Cuba has “provided the most important medical assistance” in the immediate disaster response, the United Nations recognized. As of Feb. 4, Cuban facilities had attended more than 60,000 Haitian patients and performed nearly 3,500 surgical procedures.
As of Feb. 5, 618 Cubans were working in Haiti, together with 402 Haitians. On Feb. 4, eight U.S. graduates from the Latin American School of Medicine in Havana joined the Cuban effort, at the Hôpital de Croix des Bouquets in the Haitian capital.
Three hundred and forty four Cuban doctors, nurses and medical technicians were already in the country — 200 of them in the heavy-hit capital — when the earthquake struck, and they began to operate three treatment facilities in Port au Prince within a matter of hours. Cuba established a mini-air bridge from Santiago and was able to airlift another 66 medical personnel, most of them from the Henry Reeve mobile medical brigade, into Haiti the day after the disaster, increasing the number of Cuban-run facilities in and near the capital to 10, plus one “itinerant medical brigade.”
One week later, Cuba flew in 138 medical students of Haitian origin who are studying in Santiago, together with a mobile hospital and medical supplies. A total of more than 400 Cuba-trained Haitian personnel is now working with the Cubans.
On Jan. 21, Cuba sent two barges and a tug boat with drinking water, diesel, alcohol, cooking oil, and medical supplies to Port au Prince. An epidemiologist and eight nurses were on board.
The Cuban facilities serve as a focus point for assistance from other nations as well. More than 120 medical personnel and 17 nuns from Canada, Chile, Spain, Colombia, Mexico and Venezuela are using Cuban infrastructure, working side by side with Cuban doctors.
ALBA members agreed during an emergency meeting in Caracas Jan. 24 to send doctors, nurses and supplies to Cuban facilities in Haiti. They also considered creating a reconstruction fund for Haiti, via the Banco del ALBA. Venezuela agreed to provide free fuel to Haiti, via the PetroCaribe agreement.
The Cubans — who have been calling for the United Nations and the Panamerican Health Organization (PAHO) to take the lead in directing efforts in Haiti — are coordinating their relief efforts with Venezuela and other ALBA countries, China, Russia, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Norway and Namibia. Cuba participated in an emergency meeting in Caracas Jan. 24 among ALBA member countries to coordinate long-term relief and recovery aid.
Cuba has been providing medical support to Haiti since 1998. A total of 660 Haitians are studying medicine in Cuba.
Crisis leads to cooperation
A number of voices in the United States have been suggesting active U.S.-Cuban cooperation in Haiti, while Cuba opened its airspace for U.S. flights and hinted it would accept U.S. help via international organizations.
Three days after the Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti, Cuba’s permanent mission in New York announced that it is willing to cooperate with any nation, including the United States. Cuba has personnel and infrastructure in Haiti, but it asked the Panamerican Health Organization (PAHO) for logistical support, one-way surgical supplies, hospital support services, and more material.
In their communiqué to the United Nations, the Cubans said they granted the United States access to their airspace in eastern Cuba for the relief effort; a State Department spokesman said Cuba had given “specific authorization to be using Guantánamo as a staging point coming into Haiti.” Cuba first allowed individual emergency flights to travel through Cuban airspace, but eventually broadened the agreement to a general permission. U.S. planes are now flying patients to U.S. hospitals without having to pre-clear each flight.
Answering a question by an Italian correspondent, State Department spokesman Charles Luoma-Overstreet said U.S.-Cuban cooperation over Haiti was “absolutely” possible. After news emerged about Cuban hospitals in Haiti being short on medical supplies, the United States Jan. 22 offered to provide supplies.
Meanwhile, a Reagan Administration assistant defense secretary is advocating the use of U.S. logistics by Cuban doctors. “We should stop and think that Cuba right next door has some of the best doctors in the world,” says Lawrence Korb, now an analyst at the Center for American Progress in Washington. “We should see about flying them in.”
Joining the choir was Gary Maybarduk, a former counselor for political and economic affairs at the U.S. Interests Section from 1997 to 1999. “I suggest we cooperate with Cuba to provide medical personnel and supplies to Haiti,” Maybarduk wrote in a letter to the editor printed by the Washington Post. “Cuba has a demonstrated ability to provide numerous doctors and nurses quickly, but it is chronically short on medicines.”
Norway, South Africa pitch in
Continuing the increasing trend among wealthier nations of triangulating with Cuba to channel aid to other developing countries, Norway agreed to donate 5 million Norwegian kronors ($885,000) to fund Cuban medical efforts in Haiti. The Norwegian embassy in Havana signed an agreement Jan. 22 with Cuba’s foreign trade and investment ministry. Cuba will use the funds for the purchase of medical supplies.
Meanwhile, the New Times of Rwanda reported that South Africa donated $1 million towards facilitating continued Cuban support to Rwanda. The funds help pay for the expenses of 31 Cuban doctors, nurses and technicians who have been in the landlocked African country for one year, treating nearly half a million patients. Rwandan Health Minister Richard Sezibera thanked the South African and Cuban governments for the “unique cooperation” arrangement.