President Fidel Castro reiterates Cuba’s offer of medical aid to the American people on the Round Table program aired on September 2, 2005.
These remarks had to be written in a rush, as sometimes happens when things occur quickly and unexpectedly. I’ll explain the reasons for this.
Yesterday, a press conference, the kind typically held in the US State Department, was held. The Department’s spokesman, Sean McCormack, participated.
I will read the spokesman’s declarations verbatim.
At that time, we
were in the middle of a National Assembly session, addressing important
matters; one of the points we touched on was the tragedy which befell the
“Mr. McCormack said: Good afternoon. I wanted to begin with a brief update on a matter which is of interest to everyone who is here today, on the aid efforts following the passage of hurricane Katrina, and on offers of aid coming from abroad”.
“Let me begin by saying that we have received numerous and generous offers of aid from foreign governments and organizations, and Secretary Rice, after consulting with the White House, has made it clear that we will accept all foreign aid offers. Anything that will help alleviate the difficult situation, the tragic situation faced by people living in the area affected by hurricane Katrina will be accepted”.
Further on, he says:
“I can read you a list. Until now, this list has grown and is being updated constantly, every hour, in fact.
“We’ve received general offers of aid and more specific ones from a number of countries and organizations, including Russia, Japan, Canada, France, Honduras, Germany, Venezuela, the OAS, Jamaica, NATO, Australia, the United Kingdom, Holland, Switzerland, Greece, Hungary, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Mexico, China, South Korea, Israel and the United Arab Emirates.
“I will try and keep you posted on what is added to the list. As I said, it literally grows by the hour”.
It was only later, almost at night, after the Assembly session ended, that we started to look at the press wires, and we weren’t even able to read them all. Some of the news we received in the morning, today, the piece I’ve just read among them.
This puts me in the position of having to clarify Cuba’s position, because many of our friends, within and outside the United States, who know that our country always offers assistance when situations like these arise, regardless of existing conflicts, political, ideological or any kind of difference, started calling us, thinking it odd that we hadn’t offered any kind of aid to the United States following the devastation wreaked by Katrina.
The calls kept coming in, one after the other, so this declaration, whose text is self-explanatory, became indispensable. Among other things, you can appreciate that it is not simply a question of public relations —not in the least—but rather a matter of importance, even from the practical point of view.
I’m going to read
you a brief chronology of events, in which you can see the various offers of
aid made by the Cuban government to the
“Days later, on
August 29, 2005, after reaching category
Many things have happened. I’ve talked with thousands and thousands of American farmers, because hundreds came for the first fair we held; I met with one group, then with another, and, in the course of these last four years, I’ve exchanged with thousands of US farmers and state authorities, governors, senators and representatives.
Only two months
ago, the governor of the state of
“At 11:32 am on August 30, 2005, I called our Minister of Foreign Affairs, our colleague Felipe, to ask him to immediately convey to the government of the United States, via the US Interests Section in Havana and Cuba’s Interests Section in Washington, a message expressing our sympathies over the damage caused by the hurricane and offering assistance in the area of health, as we knew from the news we were receiving, that what was happening there was catastrophic”.
If there is
anything we can offer that may be considered important —primarily thanks to the
experience we have dealing with hurricanes and in the implementation of measures
to protect, evacuate and offer assistance to the population, among other
things— it is in the area of medical services. Following the catastrophic
events of September 11,
We’re closer to
Anyway, we offered medical assistance. It wasn’t a ridiculous gesture, since sometimes a blood transfusion can save someone’s life, and a rare blood type may be required. One, two, three, ten lives, that’s not the issue: if you can save one life, you’re duty-bound to save it.
“At 12:45, complying with these instructions, the acting head of the North America Office at the Ministry of Foreign Affair, Josefina Vidal, met with the deputy chief of the US Interests Section in Havana, Edward Alexander Lee, to pass this message to him verbally and, in addition, to give him a written copy of the same”.
We don’t waste one minute, that’s the truth. Comrade Josefina is with us, here.
instructions received, comrade Josefina Vidal told Mr. Lee, verbatim: ‘We would
like to put our differences aside for a moment’ —this alludes to the current
state of relations between
It was something
almost unexpected. The tail of the hurricane, as it crossed
The following day,
no one knew what the path of the hurricane was going to be; it even neared
After this introduction, Josephine read the message, which reads as follows:
“On instructions from Cuba’s top leadership, I convey to you our condolences for the loss of human lives and the material damage caused by hurricane Katrina and inform you of our willingness to immediately send the medical and health personnel that may be needed to any of the affected areas and, in addition to this, to set up three field hospitals with the personnel needed”.
Complying with the instructions, Josefina concluded telling Mr. Lee that “we are not after publicity. We await your reply”. That is the reason we didn’t make the offer public, we didn’t publish anything, in fact. We didn’t want it to be interpreted as a publicity effort.
That same August
30, “The head of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, Dagoberto Rodríguez, was received, at
his own request, at in the State
Department by the official John Reagan, to whom he passed the exact same
message delivered in
On the August 31,
at , “the head of the Cuban
Interests Section in Washington, Dagoberto Rodríguez, attended a meeting with
the diplomatic corps accredited in
Two days later we made our offer, that is, yesterday September 1, at the time I said, while we were meeting at the National Assembly, the spokesman makes his statement, which I really didn’t get to read until today, September 2. We got nearly all of the news today; we were at the Assembly until , and busy receiving visitors after that.
After that statement yesterday, we began getting a downpour of calls today. We didn’t want any kind of publicity in connection with this. But, what were we supposed to say to the people calling us? And are we going to allow the world’s public opinion to perceive us in a strange position, to think that, following a tragedy of this magnitude, we don’t even offer our condolences to the American people?
There’s something else: yesterday, at the beginning of the Assembly session, the first thing the members of the chair proposed was that we send out a message of solidarity to the US people, a message which was published in full today.
It reads as follows:
“Message of solidarity to the American people”.
“The people of
“In terms of the
physical destruction and material damages caused, the hurricane is considered
the most costly natural disaster recorded in US history. This country’s Red
Cross believes it will have to work harder than it did following the atrocious
“Tens of thousands
of people are trapped in flooded areas, have lost their homes, been displaced
or taken in by shelters. The governor of
“This disaster, with its death toll and suffering, affects all citizens of the United States, but its scourge is felt all the more strongly by Afro-Americans and by poor Latino and US workers, who constitute the majority of those who are still waiting to be rescued and taken to safe places, and account for the greatest number of fatal victims and people who have lost their homes.
“These news bring much pain and sorrow to the Cuban people. On their behalf, we wish to send out a sincere message of solidarity to the American people, to state and local authorities and to the victims of this catastrophe. Every nation must feel this tragedy as its own.
of People’s Power of the
A minute of
silence was observed for the victims. It was truly a moving and sincere
gesture, on behalf of our people, towards the people of the
This is the
situation we’re facing, the news we’re receiving are ever harsher. There may be
thousands, hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of people amazed that
closer to the
The main reason for our being here is to make the truth known and reiterate our willingness to cooperate. We are not here to criticize, that’s not our intention. We were not mentioned in that long list and we were perhaps the first to offer aid; if you have a look at the time when the instructions were given and the message was passed, I think it’s fair to say we were quick to make our offer, which was concrete: doctors to work in the affected areas, precisely what they need now in many places.
Our position cannot
be perceived as resentment or even complaint. As the deputy chief of the US
Interests Section, Mr. Lee was told we were not after any kind of publicity. Perhaps
their interpretation was that we wanted no publicity whatsoever. Perhaps it was
a misunderstanding; I’m not saying
Somoza was in office
We had no
Immediately after the
tsunami hit across the globe, we sent medical brigades to two countries. That
was costly, sending a plane, which consumes much more fuel, say, than a Boeing
—our planes consume quite a lot of fuel— it’s costly. Sending a medical brigade
All of this was
born of the spirit of cooperation, recognized in many parts of the world today;
even in Honduras, where there was talk of removing the doctors, there have been
a number of declarations by the population, insisting that not one of them be
removed; that they are attending to 2.5 millions of people who do not receive
any other kind of medical care from anyone else. Everyone mobilized to keep the
doctors there, and we said that we would never remove them on account of any
grievance, that we would not withdraw our medical assistance, unless the
country’s government requested it. Our doctors remain in these countries even
when war breaks out; that’s what happened in
That is how our doctors behave, that is the code of ethics that guides our doctors and our country too. We’re not going to send a medical team overseas to bring it back home due to a diplomatic skirmish, when differences or even things that are very offensive for our country arise. We would never act that way.
That’s where we’re coming from, which is why I say this is not the time to complain about the fact Cuba was omitted from the list read by the State Department spokesman.
So, we would like to reiterate our wish to cooperate with the American people, and all the more so after what we and the world have seen. Therefore we would like to take this opportunity to state exactly what position we are taking and repeat it with even more precision:
Our country is ready to send, in the small hours of morning, 100 general doctors an specialists in Comprehensive General Medicine, who tomorrow Saturday, at dawn, could be in Houston International Airport, Texas, the closest to the region struck by the tragedy, in order to be transferred by air” –it would be in helicopters mainly--, “river or land” –amphibious crafts that sometimes enter heavily flooded areas-- “to the more distant shelters, facilities and neighborhoods in the city of New Orleans, where the population and families are that require emergency medical care or first aid treatment.
personnel would be carrying backpacks with 24 kilograms of medications, known
to be essential in such situations to save lives, as well as basic diagnostic
tools.” They will have to take blood pressure, pulse and other
readings, all these basic resources are needed to establish a clinical report,
something which our doctors have a lot of experience in. At the moment tens of
thousands of them are working overseas, and in many places there was no X-ray
machine or ultrasound equipment, there was nothing, not even blood or other lab
tests, and they arrive and make clinical diagnoses with an exceedingly high
level of precision. They are practically clinical experts, because they are
used to working in areas of the
“A third group of 500 specialists in General Comprehensive Medicine could also be sent, and would arrive in the morning of Sunday, September 4. Consequently, in under 36 hours, 1100 of these doctors equipped with said resources’ –the back-packs--, ‘which amount to 26.4 tons of medication and diagnostic kits’ –mostly medication-- ‘will be caring for the neediest people in the aftermath of a hurricane like Katrina.”
And the damage
that it left in its wake, in a flat, low area with many rivers. That is to say,
it seems that accidents have happened there as well, levees that burst, all
those occurrences. A hurricane is a hurricane, ranking five on the scale is a
hurricane. The one that hit
“These medical doctors have an elementary knowledge of the English language that would allow them to communicate with the patients.
“All we are
waiting for is a response from the
Our doctors have
of this proposal can be deduced from a press wire from
‘Due to the fact that the hospitals are without electricity, the drug stores of New Orleans are under more than a meter of water, thousands of patients have no access to sanitary care and there is growing threat of infection, the health of tens of thousands of people affected by hurricane ‘Katrina’ is at risk.
‘The crisis that has hit New Orleans and large areas in southern Louisiana is made worse by the fact that the majority of the tens of thousands of people trapped by the water are the poorest of the country’s poor; individuals who suffer from more mental and physical illnesses that any other social group’.
‘A tragic example of the sanitary problems that ‘Katrina’ and the accompanying floods have caused the inhabitants of New Orleans could be seen last Thursday in the doorways of the city’s Convention Center, where between 20 000 and 25 000 people have taken shelter.’
‘Against one of the outside walls of the center is the corpse of an elderly lady, sat in her wheelchair with a blanket over her. On the other side of the Convention Center, two people try to resuscitate a man lying unconscious on the floor, in a vain attempt to save his life’.
‘The elderly, young and sick of the poor of New Orleans –where, according to official figures, almost a third of the 1.4 million inhabitants are poverty-stricken, almost half a million-- ‘the most vulnerable are the ones paying the highest price for the disaster.
‘Some experts have
begun to warn about the psychological consequences that the chaos and violence
that prevail in
‘Another concern that experts have begun to express is the outbreak of infectious diseases such as cholera or typhoid fever.
We are talking about helping people who are trapped in a building, in a stadium, wherever, in small communities, a medical team that will reach them, with medication. This medical team could save the lives of people like that man who was being resuscitated following a heart attack, and medication for these and other serious problems that doctors and their backpacks with essential medication can sort out. Who knows if maybe they could have saved that person in the wheelchair. Nobody knows what she died of.
What I am trying
to say is that we are not offering to send our doctors to
‘With temperatures of over 30°C’ –that’s nothing for a Cuban doctor– ‘the decomposing bodies of people and animals are rapidly becoming a breeding ground for bacteria’.
sewers in the metropolitan area of
And as if this wasn’t enough, patches of dangerous chemical products can be clearly seen from the air floating in the water discharged by companies and industries, such as refineries or farms, located in the outskirts of New Orleans.’
‘Experts warn that human contact with this water could cause infection’.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned that the population should avoid eating or drinking perishable products such as meat, fish, milk and eggs that are not stored appropriately, as they could cause illness if consumed, even if they have been cooked correctly.’
To deal with all these problems it is essential to have a professional there, where there may not be a doctor, to say what type of food can be eaten, if it is canned food.
The doctors with their backpacks of medication, well distributed in hundreds of different places, could be of extraordinarily use.
It is even thought that they will be able to tell us, if they have the means of communication to do so, what they need and then it will be much easier, they will make diagnoses, and realize if an epidemic is about to break out, identify the first symptoms. There is no way they could not be useful.
If there was ever a situation where this was needed it is this, in which many doctors who have been to the jungles, to the plateaus, to lots of places could participate; not because they’re Cuban, it’s not the enemy that’s going there to kill, it’s a professional, like the tens of thousands that we currently have in other countries, where others don’t go.
‘The FDA added that ‘no-one should eat any food that has been in contact with the flood water.’
‘With the desperate pleas for water and food by the thousands of people trapped in the Superdome and the Convention Center’ –I don’t know if they have been evacuated by now or not--, ‘who in some cases haven’t eaten in the last three days, there is a strong chance that the FDA’s warning –if it reaches the ears of the victims-- will not have much effect.’
This cable arrived today, I received it a few hours before I arrived here.
That is why I have come to reiterate the offer. We stuck to the notion that we didn’t want any publicity so resolutely that three days went by and no-one found out about what we were willing to do. Everyone has said; ‘I offered this, I offered 50 000 dollars, I offered that’. We offer lives, to save 10, 100, 500, 1000; to help to take measures that could save tens of thousands, at least to avoid the sorrowful sight that the world is witnessing.
Are they going to reject our cooperation because of the things that have gone on between our two countries? I feel that it would help everyone and it would be a good example, set not only by us, but by them as well, because these phenomena could repeat themselves.
Today a group of American experts
were saying that a strong hurricane like this one could hit within a month or
two, one more violent that this one could sweep the
Therefore our gesture is sincere and peaceful. It does not seek publicity or impose conditions of any kind, it does not request that the blockade be lifted or anything like that. We have never imposed conditions on anybody; we offer what we have and this is what we have; we do not have a large financial capital. The costs are covered by us; the travel, the fuel; we don’t even have to get fuel over there, it’s so near. They can go there or to another airport, or to a military base, if there is one. They are not going to make statements or seek publicity, I want us to be clear on this.
We are hopeful, seeing that today another change took place, as the Secretary of State herself said that they would accept any help. This means that they’d even accept help from the Martians if it was offered; but they haven’t. A little island on this planet, that’s only a few minutes away from that place has offered to help, and it has a moral right to discuss the possibility of sending doctors over, it is something that is now acknowledged by the world.
What we want is not to criticize,
not to put the
Once again I shall say that this is
not the first time. We have absolutely no interest in confronting the
What it’ll be like over there I don’t know, if they go to a small community, I imagine that they’ll have whatever the people there offer them. I don’t know if they’ll take some water with them, but our doctors are experienced in going thirsty, suffering the heat and going without food along with the patients. In some places that they have been we have sent them food, out of concern for them, and they have given it to their patients.
When concerned for the health of our teachers we sent them food and they gave it to their students, and when our doctors receive something they give it to their patients first. These are the ethics which shape our doctors, and there isn’t just one or two of them, there are now thousands, now, right now, and tens of thousands more here.
A few days ago 1610 young people from other countries graduated here, they have now finished their studies and have gained lot of experience. About now almost 2000 more Cuban doctors should also have graduated with clinical experience, thus constituting reserves. Many of the experienced people on missions overseas are currently here on holiday. We would send mainly experienced doctors to the areas most severely affected. We already know who would go. All we are waiting for is some response, and I hope that it comes straightaway, so as not to loose a minute.
the measures have been taken, everything is being prepared: backpacks,
medication, clothes, everything, because it’s now three days since we made our
offer and we couldn’t keep our men permanently mobilized. What we do know is
how long it takes to mobilize them and that it is the only way to get
medication to all those people who have spoken on TV. They can be there at the
A helicopter doesn’t require a runway, it will land in a place where it is filled with fuel, and take the medical team to any place necessary, it is ideal; but sometimes it could be a place where a boat or fast motorboat arrives, or perhaps an amphibious tank, and there are men from the National Guard, American soldiers involved in this task. I am sure that everyone is going to work together, and the fact that American doctors, Cuban doctors, whoever, are helping to save others in this sort of ceasefire, this truce, will set a very good example for the world.
This war is not between human beings but is rather a war for the lives of human beings, a war against disease, against disasters that could repeat themselves, and one of the first things that this world should learn, now of all times, with the changes that are taking place and with these types of phenomena, is to work together.
Our doctors went to
We haven’t said a word about this. I feel obliged to talk about it here today, briefly so that no-one is in any doubt about the current situation and so that they forget about any pre-conceived notions, because what exist are no longer just instilled lies, but rather pre-conceived notions formed in the minds of many people.
Furthermore, as I was saying, we
have many friends in the United States, and around 200 well-known names,
administrative authorities from those southern states, with whom our
collaborators have relations, because they are constantly in touch through a
large number of activities related to the buying, shipment and transportation
of food and the payment of this, because we have been paying for this food in
cash now for four years, without ever being late and without ever paying even a
penny less. We have developed really strong relations, based on trust. We extended
our condolences to the authorities, to everyone, and they took it well, they
were grateful. We told them that we had informed the top
They should know all about it, and there are many witnesses, but it doesn’t matter. This isn’t about quarreling or arguing. We’re not asking anyone to criticize themselves, nor are we criticizing anybody; we are proposing something truly constructive that seems to us to be just, and that uses practical, specific, immediate, action, that can be effected in matter of hours. They can be there at in the morning, with their backpacks, which are now ready, the first hundred are ready. These are the first hundred that could be there at dawn. The others could start to arrive in the afternoon, and a second group of 500 could be arriving in the evening and some more on Sunday.
Up until now 64,367 patients from
The United States have a lot of
doctors and resources, but they also have a special situation in a specific
area, due to a specific problem. This is no cause for shame. What I am sure of
is that it is very difficult to get all the teams necessary to where all those
people from the south are in 12 hours, or in 24 hours. It is impossible to
conjure up a doctor for extreme situations, it is impossible to conjure up a
trained general practitioner for this task, or a team of men that will go
anywhere. On the other hand, this isn’t the first time for us, this isn’t a new
That is what I want to say. There
are more than 200 people who know this now and they were told that we have
informed the authorities in
Medication, yes, as much as they want; equipment, yes, not for Cuba, but rather to save the lives of and attend to Americans, and if they want more doctors, if they want a thousand, we’ll give them a thousand more, if they want five thousand, we’ll give them five thousand more, we have them and we know where they are, and they know how to use X-ray machines, ultrasound equipment, endoscopes, and how to treat many diseases. You may have a lot of equipment, but you also need the people who know how to use it. The problem is how fast they arrive. That’s all I’ll say.
With this I am voicing the good will of the Cuban people, the sentiments of friendship that they have always felt towards the American people, which has been demonstrated for 46 years. One of the few countries in the world where the American flag has never been burnt, where no-one would ever insult an American citizen, this is a for sure. We are grateful to the country that supported the return of the little boy, the country in which an increasing number of people support the pursuit of justice for our compatriots, the country that we trust will one day form a bond of friendship with us, and not only to help our two countries, but also, fundamentally, to help others.
The government of the
world needs doctors, doctors who go to these places.
And if they urgently need new
equipment to help the people affected,
We have also notified those in
I don’t think, Randy, and fellow compatriots, that I have anything else to add, or that I should add anything to what I have already said.