Cuban health workers’ remarkable contribution to recovery efforts in Haiti following the January 12 earthquake rates meager coverage by the corporate-controlled U.S. and European media. It’s old news, of course, to those who follow these things. Yet recent expressions of appreciation for Cuba and Cuban doctors bear an intensity of feeling that should have pierced the censorship blanket, especially if fairness prevailed.

Following a recent meeting in Croix des Bouquets, Haiti, with the Cuban and Brazilian health ministers, Haitian President René Preval, for example, told Prensa Latina, “For the Haitians first there is God and then the Cuban doctors. And it’s not just me saying that, one who is convinced, but also poor people in the communities, the very poorest citizens.”

Brazilian Health Minister José Gomes said, “What Cuba does here in regard to health care is an example for the whole world, a most eloquent model of disinterested help.” Edmond Mulet, the Brazilian head of the UN mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) testified to first-hand knowledge gained over several years of Cuban doctors’ contributions throughout Haiti. Since the earthquake, he said, “I have run across Cuban doctors working, at times in truly terrible conditions: no water, no electricity, with only the equipment they carried with them, because the health facilities in Haiti are very, very precarious.”

Prensa Latina cited the observations of veteran diplomat Marcel Young, Chile’s ambassador in Haiti. “It’s rewarding,” he observed, “to see the Cuban doctors work because they do it with total abandonment, with limitless altruism and generosity.” He recalled that Haitian political factions “attack and provoke each other, but none want the Cuban doctors to leave. They take care of them.”

The story was told of a 10-year old Haitian boy Keven Cemens, who was severely injured when during the earthquake a wall fell upon him. Cuban surgeons had amputated his left leg.

All was not lost, however, because Cuban rehabilitation specialists were on hand. Responding to a reporter’s question as to why he was visiting the specialists, Keven Cemens replied, “I am coming for a leg to be able to play football.” He received a prosthetic leg, but expressed surprise on learning that to accommodate growth a new one would be made for him and provided periodically.

Less surprising for many Cuba watchers is that just as Cuban health workers attend to prevention to ward off potential needs for curative care, they follow up on the latter, when appropriate, with rehabilitation. And the record shows that Cuban medical assistance worldwide involves more than beating an early exit after emergencies have passed.

Cuban medical collaboration with Haiti did begin in response to death and destruction caused by Hurricane George in 1998. But almost 12 years later, teams of Cuban health specialists are still there. The services they provide are comprehensive and farsighted enough that new left legs can be envisioned for a young football player.




W. T. Whitney Jr.
W. T. Whitney Jr.

W.T. Whitney Jr. grew up on a dairy farm in Vermont and now lives in rural Maine. He practiced and taught pediatrics for 35 years and long ago joined the Cuba solidarity movement, working with Let Cuba Live of Maine, Pastors for Peace, and the Venceremos Brigade. He writes on Latin America and health issues for the People's World.