The Mysterious Medical Alliance Between Cuba and Andorra

Cuban health workers at the entrance to their hotel in Andorra, where they were met with the applause of their colleagues

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Madrid, April 15, 2020 — Little apparently connects Cuba with Andorra, the first with a yearly income of barely 7,470 Euros per capita, and the latter enjoying an income of 35,975 Euros per inhabitant, per year. Nonetheless, the arrival at the end of March of a medical brigade sent by Havana to the tiny principality has almost become the storyline of a movie.

Three months have gone by since the Cuban health brigade arrived in Andorra to support the country’s health personnel in its battle with Covid-19. Since then, there has been much publicity but few concrete data about the cooperation between the impoverished communist country and the tax haven with which it re-established relations in 1995 during the time of Fidel Castro. All is mystery. This news source has asked the Andorran Ministry of Health to see the agreement, but has not received an answer to date. According to local media, the text has yet to be formalized.

All that’s known for certain is the cost that was incurred for a part of the trip, amounting to 19,811.60 Euros. This past Wednesday, the Official Bulletin of the Principality of Andorra (BOPA) has made public the statement in which the Spanish airline Iberia charged for a round trip of “medical equipment for health emergency”. To this expense it is necessary to add the trip from Madrid to Old Andorra, which was undertaken by bus on the twenty-third of March, given that the principality has no airport of its own.

The arrival was beset with mishap. With a health worker testing positive for the coronavirus and the entire team being put in quarantine, it came to light this weekend that the expense in the agreement of cooperation would be defrayed by a private family of foreign origin, though residing in Andorra for several decades.

The Andorran Ministry of Finance, Eric Jover, explained in a news conference that the Sirkia family will take in hand all charges that otherwise would be laid to the public treasury by the presence of the Cuban doctors in the Principality. The family, he said, “has offered to make this donation and we thank them very much, since they will take charge of all the expenses of the agreement under which we have brought over the Cuban doctors.”

Who are this family? Little is known. Although an Andorran doctor gives out that they are a family of Cuban origin, this news source has been unable to find any connection between the Island and the Sirkia family, which formerly owned one of the luxury jewelry stores on Meritxell Avenue which crosses the capital of the Principality and its annex Escaldes-Engordany where the health workers are lodged.

The Finance Ministry announced, some weeks ago, a fund of public subscription for collecting money destined for the battle against the coronavirus, the total of which has reached 1.6 millon Euros. Part of this money was collected by SMS, although the most robust donations were those of the International Club which sent in at least 80,000 Euros taken up amongst its members, or [donations] during the skiing season (one of the great sources of revenue for the country specializing in winter tourism), which yielded 50,000 Euros; the Automobile Club, over 9,000 Euros; and from a neighborhood association for the Ransol quarter with more than 5,000 Euros. But to date it is not evident whether anyone has decided on a concrete recipient for the money other than the Cuban brigade.

To the lack of informed cooperation from the Principality is added the habitual opaqueness on the Cuban side which eludes answers to direct questions. The Cuban consul in Barcelona, Alain González who keeps track of the group, offered an interview with Diari D’Andorra this past Friday in which he dodged repeated questions concerning the budgeting of this agreement.

“What expenses did Andorra run for the stay of this brigade?” asked a journalist. “I do not have that information,” the consul replied, directing him to the Andorran authorities.

“How do you measure the monetary value of the brigades sent overseas?” emphasized the interviewer. “I shall ask you a question — do you think that solidarity has a monetary value?” retorted González. There are things that [have no monetary measure] and go beyond economic reach.”

The reporter, however, would not relent. “I shall not go back to Cuba with empty hands …” he replied. “Cuban solidarity never has been motivated by economic interest. What motivates us here is to give support to the Andorran people.” The journalist persisted without giving ground. “Insist on disconnecting philanthropy from business.” To which the consul replied, “We share what we have, and not what we have left over, and this is one way to face the philosophy of life. Solidarity is inherent in our way of thinking … we are not going to look for loot, we are not corsairs, we are not mercenaries, we are not pirates. These are doctors who voluntarily join a mission,” he emphasized.

Although the interviewer repeatedly questioned, reminding González that the sale of medical services is one of the principal sources of income for Cuba, and not for the professionals themselves, the consul settled the matter saying, “That is not the case with the brigade that is here.”

The verbal dispute continued when the journalist asked him to assure that these health workers in Andorra work in decent conditions, and the Cuban continued to elude the question, vouching for the professionalism of the workers, the majority of whom, he explained, have abandonned their country to exercise their calling with dignity, and who feel pride for the Cuban people.

“We haven’t come to create propaganda, nor to look for recognition nor economic benefit. We simply are responding to an appeal from Andorra and humanity,” he affirmed.

This same periodical published an interview this Tuesday with the leader of the brigade, Dr. Luis Enrique Pérez Ulloa. The question was put to him again about the economic interests of these missions, to which the doctor replied that this the question only reveals unfamiliarity with the Cuban public health system, which is “purely altruistic”.

The journalist was interested in the purchasing power of the salaries received by the contingent and whether they adapt to the cost of living in Andorra, to which Pérez Ulloa replied that they are lacking for nothing. “What better example than being here and hearing the notes of the Cuban national anthem sound off from the balconies each evening at eight p.m. And when you walk to the hospital, you see people applauding … this goes to the heart and fills us with pride. This is the best gift we have received, and this cannot be bought with money.”

The interview, like the news about the family that underwrites the agreement, has caused strong disagreements in comments to the online press. Some citizens are grateful to the Sirkia family for having decided to invest part of their money toward medical assisstance, while others are suspicious of the circumstances of the agreement, and claim that taxes and not donations are what supports the public expense.

There are those who applaud this cooperation with the Cuban doctors, regardless of how the agreements were drawn up, while others think that the health workers might be exposed to the habitual conditions of Havana, and reject it.

In Andorra, there have been 659 persons infected with Covid-19 to date, of which 160 have recovered and 31 have died — an extremely high rate of mortality, at 4.7%.

Cuban doctors took up positions at their usual work posts this past Monday after spending several days in quarantine due to one off their members testing positive for Covid-19, and a week off to familiarize themselves with El Cedre, a social health center in which the elderly or handicapped usually reside and which has been outfitted as an auxiliary care center for those ill with coronavirus, initially the less severe cases. The severe ones go to the hospital Nostra Senyora de Meritxell.

Translated by: Pedro Antonio Gallet Gobin


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