Cuba’s doctor abuse

Remember Cuba's vaunted medical missionaries -- those who treated the poor abroad for nothing, supposedly out of selfless motives? A lawsuit shows they were nothing but a communist slave racket. It ought to bear a few lessons for our own country as the role of doctors in the health care debate drags on, says Investor's Business Daily (IBD).

Back in 1963, Cuban dictator Fidel Castro launched a much-praised initiative to share Cuba's medical doctors with the poor around the world. The idea, of course, was to appear to be acting on higher motives than the profit-driven doctors in free societies. It was small scale and propaganda-oriented, says IBD.

But in 2003, Castro went big, and shipped 20,000 doctors and nurses to Venezuela's jungles and slums to treat the poor, doing the work "selfish" private-sector doctors wouldn't. Hugo Chavez touted this line and the mainstream media followed. Now the ugly facts are getting out about what that really meant -- indentured servitude to pay off the debts of a bankrupt regime, says IBD:

  • This week, seven escaped doctors and a nurse filed a 139-page complaint in Miami under the RICO and Alien Tort acts describing just how Cuba's oil-for-doctors deal came to mean slavery.
  • The Cuban medics were forced to work seven days a week, under 60-patient daily quotas, in crime-riddled places with no freedom of movement.
  • Cuban military guards known as "Committees of Health" acted as slave catchers to ensure they didn't flee.
  • Doctors earned about $180 a month, a salary so low many had to beg for food and water from Venezuelans until they could escape.

    What they endured wasn't just bad conditions common inside Cuba. The doctors were instruments of a money-making racket to benefit the very Castro regime that has ruined Cuba's economy, says IBD. That's because their labour was tied to an exchange:
  • Castro took 100,000 barrels of oil each day from Venezuela's state oil company in exchange for uncompensated Cuban labour.
  • Most of the oil was then sold for hard currency, bringing in cash.
  • Cuba also charged Venezuela $30 per patient visit, meaning a $1,000 daily haul per doctor, but the doctors never saw any of it.

    Source: Editorial, Cuba's Doctor Abuse, Investor's Business Daily, February 25, 2010.

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    First published by the National Center for Policy Analysis, Dallas and Washington, USA

    FMF Policy Bulletin/ 02 March 2010
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