"I said this to President Castro in Cuba. Look you've made great progress in educating young people...Medical care. The life expectancy of Cubans is equivalent to the United States despite it being a very poor country because they have access to health care." – President Obama pic.twitter.com/pKDzvo3YpO— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) February 26, 2020
Before President Obama or Senator Sanders made their trips to Cuba those dissenting from their policy approach to Cuba would have recommended that they first read Paul Hollander's Political Pilgrims: Western Intellectuals in Search of the Good Society if they did not want to be manipulated by the Castro regime. This book studies and catalogs the strategies and tactics that these totalitarian regimes use to control what one sees visiting their respective countries and what the unintended consequences are for its victims: i.e. the people who have to live there. This is what it had to say about healthcare in Cuba from a past regime supporter as early as 1987, prior to the Special Period in the 1990s when it further worsened:
Maurice Halperin, a supporter of the Castro regime who lived in Cuba between 1962 and 1968 teaching at the University of Havana and working in the ministry of foreign trade ... reported on a "confidential public opinion poll made by the Communist Party in ... 1987" about public health conditions in Holguin province, provides a far less rosy picture of the vaunted health care system than one can find in much of the literature on Cuba under Castro. Of those polled (over ten thousand) 87 percent had unfavorable views of the health care they received. Most of the complaints "as summed up in the report concerned 'lack of attention, negligence and abuse of patients.'" There were also many complaints "about the chronic absenteeism of both doctors and nurses and about favoritism in the treatment of well-connected patients."The negligence and abuse have had deadly consequences. On January 15, 2010 The New York Times reported the confirmed deaths of at least 20 mental patients at the Psychiatric Hospital in Cuba, known as Mazorra, due to "criminal negligence by a government characterized by its general inefficiency," a day later the Cuban government confirmed that 26 patients had died due to “prolonged low temperatures that fell to 38 degrees.” This tragic episode only became known because brave souls leaked the information, and made it impossible for the dictatorship to cover it up.
|Three of the victims of exposure and hypothermia at Mazorra in 2010|
The second book to have recommended the President, the Senator and their advisors would have been Katherine Hirschfeld's Health, Politics, and Revolution in Cuba Since 1898. This anthropologist spent a long time in Cuba, studying the healthcare system, she contracted dengue while there experiencing first hand the 'discrepancies between rhetoric and reality,' What she found was a repressive, bureaucratized and secretive system, long on 'militarization' and short on patients' rights.
This would have saved President Obama from the embarrassing March 23, 2016 spectacle in Buenos Aires, Argentina where he repeated the Castro regime's talking points on its healthcare system:
“Medical care–the life expectancy of Cubans is equivalent to that of the United States, despite it being a very poor country, because they have access to health care. That’s a huge achievement. They should be congratulated.”It also would have saved Senator Sanders from doubling down on a position that is factually incorrect. How is it that the same rational individuals that snicker at absurd North Korean healthcare claims take seriously Cuban healthcare claims?
President Obama and Senator Sanders celebrate a system that coerces medical doctors to work for starvation wages around the world while the Castro regime makes billions of dollars.Worse yet, it has also potentially corrupted an international health body.
The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) is being sued for conspiring "with the Cuban government to collect millions of dollars by unlawfully trafficking Cuban doctors to Brazil." (PAHO is the Regional Office for the Americas for the World Health Organization [WHO], and is recognized internationally as a part of the United Nations system.) According to a November 29, 2018 article by Frances Robles, in The New York Times, PAHO "made about $75 million off the work of up to 10,000 Cuban doctors who earned substandard wages in Brazil."
Sam Bernstein in a March 30, 2016 publication of The Advisory Board raised questions about the official statistics on health care in Cuba and how they are generated, raising questions about their validity.
Communist regimes in China and Cuba cover up epidemics targeting doctors and journalists
We have witnessed in China how communist regimes cover up a healthcare crisis making it worse. Doctors and journalists who tried to warn about the coronavirus were arrested. Is this something to be congratulated or declared a huge achievement? The Castro regime has repeatedly done the same thing in Cuba, and have endangered lives in the process.
In 1997 a Cuban doctor was silenced for warning about a deadly dengue epidemic. Dr Desi Mendoza Rivero, married with four children at the time, was arrested on June 25, 1997. On November 28, 1997 he was sentenced to eight years in prison for "enemy propaganda." Amnesty International declared Desi a prisoner of conscience and campaigned for his freedom. He was released on November 20, 1998 due to health reasons following the visit of the Spanish Foreign Minister, under the condition that he go into exile in Spain.
First official report to the World Health Organization of the dengue outbreak was six months after initial identification made by the jailed and later forcibly exiled physician. Mendoza's reports were eventually confirmed. This episode would have a chilling effect on other doctors coming forward.
News of a cholera outbreak in Manzanillo, in the east of the island, broke in El Nuevo Herald on June 29, 2012 thanks to the reporting of an independent reporter in the island. Calixto Martinez, the independent Cuban journalist who broke the story was jailed. The state controlled media did not confirm the outbreak until days later on July 3, 2012. The BBC reported on July 7, 2012 that a patient had been diagnosed with Cholera in Havana. The dictatorship stated that it had it under control and on August 28, 2012 said the outbreak was over.
In July 2013 an Italian tourist returned from Cuba with severe renal failure due to Cholera. New York high school teacher Alfredo Gómez contracted cholera during a family visit to Havana during the summer of 2013 and was billed $4,700 from the government hospital. A total of 12 tourists were identified who had contracted cholera in Cuba.
On August 22, 2013 Reuters reported that Cuba was still struggling with cholera outbreaks in various provinces.
In a August 22, 2019 New York Times article by Carl Zimmer, "Zika Was Soaring Across Cuba. Few Outside the Country Knew", the newspaper tries to shift the blame for an unreported outbreak of Zika in Cuba in 2017 on a reporting glitch. This ignores a decades long government pattern of covering up epidemics.
"Until now, the Pan American Health Organization had no record of any Zika infection in Cuba in 2017, much less an outbreak. Following inquiries by The New York Times about the new study, published in the journal Cell, officials acknowledged that they had failed to tally 1,384 cases reported by Cuban officials that year. [...] Officials at P.A.H.O., an arm of the World Health Organization, blamed the failure to publish timely data on the Cuba outbreak on a “technical glitch.” The information was held in a database, they said, but not visible on the website. By Thursday afternoon, the website had been updated."On August 25, 2016 this blog raised concerns about the reporting on Zika in Cuba. This was done by looking back at past Castro regime responses to previous epidemics, and expressed skepticism of reporting that claimed their was nothing to worry about.
On September 2, 2016 this blog again warned about the dangers of Zika and Associated Press reports that Cuba had "remarkable success in containing Zika virus." This report made no mention of the regime's past history of covering up epidemics on the island. On January 8, 2019 New Scientist reported: "Cuba failed to report thousands of Zika virus cases in 2017."
Medical care denied as punishment
Human rights defender Sebastián Arcos Bergnes, in 1992 was charged with "enemy propaganda" and "inciting rebellion," he was sentenced to four years and eight months in prison. Sebastian was transferred to Ariza Prison in Cienfuegos Province, more than 130 miles from Havana, where he was imprisoned alongside dangerous criminals and systematically denied medical attention. In 1993 the regime offered Sebastian a deal: He would be released immediately if he only agreed to leave the island for good. Sebastian rejected the deal, choosing prison in Cuba over freedom in exile.
|Sebastián Arcos Bergnes in front of his home on May 31, 1995 following his release|
Sirley Avila Leon. Sirley was a true believer who grew up in the revolution and was a member of a local municipal assembly. She believed the claims that free education was a right for all Cubans. This belief left her an invalid and nearly led to a violent death. She lobbied and agitated for a school to be opened in her municipality so that the children there would not have to trek 5.6 miles to go to class and then trek the same distance back to get home.
|Sirley Avila Leon|
Lady in White Xiomara Cruz was arrested on April 16, 2016 for speaking out during a human rights demonstration in Havana's Central park. She was placed on parole in January of 2018. She was re-arrested in mid-September 2018 under the charge of being "threatening." On September 19, 2018 she was tried and sentenced to one year and four months in prison. She was sent to a prison 400 kilometers from her home. This was an added hardship for her family to visit her, and keep an eye on her well being.
|Xiomara de las Mercedes Cruz Miranda before and during her jailing.|
On August 8, 2019 she was transferred to intensive care. Cuban dissident Angel Juan Moya posted videos of interviews from August 6th and August 7th with doctors at the hospital. Family members complained that they are receiving differing diagnoses and her situation continues to worsen. Xiomara was in intensive care and doctors were saying that it could be lung cancer. A doctor refused to update the family saying: "that he did not want to see those people."
Near death she arrived in Miami on January 21, 2020 on a humanitarian visa, and was immediately placed in intensive care.
|Xiomara de las Mercedes Cruz Miranda arrived in Miami on January 21, 2020|
Reality of Cuba's healthcare system
Cuba has a two tiered health care system one tier for the nomenklatura and foreign tourists with hard currency that offers care with modern equipment and fully stocked pharmacies, then there is a second tier which is for the rest with broken down equipment, run down buildings and rooms, scarce supplies, a lack of hygiene, the denial of certain services and lengthy wait times. Healthcare professionals are poorly paid and lack food.
The communist dictatorship has also punished dissidents by denying them healthcare, or not providing adequate healthcare.
There are serious consequences for travelers to Cuba when they are not properly informed with what to expect with Cuba's public health failures and the disastrous state of Cuban healthcare. Not to mention a hefty bill for catching Cholera while on vacation, or worse yet discovering that you had been exposed to Zika virus when your child is born with microcephaly, a serious birth defect.
The healthcare claims about Cuba made by both President Obama and Senator Sanders are but one of the many myths propagated by the Castro regime that do not hold up under scrutiny.