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This post is about a Christmas miracle in Cuba. But this miracle comes neither from God nor Santa Claus. It is a gift from president Castro of Cuba and President Chavez of Venezuela. It is the gift of sight to six million poor and previously blind Latin Americans.

Operation Miracle has brought daily planeloads of the poor from across Latin America and the Caribbean to Havana for surgery. Most of them arrive nearly blind; but all will be able to see perfectly before they leave. Cuban doctors provide the free eye surgery, Venezuela the dollars that make it possible. The surgery treats cataracts and other eye conditions.

More below:

What do our neighbors to the South think of this, and what does it have to do with Bush? Robert Buddan writing in the Jamaica Gleaner says it better than I can:

THE SPIRIT of Christmas was predictably absent from the World Trade Organisation (WTO) meetings in Hong Kong last week. Here the rich and powerful countries of Christendom once again employed this 'rich man's club' to ensure that the manna only fell on their tables while the poor countries scramble for the crumbs.

The real spirit of Christmas is closer to home, demonstrated remarkably by some who do not consider themselves Christians at all. The project that has done the most for poor people in 2005 is Operation Miracle, a project headed by Fidel Castro who no one ever accused of being a Christian; and Hugo Chavez, a Christian socialist, who George Bush calls a tyrant.

Under Operation Miracle, started only in July 2005, thousands of visually impaired people are receiving eye surgery for free in Cuba. In contrast, George Bush has boasted that his army has killed 30,000 Iraqis. We would love to know how many were women, children, and the aged, and how many more have lost limb and sight to Mr. Bush's bombs.

George Bush and his Republican fundamentalists are more fascinated by the miracle of power, particularly military power and its ability to blast limb and life from people. Operation Miracle, on the other hand, is about the power of miracle, specifically the miracle of the human spirit, in doing good to others. Cuba and Venezuela have made this more than theology. They have made it reality.

As I was writing a post for tomorrow about Bolivia's election, it occurred to me that many Americans don't know why Chavez, and even Castro, have the respect of many of Latin America's poor, while Bush is hated.

This, you see, is a small part of the story of why Evo Morales, a man who has been called Bush's nightmare, will probably win today's election.

But back to the miracle; here is Robert Buddan again:

For Castro, Operation Miracle is socialism in action. For the rest of us, it is about South-South co-operation th poor hlping th poor. It is an alternative, in the spirit of Venezuela's Bolivarian Alternative of Latin America (ALBA), to the self-serving free trade favoured by the Christian west, because it emphasises sustainable human development and job creation. The Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) and the WTO are not miracles. They are more like turning wine into water. -snip-

Jesus did the best he could. He fed the 5,000. But in 10 years, 4.5 million people will benefit under Operation Miracle. It is a miracle of human effort. In a single day, Cuban doctors once performed 1,648 eye operations, which must be a world record for any country. It is a miracle of sacrifice. Cuba has closed many hotels to tourists despite the need for foreign exchange because of Bush's embargo against remittances. Those hotels house the thousands of poor people waiting for operations. It is a miracle of human economy. Cuba has more doctors per population than the U.S. or the U.K.

Operation Miracle is also a miracle of government-to-government co-operation. Cuban doctors operate for free and Venezuela pays for the flights, accommodation, and food for the patients. At the same time, 17, 000 Cuban doctors help out in Venezuela's free National Health Service. Cuban doctors also work in 69 countries and if we in Jamaica can provide room space, more of them will be able to do more operations here.

I urge you to read the whole article. This story has been reported in the press around the world, but has received scant notice in the US. I guess that's not surprising since we can't even provide healthcare for our own poor.

Merry Christmas.

Originally posted to Chris Kulczycki on Sun Dec 18, 2005 at 08:15 AM PST.

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