Training doctors for the world's poor

Seven young Honduran medical students hold the Honduran flag. They are studying in Cuba free of charge. Once qualified, they will return to work as doctors in their home country, where they would not have been able to afford medical training.

Cuba, though a poor country, has made this possible for these students, and for many more of the poor from Latin America – benefiting both the medics themselves and the poor and sick in their countries of origin. The Latin American School of Medicine in Havana, Cuba, has 10,000 students from across Latin America at any one time – all studying for free as part of Cuba’s commitment to enabling access to health care for as many poor Latin Americans as possible. Cuba has also sent 52,000 of its own doctors and health-care workers to help in more than 90 oppressed countries – all free of charge.

Also pictured are two friends of the Hondurans – Rafael Sanchez (left) and Rigoberto Delgado (right). In the 1950s Rafael and Rigoberto were both members of the 26 July Movement, led by Fidel Castro, that fought against the tyrannical, US-supported regime of Fulgencio Batista. Rafael, then a factory worker, and Rigoberto, then a cobbler, were both imprisoned by the Batista regime as a result of their efforts to free ordinary Cubans from the poverty, inequality and oppression of the US-supported regime. Rafael told me that on one of the occasions when he and Rigoberto were arrested under the Batista regime, the police handcuffed him and 20 others and took them on a public bus to transport them to prison. The police didn’t have a pair of handcuffs for Rigoberto, however, and so merely pushed him on to the bus alongside the other prisoners. The passengers on the bus reacted with distaste and alarm when they saw the handcuffed prisoners. Rigoberto shouted out ‘Don’t worry – these people are not thieves or robbers, they are political prisoners who are fighting for the people against Batista!’, whereupon the passengers on the bus attempted to rescue the prisoners from the police.

Rigoberto opens an old cardboard box which contains his life’s history, old photographs of his detention in Havana and the visa issued by the Mexican embassy in the 1950s. He had been selected to participate in the Granma expedition – the launch of the revolutionary struggle in Cuba – but was excluded when the Mexican authorities became suspicious. He tells of his time as the director of police in Jaruco after the Revolution, and the struggle he and Rafael undertook against counter-revolutionary bandits.

The two men also recall their sadness at the loss of close friends including a comrade, David Hernandez, tortured and then murdered by Batista’s police. Both men are proud of their socialism and the triumphs of the Revolution. They say that they, the Cubans, will win the Battle of Ideas, and that ‘un mundo mejor es possible’ – a better world is possible, through socialism.

Amaya and Kely are two of the young Hondurans studying at the Latin American School of Medicine. Amaya says ‘Without the struggle of both Rigoberto and Rafael we would have never had the opportunity to study medicine. We owe them so much’. Kely adds: ‘My mother supported the Cuban Revolution and even though I’m not Cuban I have had direct gains from the triumph, as have almost all of Latin America and other poor countries of the world.’

The Revolution of 1959 would not have succeeded without extraordinary ‘ordinary’ people like Rafael and Rigoberto, and young people today from poor backgrounds across Latin America – like the young Hondurans pictured – would not have had the opportunity to become doctors without the success of the Cuban Revolution.

This is just an illustration of some of the things at stake as right-wing politicians and their wealthy friends in the US increase their aggression towards Cuba and their determination to impose their own system on the Cuban people. If they succeed, not only will the vast majority of Cubans suffer, but poor people from across Latin America will lose the opportunities that revolutionary Cuba currently gives them.
Denis Doody , UCATT National Executive member for Yorkshire
and Richard Burgon, Thompsons Solicitors,
(both in personal capacity)

FRFI 192 August / September 2006


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