Posted 02/25/2010 06:47 PM ET
Health Care: 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.
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
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.
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.
"They were told 'your work is more important to Cuba than even its sugar
industry,'" their attorney, Leonardo Canton, told IBD.
That's because their labor 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 labor.
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.
In a situation like this, it's pretty obvious that when the state gets
involved in medical care — telling doctors whom they can serve, what
they can charge and what they can treat — it doesn't take long for
slavery to result. The Cuban government has told other doctors, such as
surgeon Hilda Molina, that her brain "is the property of the state" as
reason to control her travel.
That ought to be lesson to those who seek to reform medical care in the
U.S. on the backs of doctors. Free medical care is never free.
Investors.com - Cuba's Doctor Abuse (26 February 2010)