Thursday, September 29, 2011

Doctors for oil - international trade Cuban-style

Doctors for oil - international trade Cuban-style
By Phillip Hart
12:01AM BST 31 Jul 2006

For a man who is so averse to the ways of capitalism, Fidel Castro, the
Cuban president, has spotted a lucrative money-earner for his
economically stagnant island. He is exporting the country's medical
expertise in return for hard currency and cheap oil - even as the
country's health service needs emergency treatment of its own. Always on
the look-out for a propaganda coup, he portrays the operation as an act
of selfless revolutionary solidarity.

Jabbing his spindly fingers at an audience in a speech in southern Cuba
last week, Castro boasted that 30,000 Cuban medics were sharing their
skills abroad. To loud applause, he contrasted this with the fact that
some 40 million Americans do not have health insurance. Better known for
sending soldiers to Third World war-zones, Castro has now dispatched an
estimated one in five Cuban doctors and nurses to work abroad for his

There are 15,000 in Venezuela and nearly 1,000 in Bolivia - Latin
American allies run by fellow Left-wing radicals. Most are genuine
medics, although their ranks also include political operatives and
security agents.

The payback for Castro is the highly subsidised oil that he receives
from Venezuela, estimated to be worth up to $1 billion a year. It helps
to keep Cuba's industry afloat and he reportedly re-sells some for a profit.

Elsewhere, Cuban doctors work in large numbers in countries such as
South Africa, Pakistan and China. It costs those governments much less
to pay Havana direct for their services than to train and remunerate
their medics.

At home, Cuban specialists receive a basic salary averaging just $25-$30
(£13 to £16) a month. The exported doctors are understood to be paid
$100 a month, with another $100 put aside in a special account for their
relatives to ensure their return. This does not always work - local
media have reported hundreds of defections among doctors in Venezuela
and Bolivia.

Cuba is also establishing itself as a base for medical tourism from
friendly countries. A beach resort near Havana has been turned into a
sanatorium for mainly Venezuelan patients. Here, eye doctors paid $30 a
month conduct hundreds of cataract operations in a lucrative business
for the regime.

Castro is sending waves of his best doctors abroad while Cubans have to
fork out dollar-convertible pesos - local pesos buy little - to obtain
anything other than basic medicines or treatment. "It's an apartheid
system," said Luis, a geography teacher. "If you can afford it, you can
get treated today. If not, good luck. So much for the revolution."

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