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      Cuban Internationalists in Venezuela: The Spirit of Resistance and Hope

      Introduction by Tamara Hansen
      By: Alina Perera Robbio

      August 2017 marked 12 years of medical cooperation between the revolutionary governments of Cuba and Venezuela. On August 21, 2005 Cuban President Fidel Castro and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez signed an unprecedented agreement. Those signatures gave rise to Misión Milagro (Miracle Mission) which provides free eye surgeries for those with cataracts in Cuba, Venezuela and throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. In just over ten years this program has restored vision to over 6 million people with serious vision impairments caused by cataracts. This is just one small example of the amazing progress that can be accomplished for poor and working people when we have a revolutionary socialist government on our side.

      Fire This Time Newspaper is excited to share with our readers this interview by Cuban journalist Alina Perera Robbio with six Cuban professionals (three doctors, a nurse, a speech therapist, and an agricultural engineer) at an Integral Diagnostic Center in Yaracuy, Venezuela. These interviews encompass many aspects of the important work of Cuba’s Revolutionary internationalists, who are serving in countries throughout the world providing free healthcare, education, and professional support. As of 2015 Cuba has 37,000 medical professionals working in 77 countries worldwide, by and large to serve those who cannot afford doctors and medical care, or are in rural areas which do not have regular health services.

      The Cubans interviewed below have been working in Venezuela at great personal risk. The right-wing media in Venezuela has been claiming that Cuba is “occupying” their country and painting Cubans as a ‘boogey-man’ threat to Venezuela. Over the years the Cuban medical missions have often been a target of right-wing harassment and violence in Venezuela. Through these interviews we understand the importance of the work of Cubans in Venezuela today and the power of revolution internationalism – to heal, to educate, and to promote equal access to services in spite of barriers. All of these accomplishments can happen when we refuse to let borders define us, and instead recognize (as Cuban independence leader Jose Marti said) that humanity is our homeland.

      YARACUY, Venezuela– Thousands of books, testament to a venerable work of patience, commitment and courage, could be written from the experiences of every Cuban collaborator working far away from their families, to help people all over the world. Each one I meet has important stories to tell.

      As a general rule, the collaborators support each other, and their work teams become like families, where every member readily entrusts their lives to the protection of their compatriots.

      Speaking with six collaborators at the Macario Vizcalla Comprehensive Diagnostic Center (CDI) in the municipality of San Felipe, the intensity of their daily work and the strong, family-like bonds which quickly develop between all became clear.

      Twenty-seven year old Alberto Ortiz Rosales, a qualified intensive care specialist from Yara, Granma province, was the first to speak. Alberto proudly noted that he has been working in the land of Bolívar for the last 34 months, after graduating in July 2014: “This is my first experience actually working, and it is without a doubt unique,” he explained.

      As a “spoiled only child,” Alberto has had to learn to cook and live independently. “Here I didn’t have any other family, just my colleagues,” he recalled. Regarding his work, the intensive care specialist described his profession as one that “requires you to be composed, because you have to be ready to face any emergency, because a person’s life depends on you making quick decisions.”

      In Venezuela he was confronted with illnesses which, up until that point, he had only seen in books. “I’ve got a lot of stories,” noted the young healthcare professional, “but there’s one that stands out: one day a patient came to my clinic. It was 10pm and she had a wound in their abdominal wall, and was diabetic, her life was in danger. At that time, the operating theater in San Felipe was undergoing repairs and there were no general surgery specialists in the Barrio Adentro (Into the Neighborhood) mission in my municipality.

      “The woman was out of options, she had already visited other healthcare centers which had referred her to other places. She needed immediate attention. I didn’t have an operating theater, or anesthesia, but had to act fast. So, I gave her a strong sedative and drained the infection, which was very big, myself. The patient’s life was saved.”

      According to Alberto, if there is one thing you learn on a mission such as this, it’s the ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes.

      Meanwhile, 34 year old emergency nurse Sandier Pérez García, from the province of Cienfuegos, also has experience working in difficult situations which require swift decision making. In his eight months serving in Venezuela he has had to treat various illnesses, witnessed extreme poverty, and attended patients who had never seen a doctor before, and much less been admitted to hospital.

      Speaking about the gestures of gratitude he receives from patients, Sandier recalled the joy of those who regained the ability to walk thanks to the committed work of Cuban specialists. “We have had many diabetic patients come to the ward,” he noted, “saying that they can’t bear the pain; that they can’t walk; and they have left happy. This is what gives meaning to my profession. I feel human and very fulfilled with my work; I am grateful to be a nurse.”


      Aiding those with disabilities and helping others to develop their language and communication skills is the job and passion of 38 year old speech therapy specialist, Milaidis Auty Almenares, from Santiago de Cuba.

      The young healthcare professional works with patients of all ages, but children represent a vast group for which she holds a special place in her heart. “Many came to me unable to speak,” she explained “and now they can talk. Some call me ‘mom’”.

      Do you have children?

      Yes, four.

      When you return to Cuba, what will you tell them about your time here?

      I’ll tell them that we never took a step back, that we knew how to accompany this beloved people. Milaidis has many stories she could share with her children, like the one about the three and a half year old patient who arrived unable to speak a single word, and who today, at five years of age, sings nursery rhymes.


      Three months were enough to deeply mark 26 year old Optics and Optometry graduate Yanara Guirola González. From the town of Arabos in the province of Matanzas, Yanara has been working in Venezuela for over two years. Currently based in the State of Yaracuí, she spent the first three months of the mission in Delta Amacuro State, where she witnessed extreme poverty and had new experiences.

      Overcome with emotion, Yanara recalled her experience traveling over the choppy waters of the Orinoco River, the faces of the country’s indigenous peoples, and situations that forced her to harness a strength she never knew she had; which despite everything, she noted, were worth the effort.

      Meanwhile, 46 year old physiatrist Roberto Aguilera Navarro, from Santiago de Cuba, noted that the most beautiful thing about the job is “fulfilling the internationalist legacy of Comandante en Jefe Fidel, with his humanism.”

      Roberto explained that he had the privilege of receiving his diploma directly from Fidel, when he graduated as a doctor in 2000: “It was the first graduation that took place at the Anti-imperialist Tribunal. He (Fidel) gave me the diploma on August 13, his birthday, and I had the privilege of being close to him.”

      Another member of this internationalist family explained that he is here to “repay some of the debt we owe to humanity.” Alexis Ginarte Osoria, a 60 year old agricultural engineer, has been working in Yaracuí for the last 18 months, where he has been sharing experiences on how to increase crop yields.

      Originally from Santiago de Cuba, but currently living in Guantánamo, Alexis was born in the community of La Lata, in the Sierra Maestra. He studied agriculture, a field which, he noted, he carries in his roots. “I came to continue Cuba’s internationalist work. I participated on a mission in Angola, which had a great impact on me.”

      Alexis also spoke about the 15 key economic sectors being strengthened by the Bolivarian Revolution, and efforts between Cubans and Venezuelans to share knowledge about urban agriculture, a field in which Cuba has seen much success, despite lacking resources.

      Just like a family, here all share similar emotions; a unique force united by a common element: the spirit of resistance and hope.

      Alina Perera Robbio is a Cuban journalist, columnist for Granma and collaborator for Cubadebate. She has won multiple journalism prizes in Cuba's annual awards.

      Reprinted from: http://en.cubadebate.cu original title: “A Family’s Mission”

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