This is the time to end once and for all the U.S. unilateral blockade against Cuba

Activists Take End-the-Blockade Message to Washington, DC: Show Solidarity with Cuba

Photo: Bill Hackwell

Last week’s highly successful third annual Days of Action Against the Blockade in Washington, D.C., has helped “raise new awareness about the damaging impact the failed 56-year U.S. blockade of Cuba has had on the health not only of Cubans but also of Americans,” says Alicia Jrapko, the U.S. coordinator of the International Committee for Peace, Justice and Dignity, which organized the events.

It wasn’t easy. Although the U.S. government did ultimately grant visas so Cuban guests could travel to Washington to participate (the U.S. government has often previously denied such visas, or granted them after events), Hurricane Irma then played havoc with their travel schedules. Organizers were forced to scramble, rearranging flights and accommodation several times before the delegation finally landed in Washington – via Los Angeles – in time to take part in the jam-packed week of activities.

The goal of this year’s Days of Action was to make the U.S. people more aware of the real impact the blockade has had on the health of vulnerable groups in both countries. Cubans, for example, can’t get critically important medicines and medical technology because U.S. companies, including foreign-based subsidiaries, aren’t allowed to sell to Cuba.

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Days of Action Continues with Two Packed-houses

The third annual Days of Action Against the Blockade continued in Washington Friday with two packed-house events that focused on the lessons Americans can learn from the way medicine is taught in Cuba’s globally renowned Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM).

Five recent U.S. ELAM graduates — Dr. Lucia Agudelo, Dr. Abraham Vela, Dr. Gregory Wilkinson, Dr. Mercedes Charles and Dr. David Lavender — spoke to students at the Georgetown University School of Medicine about how the humanistic way they’d been taught in Cuba changed their approach to medicine, and their lives.

Fidel Castro created the school in 1999 after a series of hurricanes had devastated Central America. Its goal was to provide free medical education for students from under-served communities around the world whose only moral commitment was to return to their home countries after graduation and serve their own under-served communities. So far, the school has graduated 30,000 students from all over the world, including 170 Americans.

The U.S doctors were joined at the Georgetown event by Havana-based Cuban professor and pediatric oncologist Dr. Jesus Renó, who explained to the students about the disastrous impact the failed, more-than-50-year American blockade has had on the health of Cubans, especially children.

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Days of Action Against the Blockade, Washington DC: September 14

Cuban Ambassador Jose Ramon Cabanas speaking at Calvary Baptist Church, Photo: Bill Hackwell

Close to 200 people showed up Thursday night at the Calvary Baptist Church in Washington to hear first-hand about the disastrous impact the United States Blockade of Cuba has had on the health of Cubans — but also about how Cubans have responded to that negative by innovating their own world class medicines and technologies and by creating the Latin American School of Medicine — “Fidel Castro’s gift to the world” — to train doctors to serve the world’s under-served, including educating American doctors to work in the U.S.

The event — the culmination of this year’s third annual Days of Action Against the Blockade — featured a talk by Cuba’s ambassador to the United States, José Ramón Cabañas, and a panel discussion on the lessons Americans can learn from Cuba’s universal, free and humanist-focused health care system.

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‘I decided I would dedicate my life to saving those children’

Dr. Jesús de los Santos Renó Céspedes discovered his calling — and his passion — by accident.

Dr. Jesus RenoIt was the late 1980s and Reno had been encouraged to put his medical training and mathematical and scientific talents to use by becoming a nuclear medicine specialist. But since nuclear medicine was a sub-specialty of oncology, he was told he’d have to complete a residency in oncology first. He was already having doubts about nuclear medicine — “at the time, they didn’t spend a lot of time with patients” — and he wasn’t encouraged by his initial rotations in oncology either.

“I thought, well, I’ll finish this, I’ll become an oncologist and then I’ll decide what to do next.”

But then he began his rotation in pediatric oncology, and his life — and future — changed. “I got so angry seeing all those kids with cancer, and I decided I would dedicate my life to saving those children. That’s why I’m still working in the same place after 30 years.”

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