Havana’s Obsession With the Nobel Peace Prize in Response to Allegations of Slavery

The sale of medical services provides more than $6,000,000,000 annually to Cuba, triple that of tourism. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Rosa Pascual, Madrid, 2 February 2021 — The perseverance with which the Cuban government seeks the Nobel Peace Prize for the Henry Reeve Brigade in the context of the pandemic is now beginning a new phase. After the nomination period closed on Monday, the official press reported the addition of singer-songwriter Silvio Rodríguez to the international committee that is promoting the campaign for awarding the prize to the medical contingent.

The Cuban state media reports promptly on the trickle of support from associations, political parties, legislators and international leaders, on which they count to achieve two main goals. One is the pocketing of the prize awarded annually by the Norwegian Committee, which currently comes to 9,000,000 crowns, almost $1,000,000. Second is the legitimizing and recognition of health work that isn’t exactly without profit, since it produces more than $6,000,000,000 a year for the Cuban state, three times as much as is earned from tourism.

Profits from the sale of professional services abroad wouldn’t be in the eye of the hurricane if it weren’t for the fact that they’re based on the exploitation of the workers who maintain the system, the doctors and nurses from all kinds of specialties who enlist in these missions, encouraged by a salary higher than the one they receive in Cuba, although the Government keeps 70% or, in some cases, 90% of the pay they each receive.

In addition, during their time abroad, the health workers are tightly controlled to prevent them from interacting with the local population and, above all, from fleeing the country. This is practically impossible to avoid for the vast majority of the brigades, despite the fact that such audacity is punished with the prohibition on returning to Cuba for eight years.

Despite the number of organizations that have been alerted about the situation of slavery that Cuban health workers experience in these international missions, the Cuban candidacy hasn’t lacked for promoters.

On February 1, Didier Lalande, the French president of the Cuba Linda Friendship Association, received the commemorative stamp of the 60th anniversary of the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP) from the hands of its leader the former Cuban spy Fernando González Llort.

Lalande founded Cuba Linda in 1998 and since then has worked to promote exchanges with Cuba, facilitating the travel of many of his compatriots to the Island. He was also the first to promote, last April, the nomination of the Henry Reeve Brigade through a letter that has been signed by more than 2,400 people.

The start of the competition for the award was determined by his alliance with Michel Lambert, a French-Cuban deputy who has been active in parties with different ideologies (from environmentalists to liberals), and who presented the necessary documentation to formalize the candidacy last September, when registration was opened.

The presentation of proposals to the Nobel Committee is restricted to very few. You must be a member of the legislative or executive branch of a state, a member of an international court, a university rector and professor of various subjects, a director of an institute linked to peace and foreign policy, a previous winner or someone close to the Norwegian Nobel Committee.

The candidacy presented by Lambert was joined by the World Peace Council, a body founded in Helsinki in 1949 in the context of the Cold War and aligned with the Former Soviet Union. Today its headquarters are in Athens, and it advocates “for universal disarmament, sovereignty, independence, peaceful coexistence; and campaigns against imperialism, weapons of mass destruction and all forms of discrimination.”

“There are 14 such brigades working with more than 500 specialized doctors and other health professionals, brave men and women who have been bringing much needed help to peoples in various countries and on all continents, saving countless lives and showing empathy and human kindness for which they continue to be remembered wherever they have been,” reads the letter that this organization addressed to Berit Reiss-Andersen, President of the Norwegian Committee.

The World Peace Council’s letter has been disclosed by Granma despite the strict confidentiality rules imposed by the Norwegian Committee, which prevent the nominees from knowing who nominated them for a period of fifty years. Leaks are constant, and this year it’s already known that Alexei Navalny, Greta Thunberg, Donald Trump and his son-in-law have been selected for nomination. There are also movements such as Black Lives Matter, the Boy Scouts, the Belarusian opposition, the Polish Association of Independent Judges and fact-checkers, journalists and activists from conflict zones among the nominations.

Similar to Cuba, in a year marked by Covid-19, the Coalition for Innovations in Preparedness for Epidemics (CEPI) and the World Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) are also eligible for the award.

The Norwegian Committee, however, has also encountered those who press in the opposite direction. Among the most energetic detractors of the Cuban candidacy is the organization Archivo Cuba, the Cuban Archives Project, which last October sent a letter to those responsible for the choice (whose names are unknown except that they’re five people designated by the Norwegian Parliament) in order to explain the working conditions of the Henry Reeves Brigade, and what it would mean to grant Cuba the moral recognition intended by such a prestigious award.

“It is our duty to inform you of the abundant and overwhelming evidence that makes this medical body an intrinsic part of a scheme of human trafficking by the Cuban Government, which is a violation of international law,” reads the letter, signed by María Werlau.

The award has sought to avoid controversy and arouse a spirit of harmony for many years, but it recently has had several stumbles in this task. Some experts attribute the controversies to the intention of the Norwegian Committee to “sponsor” peace processes that have often been controversial or haven’t turned out well, as has been the case with Yasir Arafat, Shimon Peres and Itzak Rabin for the Oslo Peace Accords, Juan Manuel Santos for the peace process in Colombia and Abiy Ahmed for facilitating a peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea that didn’t last.

Another of the most criticized prize winners was Barack Obama, whose award was considered more aspirational than deserved, as the bottom line of his presidency demonstrated.

Last year’s Nobel Peace Prize went to the U.N. World Food Program for “its efforts in the fight against hunger, preventing its use as a weapon of war and helping to improve conditions for harmony in areas of conflict.”

We will have to wait until October 10 to meet the next Nobel Peace Prize winner, but the Cuban ruling party’s campaign promises to be long and intense over the next seven months.

Translated by Regina Anavy


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