It is important for Caribbean people to understand how vital Cuban support has been to most of the countries in the region over the years, especially during this pandemic.
Today Caribbean countries cannot depend on the U.S. government for assistance in a crisis such as COVID-19 because the Trump administration is taking a very hard line. As we already know — because President Donald Trump has said it many times — it’s “America first.”
Surprisingly, the one country that has been considered an enemy of the United States and that has been offering assistance to the Caribbean and other parts of the world is Cuba. Its government has answered the call for medical assistance.
Make no mistake about it, Cuba is not a rich country. It is a well-known fact that Cuba has been having economic challenges for many years. These challenges have existed before the emergence of COVID-19 last year. The U.S. sanctions against Cuba go all the way back to the 1960s, as the Soviet Union bolstered its alliance with the communist government of Fidel Castro.
The restrictive trade embargo and travel bans were loosened under the Obama administration and then reinstated under the Trump administration. The fact that more than half of the island’s food supply is imported, essential supplies for Cuban citizens are few and far between, but they have learned to make do with what they have.
It has been confirmed that as of April 25 there were about 69 people who died from the COVID-19 virus in Cuba. Reports have also indicated that Cuba was the last country to close its borders to tourists in order to stop the virus from spreading but despite this, its fatalities are extremely low for an island of 11.3 million people.
This ostracized island nation has come to the rescue of many. The Voice News reported in March that Cuba had announced that 800 of their medical professionals including doctors, nurses, and medical technicians have been sent to 12 countries. In April, the number of medical professionals dispatched increased to 1,200 and the number of deployments rose to 18 including, for the first time, Italy and Andorra.
The majority of these health care workers were sent to CARICOM (Caribbean Community) countries, whose leaders and their people are especially grateful for Cuban assistance. The CARICOM countries that received Cuban support are Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Grenada, Barbados, Dominica, Haiti, Jamaica, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Vincent & The Grenadines and Suriname.
A Cuban delegation of 113 health professionals received a warm welcome from St. Lucia’s Health and Foreign Affairs Minister Sarah Flood Beaubrun and Cuban Ambassador Alejandro Simancas Marin. Jamaica welcomed 140; Barbados, 100; St. Vincent & the Grenadines, 16; and Belize 85.
Relations with the neighboring island of Cuba has come a long way since 1975. Back then, the Cuban government lead by Fidel Castro embraced Jamaica’s Prime Minister Michael Manley when he landed on Cuban soil amidst a lot of controversy at home and abroad. Manley’s visit evolved into a bridge builder that solidified a long-lasting relationship between the two countries.
In 1976 Barbados, Guyana and Trinidad & Tobago also welcomed the hand of friendship extended by Fidel Castro, and the rest is history. Cuba became not only a neighbor but a genuine friend to a majority of the Caribbean countries. Cuba has invested in its medical facilities, and now has not only the highest number of health professionals but some of the most skilled doctors in the Caribbean region.
The Caribbean loses so many qualified nurses and doctors to overseas recruitment that this selflessness and generosity of Cuba is invaluable. Whether a country is challenged economically or otherwise, it looks like we are all in the same boat together.
As Caribbean people we know that when our brother is in need of help we are there for them in a heartbeat.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author. They are not necessarily intended to reflect the views of the Philadelphia Tribune.