Eddie Conway talks to Dr. Ken Morgan from Baltimore and Professor Luis Montero-Cabrera about Cuba’s relief efforts and doctors, the cost of hostile relations with the US, and how Americans can still travel to Cuba under Trump’s restrictions.
This is a rush transcript and may contain errors. It will be updated.
Eddie Conway: Welcome to The Real News. I’m Eddie Conway. I’m here today to try to get an update on the relationships between the United States and Cuba, and I have with me Dr. Morgan and Comrade Montero. Thanks for joining me.
Montero: Thank you very much.
Eddie Conway: First, I probably want to ask you to kind of give us a little background on Cuba for the audience that don’t know and what happened with Obama relaxing the sanctions and what happened after that with Trump reimposing it. And it’s a big question, but where are we now?
Montero: Well, the big issue during the Obama’s time was that it was broken, a kind of isolation, information isolation, that… That information that you can get only knowing people, when you talk with people and you… In the Obama times even as being maintained the restrictions for a very open visiting to Cuba by Americans because they were maintained all the time. But the Obama time, meant to open the opportunities for Americans to come and to realize what is truly Cuba. Because for most Americans, most common Americans, Cuba is a small country, mostly perhaps an enemy to the South. And the information about how Cubans are, by the way, are very similar to Americans.
That information about how we live and what problems we have or what advantages we have, was practically denied by big media. The Media normally focus, we’re focusing in problems and some of them minor problems, existing some of them, minor problems and the Obama times meant to allow Americans to come and to talk with Cubans, getting the shades and the lights of the country, but even getting shades is a good thing for Cuba because you can bring to a normal person the idea that we are a country fighting for survival. Fighting for having a better life and fighting to maintain the advantages we got after revolution. Because after revolution, many Cubans became much more free.
Cubans would… Some layers of the Cuban society that were essentially oppressed or were essentially not recognized before revolution. They became recognized. They became part of the normal life in country and the… For example the black layer of the population. And the… The advantages we got, they are universal health care, free universal healthcare, the free universal education for Cubans, probably one of the best in Latin America if not the best. And of course it is… They are among our goods and of course an American coming there and talking with people could also heard the bads, but the bads, were very different to the bads normally told here. I think it was a very big advantage. About one million and a half of Americans came and for the first time was broken that barrier of misinformation that occurred there.
And of course when the administration changed, the first action was to cut that because if you maintain that kind of fluid, normal flocks of persons are changing and telling the truth about what happens there, you cannot maintain the lies. And the first action on behalf of apparently not giving money to the Cuban government because he was official reason, was to cut the opportunities to American, to come. And to cut the opportunities to Cuban-American families to be together with the Cubans, with their counterparts. It was another very important point to divide the families. And of course that actions have been a reason for suffering for Cubans. Reason for I think for losing for us, for Americans because for a possible cooperation in science. My field is science. I am a scientist. A positive cooperation in science between our countries could be excellent for both countries, not only for Cuba but also for USA because we are neighbors. We cannot avoid to be very near and to share waters and to share environment and to share many things, even to share ethnicities and even to share users. Even to share a lot of things.
Eddie Conway: Okay. Dr. Morgan, from an American standpoint, how do you see the relaxing of the travel restrictions under Obama, the reimposition of them under Trump and how does that impact Americans now, in terms of the information and ability to travel back and forth?
Dr. Morgan: Well, certainly under President Obama there was an opening, a very small opening in reference to positive relationships. At the same time we have to remember that the embargo remained or blockade is, as many of us call it, that being in Guantanamo remained and there were still a number of travel restrictions, although they were opened. There was a small window of opportunity and also President Obama was doing it certainly for the reasons that would enable Cuba to in quote “Change its perspective in its worldview.” That was certainly a part of it all.
But it certainly was a step in the right direction. Now with the restrictions, obviously US politics have a lot to do with it. Even though certain things remain with the blockade and the being occupied, occupying Guantanamo and the travel restrictions. They’ve just tightened. In a general way, I think that Obama and Trump were the same in reference to the blockade and Guantanamo and however Obama certainly had an opening. And this is not from my opinion, basically it is from the President at the time, Raul Castro, who talked about, in Granma, a newspaper, that one could get Cuban, things about events and things about Cuba, and he said what basically I have paraphrased in reference to the Obama opening.
Eddie Conway: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Okay. Montero, there’s been recently a lot of talk about the Cuban’s medical program, doctors around the world et cetera. This goes all the way back to the beginning, I believe, of the revolution. Can you talk a little bit about this program?
Montero: One of the most marvellous things have been doing Cuba. Even during the time where we had not too much physicians. We had at the beginning of the revolution in Cuba, there were 6,000 physicians. 3,000 of them emigrated mostly to here and Cuba remained with whole population near to seven million people with 3,000 physicians. The Cuban government made a very, very strong effort to increase number of physicians and to improve the health of Cuban people. Even in that times there were needs for physicians, for particular situations in Africa and Cuba sent some those of the physicians there for supporting the people. I think that the problems of Cuba for helping foreign countries in the field of public health is very old in time.
The conditions people are going are always on the will of the people. The people don’t want them to go. They are not going. If I am contracted with you for something. I am giving you something and you are giving me something and you do accept. We agree. If you’re not… Do not accept, we are not agreeing and you are not going. That’s the way and people there and the Cuban physicians are going in the conditions. I am not familiar with them but the condition they accept to go and practically 98%, 99% of people that goes and return. Some of them remain there because any reason they want to have their own family, things like that, but suddenly this administration converted that action as a slavery. It’s something that is hard to believe. They are able to encourage governments in certain countries to abandon the cooperation with Cuba in terms of that. Let me tell you, Cuba have been maintaining the supplies of anything we need because we are not producing all DNA we can produce. We need to use.
Thanks to that medical cooperation, we are sending physicians to Venezuela and they pay with oil. That’s a trade. That’s a trade, a very, by the way, a very humanitarian trade because in exchange of that oil that is to be born in the factory, we are giving health to poor people. To people who had no… I read some time. I am not sure about the exact figure that when Hugo Chavez came to Venezuela as a President, they were a population of about 26 million people there. Only 5 million had access to regular public health and Cubans became to help that country being the richest country in South America to have access public health to that very big, that very majority of the population that had not regular access to public health.
And I think that it was a wonderful thing how you can criticize that. The condition people going there, they accept that it’s absolutely by their will. They, once didn’t want to go. They remain in Cuba work in their field or they even fly to other places. We are having also physicians in many other countries by themselves getting even much more money than they get there.
Eddie Conway: The infant mortality rate in Cuba is supposed to be the lowest in the two continents of Americas.
Eddie Conway: And that’s because of their medical advancement. Or-
Montero: And it’s a whole policy.
Eddie Conway: Mm-hmm (affirmative). The policy
Montero: It’s a whole policy. Perhaps if you mentioned a very updated advance in medicine existing here in diverse clinics of USA, they have that advantage, not in Cuba. But to sustain the life of a whole population, you must have a comprehensive policy and the comprehensive policy includes not only having the best and up to date advanced in medicine, it’s also having the possibility of you to give care to those people that are not normally getting care from the very scientific point of view. If they are not having that system of public health. Every Cuban has a physician near to his lawn and I think that is a very positive action and you are sure that if you have a problem, you have a lot of choices. You have a problem in the knee, I can go even to the family doctor, I can go to the polyclinic. I can go to hospital. I can get even the attention of one of the best physicians in Cuba in that direction, if I go to the hospital, where the people is working,
I mean it’s a… Pay nothing. I get that they should pay nothing and, and freely of course. Perhaps the glamor of these… Of the hospitals are not the same you can find here, but it’s for all people. And you see there, people from all layers into society from all, even you can see they are people who are not agreeing with the society… Agreed with this but they are receiving that service. I think that it’s a magnificent action. One of the most human action of revolution and normally is neglected.
Eddie Conway: Then one of some of the most current things people might remember is the Ebola attacks.
Eddie Conway: There was never any mention of Cubans initial involvement-
Eddie Conway: With that.
Montero: Eventually you were saying that, right?
Eddie Conway: Exactly.
Montero: You were saying cooperate and that direction.
Eddie Conway: And so-
Montero: It was recognized by President Obama.
Eddie Conway: There we go. And even presently they’ve been interacting with the Chinese over this, what’s this other disease? The, Codova?
Dr. Morgan: Coronavirus.
Eddie Conway: Yeah, coronavirus. [crosstalk 00:14:40] Yeah, I would think of the beer.
Dr. Morgan: And I did want to point out something because I watched it with my own eyes. When Katrina happened and a tremendous amount of black people got trapped in New Orleans-
Montero: It was a very sad story.
Dr. Morgan: because of white racism. Cuba offered to help…
Montero: You were offered to help.
Dr. Morgan: To send people and they were refused.
Montero: Cuba… Fidel Castro prepared a brigade of physicians for coming to support that and it was named after Henry Reeves. Henry Reeves was a fighter for Cuban freedom in the 19th century. An American fighter for Cuban freedom indemnity and then, that brigade was named at that time as Henry Reeves. I was told to the US government to accept that brigade to help working, to support the poor people are in new Orleans. Well, they were not allowed. They couldn’t go and the American government didn’t accept that support. The brigade still exist. We are sending that brigade everywhere where there are problems in Pakistan, South Africa, everywhere.
Eddie Conway: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Okay, why do you think there’s such a… Cuba, is a small island, 90 miles away, 10 million people or why do you think there’s such hostility from the American government toward Cuba?
Dr. Morgan: Right. The bottom line is that Cuba represents exactly the opposite of what the system, economic and social system of the United States of America and by the birth rates that you mentioned by the medical issues, by not having profits, having not having profits, et cetera. All are a part of all of these kinds of things. To US rulers, not to the people, the US that they… The US rulers that they… That’s an anathema because of these particular issues. And that’s why many of the… They go through these different cycles of, from being kinder and gentler with the exception of the blockade and the exception of not getting out of Guantanamo. Can you imagine the fact that there is, there would be another country in your, in this… Another country that possesses land in this… In here in Baltimore, let’s say for example. Well that’s the same thing with Guantanamo. Issue. Big issue.
Eddie Conway: In the interest of time, you have the final statement, Is it anything you’d like to share with the American public about Cuba. [crosstalk 00:17:33].
Montero: What I want you to tell you is that the best for both countries is to change. The best for both countries is to communicate the truth, not the embedded truth. The truth is the truth. You cannot show, we cannot show a paradise. We can show a place where people could live even much more happy if they could not be blockade by the most powerful economy in the world. And we can share a lot of things. Even contributing in a certain way to more happiness for the American people. We can perhaps provide some solutions that it could be easily managed here. Not changing the system. Cubans are no one thing to change anything in this country. That’s a matter of the Americans. Changing things here is matter for Americans as changing thing in Cuba is a matter of Cubans. That means it must be a basis of respect, but imitating some things from America could be useful for us.
Imitating some things from Cuba could be useful for you. Why not? Why prejudice are going above that thing? Why magnifying problems? We have problems, yes we have problems, but of course if you only, Jose Marti was a very clear person, was a leader of the Cuban independence in the late 19th century and he had a very nice statement in one of the stories told to every Cuban boy or girl when they come to school, “The sun has light and shades. The grateful people only speak about light and the ungrateful people only mention shades.” And I think, please go to Cuba. See Cuba. Exchange with Cubans. Look at them, look at our work. Look at our life. Lift the blockade, let us do things perhaps for good. Probably we can do it much more better.
We could be doing much more better not biased by the permanent, manage to be in under siege by the most powerful economy in the world. A Cuban can not even… I was in China some months ago and I learned about the Cuban who wanted to go to a bank in China. To get some dollars and they changed and he was denied. Because a Cuban cannot get a dollar, it’s forbidden to, if a Cuban is leaving Cuba, it can only be a special permission. I’m here getting dollars because I am on the special permission of a special visa here. Do you know, that’s crazy things. Very crazy things. We’re talking about a bill, to give you nothing knows where you put them
Eddie Conway: The most current way to go to Cuba now, well not the current way, but the next thing that’s happening is something called the May Day Brigade and the May Day Brigade is very historical in reference to Cuban revolution. They’re over millions of people over it. Literally, I’ve been there. Millions of people who are on May Day assemble and the people who are in the parade are mostly working people, Cuban working people, some others from other countries in the Caribbean, et cetera. And that is… It’s really important to be able to do that. And that’s what the organization that I belong to, the DC Metro Coalition in solidarity with the Cuban revolution is saying that “See for yourself,” like Malcolm X said, “See for yourself. Listen for yourself and think for yourself.” And speaking of Malcolm X, certainly the first time that I can recall this situation was when Malcolm helped to provide the accommodations at the Theresa hotel for the Cuban delegation, that nobody else would accept. Since that time, there’s been the whole business with the [inaudible 00:21:52] , with South Africa, the kinds of assistance that they received-
Dr. Morgan: The Angola.
Eddie Conway: Cubans received from not just Angola, but the Belgian Congo and Patrice Lumumba. All of these kinds of folks… There’s a history to be said. One other thing, there is a medical program as well where you as a student, you can apply to Cuba. Cuba has an international, I think it’s over 20,000 over the years have been doctors and-
Dr. Morgan: 500 each year from America, I mean from the United States.
Eddie Conway: From the US.
Dr. Morgan: Yeah.
Eddie Conway: And the IFCO, I believe, Gail Walker is handling those particular kinds of things now. The second thing is that on March at Fordham Law School, Fordham University Law School in New York city, March 20th to 22nd. There’s an international conference in support and in solidarity with Cuba. And that’s, that’s going to be an… If you can’t go to Cuba, then-
Dr. Morgan: Go to New York.
Eddie Conway: Go to New York. Okay. That’s the final word. Thanks for joining me.
Montero: Thank you very much for inviting me in that direction and I hope that it could be managed and heard and [thunk 00:23:14] .
Eddie Conway: Okay.
Montero: He mentioned that.
Eddie Conway: Oh, and thank you for joining real news.
Eddie Conway is an Executive Producer of The Real News Network. He is the host of the TRNN show Rattling the Bars. He is Chairman of the Board of Ida B's Restaurant, and the author of two books: Marshall Law: The Life & Times of a Baltimore Black Panther andThe Greatest Threat: The Black Panther Party and COINTELPRO.A former member of the Black Panther Party, Eddie Conway is an internationally known political prisoner for over 43 years, a long time prisoners' rights organizer in Maryland, the co-founder of the Friend of a Friend mentoring program, and the President of Tubman House Inc. of Baltimore. He is a national and international speaker and has several degrees.