In “Cuba, Russia, China could join rights panel”(Opinion Exchange, Oct. 2) Andres Oppenheimer expressed bewilderment that Cuba could be elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council by its Latin America neighbors. Unstated by Oppenheimer was that Cuba was a violator of human rights.
This assumption is misguided and omits an understanding of Cuba’s well-regarded achievements in the arenas of health care, education and environmental protection that are key aspects of human rights as understood in the context of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
In the case of health care, Cuba’s role is especially important in this time of COVID-19.
This spring, well known Minnesota pianist Nachito Herrera was at the University of Minnesota hospital seriously ill with COVID-19 and facing a very dire outcome. The Cuban-born performer, aware of the university’s previous medical collaboration with doctors in his native country, asked his doctors to consult with physicians on the island to see if they might have any insights into therapies they could recommend. The doctors did as he asked and carried out a consultation that may have ultimately aided in his survival. Herrera still faces challenges from his encounter with COVID-19 but is grateful that his doctors used all possible remedies.
To some this may seem like a strange story but Cuba’s response to COVID is a significant story both within Cuba and internationally.
Domestically, Cuba faced a serious COVID-19 challenge when the disease arrived on the island in February with European tourists. They treated scores of infected tourists and their own citizens who had been infected. Using a well-regarded community-based health system Cuba has had some of best outcomes in the world evidenced by their low rate of infections and COVID-19 related deaths.
Currently Cubans are 42 times less likely to contract the virus than people in the United States. With a nation of 11.3 million people, as of the end of September, 5,500 people were infected and there were 122 deaths. In addition to these domestic actions Cuba has sent teams of medical personnel to more than 30 countries, mainly in the Global South to help fight the disease as they did six years ago with Ebola in West Africa.
For the current work Cuba is being nominated for the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize. It is this kind of health leadership that qualifies Cuba to be elected by Latin American countries to serve on the Human Rights Council.
What are the Cubans doing right?
Three U.S. municipalities and two U.S. central labor councils would like to know the answer to that question but are prevented from deeper sharing by the unilateral U.S. economic, financial, and commercial blockade. In California, the Richmond and Berkeley City Councils and the San Francisco board of supervisors unanimously passed resolutions calling for medical collaboration with Cuba and have been joined by the Sacramento and Seattle Labor Councils. A resolution to this effect was introduced into the Minnesota State Senate by Sandy Pappas at the end of the session with significant support in both chambers. Efforts to pass similar resolutions are underway across the U.S., including in Minneapolis and St. Paul where previous resolutions opposing the embargo against Cuba were passed in 2018.
An example of needed collaboration is in arena of vaccines. A COVID vaccine being developed in Cuba, Soberana 01, is the first to be registered from Latin America with the World Health Organization. Clinical trials began in August, and Cuba is willingly sharing its results with the world community.
Unfortunately, Cuba’s medical internationalism is not being applauded by the Trump administration. Instead, any country requesting Cuban assistance is threatened with U.S. sanctions even while the administration provides no meaningful assistance to the countries of the Americas.
It is time for the U.S. government to put aside its differences and work with Cuba, a country with good experiences in controlling pandemics. Such collaboration is fully permissible under agreements signed by the two governments during the Obama administration and should initiated immediately on broad scale emulating the actions carried out by Herrera’s doctors.
Gary Prevost is professor emeritus of political science and Latin American studies, College of St. Benedict/St. John’s University and co-author, “U.S.-Cuban Relations — A Critical History” and “Politics of Latin America — The Power Game.”