Hurricane Katrina brought offers of help from around the world. One such offer that the government tried unsuccessfully to keep hidden from the American people came from Cuba. It has been reported that President Fidel Castro offered to send as many as 1,500 English-speaking doctors to help the injured and dying in the areas affected by the hurricane. This generous offer comes from a nation that has suffered great hardship for decades under the illegal U.S. blockade.
What most people in the U.S. don't know is that this is not the first time that the offer from Castro has been made. There has been a long-standing offer of aid. Several years ago, in 2001, Castro was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize partly because of such generosity and humanitarianism. He has repeatedly offered free medical school training to the U.S. and other nations with unmet medical needs. The only string attached to the Cuban offer is that when the training is completed, the doctors must return to their home country to help their own fellow citizens.
U.S. policy restricts our freedom by rigidly controlling travel to Cuba. Does this restriction constitute a violation of rights under the U.S. Constitution? Many U.S. citizens go to Cuba via Canada or other countries. That should not be necessary. The amount of money that is allowed to be sent to relatives in Cuba is strictly monitored and limited by our government. What justifies that infringement on the freedom of U.S. citizens? It is time to open the maritime border, end the blockade, and accept the needed assistance from a benevolent nation.
It is not likely that our government will relent and allow Cuban doctors to enter the U.S. Why? What could be the reason for such dictates from Washington? Could it be that those in power do not want us to see how some things are better in Cuba than they are in the U.S.? Could it be that Washington wants to perpetuate the negative myths about Cuba for as long as possible? Could it be that our leaders do not want us to see a nation that has achieved universal literacy and free education from kindergarten to college and professional school? Imagine graduating from college or medical school with no student loan debt. Or is the explanation a little closer to home? Is this just a matter of our political leaders caving in to the lobbyists from the health care industry?
Our government has a long history of trivializing the value of human lives. How many civilians have been killed in Iraq? Madeline Albright explained the official policy of the United States on 60 Minutes when she commented to Leslie Stahl that the deaths of a half million Iraqi children was worth it. The U.S. government has levied a fine of $20,000 on Kathy Kelly of Voices in the Wilderness. The criminal offense was delivering medical supplies to the people of Iraq. Our government does not place much value on U.S. lives either. Your government has decided that the deaths of 18,000 U.S. citizens for lack of access to medical care every year was worth it.
Increasing numbers of U.S. citizens seek medical care in other countries. Costa Rica is one favorite destination of those in need of dental or medical care. Often, even including the cost of airfare, the final bill for a procedure is much less than it would be in the U.S. For those without that option because of financial or travel limitations, there has to be an answer. The need is great in both rural areas and also inner city locations. What would happen if a community found a spot, perhaps a vacant storefront, and set up a clinic? Would the federal government seek to prosecute a community that was instrumental in bringing in doctors from Cuba? Would it be necessary to smuggle them in? Could a Necessity Defense be used if the government prosecuted? What would it look like if the federal government prosecuted an entire community?
On October 8, 2005, The Mirror reported, "[T]he US, we learn, is 43rd in the world infant mortality rankings. A baby born in Beijing has nearly three times the chance of reaching its first birthday than a baby born in Washington..." Statistics can always be manipulated and challenged, but it is generally accepted that the infant mortality rate in many U.S. cities is worse than it is in most areas of the industrialized world. We need help from any place that we can get it. It is time for all of us to tell the government to get out of our way and allow foreign aid to come to the citizens in the U.S. We must get the Cuban doctors here as soon as possible. Every day of delay is a death sentence for some fellow Americans. These invisible citizens will never have a parade or a monument in their honor. They will remain invisible until we, those who are still living, call attention to their plight. In the U.S. 18,000 die every year because of lack of access to medical care. That is like having a 9/11 every 60 days. Some may call that poor planning. I call it terrorism.
Rosemarie Jackowski is an advocacy journalist living in Vermont. She was arrested, tried, and convicted for participating in a peaceful protest of the war. Currently the Vermont Supreme Court is considering the Appeal of the conviction. If the Appeal is won, the government will retry the case. If the Appeal is lost, Rosemarie will go to prison. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other Articles by Rosemarie Jackowski