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Botswana | World
Health | Politics

Fidel Castro's "promise to Botswana fulfilled"

afrol News, 16 December - The promise of Cuban President Fidel Castro of sending 100 medical aid workers to Botswana has now been fulfilled, according to the Batswana presidency. The Cuban health workers, who are controversial in other parts of Southern Africa, are to play an important role in Botswana's "war against HIV/AIDS".

According to the office of Botswana's President Festus Mogae, the country has now been blessed with one hundred Cuban medical aid workers. This was announced at a ceremony this afternoon when Anna Vallejera, Cuba's first-ever Ambassador to Botswana, was on her farewell visit at the office of President Mogae.

- During the meeting Ambassador Vallejera informed the President that the 100th Cuban medical aid worker had just arrived in Botswana as part of her country's ongoing commitment to proactively assist in the global war against HIV/AIDS, the Press Secretary of President Mogae informed.

In his meeting with Ms Vallejera, President Mogae had expressed his "deep gratitude for the important contributions being made on a daily basis by Cuban medical volunteers." The level of Cuban assistance to Botswana represented "an act of extraordinary generosity and empathy on the part of one developing country to another," President Mogae said.

The sending of trained Cuban health workers to relatively wealthy Botswana was spurred by President Mogae's official visit to Cuba in 2002, where he met with President Castro. The Cuban dictator, who has blessed the poor Caribbean island with one of the world's best health systems, was deeply moved by President Mogae's tales of the AIDS pandemic in Botswana.

President Castro, according to the Cuban Ambassador, had himself "continued to take an active interest in Botswana's efforts in meeting its expanded health needs." He thus promised to send 100 Cuban health workers to Botswana to assist the country - which at the time experiences the world's highest HIV infection rate - in its stated "war" against the pandemic.

Cuba has had strong ties to most African countries ever since President Castro's communist revolution. At first, Cuban officials such as Che Guevara actively tried to export the Cuban revolution to Africa, even actively participating in the civil wars of Angola and Mozambique.

During the last few decades, however, Cuba has focused on health and education issues in its relations with Africa's developing countries. Itself a very poor country, the Cuban dictatorship has made impressive gains regarding public health services and education. A significant part of Africa's educated elite speaks Spanish with a Cuban accent.

Cuban medical aid workers are spread all over Africa, where medical density is only a fraction of that in Cuba. Mostly, they are recognised as an important supplement to inadequate public health services.

In middle-income countries, however, their reputation has fallen. Often, the Cubans' language skills are too poor to communicate with patients and colleagues. This also limits their capacity to train locals, despite good intentions.

In Botswana, however, the Cuban medical aid workers still represent a novelty. The country cannot afford to decline any kind of foreign aid in its desperate fight against the AIDS pandemic.

Despite Botswana's strong traditions as a Western democracy, the Cuban medical aid also has strengthened diplomatic ties with the communist Caribbean island. Botswana further receives Cuban assistance in the areas of education and sports, according to the Batswana presidency.

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