Source: ALBA Movements / The Dawn News / December 13, 2016
Hugo Chávez and Fidel Castro, two leaders who left a timeless mark on the Latin American continent, met for the first time exactly 22 years ago, on December 13, 1994, in the José Martí International Airport in Havana, Cuba.
On December 13, 2016, we celebrate 22 years of the embrace on Cuban land that changed the course of Latin American history. In the José Martí international airport in Havana, the leader of the Cuban revolution, Fidel Castro, gave a warm welcome to then lieutenant colonel Hugo Chávez Frías, and that was the beginning of their comradery and unbreakable solidarity they honored to their last days.
“The ALBA began with that embrace”, Chávez said in his speech at the closure of the VIII Summit of the Bolivarian Alliance for the peoples of Our America.
A friendship that changed contemporary Latin America
After Hugo Chávez passed away, his ally and friend, Fidel Castro, wrote about his relationship with him: ‘I keep a precious memories of the best friend I had in my years as an active politician, who was poor and humble and forged his character in the Bolivarian Army of Venezuela: Hugo Chávez Frías’.
The morning after Chávez arrived in Cuba on December 13, 1994, he met Fidel in the Aula Magna of the Havana University.
Both revolutionary leaders built a solid alliance between their nations and together made an impact that forever changed the shape of politics in the region.
The young soldier that arrived in Havana for the first time on December 13, 1994, had recently been superseded from charges after having led a civic-military insurrection in his country. Cuba was his last stop in a series of visits around Latin America. From that day on, Venezuela and Cuba began a cooperation that led to the creation of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) in 2004, an expression of their desire to unite Latin America.
Solidarity between the peoples
The Cuban government supported the budding revolution in Venezuela in two strategic areas: education and health. In 2002, the educational missions began, by initiative of Commander Chávez and with the support of Cubba. With Cuba’s pioneering ‘Yes I Can’ alphabetization method, which was created immediately after the revolution and Venezuela overcame its serious illiteracy problem. It was followed by more educational missions: Robinson I and II, Ribas and Sucre.
The Venezuelan head of State also made a calling to the medical community to participate in a program that would provide healthcare to people in remote areas, who had been historically excluded by the national healthcare system. Only a handful of Venezuelan doctors, trained at the elitist universities of the country, answered to the calling. Cuba sent thousands.
With this unprecedented alliance, the program ‘Barrio Adentro’ was born. Thousands of outpatient centers and clinics were created in poor neighborhoods across the country, and the staff was Cuban. The program was praised by the WHO and UNICEF.
In 2004, Chávez and Fidel continued to strengthen the bonds of cooperation and created the Milagro Mission (Miracle Mission), which to this date has helped 3,470,206 patients around the world regain their vision.
The international organism of cooperation they called ALBA (an acronym that means ‘Dawn’ in Spanish) began only with two founding members: Cuba and Venezuela. Afterwards, other Latin American and Caribbean nations joined, including Bolivia in 2006, Nicaragua in 2007 and Ecuador in 2009. Honduras had joined the ALBA in 2008, but after the coup that overthrew constitutional President Manuel Zelaya, the new government removed the country from the organism. Recently, more Caribbean nations have joined: Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Saint Lucia.
The fruits of their friendship live on
There’s only one thing comparable to the pleasure of finding a friend: the pain of losing him. Latin America has lost two of its biggest friends but their legacy will live on in the memory of the peoples of the continent.