By JR Valrey, the Minister of Information
The revolutionary nature of the Cuban people has allowed the nation to successfully fight a revolution in ‘59, that the U.S. government vehemently opposed, then set up a socialist nation that has been under a US/EU sponsored embargo for approximately 60 years. Within that time, the Cuban military has fought on the side of the oppressed, militarily and diplomatically in nations all over the world in places as diverse as Angola, the Congo, Bolivia, Ecuador, Haiti, and Nicargua. The Cubans have made it their revolutionary quest to be internationalist, and send out their medical brigades to aid and assist people from all over the world, stuck in peril; whether it is from a pandemic, natural disaster, or man-made disaster. The Cuban Henry Reeve Medical Brigade is now engaged in fighting Covid all over the planet, and they could use our support. I talked with the External Relations Officer of the Zimbabwe Cuba Friendship Association, and my longtime comrade Obi Egbuna, Jr about the history of Cuba’s revolutionary medical solidarity and military solidarity.
JR Valrey: Can you talk about Cuba’s history of providing medical solidarity to countries facing medical catastrophes?
Obi Egbuna: The Henry Reeve Medical Brigade, since the year 2005, has carried out humanitarian missions that comprised 8,000 medical personnel, confronting 16 floods, 8 hurricanes, 8 earthquakes, and 4 epidemics. The stand out was how they masterfully confronted the Ebola pandemic in Guinea (Conakry), Sierra Leone, and Liberia. The Brigade has made their mark in 51 nations and territories.
Before this in 1986, Cuba sent medical personnel to Pripyat during the disaster at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. They joined a collaborative effort with our comrades in Venezuela called Operation Project Miracle, which was aimed at eradicating blindness throughout the Americas. 500 Doctors out of Cuba were permanently stationed in Haiti, and lastly the 4,000 medics were dispersed strategically and logistically, positioned throughout Mother Africa. Their best contribution, arguably, is providing medical scholarships that give aspiring doctors globally the golden opportunity to come to the Latin American School of Medical Sciences, and study medicine. This effort has resulted in medical students born in Mother Africa, the Caribbean, and Latin America getting the most sophisticated training on this planet, for the purpose of returning to their nations equipped to battle the most deadly diseases, pandemics and epidemics that plague planet earth. We, whose ancestors were kidnapped, colonized and dehumanized have been the main beneficiaries of this magnificent effort, because it expedites both the decolonization process and brain drain. As we have seen with volcanic eruptions of anger about the raping and plundering of Mother Africa’s material resources, we too often overlook that the extraction of human resources, which is an extension of the most agonizing journey to the Western Hemisphere, that we argue are the origins of public transportation.
JR Valrey: Why does Cuba participate in this type of solidarity?
Obi Egbuna: Throughout history all nations, who were subjected to and stained by settler colonialism and physical captivity that have been privileged to taste liberation and power, primarily because they dared to pursue the path of revolution, all embark on a courageous trail to make life’s basic necessities the cornerstone of their societies. During the nine years that Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah and the Convention People’s Party were in power in Ghana, numerous factories were built: tire factories, bicycle factories, cocoa factories, manganese factories When Ghana was called the Gold Coast, during their days under the thumb of British colonialism, Ghana had only one dentist in the capital of Accra. The roads in independent Ghana, were better than the roads of their former colonizers in Great Britain. In Guinea Bissau, the Pan African Freedom Fighter Amilcar Cabral made agronomy and soil cultivation, the cornerstone of their revolution. While under Portugese colonial rule Guinea Bissau had only 14 University graduates in the entire nation, and 14 doctors available. Their next door neighbor in Guinea, Conakry under the leadership of Ahmed Seku Ture and the Democratic Party of Guinea, organized a people’s militia arming the entire nation, but also made their artistic expression through ballet, dancing, and drumming, their foundation. Perhaps this is the reason that Commandante Fidel Castro referred to him as a revolutionary apostle, which was a distinction he had previously reserved for the 19th century Cuban writer, poet, and freedom fighter Jose Marti.
One of the more dangerous aspects of US-EU propaganda is how they paint pictures of guerrilla fighters in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Latin America as bloodthirsty cannibals hellbent on revenge, as opposed to people fighting for total liberation and redemption. The process of redemption by circumstance is usually overshadowed by flag independence, due to the naked eye being able to see the invaders and colonizers surrendering to our indomitable will, however the task of ensuring that life’s most basic necessities are available to people who for generations have been subjected to all out dehumanization and exploitation is more difficult than attaining the first phase of freedom and independence. After the overthrow of Batista, Cuba went through, arguably, the most significant transformation in the Americas, and fortunately for them as time went on their educational and health care systems, and their arts and sports flourished on a level, that not only ensured that they could sustain their revolution, but help their genuine allies in need. On one hand they have always talked about a debt to Mother Africa, because of the millions of spanish speaking Africans, born in Cuba, whose ancestors arrived in chains and were forced to cut sugar cane from sun up to sun down just like our ancestors who picked cotton and tobacco from sun up to sun down in Virginia, Maryland, the Carolinas, Texas, Alabama, and Mississippi. Throughout their revolution, Cuban solidarity and camaraderie towards Africans at home and abroad has been undeniable, whether we look at their assistance with the armed struggles: in Guinea Bissau, Mozambique, Angola, and Zimbabwe. They trained 3,000 Zimbabwean teachers from 1986-1996 which resulted in a 97% literacy rate, or providing safety nets for late fighters Robert F. Williams, Nehanda Abiodun, and of course, Assata Shakur that is nothing but an extension of the modern day Underground Railroad.
Comandante Fidel Castro affectionately called Cuban Doctors, Cuba’s Greatest Army, as you know 10 years ago the Mass Emphasis Children’s History and Theater Company did a play with that same exact title. Cuba understands our legacy and challenges, the WHO told African heads of state Non Communicable Diseases (Strokes, Heart Attacks, Diabetes, High Blood Pressure) at the UN General Assembly 10 years ago, that from 2011 to 2038, 57 million people were expected to perish and Mother Africa has the least developed health infrastructure. This of course is on top of pandemics like HIV-AIDS, Cholera, and Malaria sending many of us to the cemetery. Inside US borders Booker T Washington started Negro Health Week before he transitioned, and Dr. W.E.B. DuBois conducted an epic sociological study called The Physique and Health and Negro American. Before them, we started the National Medical Association in 1896, due to the segregationist posture of the American Medical Association in those days.
JR Valrey: Since Covid appeared, what have the Cuban doctors been up to? Where have they set up shop?
Obi Egbuna: Cuba has emerged as the face of the global fight to eradicate the Corona Pandemic in all its forms COV-2/SARS/COVID-19. We salute them for developing the Finlay Vaccination institute that has produced Sovereign I and II, and the Cuban Genetic and Biotechnical Engineering that has developed two additional vaccinations Mambisa and Abdala. The Henry Reeve Medical Brigade is all over Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean. To the surprise of many, out of all the places that welcomed them with open arms, Italy caught everyone off guard. It is fair to say that certain Italians like Benito Mussolini once the face of European fascism and La Cosa Nostra figures Charlie Luciano, Al Capone, Frank Costello, Carlo Gambino, Tommy Luchese, Tony Accardo, and Sam Giacana trembling in their graves would rival all the earthquakes and other natural disasters the Cuba doctors have fought. The Trump Administration did everything to undermine their efforts, whispering sweet nothings in the ears of neo liberal and neo colonialist governments hoping to get them to show the Henry Reeve Medical Brigade the door. Out of all the nations Cuba helped, Ecuador, Brazil, and Bolivia, after Comrade Evo Morales was victim of a US imperialist regime change, plot bit the bait. Back in 2000 at the Organization of Caribbean and Latin American Youth, Comandante Fidel Castro told the world during the cowardly kidnapping of Elian Gonzalez that the average US citizen learned more about the Cuban Revolution in 4 months than they had in 41 years; following that profound logic and perspective, during this genocidal pandemic the world has learned more about Cuban Medical Personnel than they have in 59 years.
JR Valrey: What kind of work do you do in support of their efforts?
Obi Egbuna: Before the pandemic in numerous organizational capacities, you are talking about 26 years worth of service in solidarity and camaraderie with the Cuban people and revolution. In the spirit of being historically responsible, especially at a moment where it has become politically trendy and fashionable to be historically dismissive and ungrateful, it is with honor to say we take our que from The Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Ahmed Seku Ture, Amilcar Cabral, Patrice Lumumba, Samora Machel, Agostinho Neto, Thomas Sankara, Robert Mugabe, Madiba Nelson Mandela, Maurice Bishop, Michael Manley, Frantz Fanon, Malcolm X, Kwame Ture, Huey P. Newton, Angela Davis, Amiri Baraka, Angela Davis, The Honorable Louis Farrakhan to name a few. Specifically 16 years ago when DC General Hospital shut down, in DC, we were pushing for Cuban doctors to keep the hospital doors open, which left the Southeast section of DC without a level one trauma center, and a prenatal care unit. On a Sunday afternoon, 100 pastors held a pray-in at the front door. Not too long after that a brother by the name of Omowale Adewale of the Grass Roots Artists Movement persuaded New York Councilman Charles Barron and Mutulu Olugabala, better known as M1 from the internationally acclaimed Hip Hop group dead prez, to hold a press conference calling for Cuban doctors to come to New York City. This was even before Hurricane Katrina in the gulf region, when the Cubans offered to send 1,500 medical personnel to the gulf region, who would stay there until the public hospitals that were ranked the worst in North America were once again functional. That press conference was where we first encountered Brother Mutulu and a friendship and brotherhood has been maintained. A few years later we orgainzed a campaign that garnered UN attention dealing with naked police terrorism, using the brutal and cowardly murder of Deonte Rawlings, a 13 year old teenager who the DC Police claimed had stolen their scooter. We spoke about developing a music project to bring global attention to the fight against the US blockade on Cuba and US-EU sanctions on Zimbabwe. As you know better than me, Mutulu moves all over the world, and because of his affability and humility he verbally agrees to a lot of projects, when approached by organizers to be directly involved. Unfortunately many of these projects are pending, for that reason we took the challenge of being different. Between 2013 and 2016 we co-produced 3 albums called the Battle Cry For Cuba and Zimbabwe, that represents over 100 songs of multi generational and genre music. This included an epic concert during the fight to free the Cuban Five. As I mentioned earlier we penned, what we think is, the first children’s play about the Cuban Doctors; the Cuban diplomats were in complete shock. And we are on the verge of facilitating the first children to children exchange between the Mass Emphasis Children’s History and Theater Company and the Cuban National Theater Ensemble La Colmenita. Before that when the Bush Administration declared Cuba an outpost of tyranny, Bowie State University was going to be the first HBCU to develop a cultural exchange with Cuba.
In 2003 when former US President Jimmy Carter went to Cuba, we organized a welcoming for Cuban diplomats in Atlanta, where they were received by the Concerned Black Clergy of Atlanta, and the Atlanta Association of Black Journalists. They had an audience with the then Mayor of Atlanta Shirley Franklin. They were the guest of honor at the First African Presbytarian Church in Lithonia, Georgia and had a reception with Reverend Dr. Joseph Lowery, Martin Luther King III, James Orange, Hosea Williams and other Civil/Human illuminaries. I have the honor of serving as the External Relations Officer of the Zimbabwe Cuba Friendship Association. For the last year I have been one of the main coordinators of the Get Out Of Cuba Movement, whose aim is to ensure Cuba medical personnel are granted access to U.S. soil, and assist in the fight to eradicate the Corona pandemic. We are now embarking on the next phase of the campaign, which is to create a resource pool in the African diaspora in support of Cuba’s medical efforts, on the African continent. We have organized 2 concerts that ended up involving artists from 10 African nations, 8 Caribbean nations, 17 US cities, 5 European Union nations, all who felt an obligation to salute Cuba for their work in the medical arena. The Mass Emphasis Children’s History and Theater Company has an affiliate called the Mass Emphasis Positive Action and Creativity Youth Brigade who last year created a mini-documentary called Get Out Of Cuba’s way. The architects are Sia Li Wright who was 16 at the time, Zion Utsey, who was 20 years old at the time, and Jaelyn Mitchell who was 21 at the time. The project is eight minutes and 26 seconds, which is less time than it took terrorist police in Minnesota to snuff out the life of George Floyd. Two years ago Zion did a video called “Vision”, paying homage to Cuba and Venezuela’s efforts to eradicate blindness in the Americas, that we highlighted in the very first question. We created an Appeal in the tradition of David Walker, the Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey, W.E.B. DuBois and Brother Malcolm for the Henry Reeve Medical Brigade to come to the US, that has support all over the spectrum i.e. the National Council of Churches, the daughter of Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkurmah, the Honorable Samia Nkrumah, Mumia Abu Jamal and Russell Maroon Shoatz.
JR Valrey: Why is building up support for their work important?
Obi Egbuna: Taking everything we just shared into consideration how is it not?? We are working with the Mayor of Newark, New Jersey, the Honorable Ras Baraka, the Chairman Emeritus of the Alabama Conference of Black Mayors, to push Mayors of African Descent to join this fight. We are also working with the State Senator in the 23rd District of Alabama, the Honorable Malika Sanders Fortier, and her father Hank Sanders, who served in the State Senate, for 30 years. Mayor Baraka is following the footsteps of his father Amiri Baraka, who led a delegation to Cuba in 1960 to climb the Sierra Maestra mountains, which included Julian Mayfield, Brother Malcolm’s choice to lead the International Affairs Committee of the OAAU, Robert F. Williams, Harold Cruse, Dr. John Henrik Clarke, and John Oliver Killens to name a few.
JR Valrey: What have the Cuban doctors accomplished since the beginning of the Covid pandemic, in these foreign nations? How have they been received?
Obi Egbuna: The beauty of this is the notion rooted in the U.S. imperialist narrative that calls the work of the Henry Reeve Medical Brigade, medical solidarity, has been shattered like burglars do windows during a break and enter encounter. Cuba has shown that they are willing to help everyone in need, and you do not have to embrace the foundational tenets of their revolution. The fact they are willing to come to North America, whose first seven presidents tried to annex Cuba, fought the 22 years war with spanish colonists for the right to colonize them, attempted to assassinate their beloved leader Commandante Fidel Castro 635 times, and have maintained the blockade originally imposed by Kennedy after the bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, says it all.
JR Valrey: What can the average person do to support the work of the Cuban doctors around the world?
Obi Egbuna: Because many of our people consider the vote the most effective outlet of political expression, they should get their mayors, Alderwomen or men, City Councilwomen or men, Assemblywomen or men, to develop resolutions in support of this work. For those who believe in being Christlike, and function from the understanding that treating the sick is the best illustration of that belief system, they should have their churches get involved. All student and youth organizers can follow the example of the former President of the DeMatha Catholic School Black Student Alliance Zahir Muhammad who signed the appeal at 16 years old, and his 14 year old brother Kaleem Muhammad who was published in the San Francisco Bay View Newspaper. We thank you for introducing this to the San Francisco Bay View Newspaper and San Francisco Board of Supervisors.
JR Valrey: How could people become more informed about the work of the Cuban doctors?
Obi Egbuna: They can get in touch with us and become directly involved, but to answer the question, the answers are in everything previously mentioned. Join the fight.