I met María Paredes, who can now see, in Cordoba, where she spoke to me about her experience and sad life in Chunia. However, today she is a different person. “Fidel gave me my eyes back, he gave me my sight and my life back!” she states.
María is one of the many Argentineans and Bolivians who have received treatment at the Ernesto Guevara de la Serna Ophthalmologic Center in the province.
“Over 530 patients have undergone surgery since the Center was inaugurated last year in the neighborhood of San Martín in the provincial capital,” Leonel Ramos Bello, Cuban doctor and Ophthalmology Specialist, tells me.
“They are the best, Cuban medicine has no rival or comparison, I love Fidel, I love Cuba,” states Fe Rufina who asked me to record her, as she dreams of being seen or heard by Fidel; recalling the time she worked as a radio host in 2006, and came to see him when he visited Che’s childhood home in the city. “I am Bolivian and I have lived here for over 40 years, thanks to which I was able to quickly get surgery, and now I can see, I’m perfect.”
However, the Cuban medical project only provides free consultation services to Argentine citizens at the medical facility, given restrictions preventing Cuban doctors from working there in an official capacity, imposed by private partners fearful that the collaborators could robe them of their “clients.”
Nevertheless, the Center is a place where health is not for sale, but patients are treated. According to María, “I have no words to explain what they have done with me, they removed the bandages, and I saw colors, things, my family, the sky, the street, wow! The Cubans gave me strength when I felt lost: I’m here today to be discharged.”
According to Leonel, the Cuban doctors currently treat patients suffering from cataracts and Pterygium. He recalled that the project began in Argentina through the Bolivarian Alliance for the People’s of Our America (Alba), and when Evo Morales became President, many people were unable to study as they couldn’t see, so two hospitals were built on the border with this country in Villazón and Yacuiba and that’s where Argentines started to go for surgery.
This is how Operation Miracle - named as such following the statement made by an “old man upon regaining his sight” – began in the southernmost point of the Americas. However, the myths and coincidences don’t stop there. Cordoba represented the ideal location as it fulfilled all the geographical requirements, and is a city with a history closely linked to Che Guevara.
A plot of land was purchased through a donation from Cuba, where the hospital was built and inaugurated on May 28, 2015. Over 36,000 patients have undergone surgery at the facility since Operation Miracle began 10 years ago, an initiative of Fidel and Hugo Chávez.
"Cuba is great!" I want to distract myself a little from so much astonishment, but I can’t, I’m excited by the noise of the waiting room, full of people. After she finishes telling me her story I continue to watch María. An old woman touches me on the shoulder. “Journalist,” she says, “can I give you an interview?”
I can’t say no, “I found out about this place through some friends, I came here in a flash as I didn’t want to die without seeing my grandchildren grow up,” Asunción Sánchez tells me, continuing, “Hey, the human value is incalculable, everything is free, do you know what free means in Argentina…I can now read things far away, I can see numbers, it's true that Fidel is the man of the century, I want to thank him, Cuban doctors are the best in the world,” she stated, unaware that some years ago the Che Guevara brigade had been working in Gan Gan, a mapuche community in Patagonia, a place unknown to many Argentines.
Today, the facility has the latest technology. A YAG Laser allows doctors to treat patients with cataracts and glaucoma, the main causes of blindness, while poor people from across the country regain their sight at the hands of Argentine medics trained through solidarity initiatives by Cuban specialists.
Meanwhile the A Better World is Possible foundation (UMMEP) is continuing its efforts to transform the Ophthalmologic Center into a teaching hospital which aims to become a reference center for scientific and socially conscious community-based work. There are also plans to extend the program to people unable to afford consultations in private clinics.
The power of Cuban medicine is astonishing. I finish my work in the hospital, and am dumbfounded. Photos of Che, Fidel, and Cuban posters adorn the facility. I see a book by Antonio Guerrero. I say goodbye to Dr. Leonel safe in the knowledge that I will return to Córdoba. I can’t leave without saying goodbye to María, that girl who filled my soul with joy, that girl who was given her sight back by Fidel.