Medical internationalism

 

This weekend, news of the approximately 65 Cuban doctors, nurses and technicians that arrived in Milan to aid the Italian health system’s struggle against the coronavirus was accompanied by photographs (here a sample from the Reuters website) of a group of the medics about to depart for Europe. They are posing in the shot, grouped around a photo-portrait of Fidel Castro some holding (almost) caressing it between them. They are honouring the máximo líder’s legacy and waving tiny Cuban and Italian paper flags – gesturing a brand of friendship among nations long since believed part of the long gone era of Cold War internationalism. But Cuba’s “medical internationalism” (John M. Kirk/H. Michael Erisman) has continued from the 1959 revolution to the present day. Prior to sending medical personnel to Italy, over the past few weeks, Cuba has dispatched doctors and nurses to Venezuela, Nicaragua, Suriname, Jamaica, and Grenada to give aid in the midst of the current crisis.

The number of Cuban medical personnel is estimated to count over 38,000 in over 60 countries, with more then 20 per cent of Cuba’s doctors working overseas. As Gail Harley writes in 2017, “Cuba (population 11.4 million) has more medical personnel working abroad than the World Health Organization and the G7 countries combined. In addition, Cuba has the largest medical school in the world – the Latin America School of Medicine (ELAM) founded in 1999 – which has over 8,000 students enrolled, the vast majority from developing nations. The school also operates positive discrimination towards families with limited means and towards disadvantaged communities such as the black and indigenous communities of Central and South America.”

In Guinea-Bissau, 1974 (photo: Roel Coutinho)

The images of the Cuban coronavirus crisis delegations extend the iconography of Cuban doctors engaged in aiding anticolonial struggles around the world in the 1960s and 1970s. Castro’s militant internationalism has since been updated to considerable effect. With China and Russia (and Germany and others), joining the medical aid campaign for Italy, the pandemic becomes the stage for a revival of a long forgotten, albeit desperately needed internationalism. TH

 

Cuban doctor in the Cabinda Hospital, Angola (photo: Ricardo López)

 

March 23rd, 2020, 02 / Rosa Mercedes
Interface

David Graeber (1961-2020) on What Would It Take (from his The Democracy Project. A History, a Crisis, a Movement, 2013, p. 193): “We have little idea what sort of organizations, or for that matter, technologies, would emerge if free people were unfettered to use their imagination to actually solve collective problems rather than to make them worse. But the primary question is: how do we even get there? What would it take to allow our political and economic systems to become a mode of collective problem solving rather than, as they are now, a mode of collective war?”

September 7th, 2020, Tom

T.J. Demos on why cultural practitioners should never surrender, via tranzit.sk:  “For artists, writers, and curators, as art historians and teachers, the meaning-production of an artwork is never finished, never fully appropriated and coopted, in my view, and we should never surrender it; the battle over significance is ongoing. We see that battle rise up in relation to racist and colonial monuments these days in the US, the UK, and South Africa. While the destruction of such monuments results from and is enabling of radical politics, it’s still not enough until the larger institutions that support and maintain their existence as well as the continuation of the politics they represent are also torn down. This is urgent as well in the cultural sphere, including the arts institutions, universities, art markets, discursive sphere of magazines and journals, all in thrall to neoliberalism, where we must recognize that it’s ultimately inadequate to simply inject critical or radical content into these frameworks, which we know excel at incorporating those anti-extractivist expressions into further forms of cultural capital and wealth accumulation. What’s required is more of the building of nonprofit and community-based institutions, organizing radical political horizons and solidarity between social formations.”

August 21st, 2020, Tom

Bernard Stiegler, quoted from The Neganthropocene (trans. Daniel Ross): “Does anyone really believe that it is possible to ‘solve’ the problems of climate change, habitat destruction and cultural destruction without addressing the consumerist basis of the present macro-economic system, or vice versa, or without addressing the way in which this system depletes the psychic energy required to find the collective will, belief, hope and reason to address this planetary challenge? Can this consumerism really survive the coming wave of automation that threatens to decimate its customer base and undermine the ‘consumer confidence’ that is fundamental to its perpetual growth requirements, themselves antithetical, once again, to the problems of biospherical preservation?”

August 14th, 2020, Tom
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