Operation Miracle a big success
As the clock struck 12:00, scores of anxious relatives peered at the skies above the E.T Joshua Airport last Wednesday in great anticipation of the arrival of the Aereo Caribbean flight out of Cuba carrying 22 Vincentian patients.
As the aircraft burst through the clouds, there were several rounds of applause and shouts of ‘ahs’ from many on the airport’s balcony.##M;[more]##
To some of the relatives standing there the intensity of the wait must have been unbearable. They were eager to know how their loved ones had fared in Cuba where they had gone to access eye-care, free of cost.
On Thursday July 21, 46 Vincentians, along with a few of their relatives as escorts, boarded a Cuban aircraft destined for the Caribbean’s largest island.
This was the pioneer group of Vincentians set to benefit from what the local government had dubbed the ‘Vision Now’ programme. They were the first from the CARICOM area to benefit from the programme, which had already restored sight to 30,000 Venezuelan working class persons dubbed Operacion Milagro (Operation Miracle).
The name itself had come spontaneously from one grateful beneficiary in Venezuela who, after surgery and seeing his offspring for the first time after a life of blindness, declared the process “un milagro!”
This initiative was born out of discussions between Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves and Cuba’s President Fidel Castro Ruz, during which the offer was made by the Cuban leader to extend the programme to the rest of the region providing eye care for patients who suffered from serious visual difficulties. They would all be given eye care, including surgery of varying types, with airfare and accommodation included free of cost, courtesy the Government of Cuba.
The Vincentian patients, now in varying stages of post surgery recovery, and some still wearing their ocular patches over their eyes emerged from the arrival’s lounge at the E.T. Joshua Airport where a ceremony had been arranged.
“Cuba ah the best. I can see now; I can see and write clearly now. Thank God for Castro,” Violet Prince of Rose Hall, told the nation via a live radio broadcast when she was given the opportunity to speak.
“God knows the language of my tears,” she sighed while adding, “we meet it good!”.
Prince had had cataract surgery carried out on her eyes and testified that she was now seeing “better than before”.
Another of the new arrivals, Chief Prison Officer Brenton Charles, said his trip to Cuba was “an eye opener” which removed a growth from his left eye and cleared up a lot of misconceptions that he had heard over the years about the Cuban reality. Charles noted he was “seeing clearly now” but was advised to wear an ocular patch which he removed yesterday.
In his brief address he and expressed thanks to the Government of Cuba for its hospitality.
“You can’t find words to emphasize our stay in Cuba. I implore all Vincentians to take advantage of the programme,” said Charles.
Several of the patients spoke of their first class treatment at the Hotel Acuario, located in Havana’s world famous Hemingway Marina, named after the American author of “The Old Man and the Sea”.
On Monday 25, Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves sent a letter to Dr. Fidel Castro, President of Cuba, noting the outstanding work the Cuban team that was sent to St. Vincent and the Grenadines has done in screening patients.
“We thank them most sincerely,” Dr. Gonsalves wrote.
He added that Dr. Juane Maria Laria, Dr. Castro’s personal emissary, was magnificent in laying the groundwork in St. Vincent and the Grenadines for the programme, prior to the arrival of the ophthalmologists Drs. Maritza Miquele and Illeana Agramonte.
Cuban’s Foreign Ministry official Florentino Batista arrived with the specialists Sunday, July 17, 2005 and in only three days, from Monday July 18 to Wednesday July 20, had screened 366 persons, including the Prime Minister, and assessed that 77 were qualified for treatment in Cuba.
Dr. Gonsalves said the ‘Vision Now’ team would be going to every community on mainland St. Vincent and on the islands of the Grenadines. Additionally, he noted that the 30,000 students in primary and secondary schools and at the Integrated Community College would also be screened and assessed.
Moreover, the Prime Minister said, he was particularly pleased that Dr. Fidel Castro has decided to extend the programme to other countries in the Eastern Caribbean.
On Saturday night seventy-five patients landed in Cuba from Grenada with thirty- two from Dominica. Another one hundred had been expected from Belize.
This Wednesday the second batch from St. Vincent and the Grenadines, 45 along with a nurse, left here following a very emotional ceremony addressed by several persons. These included Dexter Rose, who had travelled to Cuba as liason officer for the pioneering group, Dr. Douglas Slater, Minister of Health and the Environment and Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves who several times during the emotional ceremony was moved to tears.
In an exclusive interview with SEARCHLIGHT as he watched the patients leave the E.T Joshua Airport last week Thursday, Prime Minister Gonsalves said he was feeling very happy about the programme.
“I feel emotionally charged,” said Dr. Gonsalves as he described the programme as a splendid act of international solidarity and regional friendship.
Responding to his political critics Dr. Gonsalves said: “If the Government gets, and I believe it would get the appreciation of the people and its support for this measure, all I’ll say is that good policies bring good public support.”
The Prime Minister emphasized that the programme was not staged to benefit Ralph Gonsalves but instead the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
“Thank God, thank God!”
Elton Anderson, St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ representative at the Commonwealth Games in 1958, expressed this view as he commented on his opportunity to access free eye-care in Cuba. Anderson, affected by cataracts said he feels happy that he was about to have his problem rectified.
At the same time the words connote the jubilant feelings shared across a wide cross section of St.Vincent and the Grenadines at the moment.
Another patient, Jane Slater said she felt comfortable taking the trip.
“My two eyes are dark. The doctor said that they have cataract. I am trying this programme to see what it is,” said the Clare Valley resident.
This first batch of patients hailed mainly from the rural communities of Rose Hall, Troumaca, Coulls Hill, Clare Valley and Chauncey, which were the first where the diagnostic tests where carried out
Since then more than 1000 Vincentians have been seen by the specialists working often as late as up to 8 p.m.