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The Dark Side of Cuba’s Ebola Economy


The Dark Side of Cuba’s Ebola
The communist government’s medical missionaries win praise for the
regime, but they are victims, too.

If you ask most people what Cuba is famous for they probably will name
two things: rum and cigars. But if you ask leftists what Cuba is famous
for they will usually say something altogether different: healthcare and

Despite all the government oppression and poverty and the endless
speeches by el líder maximo and his sibling, the Cuban healthcare and
education systems are still held up as justification for the 1959 Cuban
revolution in and of themselves.

So good is the healthcare system on the island supposed to be, and such
is the abundance of skilled doctors, that Cuba can even afford to export
medical personnel to disease- and crisis-stricken parts of the world in
a gesture of international solidarity that the capitalist West does not
begin to rival.

Estimates suggest that around 50,000 Cuban-trained workers are
spread across 66 countries, with many stationed in some of the poorest
corners of the globe. In 2010 Cuba provided the largest contingent of
medical staff during the aftermath of the huge earthquake that shook
Haiti. Similarly, after an earthquake devastated Pakistan-administered
Kashmir in 2005, there were more Cuban doctors on hand to aid the relief
effort than there were medics from Pakistan proper. Who said socialist
internationalism died in 1989?

The government in Havana rakes in around $8 billion a year on the backs
of its health workers.
And so today, during the current Ebola crisis, while the rich capitalist
countries pontificate selfishly about things like anti-Ebola border
security, socialist Cuba has again come to the rescue, flying in 461
health workers to stricken West Africa—more than any first-world country.

Even John Kerry, secretary of state in a country that has spent decades
trying to oust the Castro clan, described Cuba’s contribution to the
fight against the Ebola outbreak as “impressive.”

This penchant for medical internationalism goes back to the greatest
icon of the revolution, Ernesto “Che” Guevara. He was a doctor and
envisioned a world in which a medic would use “the technical knowledge
of his profession in the service of the revolution and the people.”

Yet like Guevara’s socialism, Cuba’s fraternal medical altruism has a
dark side. Che may have felt a genuine affinity with the poor, but he
was also a fanatic who locked up homosexuals and other “deviants” in
labor camps. He wanted to “bring justice to the downtrodden” but he
wanted to do it by launching a first nuclear strike on New York or
Washington. The Cuban government, still led by some of Che’s former
contemporaries, exemplifies a similar contradiction between idealism and
brutal coercion.

There is in fact a great deal more to the Castro brothers’ medical
diplomacy than the development of Cuba as, in the words of gushing
Guardian columnist, a “beacon of international humanitarianism.” The
government in Havana rakes in around $8 billion a year on the backs of
its health workers. Most notably it receives cheap oil from the
/Maduro autocracy in , but it also gets a hefty sum of
much-needed hard currency from the World Health Organisation (WHO) for
every doctor it sends to Africa and beyond.

Not that there is any shame in that: socialist economies need hard
currency to buy things on the international markets as much as any other
country. But if there’s altruism here, it’s on the part of the workers
themselves, since they rarely see any of the money they bring in for the
dictatorship back home. All the available evidence suggests that they
receive a measly stipend from the regime—about $20 extra a month—with
the rest pocketed by the government to bolster things like Cuba’s
omnipresent security apparatus.

Yet lavish praise is heaped on the supposed generosity of Havana’s
elderly rulers—the same ones who for 50 years have stopped most Cubans
from travelling abroad. “Cuba is a special case,” says José Luis Di
Fabio, who heads the World Health Organization’s Havana office, told
DeutscheWelle. “The country has the ability to react very quickly
because of the experience of the physicians and the political will to do

“Political will” in this instance is a euphemism, for there is ample
evidence to suggest that Cuba’s medical diplomacy is far from voluntary
for those sent abroad on their country’s international missions. Much
like those who decline to attend the “voluntary” pro-government rallies
which sporadically fill the streets of Havana and give a veneer of
democracy to the one-party state, those medics who choose not to play
ball with the Leninist Center can pay a severe penalty. As Madrid-based
Cuban doctor Antonio Guedes told the same German website, “Whoever does
not cooperate may lose his job, or at least his position, or his son
will not get a place at .”

This jibes with something Yanelis Ochoa, a university medical student in
Santiago de Cuba, told me when I visited the country in 2011. Talking
about the future, Yanelis said that when she eventually graduates she
“may have to go to Venezuela or Brazil for a short time to work.” What
about your boyfriend? I asked. Are you not getting married soon?
“James,” she replied with unusual gravity. “You don’t understand how
these things work. If they say I go then I go. It’s that simple.”

Source: The Dark Side of Cuba’s Ebola Economy – The Daily Beast –

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