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Nobel nomination well deserved

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This week we take a brief respite from the COVID pandemic and its ramifications for our society and engage in the matters relating to the award of honours to persons who have made significant contributions to human progress.

I can begin by stating how happy and proud I am that our government has become one of several entities to have nominated the Cuban medical outfit, the Henry Reeves Brigade, for consideration in the award of the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize. This award is one of five awarded annually after being established in the will of a famous Swedish industrialist and inventor, Alfred Nobel. It is part of a package including prizes for Chemistry, Physics, Physiology or Medicine and Literature.

Originally, it was awarded to persons who have done outstanding work to promote peace and fraternity between nations but recent awards seem to have been based on a more liberal interpretation. Last year for instance, the award went to the World Food Programme of the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations and this year another UN agency, the World Health Organisation, currently spearheading the global fight against the COVID pandemic, is one of the nominees.

Interestingly, another nomination is based on that same anti-pandemic campaign. This time it is the Henry Reeves Medical Brigade of Cuba, an outfit of over 7000 doctors, nurses and other medical personnel who have been selflessly volunteering to undertake often dangerous health assignments in more than 20 countries. They have travelled over the globe specializing in disaster situations and serious epidemics such as ebola and now COVID.

The people of the Caribbean are aware of and have benefitted from the intervention of these Cuban specialists and this is reflected in the fact that the Brigade has received more than one nomination from the Caribbean. Prominent among these is a nomination from the government of St Vincent and the Grenadines, in recognition of the invaluable contribution of these selfless medical practitioners.

Whether it is Haiti, Suriname, St Lucia, Jamaica, Barbados or our own SVG, the people of the Caribbean have been touched by the intervention of the members of this Brigade, sometimes in less than welcoming circumstances and in the face of hostility by the US government which has gone so far as to accuse the Brigade of engaging in human trafficking. It is to the credit of our government, acting on behalf of a grateful people, that the Nobel nomination has been put forward.

In the more than four decades since independence, few countries have made a more significant contribution to our social development, particularly in the crucial fields of health and education. In fact even before independence when we had no diplomatic relations with Cuba, that did not deter the Cuban government from offering assistance in our hours of need. Following the violent eruption of the Soufriere volcano in 1979, Cuba dispatched a ship with relief supplies to help our stricken people.

Unfortunately the government of the day flatly refused Cuba’s offer of medical personnel and supplies, claiming that they were “not needed”. This was at a time when SVG had a doctor to patient ratio of 1 to 5000, quite unlike today. It took agitation by the progressive forces and public pressure before a Cuban ship bringing milk and other relief supplies was finally allowed to enter and discharge the relief supplies almost two months after the eruption.

That was then, but nearly 40 years later we again displayed ingratitude towards the Cuban workers helping us to get an international airport and a boost to our tourism and economy. You remember the shameful campaign about “Kentucky fried chicken for Cuban workers”! Even today after all Cuba has done, and continues to do for us, in spite of its limitations, there are those among us who still display ingratitude and bad faith towards this country which has helped us so much.
The nomination of the Henry Reeves Brigade is by itself justifiable in view of the Brigade’s record including in fighting COVID. It will not be long before we will be able to avail ourselves of Cuban vaccines to assist in the fight to prevent COVID from decimating our population.

But in addition to that, it also serves as a recognition of our appreciation of those who not only help us, but make a global contribution to the health and welfare of tens of millions of people the world over. When ebola was ravaging Africa not many medical personnel, whether from Africa itself or the Caribbean would have been willing to put their lives on the line and go to those stricken remote villages to help the afflicted and save lives.

The mission continues today in combating COVID, and on a continuous basis in fighting disease and hunger worldwide. The Henry Reeves Brigade deserves such recognition and we should all be proud to be associated with the Nobel nomination. It contrasts with those of the disgraced Donald Trump and his son-in-law put forward by shameless sycophants.