The work of the Henry Reeve Brigade

Eileen Whitehead

Henry Reeve was born in Brooklyn, New York on 4th April, 1850 to Presbyterians, Alexander Reeve and Maddie Carroll. In his youth, he was a drummer boy in the Union Army during the American Civil War, which ran from 1861 to 1865. Being a fierce abolitionist, and learning of the anti-Spanish uprising from Cuban revolutionaries in New York, he left home and became involved in the expedition of the Vapor Perrit, which landed 269 volunteer Cubans in Nipe Bay in 1869. He then joined Cuba’s Army of Liberation (Ejército Libertador) – also known as the Ten Years War – which ran from (1868-1878).

Soon after his first skirmish against the Spanish, Reeve was captured and imprisoned, and along with other fighters faced, and miraculously survived, a firing squad. Once recovered he was appointed assistant to General Thomas Jordan, the Chief of the General Staff of the Liberation Army, and in 1870, as Captain, joined the first cavalry squadron of the northern brigade of Camague under the command of Brigadier General Cristóbal Acosta. Reeve participated in over 400 engagements against the Spanish Army and received several injuries, amongst the most serious an abdominal wound in 1872 and in 1873, when Colonel, he received a serious leg wound, which disabled him for a year. After nearly six months convalescing, he was promoted to Brigadier General.

During an important campaign between the territories of Columbus and Cienfuegos in August 1876, his horse was killed and rather than be taken prisoner he shot himself in the temple. During his military service, Reeve’s bravery and care for his men produced a deep respect and love, with both Cubans and Spaniards knowing him as El Inglesito.

In his honour in 2005, Fidel Castro renamed the Cuban medical brigade of humanitarian doctors, the Henry Reeve International Contingent of Doctors Specialised in Disasters and Serious Epidemics. Cuba had offered to send 1,586 doctors in response to Hurricane Katrina, but President George Bush, Jr had declined.

Castro maintained that the Henry Reeve Contingent could “do more than just help the population in the event of a hurricane, flood and other similar natural disasters. Certain epidemics represent real natural and social disasters. Suffice it to mention, the Haemorrhagic Dengue, which is attacking a growing number of countries in Latin America, and whose symptoms are particularly fatal to children, and other old and new grave illnesses. We can and must find the most efficient ways to combat these diseases. There is a particularly terrible epidemic (let’s call it that) which has the world in its grip: HIV-AIDS. It is threatening to wipe out entire nations and even vast continental regions.” He went on to say: “We are offering to train professionals who are prepared to struggle against death. We shall prove that there is a solution to many of the planet’s tragedies. We are proving that man can and must better himself. We are proving the value of conscience and ethics. We are offering life. Long live the protectors of life who graduate today; long live the doctors capable of defeating death. Long live the glorious ‘Henry Reeve’ International Contingent!”

In March 2020, 144 health workers from this Henry Reeve brigade were sent by Cuba to assist Jamaica in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. More than 3,000 healthcare professionals from the Henry Reeve Brigade, including doctors and nurses have been deployed to about 30 countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Europe, Africa and the Middle East. In addition to the brigade in Jamaica other countries receiving Cuban assistance include South Africa, Italy, Andorra, Qatar, Mexico, Honduras, Venezuela and Haiti.

Cuban President Diaz-Canel observed “If we had globalised solidarity as the market was globalised, the story would be different”.

In 2015, Norwegian unions nominated the Henry Reeve Brigade for a Nobel Peace Prize, in the context of its presence in West Africa to confront Ebola, but it was not awarded.

Since March a movement, led by Cuba Linda (France), Codepink (USA) and the US chapter of the Network in Defence of Humanity, formed to propose the nomination of the International Brigade of Doctors Specialised in Disaster Situations and Serious Epidemics “Henry Reeve” from Cuba, for the Nobel Peace Prize 2021, in recognition of their solidarity work to save lives in many countries around the world, particularly in the current COVID-19 pandemic.

The Australian Solidarity movement has joined the movement for the nomination.

We call on Guardian readers to add their signatures to request the Nobel Peace Prize Committee to consider including the Cuban doctors in next year’s list of candidates.

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Source: The Guardian