On August 21, in 2005, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez broadcast number 231 of his television program “Aló Presidente” with Fidel at his side, from the municipality of Sandino, in the Cuban province of Pinar del Río.
It was an especially hot day in the Villa Bolívar neighborhood, where 150 dwellings had been erected for families left homeless by hurricanes; the hustle and bustle was unusual. Word traveled fast, yes, Chávez and Fidel were there, speaking to all of Venezuela over the air.
Among the first announcements was that the broadcast coincided with the 50,000th surgery performed by Operation Miracle, to restore the sight of Ángel Quintero.
Operation Miracle had been launched the previous year – July 8, 2004 – thanks to the leadership of these two men, who in Sandino intended to sign an even more ambitious agreement to create Misión Milagro (Mission Miracle), emerging as a result of expectations generated by the original project, to expand health care services in Venezuela via the Robinson and Barrio Adentro missions.
Restoring the sight of millions of low-income patients, without access to specialized ophthalmology services, was the purpose of the mission, with the initial effort involving patients traveling to Cuba for surgery, where clinics equipped with the latest technology existed.
The Sandino Commitment, a name which history would assign to the agreement, laid the groundwork for extending the program throughout Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa, with the goal of treating a million people over the next 10 years.
Dr. Norberto de J. Ramos González, head of the Operation Miracle department at Cuba’s Medical Collaboration Headquarters in Havana, in charge of national clinics, itinerant teams and the Henry Reeve Brigade’s ophthalmology contingent, told Granma that, as of July, a total of 2,728,229 surgeries have been performed, in 17 countries, including Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Panama, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, Haiti, Argentina, Jamaica, St. Lucie, Angola and Mali, in 49 ophthalmology clinics.
Dr. Ramos reported that the Mission is now functioning in 14 countries, with 420 professionals working in 43 clinics.
Over the years the most common ailments treated have been pterygium, cataracts, glaucoma and strabismus, with not only surgery provided, but corrective eyeglasses as well, free of charge, to all who need them.
“Cuba and Venezuela are more united than ever in this battle for the dignity of our peoples, for the second independence of our homeland,” said President Chávez.
The Sandino Commitment is living proof of the determination to fulfill one’s duty; that is why Fidel said that expressing gratitude was prohibited.
The program lasted five hours and 40 minutes, and what emerged was an effort to overcome the exclusion of those with vision problems, and repay a social debt owed the humble.
They did not fail. The two peoples’ joint effort today reaches its first decade with the satisfaction that this noble program will continue to bring light to where it is most needed.