Cuba’s Best Doctors Not Blind to Incentives Offered by “Communist” Government

 

   "Patients at the Ramón Pando Ferrer eye hospital in Havana."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

 

(p. A4)  Cuban doctors abroad receive much better pay than in Cuba, along with other benefits from the state, like the right to buy a car and get a relatively luxurious house when they return. As a result, many of the finest physicians have taken posts abroad.

The doctors and nurses left in Cuba are stretched thin and overworked, resulting in a decline in the quality of care for Cubans, some doctors and patients said.

 

For the full story, see:   

JAMES C. McKINLEY Jr.  "Havana Journal;  A Health System’s ‘Miracles’ Come With Hidden Costs."  The New York Times   (Tues., November 20, 2007):  A4. 

 

In Cuba, to Survive “You Have to Resort to the Black Market”

 

Lady Liberty is rightly aghast at life in Havana.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article cited below.

 

My friend Luis Locay has warned me in the past to be sceptical of articles that express optimism about Raul Castro being a friend of the free market.  One such article is excerpted below.  (I am hoping Luis is wrong.) 

 

Raúl Castro has taken several small but meaningful steps over the last year that suggest that he wants to open up Cuban society and perhaps move to a market-driven system, without ceding one-party control, not unlike what has happened in China. During the 1990s, he supported limited private enterprise and foreign investment, reforms his brother reversed four years ago.

. . .

On the economic front, Raúl Castro has allowed the importation of televisions and video disc players. He has told the police to let pirate taxis operate without interference. He pledged to spend millions to refurbish hotels, marinas and golf courses. He even ordered one of the state newspapers to investigate the poor quality of service at state-controlled bakeries and other stores.

Perhaps his most important step, however, was to pay the debts the state owed to private farmers and to raise the prices the state pays for milk and meat. Cubans still live on rations and cope with chronic shortages of staples like beef. Salaries average about $12 a month, and most people spend three-quarters of their income on food, according to a study by Armando Nova González, an economist at the Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy in Havana.

“What a person makes is not enough to live on,” said Jorge, a museum guard who asked that his last name not be used because he feared persecution. “You have to resort to the black market to get along. No, not just to get along, to survive.” He said he and his wife together made about $30 a month, just enough to support their family of four.

But Raúl Castro has disappointed many Cubans who had expected significant changes once he took power. He has always deferred to his brother, and he seems to lack the political power to take major actions until Fidel either gives up total control or dies, experts on Cuba said.

 

For the full story, see:

JAMES C. McKINLEY, Jr.  "Cuba’s Revolution Now Under Two Masters."  The New York Times  (Fri., July 27, 2007):  A3.

 

 

  The top photo shows Raúl Castro giving the annual speech celebrating the Cuban revolution.  (Fidel Castro became ill after the previous year’s speech.)  The lower photo shows the reaction to Raúl’s speech from the crowd.

 

“I Couldn’t Write a Prescription for Antiobiotics, Because There Were None”

 

    "THE DOCTOR MIGHT BE IN Cubans young and old at a Havana clinic in 2004."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article cited below. 

 

CUBA works hard to jam American TV signals and keep out decadent Hollywood films. But it’s a good bet that Fidel Castro’s government will turn a blind eye to bootleg copies of “Sicko,” Michael Moore’s newest movie, if they show up on the streets of Havana.

“Sicko,” the talk of the Cannes Film Festival last week, savages the American health care system — and along the way extols Cuba’s system as the neatest thing since the white linen guayabera.

Mr. Moore transports a handful of sick Americans to Cuba for treatment in the course of the film, . . .

. . .

Universal health care has long given the Cuban regime bragging rights, though there is growing concern about the future. In the decades that Cuba drew financial and military support from the Soviet Union, Mr. Castro poured resources into medical education, creating the largest medical school in Latin America and turning out thousands of doctors to practice around the world.

But that changed after the collapse of the Soviets, according to Cuban defectors like Dr. Leonel Cordova. By the time Dr. Cordova started practicing in 1992, equipment and drugs were already becoming scarce. He said he was assigned to a four-block neighborhood in Havana Province where he was supposed to care for about 600 people.

“But even if I diagnosed something simple like bronchitis,” he said, “I couldn’t write a prescription for antibiotics, because there were none.”

He defected in 2000 while on a medical mission in Zimbabwe and made his way to the United States. He is now an urgent-care physician at Baptist Hospital in Miami.

Having practiced medicine in both Cuba and the United States, Dr. Cordova has an unusual perspective for comparison.

“Actually there are three systems,” Dr. Cordova said, because Cuba has two: one is for party officials and foreigners like those Mr. Moore brought to Havana. “It is as good as this one here, with all the resources, the best doctors, the best medicines, and nobody pays a cent,” he said.

But for the 11 million ordinary Cubans, hospitals are often ill equipped and patients “have to bring their own food, soap, sheets — they have to bring everything.”  . . .

. . .

Until he had to have emergency surgery last year, Fidel Castro — who turned 80 this year — was considered a model of vibrant long life in Cuba. But it was only last week that he acknowledged in an open letter that his initial surgery by Cuban doctors had been botched. He did not confirm, however, that a specialist had been flown in from Spain last December to help set things right. 

 

For the full commentary, see: 

ANTHONY DePALMA.  "‘Sicko,’ Castro and the ‘120 Years Club’."  The New York Times, Section 4  (Sun., May 27, 2007):   3. 

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

Fred Thompson Skewers Michael Moore with Wit and Wisdom

Mr. Moore was back from Cuba, where he made a documentary on the superiority of Castro’s health-care system. Mr. Thompson suggested Mr. Moore is just another lefty who loves dictators. Mr. Moore challenged Mr. Thompson to a health-care debate and accused him of smoking embargoed cigars. Within hours Mr. Thompson and his supposedly nonexistent staff had produced a spirited video response that flew through YouTube and the conservative blogosphere. Sitting at a desk and puffing on a fat cigar, Mr. Thompson announces to Mr. Moore he can’t fit him into his schedule. Then: "The next time you’re down in Cuba . . . you might ask them about another documentary maker. His name was Nicolás Guillén. He did something Castro didn’t like, and they put him in a mental institution for several years, giving him devastating electroshock treatments. A mental institution, Michael. Might be something you ought to think about."

You couldn’t quite tell if Mr. Thompson was telling Mr. Moore he ought to think more about Cuba, or might himself benefit from psychiatric treatment. It seemed almost . . . deliberately unclear.

 

PEGGY NOONAN.  "DECLARATIONS; The Man Who Wasn’t There."  The Wall Street Journal  (Sat., May 19, 2007): P14.

(Note:  ellipsis in original.)

 

See Fred Thompson’s response to Michael Moore on YouTube at:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ds_GhRxivOI  

 

    Source:  screen capture from Fred Thompson’s response to Michael Moore at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ds_GhRxivOI

 

Castro’s Legacy of “Death, Tears and Blood”

Like thousands of other Cubans, I was arrested in the middle of the night. Fidel Castro’s police raided my parents’ home, stuck a machine gun in my face and took me away. It was 1960 and I was 22 years old.

The news that the Cuban dictator is gravely ill floods my mind with memories of my years spent in captivity. I believe that those of us who were political prisoners know his legacy better than anyone. For 22 years, I was an inmate in his vast prison system, mostly confined to an island gulag, for crimes I did not commit.

. . .

The legacy of Castro for Cuba will be much like that of Stalin in Russia, Pol Pot and Ieng Sari in Cambodia and Hitler in Germany. It will be the memories of the unknown numbers of victims, of concentration camps, torture, murder, exile, families torn apart, death, tears and blood. Castro will go down in history as one of the cruelest of all dictators — a man who tormented his own people.

But his poisonous legacy will also include the double standard by foreign governments, intellectuals and journalists who fought ferociously against the unspeakable violations of human rights by right-wing dictatorships, yet applauded Castro. To this day many of these intellectuals serve as apologists and accomplices in the subjugation of the Cuban people. Rafael Correa, the recently inaugurated president of Ecuador, has declared that in Cuba there is no dictatorship. Evo Morales, president of Bolivia, considers Castro his mentor and has already shown that he is willing to silence his own critics at the point of a gun. Venezuela, once a democracy, is the new Cuba, replete with a growing population of political prisoners.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

ARMANDO VALLADARES.  "Castro’s Gulag." The Wall Street Journal  (Mon., March 5, 2007):  A16.

 

Cuban Bureaucrats Fooled by Castro Impersonator

CastroImpersonator.jpg  Castro impersonator Eddy Calderón.  Source of photo:  online version of WSJ article cited below. 

 

(p. A1)  Mr. Calderón says the work can be risky.  Once, he recalls, a woman whose relative had been executed by the revolution hurled a dinner plate at his head.  At a recent gig, a tiny, white-haired lady shouted at him:  "Why did you ruin the country?" Mr. Calderón, as Fidel, answered that she should thank him because if it hadn’t been for him, she’d be stuck in Cuba instead of living well in Miami, "where you can buy hair dye and dentures."

After the Aug. 13 performance, a ballroom attendant, Armando Montes de Oca, approached Mr. Calderón while he was still in his Castro beard and told him:  "If I didn’t know you were Calderón behind that beard, you would never leave (p. A9) this room alive."

"Thank you," Mr. Calderón replied.

Mr. Calderón has been doing his imitation of Fidel for about a dozen years.  He became a local superstar two years ago when a cable-TV channel started weekly broadcasts of a skit called "La Mesa Retonta," or "The Idiots’ Table," a takeoff on a weekly "Meet the Press"-style show Mr. Castro has done in Cuba, called "La Mesa Redonda," or "The Roundtable."

Mr. Calderón’s Fidel voice is so good that on about 50 occasions, he has telephoned Cuban bureaucrats in Havana or Cuban diplomats abroad and fooled them into thinking they were on the line with the man himself.  Mr. Calderón taped the calls, which he still often plays on a Miami radio show.

Two years ago, Mr. Calderón held a 12-minute conversation with Cuba’s deputy construction minister, ordering him to build a giant retractable roof over Havana’s Latin American stadium, as a way to improve conditions for Cuban baseball players and dissuade them from defecting.

"We need a revolutionary roof to uphold the pride of the Cuban Revolution," said Mr. Calderón during the taped telephone call, in a dead-on imitation of Mr. Castro’s edgy, high-pitched, nasal voice.

"I am your unconditional soldier," replied the hapless minister, who promised to get the job done.

That same year, Mr. Calderón telephoned a luxury hotel at Cuba’s Varadero beach resort and ordered the hotel manager to provide a week-long all-expense-paid vacation for one of Cuba’s leading dissidents, whose movements are shadowed by the secret police, to show the government’s good will.  Before hanging up, the hotel manager, Mr. Calderón says, promised to make the reservation.

A year earlier, Mr. Calderón as Fidel told transport official Gumersindo Gómez to round up 200 scarce buses for an outing of some 700 priests of the Afro-Cuban religion Santería, and to find room for their sacrificial goats and chickens.  Make sure the buses don’t have any graffiti saying "down with You-Know-Who," he added.

"Fatherland or death," Mr. Calderón said.

"Onwards to victory," replied Mr. Gómez, according to the tape of the phone call.

 

For the full story, see:

JOSÉ DE CÓRDOBA.  "Fidel Castro’s Illness Has Impersonators Scrambling to Adapt In Miami; Mr. Calderón Does El Jefe’s Voice Perfectly; New Role for Brother Raúl."  Wall Street Journal  (Fri., August 18, 2006):  A1 & A9. 

“Damn it Fidel! What are you going to do about this lousy, piece-of-**** island of yours?”

 

   Source of image of book:  http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1586483242/qid=1145298612/sr=2-1/ref=pd_bbs_b_2_1/104-9985403-1047968?s=books&v=glance&n=283155

 

Fernando Cardosa is the former Brazilian President who is best known for having temporarily tamed Brazil’s runaway inflation.  Although not a principled believer in the free market, Cardoso made some efforts to reduce the damage the Brazilian government was doing to the economy.  The following startling passage is from a useful review of a new memoir by Cardoso:

 

. . . ,  Mr. Cardoso mentions a telling moment at a 1999 summit meeting in Havana.  When the heads of state were alone at a luncheon, one said to Castro:  "Damn it Fidel!  What are you going to do about this lousy, piece-of-**** island of yours?   We’re sick of apologizing for you all the time, Fidel.  It’s getting embarrassing."   The anecdote shows how disingenuous Latin governments can be when they remain silent about the Cuban dictatorship.

 

For the full review, see:

MARY ANASTASIA O’GRADY.  "A Leader Who Got Real."  The Wall Street Journal  (Thurs., April 6, 2006):  D8.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 

Here is the full reference to Cardoso’s memoir:

Cardoso, Fernando Henrique.  The Accidental President of Brazil:  A Memoir.  PublicAffairs, 2006.  [with Brian Winter;  291 pages;  $26.95]