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HavanaJournal.com: Cuba Politics

Healthy in Cuba, Sick in America?

Posted September 07, 2007 by Cuban American in Cuba Politics.
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Healthy in Cuba, Sick in America?
John Stossel Takes on Michael Moore, Examines Government-Run Health Care

By MELISSA SCOTT
Sept. 7, 2007

“Which way to Guantanamo Bay?!”
Anyone who’s seen Michael Moore’s film “Sicko” will recall the scene in which he shouts with a bullhorn as his boat takes a group of people, including Sept. 11 workers, to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, where he says prisoners get better health care than Americans.

After the manned gun towers blow horns at Moore’s boat, he takes the group to Havana, where his movie says socialized medicine — government-run medicine — is great for everyone. When Moore’s group arrives in Havana, they are taken to a special section of a large showcase hospital.

Moore says in the film, “I asked [the Havana hospital] to give us the same exact care they give their fellow Cuban citizens. No more, no less. And that’s what they did.”

The Debate

Moore sat down with “20/20’s” John Stossel and talked about that claim. When asked whether it really was an average hospital, Moore said, “Yes.”

“This isn’t just me saying this, you know. All the world health organizations or whatever have confirmed that if there’s one thing they do right in Cuba, it’s health care,” Moore said. “And there’s very little debate about that.”

In fact, there is plenty of debate. Miami-based Cuban Human Rights activist Jose Carro says Moore’s movie paints an inaccurate picture.

“These films that try to portray the health-care system as superior to that of the U.S. are lacking in truth,” Carro said. He asserts that most hospitals for Cuban citizens are dilapidated, that conditions are filthy and that patients are so neglected that some are starving.

George Utset, who runs the anti-Castro Web site called therealcuba.com, says Moore’s group didn’t “go to the hospital for regular Cubans. They go to the hospital for the elite and it’s [a] very different condition.”

Darsi Ferrer, a human rights advocate in Cuba, issued an SOS via telephone, wanting the world to know that ordinary Cubans are “crazy with desperation” over the horrendous state of their health care.

Questioning the Numbers

Moore says that because Cubans get such good health care, they live longer and it is true that a U.N. report claims that they live nearly two months longer. But the United Nations didn’t gather any data, said Carro.

“The United Nations simply reports whatever the government in Cuba reports, so that we have no objective way to know what the real statistics are,” he said.

Although Cuba claims to have low infant mortality rates, doctors have said the data is misleading because when there might be indications of problems with the fetus, there is a widespread practice of forced abortions.

Julio Alfonso said, “I personally used to do 70 to 80 abortions a day.” Yanet Sanchez, a Cuban exile, said she was simply told to submit to an abortion. “They told me I should end the pregnancy,” said Sanchez. “It was my very first pregnancy. I wanted to have the child.”

Other doctors have said that if a child dies a few hours after birth, they don’t count it as ever having lived, which ultimately makes infant mortality in Cuba look better than that of the United States.

“It changes the number, even though the same number of children may be dying or more,” said Carro.


Long Life?

Moore disagrees. “All the independent health organizations in the world, and even our own CIA, believes that the Cubans have a pretty good health system. And they do, in fact, live longer than we do,” he said.

But when “20/20” contacted the CIA, officials said, “We don’t say that Cuba has a pretty good system or that Cubans live longer than Americans.”

In fact, the CIA’s World Fact Book says Americans live nearly a year longer. Although a U.N. report supports Moore’s position, that data comes straight from the Cuban government.

Why believe anything the Cuban government says about Cuba? Moore said, “Let’s stick to Canada and Britain and this stuff because I think these are legitimate arguments that are made against the film and against the, the so-called idea of socialized medicine. And I think you should challenge me on these things, and I’ll give you my answer.”

You can see the video at: http://youtube.com/watch?v=-cnkXIF2TOw

20/20 will devote the entire hour next week to the issue of healthcare.  I hope they revisit this debate and show more of it.

I am glad that someone in mainstream media is finally shedding light on the reality of Cuba, and they can see past the smoke and mirrors that the Cuban government has been putting up for 48 years.  I hope they bring it out in the open even more next week.

Member Comments

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On September 09, 2007, lee wrote:

i have personally seen the hospitals in Havana and throughout cuba.
the hospitals outside of havana, honestly, smell like a slaughter house.
they are filthy and decrepit, as opposed to the the newer high rise medical center in Havana. although i would love the US to have free health care, the price the Cubans pay for “free’ health care is too much. And of course the Big Pharma guys that run our country would never allow it.

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On September 10, 2007, publisher wrote:

I’m sure “free” health care is more expensive than what you are paying now.

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On September 10, 2007, Mako wrote:

Cuba;s health care is above average for primary care and minor issues. It would not be my first choice for open heart sutgery

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On September 10, 2007, publisher wrote:

I understand there are three health care systems in Cuba.

One for the military and government officials.

One for the tourists.

One for everyone else.

Can anyone comment on that?

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On September 10, 2007, lee wrote:

it is true. so says my wife, out of Cuba 1 year.
even the high rise medical center in Havana has three levels of care.
in the years she was a “prisoner” there i would give her extra bribe money for doctors and dentists, so she could get proper/prompt care.
when she visited my friend and dentist in Beverly hills she immediately called home and told her family in detail the service she received. she was in disbelief.
she can provide more details if needed.

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On September 11, 2007, wanderer wrote:

a friend and i took pizza and a coke (seriously!) so he could get quick attention. the hospital was filthy. i don’t mean old but really filthy. then we went to 5 drug stores looking for the prescribed antibiotics. without success.

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On September 11, 2007, Yeyo wrote:

Three different Health Care Systems in Cuba

There are certainly three different Health Care Systems in Cuba as earlier mentioned by the publisher.

1.  For the medium and high ranking government officials, famous Cuban artist and sport personalities. 

The health care for the medium ranking government officials, artist and sport personalities is concentrated on “Cimeq” or “Centro de investigaciones Medico-Quirurgicas” in the west side of Havana. This is huge hospital very nicely equipped with state of the art equipment. Some years ago some average people made some noise about why this hospital was only available for government approved officials and to try to get the issue forgotten the government allowed some construction workers and other distinguished workers. The hospital is managed by the Interior Ministry (Ministerio del Interior or MININT) and is carefully warded with green fatigues dressed armed guards who would ask for your identification card to enter.
Some foreign dignitaries are also treated there and I recall seen Daniel Ortega there more than twice. I also heard that some Colombia’s guerillas had been treated there. At the Cimeq farmacy you can find most medicines even made in US or any other country. In Cuba is considered “chic” to have access to Cimeq.

The high ranking officials (Ministers, Politburo, State Council) go to “Clinica de 43”. I understand this clinic was initially created to treat Fidel but later left for the rest of the gang. Castro and family are normally treated somewhere and likely not many people knows where.

2.  For the foreigners (Tourists, foreign business people, foreign dignitaries and diplomats, etc).

The health care for foreigners is concentrated on the “ Cira Garcia Clinic” which is an small clinic on Miramar. The clinic have few permanent doctors but as they treats hard currency foreigners is very easy for them to bring the best Cuban doctors to treat their patients in case by case basis and obviously the best Doctors in Cuba are very happy to be call.
As earlier indicated some foreign personalities and dignitaries are also treated at Cimeq.
Both hospitals have state of the art equipment and fully equipped pharmacies at the same level of most North American hospitals and likely better that some of them. The only requirement to enter in the case of the Cira Garcia Clinic is a foreign Passport (doesn’t matter which country) and in Cimeq an appointment arranged and authorized by the government (if you are left inclined or acting or ex guerrilla, that may help.)

3.  For the average Cuban people.
Most Cubans go to the regular completed dilapidated and obsolete hospitals.
The hospitals although dilapidated are staffed with extremely well trained physicians in all specialties. The doctors take time to treat the patient and treat them well and warm.
At the same times the pharmacies for average Cubans are empty, and most medical drugs are sold on the black market. 
A friend of mine says that in Cuba the Cubans can have an open heart surgery for free, yes for free!! and may live many years more later but may easily die of headache because can not find Aspirins.

I would like to mention that the preventive medicine “Medico de la Familia” (Family Medicine) program appear to be excellent because they can treat non emergencies and control very easily vaccination,  preventive programs, new viruses, etc, while keeping the hospitals for the real emergencies.

In general the Health System in Cuba is far from perfect but while I consider stupid to compare the medical system of Cuba (a third world country) with USA (the world most powerful nation) at the same time the Cubans have achieved what not many other Latin-American countries with bigger economies even dream of.

On one side the Michael Moore documentary is misleading because in Cuba any foreigner (unless specially authorized by the government and obviously they were) have to pay in green dollars for the health care, on the other side all Cubans get health care for free, not the best, not the most advanced but free, and is difficult to understand how there are so many millions of Americans that living on the richest country of the world can not have health care insurance coverage because simply because they can not afford it, some of them do not even have access to any kind of health care, good, bad, worst, non, nada…….

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On September 11, 2007, publisher wrote:

EXCELLENT post. Thank you for that in depth explanation.

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On September 11, 2007, Anatasio wrote:

Having just returned from Havana, I can certainly shine some light on the Michael Moore/Sicko fracas.

In short, Michael Moore is nothing more than a bald-faced liar. That simple.

Case in point (I’ll make this short and sweet):

Upon arriving in Havana, I learned my grandmother was in need of an operation to remove her gall bladder. One morning I rose early to take her to a doctor’s appointment at a nearby Cuban hospital. Also joining us was my older cousin, Marcelo. The conditions of the hospital originally slated for the surgery were - in a word - detestable. The floors appeared as if they hadn’t been scrubbed in well over a decade. Cockroaches were ever-present. Yes, cockroaches . . . in a HOSPITAL.

Following the consultation, Marcelo and I quickly decided to scrap plans for her surgery to take place at that facility. For three days, we pulled every string, contacted every “contact” and paid off a few folks until finally, we were able to get her into the Hospital Hermanos Ameijeiras. Why was it so difficult to get her into that facility? Why were we forced to beg, grovel and pay people off? because Hermanos Ameijeiras is a facility which caters to foreigners, diplomats and government fat-cats. This is not a facility meant for average Cubans.

So, why is Michael Moore a liar? The hospital of which he spoke so positively in his film - which he described as being the average facility for ALL Cubans was none other than Hospital Hermanos Ameijeiras. . . the same hospital for which I had to pay bribes and beg on bended knee in order to get my loved one into.

It’s that simple. Michael Moore is a fabricator of tall tales. Pure and simple. No journalism there, no documentary filmmaker there - just a propagandist. Case closed.

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On September 11, 2007, publisher wrote:

Great post. Thanks.

He is such a commie lover that he may have just been blinded by his love for his utopian society and the Castro government fed him what he wanted to see.

So, he may have just been duped by the Castro government (and his own ignorance obviously).

OR

He is just a liar and that wouldn’t surprise me either.

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On September 11, 2007, Yeyo wrote:

I things are not perfectly black or white but may be somewhere in the middle.
I feel that things are not perfectly black or white but may be somewhere in the middle.
I agree with Anastasio Blanco that a lot of Hospitals in Cuba are in “detestable” conditions and is difficult to get somebody to the Hermanos Almejeiras Hospital for the simple reason that is in better conditions than most other hospitals and obviously more people would like to go there.
However the Hospitals in Cuba are assigned depending which area you live in and the people that happens to live nearby to the Hermanos Almejeiras Hospital (which is NOT a rich neighborhood by the way) is assigned and normally goes there.
I know that if you would like to go to other hospital there or simply see a Doctor that is not the one “assigned to you” it may be difficult and would likely involve some sort of “resolver” the problem, which in other words means some bribing to get what you want.
I feel that in the case of the Michael Moore movie there was a combination of both Michael Moore was partially duped and used by the Castro government but at the same time he lied in few things to strongly argue his point of view on the health care issue in USA.

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On September 12, 2007, Anatasio wrote:

The problem with getting regular civilians into hospitals like Hermanos Almejeiras is mostly a result of the system of medical apartheid on the island. Of course many, many people would like to be treated at that facility but that fact is secondary to the underlying problem here - the existence of a two-tier medical system.

Going further, I do not feel that Michael Moore was duped. Moore knew exactly what he was doing. This is proven by his statement to John Stossel in the recent 20/20 interview concerning one of the 9/11 patients. According to Moore, this patient, an American, was fluent in Spanish. In a bid to test the idea that any Cuban can be treated at hospitals like Hermanos Almejeiras, she left the hospital after being treated and came back a short time later, posing as a Cuban. She reported that she received the same treatment.

1) No American, no matter how fluent in Spanish, is going to fool a Cuban as to their national origin simply by speaking the language fluently. The Cuban accent is a very specific, identifiable voice.

2) What happened when she was asked to present her carned (identification card)?

Yet another blatant lie. The media community needs to understand once and for all that Moore is a propagandist, NOT a journalist.

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On September 12, 2007, Yeyo wrote:

Anastasio I completely agree with you in regard that no American (unless born and raised in Cuba) would be able to fool the Hospital personnel.
They may be treated there only if authorized by the Government like I feel was the case or by bribing the Hospital personnel (in some cases some foreigners would arrange to be treated and even to have surgery in “free only for Cuban Hospitals” paying an small bribe to the Doctors).
I feel that that was a mixture of a very convenient lie from both sides, Michael Moore and the Castro Government.