For about half a century, Western governments and free-market think tanks have had Cuba on their list of countries not worthy of emulating. The sanctimony of the Western classical liberal thought is now under severe test.
On Sunday, over 50 doctors and nurses from Cuba arrived in the northern Italian region of Lombardy, the most critical epicenter of the global COVID-19 pandemic.
A video that showed people welcoming the medical delegation at an airport in Italy has now gone viral on social media.
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The delegation was given a standing ovation as the Cubans waved their country’s flag as well as the flag of the country they are helping.
Italy needs help and would welcome it even from one of the smallest countries in the world. To put it into context, there are almost as many people in just the region of Lombardy as there are in Cuba.
Furthermore, Italy is literally one of the most industrialized countries in the world. Cuba is closer to the bottom. Italy has had to rush the certification of about 10,000 medical students to augment the numbers of doctors and medics in the life-saving battle.
Hospitals across the north of the country have been overwhelmed by the over 63,000 who have been infected with the coronavirus in the last three weeks.
It has to be noted that this is not the first time Cuba is making international headlines for offering up its doctors in international service. During the height of the Ebola outbreak in central and west Africa, Cuba sent medics and supplies to help.
In the aftermath of the 2010 Haitian earthquakes when cholera took thousands of lives on the island, Cuba stepped up with doctors and supplies.
Yet, Cuba is not a rich country nor is it a country embracing classical European liberalism. Indeed, Europeans and Americans, at least, those who are not interested in vacationing in Havana, think the least of Cuba.
For decades, US embargoes have sealed opportunities for the Cuban people. The feat Cuba has reached as one of the countries with the highest literacy rates and production of doctors is shocking in view of what the US has sought to prevent.
For the US, the problem with Cuba is that late Fidel Castro and the communist party did and do not want “freedom” for their people.
It is true Cuba’s communist party has maintained a stronghanded control that has taken the lives of thousands. Theirs was a secretive, brutal totalitarian leadership that was in part enameled by fear of what “big bad” America will do if Cuba was open to the rest of the world.
In fairness to Castro’s Cuba, US foreign policy for 50 years after World War II was basically the suppression of collectivist ways of life in other countries. Vietnam still lies as a throbbing example of US interventionist and imperialist operations.
But the lack of nuance in Western discussions on the politics of other people hides so much harm that American foreign policy has done. There is also the shocking lack of pertinent self-assessment on the part of Westerners when the world has to contend with the history of slavery and racism.
It is undeniable the good free-market capitalism has done. One may, however, struggle to find acceptance for what evils the system has wrought too.
Cuba, or specifically Castro, chose a different path. A worse path? Maybe, but there is no way of saying Cuba would be a better country had Castro submitted to the whims of Washington.
Granted that it still has a long way to go, Cuba’s success is monumental exactly because US embargoes were supposed to yield a different result, not one where Cuban doctors save Italian lives.