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.
THE POWER OF MIRACLE
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.
This Christmas, 50,000 persons from 15 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean will have been operated on for eye problems and will truly have a bright Christmas. This has been accomplished in only six months, and it gets better. In 2006, 600,000 people will have similar eye operations.
Most of these people had curable cataract-related sight problems but such is poverty when you cannot afford the money to recover the precious gift of sight, and such is the market that you have to pay for what you were born free with. Over 9,000 of our own Caribbean people will have the joy of seeing their loved ones this Christmas, thanks to Operation Miracle.
Operation Miracle is the best new humanitarian project of 2005. CARICOM should award Cuba and Venezuela a Marti-Bolivar medal for their conscientious act. There is nothing on a comparable scale that rich countries have done for poor people over the past year or plan to do in the coming year. There is nothing comparable that the oil-rich Middle East has done either, in a year in which they got richer and richer extorting oil money from poor countries. No praise is too low for them.
THE MIRACLE WORKERS
Operation Miracle for Chavez is Christianity in action. His charity is even greater than that of the Pope. Chavez has extended the benefits of PetroCaribe to Haiti, a country whose priest was defrocked by the Pope, and as president, overthrown by Bush and company. Its stand-in government, backed by both Pope and President, has gone further to jail another priest, Father Gerard Jean-Juste, the candidate from Aristide's party who was sure to win the presidential election in January. Father Jean-Juste will spend Christmas in jail on no charge.
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.
If anyone can find in the thousands of pages of the FTAA or the WTO any plan for bringing water to the poor, housing for squatters and slum dwellers, and making the blind see, I'd love to know of it. These are the very things that ALBA and Operation Miracle plan to do.
THE MIRACLE OF FREEDOM
Operation Miracle makes you wonder about freedom. Those people who have regained their sight, will be able to see family and friends and enjoy the freedom of their association in ways they had not been able to do before. They will be able to read their Bibles and enjoy Christmas like never before. Castro is giving them this gift of sight.
Operation Miracle makes you wonder what good is freedom of movement if you can't see to move around; freedom of speech if you can't see to read and write ; freedom of religion if you can't see to read your Bible; freedom of property if you can't see to run your business. If you are sight-dependent, how can you be truly free?
The vast majority of us lucky to have had the gift of sight have taken its importance for granted. Sight is basic to the enjoyment of all other freedoms. ALBA is training thousands of doctors to make the blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear and to help those suffering the leprosy of our age HIV/AIDS.
Indeed, health-related miracles were the miracles most associated with Jesus when he wasn't turning water into wine. Probably Jesus was leading by example as to where real freedom lay not so much in the freedom of the money changers in the marketplace but in people's ability to use their God-given powers to make their lives better, especially the power to see.
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.
After witnessing what these doctors did for Jamaicans, our country's Ambassador to Cuba declared that Operation Miracle was truly a miracle. One Jamaican patient who was able to see again, said the experience was like being in heaven. They might be accused of sacrilege for daring to equate what Castro and Chavez are doing with what Jesus did. But their real miracle has been to use modern government and science with Jesus-like human compassion to make the blind see. What they have not been able to do is cast out devils. But curiously enough, some of these devils are trying to cast the same Chavez and Castro out of power.
You can send your comments to Robert Buddan at Robert.Buddan@uwimona.edu.jm