Jason Fisher | New York Post
Filmmaker Michael Moore’s production company took ailing Ground Zero responders to Cuba in a stunt aimed at showing that the U.S. health-care system is inferior to Fidel Castro’s socialized medicine, according to several sources with knowledge of the trip.
The trip was to be filmed as part of the controversial director’s latest documentary, “Sicko,” an attack on American drug companies and HMOs that Moore hopes to debut at the Cannes Film Festival next month.
Two years in the making, the flick also takes aim at the medical care being provided to people who worked on the toxic World Trade Center debris pile, according to several 9/11 workers approached by Moore’s producers.
But the sick sojourn, which some say uses ill 9/11 workers as pawns, has angered many in the responder community.
“He’s using people that are in a bad situation and that’s wrong, that’s morally wrong,” railed Jeff Endean, a former SWAT commander from Morris County, N.J., who spent a month at Ground Zero and suffers from respiratory problems.
A spokeswoman for the Weinstein Co., the film’s distributor, would not say when the director’s latest expose would hit cinemas or provide details about the film or the trip.
Responders were told Cuban doctors had developed new techniques for treating lung cancer and other respiratory illness, and that health care in the communist country was free, according to those offered the two-week February trip.
Cuba has made recent advancements in biotechnology and exports its cancer treatments to 40 countries around the world, raking in an estimated $100 million a year, according to The Associated Press.
In 2004 the U.S. government granted an exception to its economic embargo against Cuba and allowed a California drug company to test three cancer vaccines developed in Havana, according to the AP.
Regardless, some ill 9/11 workers balked at Moore’s idea.
“I would rather die in America than go to Cuba,” said Joe Picurro, a Toms River, N.J., ironworker approached by the filmmaker via an e-mail that read, “Joe and Mike in Cuba.”
After helping remove debris from Ground Zero, Picurro has a laundry list of respiratory and other ailments so bad that he relies on fund-raisers to help pay his expenses.
He said, “I just laughed. I couldn’t do it.”
Another ill worker who said he was willing to take the trip ended up being stiffed by Moore.
Michael McCormack, 48, a disabled medic who found an American flag at Ground Zero that once flew atop the Twin Towers, was all set to go to.
The film crew contacted him by phone and took him by limo from his Ridge, L.I., home to Manhattan for an on-camera interview.
“What he [Moore] wanted to do is shove it up George W’s rear end that 9/11 heroes had to go to a communist country to get adequate health care,” said McCormack, who suffers from chronic respiratory illness.
But McCormack said he was abandoned by Moore. At a March fund-raiser for another 9/11 responder in New Jersey, McCormack learned Moore had gone to Cuba without him.
“It’s the ultimate betrayal,” he said. “You’re promised that you’re going to be taken care of and then you find out you’re not. He’s trying to profiteer off of our suffering.”
Moore’s publicist did not return calls from The Post. But McCormack played a tape for The Post of a telephone conversation between himself and a Moore producer. The woman is heard apologizing for not taking McCormack, while saying the production company was not offering anyone guarantees of a cure.
“Even for the people that we did bring down to Cuba, we said we can promise that you will be evaluated, that you will get looked at,” said the woman. “We can’t promise that you will get fixed.”
Participants in the Cuba trip were forced to sign a confidentiality agreement prohibiting them from talking about the project, the sources said.
Travel to Cuba is severely restricted from the United States, but Moore’s crew was granted access, the producer told McCormack, through a “general license that allows for journalistic endeavors there.”
Some called the trip a success, at least logistics-wise.
“From what I heard through the grapevine, those people that went are utterly happy,” said John Feal, who runs the Fealgood Foundation to help raise money for responders and was approached by Moore to find responders willing to take the trip.
“They got the Elvis treatment.”
Although he has been a critic of Cuba, Moore grew popular there after a pirated version of his movie, “Fahrenheit 9/11,” was played on state-owned TV.
Additional reporting provided by Jill Culora, Susan Edelman and Ginger Adams Otis