By Glen Ford
The real vector of mass death stalking West Africa is not the ebola-carrying fruit bat but a global capitalist system that has plundered Africa for centuries. Public health services are perceived as a threat to global capitalism; private profit is the system’s aim.
When Ebola had clearly become unmanageable, President Barack Obama offered a paltry $22 million to set up a 25-bed field hospital in Liberia at a time when thousands of beds and health care professionals were needed.
The U.S. military would build the field unit, hand it over to Liberians and then get the hell out of the country. It would provide no health care workers. Obama pretended that this token gesture put the U.S. in the vanguard of a global rescue of West Africans.
Actually, 25 beds wouldn’t make a dent in the epidemic. Obama then announced a much bigger mission, including more field hospitals and, for the first time, a number of doctors and health care workers, at the cost of an additional $88 million – still a pittance for a superpower.
Meanwhile, Cuba, a country of 11 million people with a GDP of only $72.3 billion (compared with a U.S. GDP of $17.3 trillion), fielded “the single biggest medical force on the ebola frontline … totally showing up the United States,” according to Business Insider. One hundred and sixty five Cuban health workers arrived in Sierra Leone, a contingent that will soon grow to 461 – part of the 50,000 health professionals the island nation deploys in 66 countries.
Socialist Cuba sets the international pace in the battle against ebola, just as it has in Haiti. Without the Cubans, much of the Haitian poor would have no effective access to health care at all.
When the earthquake hit in 2010, 350 Cubans were already in the country, soon to be joined by nearly 1,000 more. Since 1998, Cuba has trained about 1,000 Haitian doctors – the biggest source of physicians in the country.
In truth, Cuba is in a class by itself: a country whose foreign and domestic health care policy is to serve the people by keeping them alive. If the United States attempted to match Cuba, doctor for doctor, it would cost many tens of billions of dollars – far more than Havana spends on its total national budget.
But such a competition will never happen because the purpose of U.S. foreign policy is to impose the rule of capital in every corner of the world. Rather than match Cuba in medical assistance to poor nations, Washington ceaselessly pressures countries to expel Cuban doctors.
Embarrassed by Cuba’s magnificent mobilization in the ebola crisis, Obama now pledges to spend $400 million to have his military build a dozen 100-bed hospitals, deploying 4,000 troops.
As shown by his initial reticence to offer any meaningful aid even to Liberia – a semi-colony of the U.S. for nearly 200 years – Obama would prefer not to set any precedent of supplying health care to the African citizenry. However, if a show of compassion must be made, then the administration is pleased that AFRICOM (U.S. military operating in 53 African countries) gets the credit.
Most Americans don’t really give a damn about Africans facing annihilation by ebola – or AIDS, or malaria, or the six million Congolese that have died at the hands of U.S. allies and henchmen.
The same goes for the nation’s “liberal” newspaper-of-record. The New York Times featured only two in-house stories on ebola in Africa but posted nine articles on ebola-related news in the U.S., Europe and Australia, i.e. “white” countries. White people’s “concern” (mostly, for themselves) about ebola trumps the plight of Black people dying from the disease.
If ebola renders West Africa too dangerous for continued U.S. troop deployment, the American public will readily forgive Obama for allowing AFRICOM to turn tail and exit the region. After all, Americans don’t want their troops put “in harm’s way” for the sake of sick Africans.
But Cuba will stay.
Glen ford is the editor of the U.S.-based Black Agenda Report.