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The Nobel Peace Prize for Cuba's Doctors: How a Campaign Is Organized

DIARIO DE CUBA uncovers the manuevering behind the purported charitable initiative backed by "friends of Cuba."

Cuban medical brigade.
Cuban medical brigade. EURONEWS

After the Cuban Government sent its medical brigades to the areas most affected by the Covid-19 pandemic in Italy, an effort was undertaken to ask the Norwegian Nobel Prize Committee to grant the prestigious award to the Henry Reeve Brigade.

In early May several news outlets, including some Cuban ones, cited the existence of this proposal. On the 8th of that month Miguel Díaz-Canel wrote on his profile page, on the social network Twitter: "A US organization has asked that the Cuban doctors who fought against Covid-19 be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, despite the lies and cruelty of the empire's hawks and henchmen."

That first mention of the effort by a senior Cuban official gave rise to the hashtag #NobelForCubanDoctors, launched on May 13 by Brazil's "Northern Zone Free Lula International Committee."

At the outset of the campaign, both users of the social network and media outlets in Cuba and other countries that made reference to the initiative, cited, like Díaz-Canel, the US organization Code Pink as its sponsor.

Calling itself a "grassroots peace and social justice movement working to end wars and occupations," Code Pink sent a letter to the Nobel Peace Prize Committee in which it advocated granting the award to "the Cuban doctors and nurses forming part of the Henry Reeve International Medical Brigade, now working in 21 countries to combat Covid-19."

The statement avers that "while the US is appropriating funds from the World Health Organization, attacking China, and seizing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) from other countries, Cuban doctors are fighting against Covid-19 worldwide." "Although we are aware that the nomination period has passed (...) their example of self-denial, courage and solidarity in the midst of the pandemic is incomparable, and they are truly worthy of a Nobel Peace Prize, the most prestigious award in the world", the petition concludes, signed by over 5,100 people to date.

However, the proposal advanced by Code Pink –which, along with the ANSWER Coalition, led the occupation of the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, to prevent Juan Guaidó's delegates from entering the building, in a well-organized operation that lasted 37 days– was not the real origin of the campaign.

The campaign actually arose in France

None of the Cuban officials, and very few of the official media that have referred to the initiative for a Nobel for Cuban doctors, have recognized that the idea actually originated in France, devised there by the organization Cuba Linda.

In an April-28 letter its president Didier Lalande asked that the Nobel Prize to be awarded to the Henry Reeve contingent, in a campaign on the MesOpinions platform, which since then has generated 1,674 signatures.

The petition states that "in August 2005, a medical brigade of 1,500 specialized doctors and health technicians was formed to help the population affected by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Unconcerned with its poor people, the United States Government rejected the offer. On September 19 Commander-in-Chief Fidel Castro formed an organization without precedent in the whole world: the Henry Reeve International Contingent of Medical Specialists in Catastrophes and Serious Epidemics Henry Reeve."

Through a Facebook page created on May 3 and administrated by Rose-Marie Lou, Cuba Linda's political director, affiliations have been regularly updated, including, to date, dozens of "solidarity with Cuba organizations" from various countries across Europe, Latin America and Africa, as well as the French Communist Party, the Bolivarian Circle of Paris, and the Parisian Committee of solidarity with Lula.

Journalists and intellectuals like Paul Estrade, Salim Lamrani, Ignacio Ramonet and José Manzaneda; and Cuban musicians, like Leonel Limonta Massó, the leader of the group Azúcar Negra, and troubadour Ray Fernández, also appear.

Conspicuously absent from the support are any organizations of the Cuban Government, but the "Youth Club of Havana" does, belonging to the official Union of Young Communists (UJC).

In the middle of the month American actor Danny Glover, who signed up to follow the @CubaNobel profile on Twitter, created on June 12, joined that list.

In May Rose-Marie Lou told the official Prensa Latina agency that her group's efforts "include contacting French deputies who would be willing to render the request official before the Norwegian Nobel Committee."

What is Cuba Linda?

The French organization backing the nomination of the Henry Reeve brigade for the Nobel is a group that has been organizing trips to Cuba since 1998. According to the group's official website, since then "the Asociación Cuba Linda has been reserving spaces in family homes in Cuba."

"These rooms have air conditioning or ventilation, and are very comfortable, for Cuba, with an adjoining or, often, private bathroom. They are on file with the State and, therefore, legal. (...) We have selected these rooms in the best areas to facilitate visits. Your hosts will give you a warm welcome, and guide you better," they state.

The businesses that house the Association's clients range from Viñales to Santiago de Cuba, to places such as Remedios, Havana, Playa Larga and Gibara. Prices range between 25 and 35CUC per night.

Cuba Linda even processes, charging 22 euros, the necessary tourism document for vacationers to the island, reserves rental cars "at our best prices", and transfers from the airport, "rooms at all Cuba's hotels", and acquires tickets for domestic flights, among other services.

Among those regularly publishing Cuba Linda's actions on their Facebook profile, and participating in actions to promote their trips is, Yurielkys Sarduy Martinez, the First Secretary for Political Affairs at the Cuban Embassy in France.

The French association also collects donations for the victims of Hurricane Irma and the tornado that affected part of Havana in January 2019.

The official "Institute of Friendship with Peoples" (ICAP) considers it a "solidarity organization." Until 2018, according to that organization, Cuba Linda had coordinated the trips of 1,500 participants, in groups called "In the Footsteps of the Revolution" and "Free Discovery."

Former Cuban spy Fernando González Llort, president of ICAP, stated: "Those who have participated in these programs have returned to France equipped with the truths they were able to confirm about Cuba, to refute the lies and provocations of the great imperial media outlets,” on the occasion of celebrating two decades of collaboration with the French group.

Although the Nobel campaign, so far, is only an initiative that has not born fruit, it cannot be forgotten that Cuba, especially under Fidel Castro, managed to succeed in international sing initiatives, as demonstrated by the controversial case of young Elián González, and that of the five Cuban spies imprisoned in the United States.

A campaign of this magnitude could help the Cuban Government to legitimize its "medical missions" and remove them from the international scrutiny they are under by organizations such as the UN, whose special rapporteurs on contemporary forms of slavery and human trafficking asked Havana for explanations regarding this matter, warning that the working conditions of the exported doctors could be considered "forced labor."

The sale of medical services generated some 6.4 billion dollars in revenue for the government, more than Tourism, in 2018. Havana retains at least 75% of what the destination countries pay in wages for the professionals' work, while touting the missions as actions of solidarity.

The massive export of Cuban doctors has been in the UN's crosshairs thanks to an extensive report by Cuban Prisoners Defenders and the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU).

The report, with references to an investigation carried out by DIARIO DE CUBA, accused Raúl Castro, Miguel Díaz-Canel and four other high-ranking officials of "slavery, persecution and other inhumane acts" to which "hundreds of thousands of professionals" are subjected.

According to Havana, more than 400,000 Cuban medical specialists had provided their services in 164 nations as of the end of 2019. There are currently some 37,000 health professionals in 67 countries, several of them with Covid-19 cases. The figure is much lower than in previous years, such as in 2015, when there were approximately 50,000 health professionals abroad.

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