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3 Dealing with the“Handicapped”of ALBA Setting the Balance Right They are not “handicapped.” We need to eliminate that word from our vocabulary. The term [minusválido] implies something that is worth less. . . . They are our compatriots , people who are worth the same as us—because the efforts that they make, spiritually and physically, are a lot greater than what we have made throughout our life. President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela Being disabled is not a lack of ability. Rather it is part of the wonderful diversity that surrounds us. Vice President Lenín Moreno of Ecuador This was a Mission that committed itself to travel throughout the entire country, in the countryside and the cities, house by house, to every barrio, to help our brothers and sisters with any kind of discapacidad. . . . The Cuban doctors left their country, their homes, their way of life and made sacrifices, traveling along the dusty, forgotten roads in our countryside, in the cold altiplano, in our valleys, our tropical zones, and our plains. Vice President Álvaro García Linera of Bolivia One of the areas of Cuban medical internationalism that has been least studied is the wide-ranging medical and social survey of people with physical and intellectual disabilities in a number of Latin American and Caribbean countries. This chapter analyzes the significance of the Cuban role in the three largest programs of assistance in this regard—in Venezuela, Ecuador , and Bolivia. The term widely employed in Spanish is discapacitados or occasionally minusválidos, both of which are inappropriate, since they refer to people being “handicapped” or “incapacitated,” while minusválidos even hints at people with disabilities being of lesser value than those without disabilities . In this chapter every effort has been made to interpret the term in an appropriate fashion as the Cuban approach clearly shows and as Morales and Moreno note. In essence, scores of Cuban specialists led a nationwide Dealing with the “Handicapped” of ALBA: Setting the Balance Right · 69 campaign to survey the health of almost the entire population, to take the measure of those citizens with disabilities, and to draw up remedial actions to support them. In addition, Cuban medical personnel implemented a large genetic testing program that took place in five ALBA countries between 2007 and 2010 as a means of planning appropriate strategies to support them and their families. This was a door-to-door campaign designed to examine the health of the populations of Venezuela, Ecuador, Nicaragua , Bolivia, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. It was hoped that once this army of Cuban medical specialists (supported by local authorities and medical personnel in each country) had completed this detailed examination of the population, the governments involved would have a better sense of the degree of discapacidad in each community as well as the needs of their population at large. The argument was that, armed with this information , the government would then be able to draw up an appropriate plan to support their target population, allowing them to participate more fully in their society while simultaneously reducing societal stereotypes about people with disabilities. It was based on extensive interviews as the teams passed from house to house in order to determine the assistance required for the target population. It had never been done before, anywhere in the world—apart from in Cuba nearly a decade earlier. Once again the Cuban model relied on specialized medical staff, prepared to travel throughout these countries and often in challenging situations . All of the Cuban participants had extensive experience working with patients who had physical and intellectual disabilities, and some had worked on more than one campaign, passing from one country to the next. Interviews with several of the participants in the various campaigns were conducted in Havana, and all subjects talked of the long hours and difficult conditions of work, many involving visits to isolated huts in the jungle and mountain areas, often meeting with families who had never even seen a doctor before. Many of the people visited were literally “undocumented,” having never been registered or identified in a national census of any kind, and they lived entirely out of the reach of government programs or agencies . Nobody in authority knew that they existed. The process of the sweeping visitations then undertaken instilled in them a sense of dignity, ensuring that the questions of discapacidad would now be perceived in a different light. For the disabled, this “different light” revolved around their situation being improved, since...


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MARC Record
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