Slavery for Universal Health Care


Reports are out that seven Cuban doctors are suing Venezuela, Cuba, and the state-owned Venezuelan petroleum company, PDVSA , for forcing them into “modern day slavery”.

For those of you that do not know, the governments of Venezuela and Cuba are tight, right up to the ideological tee. The two governments crafted a program, “Barrio Adentro”(Inside the Neighborhood), part of which included Cuba sending doctors to Venezuela in exchange for cheap oil. This program makes a lot of sense if only the objects of exchange were not coerced into it, at least the human half of it(oil cares not where it goes; it gets burned regardless. Humans should have a choice).

The Cuban doctors alleged, in a federal court in Miami, that:

They(the doctors) say they are held in captivity in crowded lodgings or in houses with families affiliated with the Venezuelan regime. They say they are under strict control, surveillance, and threats by “slave hunters”: Venezuelan security officials.

The only surprise in all of this could be that the Cuban doctors managed to escape their “slave hunters” and make it to the U.S.

If the “Barrio Adentro” program was to be at all successful, it needed to implement a policy that prevented the defection of Cuban doctors. Cuba  denies its citizens the right to freely  leave or enter its borders. Once outside of the strict totalitarian state of Cuba, the natural reflex for many of those Cuban doctors would be to run and never look back. Granted, Hugo Chavez aspires to have Venezuela to be a clone of Cuba, but he has only had 11 years. Cuba has had over 50 years. Big difference. Many have fled Venezuela, though most have not. To inject the political, the Bush administration instituted a policy in which defecting Cuban doctors could(still can, I believe) obtain visas to come to  the U.S. There is an estimated, as of 2009, 20,000 Cuban medical personnel in Venezuela and it appears that at most, only several hundred have successfully defected to a country other than Cuba. Considering the reportedly heavy supervision over these doctors, this is but a natural result.

Andres, a Cuban doctor, was one of the lucky ones.

An article from the medical journal, Lancet, tells the story of a few that have escaped Venezuela , enduring many subsequent travails, and eventually landing on the United States’ shores.

“Andres paid a price to get to Colombia. He and his wife had been assigned to the city of Punto Fijo on the northwestern coast of Venezuela, not far from the border. Their escape went smoothly until they reached the frontier, where Venezuelan guards refused to permit them to cross because the visas on their passports were valid only for travel within Venezuela. Only after Andres bribed the agents with nearly all their possessions did the guards let them leave Venezuela. “We gave them all the money we had, cellular phones, watches, and they let us cross”, he said. “We were in Colombia and we had reached freedom. We felt free.” Andres and others also spoke of the conditions he had to endure while in Venezuela:

“…he could not stand the conditions in Venezuela, where he lived in a crowded house with a leaky straw roof which he shared with fifteen other Cuban doctors waiting to be put to work….Cuban minders monitored their movements, prohibiting non-work contact with Venezuelans. When not at work, the Cubans were required to be at home after 6 pm. One couple said that after they pointed out some problems with the programme, officials threatened to send them back to Cuba in retaliation.”

The “barrio adentro” program is not completely condemnable; after all, poor people in Venezuela benefit from the Cuban doctors treating them. Nonetheless, the process is corrupted by an all-too-familiar mantra–the ends justify the means, no matter  how dastardly the means are. Here, the means include coercing Humans into working. Not only are they coerced, it appears they are not well treated slaves–the doctors cannnot go out past a certain time and are forced into substandard  living conditions. But the purported good seems one sided.

The Doctor For Oil Exchange does concretely benefit one group–poor Venezuelans. However, one will be hard pressed to find what it  does for poor Cubans. Cuba receives cheap oil, which could feasibly help out its people, though who can really tell what Cuba does with it being that there is not one remnant of free press there outside of independent, resource-starved bloggers. What the exchange surely does is deprive the Cuban people of medical personnel that they could probably use.

One thing is clear: the suing doctors deserve some money.


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3 Responses to “Slavery for Universal Health Care”

  1. rogerhollander Says:

    Cuban doctors are educated one hundred percent free from kindergarten to medical school (calculate the value of that in the US!). If Cuban doctors are forced to work in Venezuela, it is a form of conscription, not slavery (if you want to find slavery you don’t have to look very far, it can be found throughout the US prison system and the tomato fields of Florida). From my several visits to Cuba I can tell you that Cubans are proud of their revolution and its accomplishments, especially in the areas of health and education. At the same time, Cuban suffer from lack of material goods for a variety of reasons, including the 50 year US embargo. Cubans also suffer under a dictatorship (I would not call it totalitarian), where freedom to criticize the government is not allowed. I have listened to many Cubans complain about these conditions, but not one who would want to go back to pre-revolution Cuba, which was one big whore house for North American tourists. The repression in Castro’s Cuba is a drop in the bucket compared to the repression under US supported Batista. Cuba is a mixed bag, and to rail at it with cold war rhetoric about “slavery” and “totalariansism” (check out the US’s favorite trading partner, China, for these endearing qualities) is facile and irrelevant. That only a handful of the 20,000 Cuban doctors in Venezuela have defected parallels the experience of Cuban athletes abroad; for the most part they are satisfied with life in Cuba enough to want to stay. I am not an apologist for the Cuban dictatorship, but things need to be evaluated in perspective.

    • bjohns15 Says:

      I am not an apologist for China, or anyone. My first response was particularly heated because I just got news of Tamayo’s death.

      Do you think that the Cuban people would be better off without a dictatorship?

  2. bjohns15 Says:

    It’s not a mixed bag, it is a totalitarian state. Did you see the murder of political dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo today? He dies after an 82 day hunger strike. He was arrested and sentenced to 25 years in Jail for “Disobedience”. Please take off the ideological blinders.

    I am well aware that the Batista Regime was horrible. The Castros are just as bad.

    I don’t know whom you have spoken to in Cuba, but I have spoken to Cubans as well(not in Cuba), and they have a complete diametric opinion.

    Do you read the dissident bloggers? who, by the way, are officially barred from using the internet; they have to go way out of the way to publish things.

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