The courageous are welcomed with pride
Towns arcross the country, spirited residents greeted Cuban doctors and nurses returning home after supporting the COVID-19 battle in Italy
National news staff June 22, 2020 14:06:10
Cuba was obliged to wait a while to embrace our heroes, who spent two weeks in quarantine before heading home.
Photo: Radio Guantánamo
In several towns around the country, spirited residents greeted health professionals from the Henry Reeve contingent returning home after supporting the COVID-19 battle in the Italian province of Lombardia.
Cuba was obliged to wait to embrace our heroes in white lab coats, who spent two weeks in quarantine after returning from Italy, before heading to their neighborhoods and communities for a warm welcome.
AN UNFORGETTABLE EXPERIENCE
Ronniel Montejo Aldana, a pulmonologist, described the experience in Lombardy as unforgettable.
It was very satisfying, encouraging in all ways, something that will be on our minds for a long time, stated the young doctor, who works at the Mario Muñoz Monroy Military Hospital in Matanzas.
During the welcome he received at provincial government headquarters and, especially in his neighborhood, in the Guanabana People’s Council, Montejo shared the satisfaction he feels having saved the lives of a people in need, who sought the help of Cuban doctors.
He recalled several anecdotes to illustrate the struggle against the deadly epidemic in that country, where today the people are grateful for the solidarity of a small nation like Cuba, blockaded by the United States government.
They are extremely affectionate when they talk about Cubans and our altruism, the doctor reported, emphasizing that they worked hard but always had the support and gratitude of the population.
Maikel Manuel Hernández Hernández, another doctor from Matanzas who offered his services in Italy, also received an emotional greeting organized to honor him in his hometown of Calimete.
Moved by gratitude to Cuban medicine and the moral strength of our professionals, more than a few residents of the neighborhood could not hold back the tears. Dozens extended their arms to embrace Maikel, to show their affection and respect.
The willingness to travel again to any place on the planet that needs Cuban medical collaboration was reiterated in Santa Clara by the three nurses from Villa Clara who confronted the new coronavirus in Lombardy, and were welcomed home by Yudi Rodriguez Hernandez, president of the Provincial Defense Council.
Before continuing on to their hometowns, Carlos Armando García Hernández, Carlos Caride Lam and Lázaro Osvel Guerra Gómez held a brief exchange with Party and government leaders in Villa Clara, to whom they expressed their willingness to take on any assignment for Cuba and the Revolution.
“We are at your disposal to fulfill whatever mission you assign us,” stated García, on behalf of the three, as always, reflecting the principles and values that characterize Cuban medicine.
In welcoming them, the president of the Provincial Defense Council recognized their heroism. She presented each of the nurses a statuette of the Heroic Guerrilla, describing them as worthy heirs of the legacy of Fidel and Che, two champions of the Cuban Revolution’s internationalism and solidarity.
Reciprocating the gesture, Caride thanked the people of Cuba and all his colleagues in Cuba who took care of his family and the country while he was away, emphasizing the humanist essence of the Henry Reeve Contingent, an idea of Fidel’s that in the current context has already reached 28 nations to battle the pandemic: “We bring health and life, where others bring chemical weapons and death.”
Lazaro Guerra from the town of Manicaragua said with emotion: “We will never betray the legacy of our Comandante en Jefe, creator of this army of white coats.”
June 20 is coincidentally the province of Ciego de Ávila’s Dignity Day, this year the date three courageous members of the Henry Reeve contingent who saved lives in Lombardy came home.
While the arrival was difficult for Yankiel Ramírez Portal, William Alonso Valdés and Luis Ángel Sánchez Rodríguez, given the length of the separation from their loved ones and their country, “We cannot embrace them all right now,” their arrival in Italy was even more so. This is what Yankiel spoke about with the neighbors and authorities who were waiting for him in the city of Ciego de Avila. “Take care,” he said, “Anyone who has not lived the experience, does not know the true face of the pandemic.”
And careful to modestly use “we,” he recalled how the brigade arrived at a decisive moment for Italy, when 900 cases of infection were being confirmed every day and 2,000 patients were dying. “The streets were desolate, with no one out walking. The only thing that could be heard was the sound of the ambulances, the police, looking for the sick and taking them to the main hospital in Crema, where emergency services had completely collapsed, because many doctors had been infected and others had died.
“We went to do our duty and here we are, standing taller than our palms with pride. Don’t forget that our Comandante en jefe Fidel described us as the army that would go to any corner of the world to bring health and save lives, not to kill.
“It was wonderful to touch Cuban soil, safe and sound. So was the reception when we got off the plane, in Havana. The expressions of affection from the people, after three months without a single hug. Just coming and going to work, with no contact, not even with our own colleagues, to avoid violating the protocols. To arrive here and not be able to embrace you all, man, is difficult for me, but I urge you to continue with social distancing and comply with all the hygienic measures,” Yankiel concluded.
Amidst heartfelt applause, intensive care nurse Eduardo Brito Pérez arrived in his hometown of Las Tunas.
“I didn’t hesitate for a minute when they called me. From the first moment, I was ready to take on this mission,” Brito said, sharing with family members and neighbors his internationalist vocation, demonstrated before in other parts of the world, as a member of the Henry Reeve Brigade, including the African continent during the Ebola epidemic.
Las Tunas and Lombardy share a 23-year history of solidarity. In 1997, the relationship between this eastern province and the regional branch of the Italy-Cuba Friendship Association was signed. In 1998, the first volunteer work brigade from Italy arrived, and since then the Cuban people have always been able to count on their support in whatever battle we were waging.
Although everyone calls him a hero, Eduardo feels that he was only doing his duty and that there was never really any other option for him. “A man should be where he is most useful, where duty calls him. That is why I am proud to say that I returned to my country with my mission accomplished. I am very grateful for the affection shown by both peoples, but above all by my own. I am also grateful to our President Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, for his concern and kind words for us.”
Tears of pride, of love, of commitment to Cuba, were shed in welcoming this humble hero. Acknowledgements from the Provincial Health Directorate, his neighborhood Committee for the Defense of the Revolution, union and workplace reflect the gratitude of a people who, for two months now, have applauded him every night and will continue to do so, for those, like him, who have responded to the call of duty within Cuba and beyond.
At 6:46 am, in front of his house in this city, a hero stepped out of a car. And after greeting neighbors and authorities who came to meet him with the coronavirus fist tap, he heard someone call him “father.”
“We receive you with all the love and gratitude of proud children,” Rafael Pérez, Party first secretary in Guantánamo, told Leonardo Fernández, the eldest of the 52 Cuban health professionals who risked their lives to save hundreds in the Italian region of Lombardy. Leonardo thanked him for the expressions of gratitude, “But the heroes,” he said, “are the people, of which we are a part, the people who are closing ranks to control the pandemic, led by an exemplary government and health system.
“In Lombardy, we did what we know how to do: deliver our humanist, revolutionary medicine,” the doctor stated. He spoke of the satisfaction of saving hundreds of lives and the smiles returned. And also of pain and sadness, “We saw Italian colleagues and nurses die, without being able to prevent it, and that is very hard.”
Intensive care physician Leonardo Fernandez, at 69 years of age, has accumulated more than 40 years of professional service, and eight internationalist missions under dangerous conditions, “But I am ready for the next battle, whenever and wherever lives must be saved.”