Friday, August 26, 2005


First American graduate from Cuban medical school

Last Sunday Cedric Edwards of New Orleans became the first American ever to receive a medical degree from Cuba. But he was not alone. Over 1600 students from Latin America and the Caribbean also received their degrees from Cuba's Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM), which opened in November 1999.

The graduation was a watershed event for the poorer countries of the hemisphere and was attended by over 20 foreign dignitaries including Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Panamanian President Martin Torrijos. From the U.S., Lucius Walker of the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization(IFCO)/Pastors for Peace, which had sponsored Edwards, was allowed to attend, but the U.S. would not permit Edwards' parents to travel for the event.

According to Rose Ana Dueñas writing in Granma,

Like his classmates from Latin America and the Caribbean, Edwards’ studies were completely free; his modest room-and-board, textbooks and tuition were all paid for by Cuba as part of the Revolution’s efforts to bring medical care to those who need it all over the world.

When President George W. Bush’s administration intensified its aggression against Cuba in 2004, it made an exception – under grassroots pressure – to the economic blockade and travel ban so that more than 80 young people from the United States studying medicine at ELAM could continue to do so, as could future students.

It would have been politically costly for them to deny young Black, Latino and other minority youth, from working-class families, the opportunity to become doctors and serve their communities.

It was in 2000 that Cuba opened ELAM’s doors to qualified U.S. students from such backgrounds whom otherwise would not be able to attend medical school because of the high cost. The students, in turn, pledge to work in needy and underserved communities after graduating.

.... The students come from 19 states plus Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico; 85% of them are from minority groups and 73% are women.

Edwards found Cuba to be quite different from the impressions he had received in the U.S.—

"There’s a lot of propaganda against Cuba. My parents were scared. They thought it was dangerous. I was scared to death, but I wanted to get my medical degree no matter what, and I also thought it would be a good opportunity to learn about another country, since I had never traveled outside of the States."

Cuba turned out not to be so scary. "I was shocked in a good way. Everybody was friendly. You see people hitchhiking, which you never see in the U.S. It’s a different environment.

"As an African-American, I don’t feel the racial tension that I feel in the States. That feeling is completely new to me. I feel like I’m free, like I can do whatever I want without fear."

Edwards is also leaving with an appreciation for universal healthcare—

Together with his degree, he is taking with him a deep appreciation of Cuba’s medical system.

"I love the fact that regardless of a person’s economic situation, he or she can see a doctor and get preventive care, free of charge." This is quite different from the situation of millions of U.S. people who don’t have medical insurance and therefore only see a doctor when the illness has become severe or when it’s too late.

That may be the condition of our political system as well.

Prensa Latina reports that according to Castro,

... there are over 12,000 students from 83 countries studying medicine in Cuba.

.... the students come from South America (5,500) Central America (3,244), Mexico (489), United States (65) and Puerto Rico (2).

The Caribbean, with 1,039 students, and sub-Saharan Africa (777) are also represented, while 42 students come from Northern Africa and the Middle East, 61 from Asia and two from Europe.

Meanwhile, Donald Rumsfeld was touring South America and succeeded in establishing an expanded but still temporary military base in Paraguay. The likelihood is that the U.S. will attempt to make it permanent. More on that in another post.

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