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Covid-19: A New Humanity,  A New World – Owei Lakemfa

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By Owei Lakemfa

Imagine you are in a cruise ship with 681 others and then discover that some of them have contacted a highly infectious virus that has neither cure nor vaccine.

Even, if there were a cure, it  was not within reach as you are afloat in the ocean and no country wanted you to berth. So your ship becomes not just  a prison but a virus-infected laboratory with no escape except to leap into the roaring waves. Therefore, you are condemned to wait and live in fear of the highly contagious virus, spreading. It is a nightmare, but not one you can wake up from as it is a reality running into weeks.

That was the nerve wracking experience passengers on board the British cruise ship MS Braemar underwent. The passengers were 668 from the United Kingdom and the rest from  Italy, Colombia, Australia, Canada, Ireland, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Japan. On board, five had Coronavirus Covid-19 while  28  other passengers  and  27 crewmembers had been isolated after experiencing Coronavirus-like symptoms.

The ship was denied docking  by the Dominican Republic, Barbados and the Bahamas. The mighty United States was not offering any assistance, but the small island of Cuba which is also experiencing the virus beckoned on the ship to dock at its port of Mariel as an act of solidarity.

The relieved passengers, throwing kisses at a country they were not scheduled to visit, were transported in a  caravan of buses and ambulances to a Havana airport terminal and flown to the UK.

British  Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab joined in the appreciation: “We are very grateful to the Cuban government for swiftly enabling this operation…”

The Cuban action to the passengers and their loved ones, is an unforgettable act of bravery which saved lives. That in international diplomacy is called soft power diplomacy. But knowing the Cubans, that was not their intention. Rather, it is in their character and tradition to come to the assistance of   people  in  need  even if it would cost  them lives. That was what they did in the anti-cholera fight in Haiti, and  in 2014 during  the Ebola scourge that threatened to wipe out countries like Liberia and Sierra Leone.

We Africans can also not forget that in the 1980s when Apartheid   held South Africa and Namibia in a strangulating grip and marched across Angola to seize that country, it was only Cuba that came to our aid, pouring in some 55,000 troops, losing thousands of their youths in battle, but effectively crushing the Apartheid military leaving the racists with no option but to dismantle their evil system and grant Namibia and South Africa  independence.  In the last 56 years, Cuba has sent over 400,000 health professionals to work free in 164 countries.

Italy is now the epicenter of the Covid-19   pandemic with deaths in the past one week, averaging four hundred. Almost all countries in the world are  protecting just  themselves and conserving their finances, health  workers and medical supplies for their citizens. In contrast, tiny Cuba is mobilizing and sending thousands of its  medical professionals to countries ravaged by Covid-19. Just this Saturday, it sent 52 doctors and nurses to Italy,  a developed European country, to help battle the virus. Italy’s Permanent Representative to the European Union (EU) Maurizio Massari, had complained that his country’s cry to EU member countries for  medical help to combat coronavirus had gone unanswered.

UBA Wise savers

The Cuban deployment of its “armies of white robes” to Italy, was the sixth international medical brigade it was sending out to fight Covid-19. It had sent them to  Grenada, Nicaragua, Suriname, Venezuela and  Jamaica.

When the 140 Cuban medical professionals  arrived Kingston, the Jamaican Health Minister Christopher Tufton greeted them  thus: “In a time of crisis, the Cuban government, the Cuban people … have risen to the occasion, they have heard our appeal and they have responded.”

The Cubans are dogged fighters who no matter how bad the situation becomes in those countries, will not turn their backs. For them, no matter the battle field; military, medical or humanitarian, neither retreat nor surrender is an option.

Watching a video of the Cubans  arrival to the applause of grateful Italians, was quite emotive for me. It  was a definitive statement that all human beings are one irrespective of ideology and colour, and even level of development. The acts of the Cubans in rescuing the passengers of  the British ship, MS Braemar and sending doctors to Italy, is also a lesson that a financially poor, underdeveloped country can come to the rescue of  rich and developed countries.

It is instructive that Cuba, an island   that is just 110,860 square kilometres with a population of 11.3 million,  relying over the decades on raw sugar and tobacco export, has been under American economic, commercial and financial embargo since  October 19, 1960. Yet, is has   an almost 100 percent literacy and one of the most developed health systems in the world. In fact, one of the main medicines China used successfully   to treat Covid-19 patients is  Interferon Alpha 2b, a drug Cuba produced in 1981  to fight the dengue virus.

For many years, Cuba stood alone and isolated in the Organisation of American States. But through commitment,   willpower, consistency and development paradigm, it won over most of the states to its side.

Cuba teaches us in Africa, particularly Nigeria, that there is no alternative to being self-reliant; to building  basic institutions and investing  in the people. It  teaches the Nigerian elites  who appropriate the country’s resources to themselves and their Western masters, that there is no alternative to building local  capacity. That if they had built the health system rather than think they can always go abroad for medical treatment, they would not be patients in the dilapidated hospitals now that the Coronavirus has shutout the outside world to all Nigerians irrespective of status.

The Cuban example is no fluke. It is built on the foundations of its founding fathers like the poet, Jose Marti, 1853-1895, General Antonio Maceo ‘The BronzeTitan’1845-1896 and the later generations like Fidel and Raul Castro, Camilio Cienfuegos, Haydee Maria  and Celia Sanchez who taught that humanity is one and that its resources must be deployed for common good, particularly in favour of the poor, the weak and marginalized.

The Cuban  philosophy is embedded in the thoughts of a man like Ernesto Che Guevera who taught that:  “The life of a single human being is worth a million times more than all the property of the richest man on earth.” The Cubans are living Che’s advise that: “We must strive every day so that this love of living humanity is transformed into actual deeds, into acts that serve as examples, as a moving force.”

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