BY MARTÍN KOPPEL AND MARY-ALICE WATERS
HAVANA, Cuba - The revolutionary leadership of Cuba has called on governments around the world to offer immediate relief aid to Honduras, Nicaragua, and other Central American nations ravaged by the effects of Hurricane Mitch. Cuba has set an example with its own aid and solidarity.
Cuban president Fidel Castro sent a message to the Nicaraguan people November 4 that received prominent coverage in Central America. "The news and images of the death and disappearance of thousands of Nicaraguans and the hundreds of thousands who have lost their homes and belongings have deeply moved our people, who have always loved and admired the homeland of Rubén Darío and Augusto César Sandino," he wrote.
Darío is considered Nicaragua's national poet. Sandino led an army of Nicaraguan workers and farmers that fought the U.S. military occupation of that nation in the late 1920s and early '30s.
Cuba "has offered Nicaragua aid in medical personnel and medicine, in accordance with our rich human potential and our limited material means," Castro said. This is what Cuba did "when the earthquake destroyed Managua in 1972, what we did more than once during the 1980s" -when Nicaragua's workers and peasants were combating Washington's determination to overthrow their revolutionary government - "and what we will always do whenever the life of a fellow Latin American is in danger and our modest contribution is needed to save him." The Cuban government subsequently announced it was canceling Nicaragua's debt to Cuba.
The Nicaraguan government of President Arnoldo Alemán has so far declined to accept Cuba's offer of medical volunteers.
Meanwhile, the first Cuban brigade of 14 doctors and other medical personnel arrived in Honduras November 3, heading to Mosquitia, one of the most impoverished areas of the country and hardest-hit by the hurricane. Taking with them a field hospital, the Cuban volunteers told the press they were prepared to go anywhere and stay as long as they were needed. A few days later, a second medical brigade of 13 Cuban doctors, nurses, technicians, and epidemiologists joined them in Honduras.
As the risk of epidemic diseases spreads in the region, a group of 19 Cuban doctors has been aiding flood victims in Guatemala. They were sent to the worst-hit areas, in the provinces of Zacapa, Izabal, and Escuintla. Further Cuban brigades are being readied for Central America, Cuban health minister Carlos Dotres announced.
Cuba responded the same way to the devastation caused earlier by Hurricane Georges in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The Cuban medical brigade currently in the Dominican Republic has won widespread praise there for its competent and selfless work.
Among the dozens of ordinary Cubans interviewed here about their reactions to the social catastrophe unfolding in Central America, one common theme has emerged: the difference between the life-saving efforts of Cuba's revolutionary government in response to Hurricane Georges, which swept through Cuba in September, and the callous indifference to human life exhibited by the capitalist governments in Central America when confronted with the need to mobilize resources to protect their citizens from the devastation of Hurricane Mitch.
At a ceremony welcoming Haitian president René Préval to Havana November 9, in which the Haitian leader thanked Cuba for its aid, Castro stated that Cuba is ready to send the doctors and other specialized personnel needed to develop a health program in Haiti. He called on governments of wealthier nations to help fund such a program, which he said could make a big contribution to reducing infant mortality there - currently 135 children per 1,000 live births - and providing treatment to many Haitians in need of basic care.
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