A mid-level official from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention attended a regional summit in Havana on Wednesday hosted by an association of left-leaning Latin American nations.
“This a world emergency and we should all work together and cooperate in this effort,” Nelson Arboleda, the CDC’s chief for Central America, told reporters at the conference.
The conference was hosted by the Bolivarian Alliance for the People of Our America, also known as ALBA, a regional group whose members include Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador. It’s fair to say the United States is not typically on the guest list of ALBA summits, since the group is led by countries with frosty relationships with Washington, and was formed partly to counterbalance its influence in the hemisphere.
But if there’s an upside to the Ebola crisis, it’s that it seems to be injecting a dose of pragmatism to Washington’s poisonous relationship with Havana.
Cuba has emerged as one of the leading players in the effort to contain Ebola in West Africa by pledging to deploy hundreds of doctors and nurses to treat patients in the three countries with the most cases.
As the first wave of Cuban doctors arrived in Africa, officials in the United States seemed unable to decide whether they would coordinate with them in the field. They later said they happily would, but have stopped short of offering to treat or evacuate Cuban medical personnel who may contract the virus.
Cuba’s state-run newspaper Granma noted Mr. Arboleda’s attendance in passing, but didn’t treat his visit like a watershed moment. Similarly, when Secretary of State John F. Kerry recently delivered a speech on Ebola, the State Department took the unusual step of inviting Cuba’s top diplomat in Washington, but didn’t draw attention to his attendance.
Predictably, a couple of Republican lawmakers from South Florida have been critical of the Cuban medical mission. Representative Mario Diaz-Balart blasted the C.D.C. on Thursday for sending Mr. Arboleda to the meeting.
“It’s a disgrace that the United States sent a representative to an ALBA meeting in Havana and praised the Cuban dictatorship for sending forced medical labor to West Africa,” he said in a statement.
Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen warned earlier this month that the Cuban doctors serving in Africa could bring the virus to Latin America, posing a threat to her community.
“The Castro regime’s decision to send Cuban doctors in a thinly disguised propaganda attempt may put South Florida at risk,” she warned.
Thankfully, theirs are becoming increasingly lonely voices in the debate over Cuba policy.