Fighting Ebola

“Right to live their own Life”

Aleida Guevara

[This is the Keynote speech at the ‘Summit at the End of the World’ organised by Progressive International by Aleida Guevara, revolutionary doctor and daughter of Ernesto “Che” Guevara.]

I remember one day when I was in my hospital—I am a paediatric allergist—a professor told me that they would come to Cuba for help in fighting Ebola. I said: “but we don’t know anything about Ebola”, “It doesn’t matter, they will come, you’ll see”, he replied.

And indeed, the World Health Organisation came to Cuba shortly afterwards and asked for help with Ebola. Do you know why? Because they were sure we would say yes. And so, we sent the best of the country. Health professionals, nurses, doctors, technicians went to fight Ebola and they succeeded. This truly gives you extraordinary strength as a people, because you can say “we are capable; we are capable of going anywhere in the world where we are needed and helping other human beings. It doesn’t matter what colour your skin is or what religion you are, it doesn’t even matter what you think. It doesn’t matter. We can simply be useful and so, we are.” That is one of the most beautiful things about the socialist revolution.

Personally, as a doctor, an allergist, a paediatrician, I went on my first mission to Nicaragua. I was still a young doctor; I was 23 years old and in what was to be the last year of my degree. Revolution had just triumphed in Nicaragua, and Cuba didn’t have as many doctors as it does today. So, Commander-in-Chief Fidel Castro met with final year medical students and asked us who wanted to do the internationalist internship—we call the last year of the medicine degree an internship. So, from my year, 480 of us stepped forward. That’s how I got to Nicaragua.

It was an extraordinary experience for me because I was born with this revolution. I mean, I was born with everything, health, education, dignity already guaranteed and, you don’t really know what another world means until you are able to live it, to make contact with it.

The Nicaraguan experience was hard because as an incipient revolutionary process it had, like all revolutionary movements of course, many difficulties. In addition to the revolutionary process, the Catholic religion exerted a great influence in dividing the people practically in two.

It was hard; it was a difficult experience because in Cuba I was used to healthcare being totally public, free and at the service of all the people. Suddenly I had to deal with doctors who went to the public sector for a short while and then went to the private sector. And they could quietly leave patients in inexperienced hands, like ours. So we had to be creative and grow as human beings there, and we did.

I also went to Angola. Honestly, those were perhaps the two most difficult years of my life. You have to live in Africa; you have to feel what it’s like. They have suffered for centuries and nothing can justify it. It isn’t right. As a paediatrician as well, it was perhaps the most difficult, the hardest time I can remember.

I experienced two cholera epidemics there and it was horrendous, truly horrendous. Parents would arrive at the hospital with dead children. We could do nothing to save them. I would walk the entire María Pía hospital, later renamed Joscina Machel, from one end to the other drawing blood and administering saline solution. It was an immense job.

But you get the satisfaction of knowing that you achieved something that you managed to save some of those children, or at least to help them.

I started working with children with tuberculosis and that was the best thing that ever happened to me. These children were also socially rejected because people were afraid of getting infected.

But in Angola I learned very important and basic things that human beings must know. You have to fight against all racism, nothing can justify it. This sentiment has to be erased from the face of the earth. The same goes for colonialism. There is no way, no way whatsoever to accept it! Peoples must have the right to live their own story, their own lives.

The African continent was plundered and exploited, not only its minerals and land, but also its human beings who were taken to another continent as if they were simply pack animals. These horrible acts in the history of mankind should not exist! We must, by all means, prevent such things from happening in the world today! That is why solidarity between peoples must grow every day.

There are many things to do and many peoples to help but we mustn’t impose our culture nor our great wisdom on them. We need to learn from them! During the time I was in contact with Kichwa midwives in northern Ecuador, I learned things I hadn’t learned in over a hundred births in Nicaragua. I learned things that have never been written down in books because it is the ancestral wisdom of our peoples.

So, you have to learn to listen. Solidarity does more than make you grow as a human being by feeling useful to another; it also allows you to grow by learning ancestral wisdom.

The sheer amount of knowledge we have collected over the years is extraordinary, and it’s all thanks to acts like this.

Being an internationalist doctor means repaying some of the debt we owe humanity, and I think that’s one of the most beautiful things we’ve managed to do.

This is how we have worked in different parts of the world. Spreading our people’s message of solidarity, but learning at the same time. Learning a lot about the need for love, understanding and respect between human beings. If we don’t have that, we can’t change this world, and we need to change this world. We can’t go on living like this.

[Courtesy: Progressive International. The Progressive International is an international organisation uniting and mobilising progressive left-wing activists and organisations.]

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Vol 55, No. 1, Jul 3 - 9, 2022