November 2014        

Ebola: EU dithers, Cuba acts

Tomás Mac Síomóin

The yawning gap between socialist and neo-liberal values is reflected in the response to the call by the secretary-general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, for international assistance to stem the deadly advance of the Ebola virus in Africa. Cuba’s response was immediate and massive; the European Union heaved and brought forth—a mouse!
      The urgency of a rapid response to Ebola was emphasised last month at an extraordinary summit in Havana of ALBA (the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America). It was called by the president of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, to plan emergency measures for fighting this highly infectious viral disease. It has already caused almost 5,000 deaths in West Africa, and possibly 15,000, according to the World Health Organisation, and threatens millions, and not only in Africa.
      Even to slow down its spread, international aid needs a twenty-fold increase, says Ban Ki-moon.
      ALBA was founded ten years ago by two socialist states, Cuba and Venezuela, to oppose US government interference in the Caribbean and Central America. It now embraces nine Latin American and Caribbean countries: Antigua and Barbuda, Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Venezuela. Presidents Evo Morales of Bolivia, Michel Martelly of Haïti, Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua and Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela, the UN special envoy for Ebola Affairs, David Navarro, and the director of the Pan-American Health Organisation, Carissa Etienne, attended. The president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, was also represented.
      The president of Cuba, Raúl Castro, set the tone of the meeting.
I am convinced that if this menace is not stopped in West Africa by immediate and efficient international response, with adequate resources, co-ordinated by the World Health Organisation and the United Nations, it could become one of the worst epidemics in human history . . . I stress our willingness to work with other countries, even the United States . . . The Ebola threat is too serious to be made into a political football.
      Cuba’s response to the United Nations call (largely ignored by the capitalist media) reflects this sense of urgency. The UN secretary-general stated in his message to the summit that Cuba’s response exceeds that of Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), the International Red Cross, the United States (acknowledged, grudgingly, by the secretary of state, John Kerry), Britain, or China.
      On 1 October a Cuban anti-Ebola brigade—fifty doctors, a hundred nurses, three epidemiologists, three intensive-care specialists, three infection-control specialist nurses, and five social mobilisation officers—reached Sierra Leone. On 21 October two further brigades, preceded by advance parties, reached Liberia and Guinea.
      The 461 volunteers now in the affected areas add to the more than 4,000 Cuban medical personnel in thirty-two African countries, including 2,269 doctors, some of whom will integrate with the anti-Ebola campaign.
      Volunteers agree not to be repatriated to Cuba should they be contaminated by, or die from, the virus. “Cuba is the only country I know responding with human resources in terms of health doctors and nurses,” said the chairperson of the African Union, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
      In spite of being subject to a debilitating internationally condemned US blockade for the last fifty-two years, Cuba has one of the world’s finest medical systems, offering its citizens a free universal health service and co-operating internationally after natural disasters and epidemics. It cared for 40 per cent of the victims of the Haïtian earthquake in 2010. Almost 50,000 Cuban-trained health professionals work in the world’s poorer regions.
      The delegates to the Havana Summit signed a 23-point declaration calling for bio-security groups led by expert Cuban facilitators, improvement in the flow of information between participating countries, the reinforcement of airports and vigilance on national borders, and increased diagnostic laboratory facilities.
      Given this emergency—and in sharp contrast to ALBA’s human solidarity—EU foreign affairs ministers, gathered in Luxembourg, failed to agree on any concrete measures at all for assisting areas in Africa affected by Ebola. All they could come up with was the possible appointment of some Eurocrat to oversee some undefined European response.
      The EU’s irresponsible shilly-shallying and its covert racism, contrasted with Cuba’s whole-hearted response to the needs of Ebola-stricken Africa, reflect a dilemma facing the world’s peoples: should they fight for a future based on genuine human values or on a dog-eat-dog capitalism, whose response to human suffering is subject to narrow financial considerations?
      The choice is between adopting the humanitarian ideology of socialism and the EU-US neo-liberal way, which subjects the fate of nations to a greedy minority’s financial interests.
      Put more bluntly, our choice is between socialism and barbarism!

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