Last Friday, October 7, the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to journalists Maria Ressa, from the Philippines, and Dimitri Muratov, from Russia, “for their courageous efforts to defend freedom of expression and information.”
Bypassing favorites such as the World Health Organization, Russian opponent Alexei Navalny, Belarusian Svetlana Tijanovskaya, and climate change activist Gretha Thunberg, the Norwegian Nobel Committee thus recognized for the first time the importance of freedom of expression and information as a “precondition for democracy and lasting peace.”
Besides upsetting authoritarian rulers Rodrigo Duterte and Vladimir Putin, the decision must have infuriated other enemies of the free press, including Miguel Díaz-Canel’s regime in Cuba. In its 2021 report on Freedom in the World, human rights watchdog Freedom House pointed out that in Cuba’s media environment, one of the most restrictive in the world, independent journalists are constantly besieged, detained, interrogated and defamed, and have to face charges such as “usurpation of professional capacity ”. In its monthly report for September, the Pro-Freedom of the Press Association reported from the island that six alternative reporters remained in prison or house confinement.
But for the Cuban government, the strongest blow received from the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize ruling was the vanishing of its most recent smoke dream: to see the Prize awarded to its “Henry Reeve” brigades of slave doctors specialized in epidemics and disasters.
Since the beginning of 2020, despite the onset of Covid-19 on the island, Havana began to undress a saint to dress another, removing 4,982 doctors from the national public health system to send them to face Covid-19 abroad, an apparently humanitarian operation with political and profit motives. Meanwhile, on the island, waves of Cubans infected with the Chinese virus were treated by insufficient doctors, stressed by their work overload and lack of resources.
At the same time, seeking to push on the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the Henry Reeve brigades, Castro’s diplomatic and intelligence apparatus mobilized sympathetic entities and personalities around the world, such as Code Pink, the Lula Libre International Committee, the French travel company Cuba Linda, journalists Salim Lamrani and Ignacio Ramonet and Hollywood actor Danny Glover.
The goal was to retrieve for their medical contingents, via the prestige of the Prize, the title of champions of humanism and solidarity, a kind of friendly and untouchable panda bear that had been stripped of its fur by successive investigations launched on the issue by organizations such as Prisoners Defenders, Cuba Archive and Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba.
These inquiries, based on hundreds of interviews with doctors who participated in the missions and brigades, revealed indicators of forced labor and human trafficking common to both the permanent missions and the brigades. Among them, milking up to 90 percent of their salaries, retention of their ID documents, isolation, long hours of work, surveillance and punishment.
In the case of the Henry Reeve brigades, there was already a precedent: the doctors sent to West Africa in 2016 during the Ebola epidemic. Several participants told FHRC how they were forbidden to speak to doctors of other nationalities; how when ─to avoid contagion─ they asked to give only dignified accompaniment to the dying, their heads of mission forced them to continue caring for them face to face; and how they were paid only $200 dollars per day out of $8,000 per day paid for their services by the World Health Organization.
Just a month ago in Mexico a senatorial investigation discovered the payment of $ 12.5 million dollars to the Cuban Ministry of Public Health to hire for three months a 585-member brigade. They received a stipend of $ 600 per capita, just 3.3 percent of the total disbursed by the Mexico City Health Secretariat.
The forceful arguments presented about this exploitation scheme motivated the European Parliament to condemn this year in two resolutions on Cuba “the systemic violations of human and labor rights committed by the Cuban State against its health personnel sent to provide services abroad on missions medical ”.
Now, also from Europe, the other shoe has dropped. Thank God that the Norwegian Nobel Committee was not carried away by the mermaid songs of Castro’s propaganda and was able to see instead that, under the fur of that friendly panda bear, a hungry and ferocious wolf hides.