Brazil, Venezuela seek Cuban expertise in Haiti reconstruction

The ministers of health of Cuba, Brazil and Haiti met with Haitian President René Préval March 26 in Port-au-Prince to sign a three-way memorandum of understanding about long-term medical aid.

Brazil will be funding the Cuban-led program, which aims at rebuilding Haiti’s healthcare system.

The government of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva set aside $80 million for “training and education of human resources in Haiti” as well as building a national network of disease control centers, Brazilian Health Minister José Gomes Temporão told Prensa Latina.

Five days later, on the sidelines of a UN donor conference in New York, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez announced a Venezuelan-funded agreement with Haiti. Under that agreement, Cuba will build and equip 100 primary care centers in Haiti that will attend up to 2.8 million patients a year. Cuba will also develop 30 community hospitals, and increase the number of Cuban-run rehabilitation centers from 21 to 30. At the donor conference, Rodríguez lobbied other UN member nations to support Cuban medical programs in Haiti.

Increasingly, wealthier countries find that supporting Cuban expertise and activities in poor areas is more cost-effective than building their own aid programs. Venezuelan support aside, the Brazilian program is Cuba’s biggest medical cooperation project funded by a third country and the first time for Brazil to cooperate directly with Cuba in a third country. Cuba has recently been seeking — and getting — third-country funding of healthcare and education aid projects in developing nations. In the two most recent cases, South Africa contributed $1 million to Cuban healthcare programs in Tanzania, and Norway donated $800,000 to Cuban relief efforts in Haiti. 

“We are pleased to do this jointly with the Cubans,” Brazil’s Gomes said, according to Prensa Latina, adding that “planning and detailing” had already begun. “It seems to me that for us this will be a novelty. But it’s important because Brazil has interesting experiences in the support of Portuguese-speaking countries in Africa.”

“You are doing a fantastic job covering basic needs, the most urgent ones, at a critical moment,” Gomes told a group of Cuban doctors at the event. “But now it’s necessary to think about the future. Haiti needs a permanent, quality health system run by capable professionals, and the Brazilian experience of build a solidary and universal healthcare system is at the disposition of the people of Haiti. We will be doing this with Cuba, which has a very long experience and a lot of technique, edge, and passion.”

Health Minister José Ramón Balaguer told Préval and his Brazilian peer — tongue in cheek — that Brazil and Cuba were in a “solidarity complot” to help Haitians.

Préval expressed his gratitude to Cuba and Brazil and said he planned to meet President Raúl Castro on the sidelines of a United Nations meeting in Rome.

Cuba initiated its first medical aid program for Haiti in 1998. Cuba deployed 700 Cuban doctors and 278 foreign graduates of the Havana-based Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM) to Haiti. Cuban personnel attended 260,000 patients since the Jan. 12 earthquake and performed 7,000 surgeries.

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