Hospital or a military base?

COMMENTARY

The difference that a revolution makes shows up in how a nation relates to the rest of the world. Under socialism, people are in charge in world affairs. They act on a world stage in a long-running historical drama. Capitalism casts them as objects. Things are done to them.

A tiny fragment taken from the torrent of news on terrorism and military build-up makes this point. Cuba and the United States each have Yemen on the mind. One of them is thinking of human solidarity and lending a hand. The other is lining up client states. Cuba is working on a hospital for Yemen. The United States government is setting up military outposts.

The 18 million people of Yemen, so poor they rank 133 of 162 in the United Nation’s Human Development Report in terms of health, schools and income, are unlikely candidates to serve as anyone’s instrument, except perhaps as cannon fodder.

Yemen’s geographic isolation and its people’s desperation supposedly have enabled Al Qaeda militants to find save havens there. They reportedly receive support from a population that is solidly behind the Palestinian cause. Suicide bombers seriously damaged the destroyer Cole in October 2000, as it lay at anchor in the Yemen port of Aden, killing 17 U.S. sailors. On March 14 U.S. officials warned of the possibility of an “imminent terrorist targeting” of U.S. interests in Yemen – hardly a place, it would seem, where there are hearts and minds to win.

But Washington may not even try, relying instead on its usual strong-arm stuff. Vice President Richard Cheney conferred with Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Salih during a stopover March 14 at the Sanaa Airport. Plans were laid for military support, including money. There might be some tiny spillover for improving people’s lives.

But if language reportedly used by an advisor to Salih is any indication, there won’t be much. In drought-ridden Yemen – or anywhere – trickle-down will do little good.

Cuba, on the other hand, operates according to the simple notion that people in trouble need help. The Cuban Government is about to build a 150-bed orthopedic hospital in Sanaa, Yemen that will be modeled on the Frank Pais Hospital in Havana, a large orthopedic hospital that attracts both national and international referrals. Yemenite medical authorities are reported to have asked also for Cuban doctors and nurses to work in other hospitals in Yemen. The idea of asking Cuba for help might at first glance seem nonsensical, in view of Cuba’s own place among the poor nations in the world in terms of per capita money income. For a socialist nation, however, the bottom line has to do with “human capital.”

Unless you are revolutionary, you may not buy into the idea of fraternity as an example of a preeminent revolutionary value. Unless you are a socialist, you may not believe that the alternative to putting people first, way ahead of profits, is barbarism – in the words of Rosa Luxembourg. So Cuba keeps on doing what a socialist nation must do.

At any given time, 2,000 or so Cuban doctors are serving on international missions, and 2,500 poor students from over 25 nations are now receiving a free medical education at the Latin American Medical School in Havana.

Dr. Rodrigo Alvarez Cambras, the director of the Frank Pais complex and president of the Cuban Arab Friendship Association, visited Yemen two weeks before Cheney’s visit there. He headed up a large Cuban delegation that met with Yemenite colleagues to discuss plans for the new orthopedic hospital. Dr. Alvarez Cambras and the U.S. Vice President were both in Yemen doing their jobs.

Mr. Cheney’s task is to fix up a defense perimeter for world capitalism. For him, Yemenite children whose compound fractures and orthopedic birth defects remain untreated probably would fit into the category of collateral damage: regrettable, perhaps, but “worth it” as former Secretary of State Madeline Albright would say.

That’s the bad news. The long-term dedication of the Cuban people and doctors like Dr. Alvarez Cambras to a socialist job description is the good news. Cuban solidarity shows how simple tools, ideas, in fact, point up the stark contrast between ideals of justice and fairness and capitalist dependence on manipulation and exploitation. Cuba’s continuing struggle to make socialism work by attending to people’s basic needs means that there is still an alternative on the international stage to the forces of greed and callousness.