Cuba’s Role in the COVID-19 Pandemic

The small socialist state of Latin America is fighting against the disease more than most.

A street in Havana, Cuba. (Photo by Augustin de Montesquiou on Unsplash)

According to a research paper published in 2007 by Robert Huish and John M. Kirk, “Cuba has 42,000 workers in international collaborations in 103 different countries, of whom more than 30,000 are health personnel, including no fewer than 19,000 physicians” and that “Cuba provides more medical personnel to the developing world than all the G-8 countries combined”.

In addition, Huish and Kirk also stated in the same paper that in response to Hurricane Mitch (1998), Cuba not only sent medical brigades to affected areas, but that they also “constructed the Latin American School of Medicine” and that the school “offers a free six-year medical education to students from rural and marginalized communities in Latin America, Africa, Asia, and the United States”.

It goes without saying that these are incredible achievements given their status as a developing country by organizations (predominantly Bretton Woods-based ones) such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF). However, the reasoning behind conducting these affairs (outside the simple care for human life) is heavily rooted in an anti-colonial and anti-imperialist ideological foundation.

The Cold War featured an astronomical amount of struggles between the oppressors and the oppressed, whether they be anti-colonial, revolutionary, or both. Cuba, alongside its medical brigades, participated in many of these struggles. Of course, given the geographic proximity of Cuba, a lot of medical support was given to other Latin American nations, especially in times of political upheaval, natural disasters, and now, during the global pandemic.

An image featuring a Cuban doctor in Guinea-Bissau in 1974. (Roel Coutinho / CC BY-SA)

As of 2004, the number of Cuban medical personnel working abroad and within the Integrated Health Program (PIS) featured 6 countries in Latin America, 15 countries in Africa, and 3 in Asia according to a research paper published in 2007 by Pol De Vos, Wim De Ceukelaire, Mariano Bonet, and Patrick Van der Stuyft.

The COVID-19 Pandemic:

A theme that is present around the world — quite literally — is the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time of writing, the virus has claimed the lives of almost half a million people and has infected over 8.2 million people across virtually all borders.

While many nations have begun to take measures against the active spread of the virus via the usage of facial coverings, social distancing measures, and more, some countries have completely ignored the threat of the virus, the most notable example in Latin America being far-right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.

Cuba has since taken a rather radical route to tackling the virus and its spread, not only within its borders, but internationally as well. Giulio Gallera, the acting Health and Welfare Minister in the Lombardy region of Italy, has actively expressed the necessity for support from Cuba, as well as Venezuela and China.

In response, the Cuban Embassy demonstrated their solidarity with Italy and the affected region in particular on Twitter as seen below.

“Cuban solidarity with #Italy against an emergency due to #Coronavirus” — Full statement (in Spanish) by the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs is available here.

Beyond Lombardy, Cuba has also sent help to “Venezuela, Nicaragua, Suriname, Jamaica and Grenada”. In addition to the aforementioned countries, a cruise ship from the United Kingdom that had 5 cases of COVID-19 was allowed by Cuban authorities to safely dock “at the Cuban port of Mariel, 45 kilometers west of Havana”, when other nations in the Caribbean refused to do so.

According to teleSUR, “dozens of passengers assembled on the decks and along the railings of the ship waving, throwing kisses and displaying signs thanking Cuba for allowing the vessel to dock”. UK Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, also stated the following praise regarding the Cuban government and their actions:

“We are very grateful to the Cuban government for swiftly enabling this operation and for their close cooperation to make sure it could be successful.”

Cuba’s record with regards to medical diplomacy and internationalism is a stunning historical development, especially since the country has been under a brutal economic embargo conducted by the United States for over 55 years, despite consistent calls from activists and governments around the world to lift the blockade.

To conclude, here’s a quote from Julie M. Feinsilver, an academic researcher, that accurately represents Cuba and their medical internationalism (from a research paper published in 2010):

A revolution can be measured by its actions to implement its ideals, something the Cubans have done successfully through medical diplomacy.

South Slavic writer focusing on anti-imperialism, Marxism, and the international working class.

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