Monday, August 11, 2008

What I saw from a hospital bed in Bolivia

Cuban doctors and nurses are legendary for the solidarity they exercise in many countries, giving free healthcare to people who otherwise would suffer needlessly or die.

Soon after I arrived in La Paz, Bolivia, last week, I unexpectedly ended up as a patient of those famous Cuban doctors and nurses. It was an unforgettable experience and one that I will always appreciate.

I arrived on July 27 for an important international conference called 'Intellectuals and Artists in Defense of Peace and Sovereignty for Bolivia.' It was held to show support for the government of Evo Morales as the recall referendum of Aug. 10 was nearing. At the end of a two-day conference, our conference issued an important Peace Declaration for Bolivia, which also protested U.S. interference in the internal affairs of the country.

La Paz is about 12,000 feet high, an altitude that initially proved too much for me. The morning after our arrival I became seriously ill.

Our wonderful hosts from the Bolivian Vice-Ministry of Culture took me right away to a Cuban-run clinic across town, where I spent 24 hours. The doctor, Roberto Colombie and the nurse, Lizette, who attended to me were kind and solicitous. They immediately gave me intravenous feeding, anti-nausea medicine and pills for high blood pressure—a consequence of the altitude.

In my short stay there, I saw my fellow patients. They were mostly Indigenous and people who otherwise would never have had access to care. I shared a room with a 17-year-old boy from Cochabamba, who had broken his elbow in three places. He had been in the hospital almost a week and was being readied for surgery. His father, Josefino, stayed by his bedside the whole time, to feed him and help dress him. They could not afford medical care so the boy had suffered several days before he was flown to Cochabamba, thanks to the Cubans.

The Bolivian people, 65 percent Indigenous, have long suffered from the imperialist sacking of their country's natural resources, which has left little to nothing for the poorest of the population. With the presidency of Evo Morales and the masses in motion, there is hope for the first time. Bolivia's huge natural gas reserves have been nationalized, and many social and economic projects are underway.

As soon as Morales took office in January 2006, Cuba, Bolivia and Venezuela joined in cooperative agreements. Cuba began to send medical workers and resources, teachers and literacy workers. In the short time since 2006, the Cuban doctors have—as of May 2008—carried out 13 million medical consultations in Bolivia, and saved the lives of 12,967 Bolivians.

The United States government—with its menacing Fourth Fleet—is working overtime to try to destroy the Bolivian process now underway, as well as to reverse the growing alliance of Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Ecuador.

For the sake of the millions who stand to benefit from this progressive alliance—such as the Indigenous teenager with whom I shared a hospital room—our solidarity with the people of Latin America is more important than ever.