The Latin American Medical School- Solidarity of Venezuela with Palestine
This week saw simultaneous Israeli attacks against Syria and Gaza, with more lives being claimed by Zionism. Palestinian students at the Latin American Medical School (ELAM) in Caracas again had reason to give thanks to the revolutionary solidarity of the Chavez administration, as they watched with ever increasing concern for the safety of their families.
Ties between Venezuela and Israel have been strained since the Israeli attacks of December 2008 against Palestine, when Chavez threw out the Israeli ambassador. Whilst many across the globe clamor for their governments to apply solidarity measures to help the plight of the Palestinians, President Chavez is leading the way by implementing practical policies to improve the conditions of the its people.
The Caracas ELAM is the second of its type, following on from the success of its precursor in Habana Cuba, and is born out of the model of human development embodied by Dr’s Che Guevara and Salvador Allende. The university gives scholarships to students from poorer countries such as Angola, Haiti, Honduras, Mali, Mozambique, or Nicaragua, who come and study medicine, and then return to their communities to practice as Integral Community Medics. The university currently works alongside the Foreign Ministry to establish educational accords to receive students from 42 countries.
The ELAM has received Palestinian students since 2010 and currently trains 26 Palestinian medics. For Palestinian students Mohammed Abdalghani (20) and Mahmoud Mohammed Alimoor (21) from the Gaza Strip, and Ahmed Qaraqra (20) from Jerusalem, currently in their 2nd year at the ELAM, this provided a life changing opportunity, one which gives them the opportunity to materially help their compatriots, and one which really demonstrates both the internationalist and solidarity qualities of the Bolivarian Revolution.
The students, when interviewed, were keen to stress that this is a chance to fulfill a dream. Mahmoud told us that “since a child it was my dream to be a doctor, someone who makes many sacrifices to cure people. When I finished high school I knew that my father couldn’t pay my university, as it costs a lot, and we don’t have enough, only to eat, we are a large family - 6 boys and 4 girls - and he couldn’t pay for university for all of us… now I am very close to my dream”.
Mohammed told us how he “almost cried” when he heard of his approval for the place in the ELAM, and went on to emphasizes some of the problems which the people face in Gaza: “one of the clear problems in my country is the lack of doctors”.
He went on to manifest that the process of getting to Venezuela wasn’t simple, even after the scholarship and placement had been approved. “It wasn’t so easy to leave, in Palestine we don’t have an airport, so from the Gaza strip we had to cross the border into Egypt with a car and afterwards leave from the airport in Egypt”.
His co-student, Mahmoud, told us that he didn’t even have a passport when his placement came through, and that the border was frequently closed. Yet, when they arrived, “we were given a warm welcome, and I felt excited and very curious as to how our lives would be in this beautiful country” explained Mohammed.
These future doctors come from a country described by Ahmed as one “where you really feel the damaging results of imperialism, the humiliating impression of being the victim of the carcinogenic Zionism which always tries to destroy the patriotic and cultural principals of the Palestinian cause”.
Ahmed, whose father died of a heart condition, explained that “the word Bolivariana is becoming more common in the Palestinian vocabulary thanks to the great support from Venezuela”. Mahmoud also told us that “it’s very normal to see the Venezuelan flag in the houses and streets of Palestine, even the children know President Chavez”.
The students, who underwent a Spanish course upon arrival, before starting pre-medicine and finally embarking on their 4-year Integral Community Medicine courses, are taught mostly by Cuban doctors, who, according to Mohammed, are “examples of solidarity, dignity, and perseverance”.
The students are instructed not only in the biological causes of illnesses, but the social and political causes, as well as “solidarity and social conscience”. “It seemed strange to me that there were many classes of politics in our course, so I asked myself, what relation did politics have with the medicine which they are trying to teach us here?” reflected Mohammed, who’s house was destroyed in the 2008 Israeli attacks.
As one student elucidated, the cause of stomach problems in a patient may not be simply a bad diet, but one has to take into consideration the impact of false consciousness which convinces us to eat unhealthy food, promoted by capitalist advertising, and also the economic-political landscape which gives rise to such unhealthy corporate advertising as causes of the illness.
Ahmed emphasized the human face of medicine, which is also taught at the university: “in the shade of the revolution, they teach us the medical sciences as much as the true social values which are applicable in the communities… they teach us to think about everyone else, to love our country, and appreciate cultural integration, to sacrifice ourselves for humanity and to learn to pacifically rise up to save the planet from the real threats which sadly consist in human existence”.
The three students were adamant in their support for the Bolivarian Socialist Revolution: here “there is a socialist government which worries about its people, for the poor, the excluded people . . . it is a free country, independent and socialist, with a lot of economic resources, which help the poor countries” responded Mahmoud.
“The Venezuelan people open the door to the revolutionary youth, who try to confront aggressive capitalism which is punishing our people” resolved Ahmed. “Chavez, with his words, awakens in us those revolutionary sentiments hidden in our human consciousness”. Venezuelan solidarity is enacted, he described, “without wanting anything material in return, it’s expressed through education, diplomacy, and international politics”.
Mahmoud eloquently emphasized the need for more doctors in Palestine, where “the people suffer, struggle, die, and cry”, and which is “a disaster, full of death and injury, full of misery”, and where “one doesn’t live, but survive”. He thanked Venezuela for its solidarity during the 2008 war: “no other country did anything and left Gaza to die alone”.
Mohammed on his return to Palestine dreams of “opening a clinic for free medical attention, with the single aim of helping to improve the quality of life of my people”. Mahmoud emphasized that, after 2 years at the school, “I feel more responsible now, more mature, and I have learnt many things”.
Ahmed poetically articulated that “the presence of Bolívar in every corner of Caracas has forced me to feel free, and this feeling, which is lacking in the hearts of my compatriots, would make even the saddest of them feel joy”.
Speaking about the real impact of Venezuelan solidarity with Palestine, he explained that “when the Palestinian people think about the reasons which motivate our Venezuelan brothers to help us, they won’t find anything other than pure love and honesty without any hidden intention- that is how love is born”.
Paul Dobson Nov 2012