Cuban leader promptly put on his head. Evo Morales noted that Cuba is the first country he has visited as Bolivia’s president-elect and that he was excited by the invitation. He said the encounter is one of two generations of struggle for dignity, a meeting of two revolutions.
He added that the struggle of the Cuban people, and above all that of Ernesto “Che” Guevara, was not in vain. They left the seed and now there are fruits, not just in Bolivia but throughout Latin America, Morales said.
Regarding the results of the Bolivian general elections, Morales said: “I want to say ‘mission accomplished’ in this struggle for solidarity and humanity. This victory also belongs to the Cuban people, who are forever fighting for social justice.”
Speaking to the Bolivian students, Morales said a battle for life was just beginning. “I am very flattered by this victory and very grateful to the young people for their inspiration and recommendations.”
“I want to say to Fidel, to Chávez (with whom they spoke on Friday), to other presidents, that we ask for your support in the struggle on social issues. We are determined to end the evils in the country and to do so we need the help of others.”
“Together, united, we are going to change history, not only in Bolivia but in all of Latin America and free ourselves from U.S. imperialism.”
In a special address, Argentine writer and legislator Miguel Bonasso called the meeting of Fidel Castro and Evo Morales a historic event. He said it was a privilege to have been a witness to the way in which a united Latin America can be built, like the one dreamed of by the heroes of the first independence.
This battle being waged by President Fidel Castro, of exporting doctors to other countries where they are needed, is rendering Cuba as the most humanistic society on Earth, Bonasso said emphatically.
After the signing of the agreement and their exchange with Bolivarian students and parliamentarians, both leaders answered questions from the press.
Replying to the first question, Fidel stressed that Cuba had been waging its struggle for 47 years, and that brother Evo — as he called him — possesses all the qualities needed to lead his country and his people during these difficult and singular times.
Fidel said that initially there was uncertainty about what sort of lead Evo would come away with after the first round and that people were worried about the manipulations in the Bolivarian Congress that a less than majority victory could lead to. But, he said, the U.S. already knew that Evo was going to win with more than 50 percent of the popular vote.
It was a miracle election — Castro noted — an election that shook the world, the U.S. empire and the unsustainable order imposed on underdeveloped nations. And now Washington can no longer resort to dictatorships as they did in the past, because U.S. imperialism lacks those instruments now, and even if they had them, he said, they would not be able to apply them.
“Will the U.S. government be offended if Cuba helps increase the life expectancy of Bolivians?” Fidel Castro asked. “Will they be offended if we help reduce infant mortality?”
Asked whether he felt his visit to Cuba would jeopardize relations with the United States, Evo Morales said that he has never had good ties with Washington because the U.S. government has always accused him of everything thinkable, but that he would prefer to have normal relations.
“These agreements we have signed are for life, for humanity, they are not a crime, even though they might be for the United States.”
“Even if they come with threats, blackmail and pressure, we will not be the least bit afraid,” Evo Morales said. “Let those who don’t want to support us, not support us.”
During Morales’ visit, Ricardo Alarcon, president of the Cuban National Assembly, held a meeting with Bolivarian congresspersons, where he read a message of solidarity from the Cuban parliament and the Council of State in support of Evo Morales and the Bolivian people.
A number of Cuban leaders took part in the meeting between Morales and Castro, including Ricardo Alarcon; Carlos Lage, vice-president of the Council of State; and Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque.
Biographical sketch of Bolivian president-elect Evo Morales
Evo Morales Ayma was born October 26, 1959 in the community of Isallavi located in Sullka, one of three communities that make up the canton of Orinoca in the Oruro Department of Bolivia.
He is the son of Dionisio Morales Choque, who passed away in 1985, and Maria Ayma Mamani, who died in 1992. He has one sister, Esther, the eldest sibling, and one brother Hugo, the youngest, both live in Oruro. The Morales Ayma’ family were made up of seven siblings, four of whom passed away at very young ages.
In 1964, Morales began studying at the district public school. For the last two years of secondary studies, he went to the city of Oruro, where he worked at a brick-making business and a bakery while attending school.
A year later, he completed his military service at the Centro de Instrucción de Tropas Especiales (Training Center for Special Troops) in Cochabamba.
His parents were farmers who found themselves forced to emigrate from their natal Oruro to the area of Cochabamba in the province of Chapare. Morales went with his parents and it was here that he began his career as a union activist near the end of 1979.
In recognition of his natural athletic abilities and participation in union activities, he was named secretary of sports of the Sindicato de Colonizadores union in Chapare in 1983. In 1985 he was elected general secretary of this union.
In 1988 he became executive secretary of the Federacion de Cocaleros del Tropico (Federation of Coca-Leaf Growers of the Tropics).
In 1996 he was elected president of the Six Federations of Coca Leaf Growers of the Tropics. This movement entered into politics changing its name to Instrumento por la Soberanía de los Pueblos (Tool for the Sovereignty of the People), IPSP.
In 1997 he was elected as a member of the National Congress from the 27 electoral district of Chapare. In 1999 the IPSP ran in municipal elections as the Movement towards Socialism (MAS) party. In January 2002, he was expelled from the National Congress as a result of a sinister political smear campaign against him, which distorted and manipulated his defense of the historic right of small farmers to cultivate coca leaves for traditional uses.
In the June 2002 general elections, Morales’ MAS party garnered 581,884 votes, 22 percent, with 36 representatives elected to congress, becoming the party with the second largest representation in the legislature.
On Dec. 18, 2005, Evo Morales became president-elect of the Republic of Bolivia, with more than 54 percent of the popular vote, the largest majority in the last 30 years. With this overwhelming support, the Bolivian people showed that they trusted Evo Morales and embraced his historical stance in favor of the indigenous peoples and the general population, and in defense of the rights of rural people, and his demand that the Bolivarian people regain control over the country’s natural resources.
Through his revolutionary history, Evo Morales has identified himself with the just causes of Latin America including the Bolivarian revolutionary process currently underway in Venezuela and its leader, President Hugo Chávez Frias. Evo Morales has always expressed his militant support and solidarity towards the Cuban Revolution and the Cuban people and has publicly denounced the U.S. blockade against Cuba. In recent years, he has visited Cuba several times and has met with Commander in Chief Fidel Castro.