Over the years I have had a lot of past professional contact with friends and colleagues working in the World Health Organization and the regional branch for the Americas, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). I have had enormous respect for the work of colleagues at country missions around the world. I was not always in agreement with WHO or PAHO colleagues but we were partners and collaborators, looking to help build the public health capacity of developing countries.
I of course have watched the attacks from the White House against WHO with frustration and annoyance. The reality show behavior trying to blame WHO for the horrible management of COVID 19 by the U.S. government and the threat to pull out from the organization has been one matter. However it turns out there is more.
It was with an immense amount of disgust and frustration that I read an article yesterday about the damage done to PAHO during this last year under COVID. The press has failed to cover this adequately. It turns out that the Trump administration, together with their populist partners in Brazil, the Bolsonaro administration, basically demanded from the beginning of the year that impoverished and badly hit countries in Latin America, including El Salvador, Guatemala, Ecuador and Peru, expel the hundreds of Cuban doctors that have been a reality for many of them for decades. What ever your feelings about the Castro and post Castro regime in Cuba, the fact is that they have provided high quality medical care for decades to Cubans and to other developing countries around the world. Not for free, but on a subsidized basis. Bolsonaro and Trump threatened these countries at the height of the epidemic to get rid of the Cubans or face zero assistance from the US and Brazil, which together make up over half of the PAHO Latin America budget. These countries went along, and then found minimal assistance and support as PAHO’s budget was almost zeroed out. Right at the first waves of the pandemic, and even now.
It is very likely, as was noted in the New York Times, that these countries saw pandemic cases explode precisely because of the actions of Trump and his vassal Bolsonaro. Probably thousands of people died needlessly in Latin America.
How can this behavior, these actions be defended in the minds of anyone? How can this be seen as the action of a “right to life” leader? How can such crude and vile populism be defended by anyone of sound mind?