Fighting for Sovereignty
Haitian Farmers Organize to Burn Monsanto Hybrid Seeds Global Food Security Act, S.384, to give Billions to Monsanto Cuban Medical Aid to Haiti

Fighting for Sovereignty

Haitian Farmers Organize to
Burn Monsanto Hybrid Seeds

“A new earthquake” is what peasant farmer leader Chavannes Jean-Baptiste of the Peasant Movement of Papay (MPP) called the news that Monsanto will be donating 60,000 seed sacks (475 tons) of hybrid corn seeds and vegetable seeds, some of them treated with highly toxic pesticides. The MPP has committed to burning Monsanto’s seeds, and has called for a march to protest the corporation’s presence in Haiti on June 4, for World Environment Day.

In an open letter sent May 14, Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, the Executive Director of MPP and the spokesperson for the National Peasant Movement of the Congress of Papay (MPNKP), called the entry of Monsanto seeds into Haiti “a very strong attack on small agriculture, on farmers, on biodiversity, on Creole seeds…, and on what is left our environment in Haiti.” Haitian social movements have been vocal in their opposition to agribusiness imports of seeds and food, which undermines local production with local seed stocks. They have expressed special concern about the import of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). [Monsanto’s hybrid seeds produce corn that cannot be used as seed-corn for producing a second crop. This forces farmers to buy new hybrid seeds every year, at prices dictated by Monsanto, while also overtime eliminating indigenous crops.]

For now, without a law regulating the use of GMOs in Haiti, the Ministry of Agriculture rejected Monsanto’s offer of Roundup Ready GMO seeds. [However, the hybrid seeds which will devastate indigenous agriculture, are being accepted.]

In addition, the hybrid corn seeds Monsanto has donated to Haiti are treated with the fungicide Maxim XO, and the calypso tomato seeds are treated with thiram. Thiram belongs to a highly toxic class of chemicals called ethylene bisdithiocarbamates (EBDCs). Results of tests of EBDCs on mice and rats caused concern to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which then ordered a special review. The EPA determined that EBDC-treated plants are so dangerous to agricultural workers that they must wear special protective clothing when handling them. Pesticides containing thiram must contain a special warning label, the EPA ruled. The EPA also barred marketing of the chemicals for many home garden products, because it assumes that most gardeners do not have adequately protective clothing. Monsanto’s passing mention of thiram to Ministry of Agriculture officials in an email contained no explanation of the dangers, nor any offer of special clothing or training for those who will be farming with the toxic seeds.

Haitian social movements’ concern is not just about the dangers of the chemicals and the possibility of future GMO imports. They claim that the future of Haiti depends on food sovereignty, with local production of food for Haitian consumption. Monsanto’s arrival in Haiti, they say, is a further threat to this. [It is no accident, they state, that the Monsanto representative in Haiti is Jean-Robert Estimé, who served as foreign minister under the Duvalier family's 29-year dictatorship.]

“Fighting hybrid and GMO seeds is critical to save our diversity and our agriculture,” Jean-Baptiste said in an interview in February. “We have the potential to make our lands produce enough to feed the whole population and even to export certain products. The policy we need for this to happen is food sovereignty, where the county has a right to define it own agricultural policies, to grow first for the family and then for local market, to grow healthy food in a way which respects the environment and Mother Earth.”

Vía Campesina, one of the largest confederations of farmers with member organizations in more than sixty countries, has called Monsanto one of the “principal enemies of peasant sustainable agriculture and food sovereignty for all peoples.” They say that as Monsanto and other multinationals control an ever larger share of land and agriculture, they force small farmers off of their land and eliminate farming jobs. The Vía Campesina coalition launched a global campaign against Monsanto last October 16, on International World Food Day, with protests, land occupations, and hunger strikes in more than twenty countries. They carried out a second global day of action against Monsanto on April 17 of this year, in honor of Earth Day.

Monsanto Responsible for Agent Orange, Driving Farmers Out

Monsanto’s history has long drawn ire from environmentalists, health advocates, and small farmers, going back to its production of Agent Orange during the Viet Nam War. Exposure to Agent Orange has caused cancer in an untold number of U.S. Veterans, and the Vietnamese government states that 400,000 Vietnamese people were killed or disabled by Agent Orange, and 500,000 children were born with birth defects as a result of their exposure.

Together with Syngenta, Dupont and Bayer, Monsanto controls more than half of the world’s seeds. The company holds almost 650 seed patents, most of them for cotton, corn and soy, and almost 30 percent of the share of all biotech research and development. Monsanto came to own such a vast supply by buying major seed companies to stifle competition, patenting genetic modifications to plant varieties, and suing small farmers. Monsanto is also one of the leading manufacturers of GMOs, [with research largely subsidized by the U.S. government.]

As of 2007, Monsanto had filed 112 lawsuits against U.S. farmers for alleged technology contract violations or GMO patents, involving 372 farmers and 49 small agricultural businesses in 27 different states. From these, Monsanto has won more than $21.5 million in judgments. The multinational appears to investigate 500 farmers a year, in estimates based on Monsanto’s own documents and media reports.

“Farmers have been sued after their field was contaminated by pollen or seed from someone else’s genetically engineered crop [or] when genetically engineered seed from a previous year’s crop has sprouted, or ‘volunteered,’ in fields planted with non-genetically engineered varieties the following year,” said Andrew Kimbrell and Joseph Mendelson of the Center for Food Safety.

In Colombia, Monsanto has received upwards of $25 million from the U.S. government for providing Roundup Ultra in the anti-drug fumigation efforts of Plan Colombia. Roundup Ultra is a highly concentrated version of Monsanto's glyphosate herbicide, with additional ingredients to increase its lethality. Colombian communities and human rights organizations report that the herbicide has destroyed food crops, water sources and protected areas, and has led to increased incidents of birth defects and cancers.

Non-governmental organizations in the U.S. are challenging Monsanto’s practices, too. The Organic Consumers Association has spearheaded the campaign “Millions Against Monsanto,” calling on the company to stop intimidating small family farmers, stop marketing untested and unlabeled genetically engineered foods to consumers, and stop using billions of dollars of U.S. taypayers' money to subsidize GMO crops.

The Center for Food Safety has led a four-year legal challenge to Monsanto that has just made it to the U.S. Supreme Court. After successful litigation against Monsanto and the U.S. Department of Agriculture for illegal promotion of Roundup Ready Alfalfa, the court heard the Center for Food Safety’s case on April 27. A decision on this first-ever Supreme Court case about GMOs is now pending.


Global Food Security Act, S.384, to give Billions to Monsanto

[SAN FRANCISCO and JOHANNESBURG] — Experts, scientists and advocates from around the world petitioned the U.S. Senate in April in a concerted attempt to strip what they term a “stealth corporate giveaway” embedded in a foreign aid bill which is expected to hit the Senate floor soon. The Global Food Security Act (S.384), sponsored by Senators Casey (D-PA) and Lugar (R-IN), is inteneded to reform aid programs to focus on longer-term agricultural development, and restructure aid agencies to better respond to crises. While lauding the bill’s intentions, the petitioners object to a clause earmarking one agricultural technology (genetically modified – GM crops) for potentially billions of dollars in federal funding. $7.7 billion in U.S. funds are associated with the bill and no other farming methods or technologies are mentioned.

Monsanto has lobbied more than any other interest in support of this bill. The company is one of two or three dominant corporations in the increasingly concentrated biotechnology industry likely to benefit from the new research funding stream as well as from future profits from their patented products (both seeds and pesticides).

Today, scientists, development experts spanning a dozen countries, and 100+ groups representing anti-hunger, family farm, farmworker, consumer and sustainable agriculture delivered a letter urging the Senate to reject the Global Food Security Act until the bill is made technology-neutral. Their specific concern: language in the bill that would amend the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 to read “Agricultural research carried out under this Act shall . . . include research on biotechnological advances appropriate to local ecological conditions, including gm technology.”

“The bill’s focus on genetically modified technology simply makes no sense,” stated Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, Senior Scientist at Pesticide Action Network. “Independent science tells us that genetically modified (GM) crops have neither increased yield nor reduced hunger in the world.”

“Here in Africa, pressure to import GM crops is wreaking havoc on our local economies,” explained Mariam Mayet of the African Center for Biosafety. “In South Africa, we are now dumping GM corn into other countries, disrupting local markets and undermining the livelihoods of family farmers there. As a result, Zimbabwe has imposed a ban on GM corn imports, and Kenya — which has a bumper crop of GM-free corn and doesn’t need any imports — is now grappling with a massive, illegal and unwanted shipment of 280,000 metric tons of GM corn from South Africa. A handful of powerful agribusinesses’ obsession with GM is pitting African countries against each other, with Monsanto and international grain traders reaping the benefits and ordinary farmers losing out. The last thing we need from the U.S. is a bill legislating yet more money for GM crops.”

“At the end of the day, the GM mandate has more to do with breaking open markets for American biotech corporations than fighting hunger,” explained Annie Shattuck of the Institute for Food and Development Policy. “To get at the root of the global hunger crisis, we need to tackle poverty, something no technological silver bullet can ever do.”

Ben Burkett, National Family Farm Coalition president and Mississippi family farmer, added, “Corporate control over inputs and the free trade agenda have destroyed the livelihoods of so many farmers at home and abroad. That’s why farmers worldwide are calling for food sovereignty — the right to choose fair and sustainable farming practices that protect our local food and livelihood security. This is what works best for our farms and communities.”

The letter delivered to senators calls for agricultural research funding to be focused on addressing local challenges faced by small-scale farmers, instead of mandating a specific and narrow technological fix—particularly one with little prospect of success and increasingly rejected by countries around the world.

The bill was passed through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on March 31, 2009 and the Senate is expected to vote on it soon.

April 13 Letter to Senators

Below we reprint the Letter to Senators from 140 organizations in the U.S. and worldwide active on environmental, health global justice, protecting family farms, independent scientists and development experts delivered April 13, 2010.

Dear Senator:

The Global Food Security Act (S. 384), co-sponsored by Senators Robert Casey (D-PA) and Richard Lugar (R-IN), is intended to reform aid programs to focus on longer-term agricultural development, and restructure aid agencies to better respond to crises. With more people than ever before going hungry each day, this focus is commendable. The bill however inappropriately mandates one agricultural technology (genetically modified crops) for federal funding under the Foreign Assistance Act. This mandate is inappropriate and undermines the good intentions behind the broader focus on hunger. We are writing today to ask that you oppose the Global Food Security Act until the bill is made technology-neutral.

We are specifically concerned with section 202 of the Global Food Security Act on Agricultural Research. That language would amend the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 to read “Agricultural research carried out under this Act shall ….. . . . include research on biotechnological advances appropriate to local ecological conditions, including gm technology.” Proposed changes to this language, which may insert “…including but not limited to gm technology” would not materially change the language or the meaning of the bill that passed out of committee.

The current language mandates one highly controversial type of technology (transgenics), dominated by two or three companies (most notably Monsanto), to get both taxpayer cash and, by virtue of its raised profile, favored treatment under a bill ostensibly designed to help the poor and hungry. As one might expect, Monsanto (the world’s largest purveyor of GM seeds) has done more lobbying on the Casey- Lugar Act than any other interest. The company spent over $8.6 million directly lobbying Congress last year alone.

The trouble with a mandate for GM crops is simple: it will not solve world hunger. USAID has spent millions of dollars on developing genetically modified crops over the past two decades, with not one success story to show for all the taxpayer dollars spent.

The current controversy in India over Bt brinjal (eggplant) is a good example. Bt brinjal was developed in part with funding from USAID. After ten years in development, the product caused such an outcry from citizens, scientists and state government ministers upon its commercialization that the Indian national government put an indefinite moratorium on the crop. Other GM projects have failed to help farmers on the ground, but have succeeded in creating opportunity for the U.S. biotech industry. A partnership between USAID and Monsanto to develop a virus-resistant sweet potato in Kenya, for example, failed to deliver a useful product for farmers. After fourteen years and $6 million, local varieties vastly outperformed their genetically modified cousins in field trials. The project did, however, help establish a regulatory environment favorable to other commercial biotech applications.

If Congress singles out one technology and attaches it to a pool of foreign aid money, the pressure on developing countries to ignore local priorities and other scientifically valid options—and to open their markets to that one technology—will be substantial. Exerting such intense pressure on developing countries undermines the spirit of respect with which the US wishes to engage the rest of the world.

An alternative approach to global food security exists. In 2008, the World Bank and four UN agencies completed a four-year study conducted by more than 400 scientists and development experts from over 80 countries. Endorsed by 58 governments, the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) concluded that expensive, short-term technical fixes — including GM crops — are unlikely to adequately address the complex challenges that farmers face. Instead, the IAASTD highlighted the need to tackle the underlying causes of poverty. IAASTD priorities for future agricultural research include supporting biodiverse, ecological farming practices; increasing investments in agroecological science; and fostering collaboration between farmers and interdisciplinary teams of scientists to achieve locally, culturally and ecologically appropriate solutions.

By focusing on long term agricultural development, the Casey-Lugar Act takes one step toward addressing some of the more complex issues raised in the IAASTD. But mandating a specific and narrow technological fix — particularly one with little prospect of success and increasingly rejected by countries around the world — will undermine the more worthy efforts in this legislation.

As scientists and anti-hunger, religious, family farming, sustainable agriculture, environmental and consumer groups, we believe farmers and communities working with scientists — not Congress — should identify what technologies are most appropriate locally and what research is needed to meet socially and environmentally sustainable development goals. We ask that the mandate for GM crop research be stricken, eliminating Section 202 of the Global Food Security Act. This will keep agricultural research funding under the Foreign Assistance Act appropriately focused on the priorities and local conditions of small-scale farmers.

Please oppose S. 384 until the bill is made technology-neutral.

Please direct return correspondence to: Dr. Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, Senior Scientist, Pesticide Action Network, (415) 981-6205 ext 325 and Annie Shattuck, Policy Analyst, Institute for Food and Development Policy,, (510) 654-4400 ext. 223. We will forward your response to the groups and individuals signing this letter.


Reject Militarization
Pentagon Using Haiti to
Test Social Networking Weapon

The Pentagon is using relief efforts in Haiti to test its social-networking weapon, known as Transnational Information Sharing Cooperation (TISC). TISC is used to have all the various forces participating in military and relief activities in Haiti register with the military and send all communications through the military network. The weapon was designed in part for military intervention in disasters and initially was to be tested in a simulated hurricane in the Dominican Republic and Haiti just one day before the January hurricane occurred. Instead, the hurricane that struck Haiti and current reconstruction is being used as the first “battlefield test.” The military’s U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) was put in charge of the U.S. occupation of Haiti and ordered the use of TISC.

According to the Pentagon, its Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) acts to ensure the military always has active communication and the ability to collaborate and share information, across borders and organizations. It is a “Combat Support Agency.” It developed first its All Partners Access Network (APAN) used in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere, and then TISC, its newer version.

Haiti is being used to test TISC and particularly military efforts to bring Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and other civilian forces as well as non-military government forces under military command. It also enforces the concept that the U.S. military is a necessary and essential part of emergency “relief.” As the military puts it, the role of APAN and TISC is to “achieve interoperability with warfighters, coalition partners and NGOs,” (Defense Daily, December 19, 2008). Speaking specifically about Haiti, “DISA is leveraging a new technology in Haiti that is already linking NGOs, other nations and U.S. forces together to track, coordinate and better organize relief efforts.” The Pentagon hopes TISC will become the “disaster-communication” means of the future.

The TISC platform has now become a main means of communication among those involved in the various relief efforts in Haiti, with the Pentagon serving as the hub. There are more than 1700 different users in Haiti, most of them relief organizations.

The TISC is seen and promoted as an essential component of emergency relief. It is in fact primarily a means to militarize under U.S. command such relief efforts. The U.S. military utilizes and commands the information – communications system used by participating aid agencies, who have to register and be approved by the military. DISA also “provides bandwidth to aid organizations involved in Haiti relief efforts.” The Navy gets ultra-high frequency bandwidths for its sole use, while other agencies get lower frequencies, or can be blocked entirely.

Initially, as part of its aggression worldwide, the military was using APAN to communicate across borders, particularly in countries without sophisticated communication technology. The APAN system was built to work over the Internet and particularly to facilitate the sharing of classified files, such as those for U.S. black ops and secret prisons.

The TISC system is designed to be as easy to use as a site like Facebook. It serves to register and coordinate information and action among people, no matter where they are, using file-sharing applications, wikis, blogs, and calendaring tools, among other things.

According to the Pentagon, “DISA, a Combat Support Agency, engineers and provides command and control capabilities and enterprise infrastructure to continuously operate and assure a global net-centric enterprise in direct support to joint warfighters, National level leaders, and other mission and coalition partners across the full spectrum of operations. As the Department of Defense’s satellite communications leader, DISA is using the Defense Satellite Communications System to provide frequency and bandwidth support to all organizations in the Haitian relief effort. This includes Super High Frequency missions that are providing bandwidth for US Navy ships and one Marine Expeditionary Unit that provide medical help, security, and helicopters among other support. This also includes all satellite communications for the U.S. Air Force handling round-the-clock air traffic control and airfreight operations at the extremely busy Port-au-Prince Airport. DISA is also providing military Ultra High Frequency channels and contracting for additional commercial SATCOM missions that greatly increase this capability for relief efforts (DISA Press Release, January 2010, undated).One of the World's Best Kept Secrets


World's Best Kept Secret

Cuban Medical Aid to Haiti

Cuban field hospital in Jacmel, Haiti, January 2010. Left: Cubans set up the field hospital.
Right: Cuban doctors administer a tetanus vaccine. (Granma)

Media coverage of Cuban medical cooperation following the disastrous recent earthquake in Haiti was sparse indeed. International news reports usually described the Dominican Republic as being the first to provide assistance, while Fox News sang the praises of U.S. relief efforts in a report entitled "U.S. Spearheads Global Response to Haiti Earthquake" — a common theme of its extensive coverage. CNN also broadcast hundreds of reports, and in fact one focused on a Cuban doctor wearing a T-shirt with a large image of Che Guevara — and yet described him as a "Spanish doctor."

In general, international news reports ignored Cuba's efforts. By March 24, CNN for example, had 601 reports on their news website regarding the earthquake in Haiti — of which only 18 (briefly) referenced Cuban assistance. Similarly, between them the New York Times and the Washington Post had 750 posts regarding the earthquake and relief efforts, though not a single one discusses in any detail any Cuban support. In reality, however, Cuba's medical role had been extremely important — and had been present since 1998.

Cuba and Haiti Pre-Earthquake

In 1998, Haiti was struck by Hurricane Georges. The hurricane caused 230 deaths, destroyed 80 percent of the crops, and left 167,000 people homeless. [1] Despite the fact that Cuba and Haiti had not had diplomatic relations in over 36 years, Cuba immediately offered a multifaceted agreement to assist them, of which the most important was medical cooperation.

Cuba adopted a two-pronged public health approach to help Haiti. First, it agreed to maintain hundreds of doctors in the country for as long as necessary, working wherever they were posted by the Haitian government. This was particularly significant as Haiti's health care system was easily the worst in the Americas, with life expectancy of only 54 years in 1990 and one out of every 5 adult deaths due to AIDS, while 12.1 percent of children died from preventable intestinal infectious diseases. [2]

In addition Cuba agreed to train Haitian doctors in Cuba, providing that they would later return and take the places of the Cuban doctors (a process of "brain gain" rather than "brain drain"). Significantly, the students were selected from non-traditional backgrounds, and were mainly poor. It was thought that, because of their socio-economic background, they fully understood their country's need for medical personnel, and would return to work where they were needed. The first cohort of students began studying in May, 1999 at the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM).

By 2007, significant change had already been achieved throughout the country. It is worth noting that Cuban medical personnel were estimated to be caring for 75 percent of the population. [3] Studies by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) indicated clear improvements in the health profile since this extensive Cuban medical cooperation began.

Cuban medical personnel had clearly made a major difference to the national health profile since 1998, largely because of their proactive role in preventive medicine — as can be seen below.

Selected Statistics on Cuban Medical Cooperation, Dec. 1998-May 2007 [5]

Visits to the doctor:  10,682,124

Doctor visits to patients:  4,150,631

Attended births:  86,633

Major and minor surgeries:  160,283

Vaccinations:  899,829

Lives saved (emergency):  210,852

By 2010, at no cost to medical students, Cuba had trained some 550 Haitian doctors, and is at present training a further 567. Moreover, since 1998 some 6,094 Cuban medical personnel have worked in Haiti. They had given over 14.6 million consultations, carried out 207,000 surgical operations, including 45,000 vision restoration operations through their Operation Miracle program, attended 103,000 births, and taught literacy to 165,000. In fact at the time of the earthquake there were 344 Cuban medical personnel there. All of this medical cooperation, it must be remembered, was provided over an 11-year period before the earthquake of January 12, 2010. [6]

Cuba and Haiti Post-Earthquake

The earthquake killed at least 220,000, injured 300,000 and left 1.5 million homeless.[7] Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive described it as "the worst catastrophe that has occurred in Haiti in two centuries." [8]

International aid began flooding in. It is important to note the type of medical aid provided by some major international players. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), for example, an organization known for its international medical assistance, flew in some 348 international staff, in addition to the 3,060 national staff it already employed. By March 12 they had treated some 54,000 patients, and completed 3,700 surgical operations. [9]

The United States government, which received extensive positive media attention, sent the USNS "Comfort," a 1,000-bed hospital ship with a 550-person medical staff and stayed for 7 weeks, in which time they treated 871 patients, performing 843 surgical operations. [10] Both the Canadian and US contributions were important — while they were there.

Canada's contribution included the deployment of 2,046 Canadian Forces personnel, including 200 DART personnel. The DART (Disaster Assistance Response Team) received the most media attention, as it conducted 21,000 consultations — though it should be noted they do not treat any serious trauma patients or provide surgical care. Indeed, among the DART personnel, only 45 are medical staff, with others being involved in water purification, security, and reconstruction. In total, the Canadians stayed for only 7 weeks. [11]

Lost in the media shuffle was the fact that, for the first 72 hours following the earthquake, Cuban doctors were in fact the main medical support for the country. Within the first 24 hours, they had completed 1,000 emergency surgeries, turned their living quarters into clinics, and were running the only medical centers in the country, including 5 comprehensive diagnostic centers (small hospitals), which they had previously built. In addition another 5 in various stages of construction were also used, and they turned their ophthalmology center into a field hospital — which treated 605 patients within the first 12 hours following the earthquake. [12]

Cuba soon became responsible for some 1,500 medical personnel in Haiti. Of those, some 344 doctors were already working in Haiti, while over 350 members of the "Henry Reeve" Emergency Response Medical Brigade were sent by Cuba following the earthquake. In addition, 546 graduates of ELAM from a variety of countries, and 184 5th and 6th year Haitian ELAM students joined, as did a number of Venezuelan medical personnel. In the final analysis, they were working throughout Haiti in 20 rehabilitation centers and 20 hospitals, running 15 operating theatres, and had vaccinated 400,000. With reason Fidel Castro stated, "we send doctors, not soldiers." [13]

A glance at the medical role of the various key players is instructive.

Comparative Medical Contributions in Haiti by March 23 [14]

These comparative data, compiled from several sources, are particularly telling as they indicate the significant (and widely ignored) medical contribution of the Cubans. In fact, they have treated 4.2 times the number of patients compared with MSF (which has over twice as many workers, as well as significantly more financial resources), and 10.8 times more than the Canadian DART team. (As noted, Canadian and U.S. medical personnel had left by March 9). Also notable is the fact that the Cuban medical contingent was roughly three times the size of the American staff, although they treated 260.7 times more patients than U.S. medical personnel. Clearly, there have been significant differences in the nature of medical assistance provided.

It is also important to note that approximately one-half of the Cuban medical staff was working outside the capital, Port-au-Prince, where there was significant damage as well. Many medical missions could not get there, however, due to transportation issues. Significantly, the Cuban medical brigade also worked to minimize epidemics by making up 30 teams to educate communities on how to properly dispose of waste, as well as how to minimize public health risks. Noted Cuban artist Kcho also headed a cultural brigade made up of clowns, magicians and dancers, supported by psychologists and psychiatrists, to deal with the trauma experienced by Haitian children.

Perhaps most impressively, following the growing concern for the health of the country, due to a poor and now largely destroyed health care system Cuba, working with ALBA (the Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América) countries, presented to the WHO an integral program to reconstruct the health care system of Haiti. Essentially, they are offering to rebuild the entire health care system. It will be supported by ALBA and Brazil, and run by Cubans and Cuban-trained medical staff. This is to include hospitals, polyclinics, and medical schools. In addition, the Cuban government has offered to increase the number of Haitian students attending medical school in Cuba. This offer of medical cooperation represents an enormous degree of support for Haiti.[15] Sadly, this generous offer has not been reported by international media.

While North American media might have ignored Cuba's role, Haiti has not. A pointed remark was made by Haitian President Mr. René Préval, who noted, "you did not wait for an earthquake to help us."[16] Similarly, Haiti's Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive has also repeatedly noted that the first three countries to help were Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela.

Sadly (but not surprisingly), while Cuba's efforts to assist Haiti have increased, international efforts have continued to dwindle. The head of the Cuban medical mission, Dr. Carlos Alberto García, summed up well the situation just two weeks after the tragedy: "many foreign delegations have already begun to leave, and the aid which is arriving now is not the same it used to be. Sadly, as always happens, soon another tragedy will appear in another country, and the people of Haiti will be forgotten, left to their own fate." Significantly, he added "However we will still be here long after they have all gone." [17] This in fact has been the case. Canadian forces, for example, returned home and the USNS Comfort sailed several weeks ago. By contrast, Cuban President Raúl Castro noted: "we have accompanied the Haitian people, and we will continue with them whatever time is needed, no matter how many years, with our very modest support." [18]

A representative of the World Council of Churches to the United Nations made the telling comment that "humanitarian aid could not be human if it was only publicized for 15 days." [19] Today Cuba, with the support of ALBA and Brazil, is working not to build a field hospital, but rather a health care system. And, while international efforts have been largely abandoned, the Cuban staff and Cuban-trained medical staff will remain, as they have done for the past 11 years, for as long as necessary. This is a story that international media have chosen not to tell -- now that the television cameras have gone. Yet it is an extraordinary story of true humanitarianism, and of great success in saving lives since 1998. Moreover, in light of Cuba's success in providing public health care (at no cost to the patients) to millions of Haitians, this approach to preventive, culturally sensitive, low cost and effective medicine needs to be told. That significant contribution to this impoverished nation, and Cuba's ongoing commitment to its people, clearly deserve to be recognized. Until then it will sadly remain as one of the world's best-kept secrets.


1. "Audit of USAID/HAITI Hurricane Georges Recovery Programme." USAID. 15 May, 2001. Retrieved 10 March, 2010 from

2. See entry for "Haiti" on the Pan American Health Organization website, found at Accessed February 2, 2010.

3. William Steif, "Cuban Doctors Aid Strife-Torn Haiti." The State. April 26, 2004, and found at Accessed June 21, 2007.

4. See entry for "Haiti" on the Pan American Health Organization website, found at Accessed February 2, 2010.

5. Anna Kovac, "Cuba Trains Hundred of Haitian Doctors to Make a Difference," August 6, 2007. Located on the MEDICC website at Accessed February 2, 2010.

6. Ibid., "Haitian Medical Students in Cuba." Medical Education Cooperation With Cuba. 12 January, 2010. Retrieved 12 January, 2010 from , "La colabaración cubana permanecerá en Haití los años que sean necesarios", Cubadebate. 24 February, 2010. Retrieved 9 March, 2010 from , "Fact Sheet: Cuban Medical Cooperation With Haiti." Medicc Review. 15 January, 2009. Retrieved 2 February, 2010 from

7. "Haiti Earthquake: Special Coverage." CNN. 20 March, 2010. Retrieved 22 March, 2010 from

8. Tyler Maltbie, "Haiti Earthquake: The Nations That Are Stepping Up To Help", The Christian Science Monitor, Posted January 14, 2010 on Accessed January 28, 2010.

9. "Two Months After the Quake, New Services and New Concerns." MSF. 12 March, 2010. Retrieved 17 March, 2010 from

10. "USNS Comfort Completes Haiti Mission, March 9, 2010?. American Forces Press Service. 9 March, 2010. Retrieved 11 March, 2010 from ti-mission

11. "Canada's Response to the Earthquake in Haiti: Progress to Date." Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada. March 17, 2010. Retrieved 17 March, 2010 from aiti_effort

12. John Burnett, "Cuban Doctors Unsung Heroes of Haitian Earthquake", National Public Radio report, January 24, 2010, and found at Accessed 28 January, 2010.

13. José Steinsleger. "Haiti, Cuba y la ley primera," La Jornada, February 3, 2010., Data in this section came from the address given by Ambassador Rodolfo Reyes Rodríguez on January, 27, 2010 in Geneva at the 13th Special Session of the U.N. Human Rights Council on Haiti. It can be accessed at "Cuba en Ginebra: ‘Ante tan difícil situación humanitaria en Haití no puede haber titubeos ni indiferencia," on the Cubbadebate website:

14. Connor Gorry. "Two of the 170,000 + Cases." Medicc Review. March 8, 2010. Retrieved 10 March, 2010 from

"Cooperación con Haití debe ser a largo plazo." Juventud Rebelde. 23 March, 2010. Retrieved March 23, 2010 from debe-ser-a-largo-plazo

"Haiti: Two Months After The Quake, New Services and New Concerns." MSF. 12 March, 2010. Retrieved 17 March, 2010 from

"Haiti-USNS Comfort Medical And Surgical Support." U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 11 March, 2010. Retrieved 11 March, 2010 from

Brett Popplewell. "This Haitian Town Is Singing Canada's Praise." The Star. 26 January, 2010. Retrieved 17 March from

"USNS Comfort Leaves Haiti." 13 News. 11 March, 2010. Retrieved 11 March, 2010 from

15. In a March 27, 2010 meeting in Port-au-Prince between President Préval and the Cuban and Brazilian ministers of health (José Ramón Balaguer and José Gomes), details were provided about what Balaguer termed "a plot of solidarity to assist the Haitian people." Gomes added "We have just signed an agreement-Cuba, Brazil and Haiti-according to which all three countries make a commitment to unite our forces in order to reconstruct the health system in Haiti. An extraordinary amount of work is currently being carried out in terms of meeting the most basic and most pressing needs, but now it is necessary to think about the future [...] Haiti needs a permanent, quality healthcare system, supported by well-trained professionals [...] We will provide this, together with Cuba-a country with an extremely long internationalist experience, a great degree of technical ability, great determination, and an enormous amount of heart. Brazil and Cuba, two nations that are so close, so similar, now face a new challenge: together we will unite our efforts to rebuild Haiti, and rebuild the public health system of this country." See "Cuba y Brasil suman esfuerzos con Haití," Juventud Rebelde, March 28, 2010 (Translation to English provided by authors).

16. "Presidente Preval agradece a Fidel y Raúl Castro ayuda solidaria a Haití." 8 February, 2010. Retrieved 9 February, 2010 from

17. María Laura Carpineta, "Habla el jefe de los 344 médicos cubanos instalados en Haití desde hace doce años." Página 12 [Argentina]. February 4, 2010, found at CUBA-L@LISTA.UNM.EDU19

18. Ibid.

19. "Press Conference on Haiti Humanitarian Aid," held at the United Nations on March 23, 2004 and found at htto:// Accessed November 21, 2008.

Emily J. Kirk will be an M.A. student in Latin American Studies at Cambridge University in September. John Kirk is a professor of Latin American Studies at Dalhousie University, Canada. Both are working on a project on Cuban medical internationalism sponsored by Canada's Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). This commentary was first published by Cuba-L Analysis.



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