Honduran Garifuna Doctor who Graduated from ELAM Joins President Xiomara Castro’s Cabinet
Orinoco Tribune | Saturday, 5 February 2022 | Click here for original article
Dr. Luther Castillo Harry, who on March 17, 1999, received a scholarship to study at the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM) in Havana, has been appointed Secretary of Science, Technology and Scientific Innovation of Honduras by President Xiomara Castro.
For Dr. Castillo, who comes from the Garífuna community, ELAM turned out to be “a paradise in the heart of the Caribbean, where the dreams of the children of the poor come true, and from where men and women of science and conscience graduate.”
Coming from Moskitia, one of the most remote regions of Honduras and home to four of the nine indigenous and Afro-Honduran peoples in the country, he says that, carrying his backpack full of hopes, he wore rubber boots because, according to what he had been told, he had to study in mornings and cut cane in the afternoons.
“I came from an interior place, without electricity or roads, and traveling to Tegucigalpa was very expensive,” he recalled. “The price of a medicine book was equivalent to my family’s annual income.”
“When I first went home on vacation, I returned the boots to my father because I did not have to cut cane, ”he added.
During a dialogue with Fidel Castro, Castillo, who was in his second year of college, alluded to the founding of the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH) in 1847 and said that, 118 years after its inauguration, he left its classrooms as the first Garífuna doctor.
“Fidel was very interested in the story and told me ‘go back there and bring 20 young people,'” Castillo recounted. “In that historic 2001, we managed to incorporate them into the center of higher education and today we have more doctors from those towns who graduated from ELAM during the last two decades, than in 175 years from UNAH,” he highlighted.
After Dr. Castillo returned home from ELAM, almost no one believed that a young doctor, returning from a proverbial institution and carrying the solidarity ideas of Cuba, would build a hospital in that forgotten place. However, he won the trust of his people, he added them to his project, and block by block the first health institution in Moskitia emerged.
The Garífuna people had originally arrived in Saint Vincent and later mixed with the Carib and Arawak indigenous communities. From these interactions, the Afro-indigenous people, also known as Garínagu, arose, a people that, in the words of the Honduran doctor, “has a wealth of historical struggle for life.”
During President Manuel Zelaya’s administration (2006-2009), Dr. Castillo became director of External Cooperation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and, after the coup d’état of July 28, 2009 removed Zelaya from the presidency, the social movements in Honduras promoted a solidarity campaign to protect the life of the doctor.
In a message broadcast in various media at that time, the ELAM graduates transmitted Luther’s warning verbatim: “Inform the compas who say that my name is on the army list for my capture and there is an order to shoot me if I resist,” and demanded the guarantee of life and physical integrity of social leaders.
Luther went to Haiti as the head of the international medical brigade after the 2010 earthquake. He spoke at the United States Congress and Senate, the European Parliament and other international organizations and as a lecturer at universities in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Certified in the speciality of Family Medicine and medical and international development director of the Breegi Scientific group, the Honduran doctor is a founding member of the Libertad y Refundación Party (Libre) and recently was part of the transition commission of President Xiomara Castro.
“With the firm conviction of serving my country, determination, dedication and the guidance of God and together with our doctor Mary Vallecillo and the great team that accompanies us, we will serve unconditionally,” he asserted this Tuesday after being sworn in as Secretary of Science, Technology and Scientific Innovation.