One would have thought we were well past the day when the the folks at PBS would be shilling for Castro and Communism, but one would be wrong. Mary Anastasia O’Grady brings us a remarkable example of Castroite stupefaction in her Wall Street Journal column “A Cuban fairy tale from PBS,” noted here by Tim Graham at NewsBusters. O’Grady finds reporter Ray Suarez declaring the glories of Cuban health care in a three-part PBS NewsHour series last week.
Suarez took the Potemkin village tour of the Cuban health care system; O’Grady notes that the NewsHour series was taped in Cuba with government “cooperation,” so it is not exactly a great surprise that it went heavy on the party line. Yet Cuba is a national museum of Communism, the clock having been stopped around the time that Castro seized power half a century ago. It is something of a ramshackle paradise for political pilgrims that has been exposed as such many times over.
O’Grady contrasts Suarez’s series with Los Funerales de Castro, the 2009 memoir by Vicente Botin covering his four years in Cuba as a correspondent for Spanish Television:
Botín tells about a Havana woman who was frustrated by the doctor shortage in the country. She hung a sheet on her balcony with the words “trade me to Venezuela.” When the police arrived she told them: “Look, compañeros, I’m as revolutionary as the next guy, but if you want to see a Cuban doctor, you have to go to Venezuela.”
The NewsHour has posted Suarez’s installment on Cuba’s purported emphasis on preventive care online. This seems like a sick joke. One would indeed be well advised not to succumb to an illness requiring medical care in Cuba.
Suarez reports that, according to the World Health Organization, the country has earned bragging rights. The average Cuban lives to the age of 78. That’s slightly longer than the life span of the average American. The cost of health care in Cuba is less than $400 a year per person. In the U.S., the annual tab is almost 20 times higher. As George Orwell said, “There are some ideas so absurd that only an intellectual could believe them.” Not that Suarez is exactly an intellectual.
Suarez wants us to understand that we have much to learn from Cuba and Castro. The Maximum Leader has created a system producing better outcomes than the United States at a fraction of the cost. You might think he’d look a little harder to discover how such a “miracle” was accomplished. Is it for real?
I can believe that the per year per person cost of health care in Cuba is minimal; health care professionals are slaves who are paid slave wages and medical infrastructure is, shall we say, deficient. Commenting on Michael Moore’s film Sicko, Jay Nordlinger provides a slightly more realistic portrait than Suarez’s:
Testimony and documentation on the subject are vast. Hospitals and clinics are crumbling. Conditions are so unsanitary, patients may be better off at home, whatever home is. If they do have to go to the hospital, they must bring their own bedsheets, soap, towels, food, light bulbs — even toilet paper. And basic medications are scarce. In Sicko, even sophisticated medications are plentiful and cheap. In the real Cuba, finding an aspirin can be a chore. And an antibiotic will fetch a fortune on the black market.
A nurse spoke to Isabel Vincent of Canada’s National Post. “We have nothing,” said the nurse. “I haven’t seen aspirin in a Cuban store here for more than a year. If you have any pills in your purse, I’ll take them. Even if they have passed their expiry date.”
The equipment that doctors have to work with is either antiquated or nonexistent. Doctors have been known to reuse latex gloves — there is no choice. When they travel to the island, on errands of mercy, American doctors make sure to take as much equipment and as many supplies as they can carry. One told the Associated Press, “The [Cuban] doctors are pretty well trained, but they have nothing to work with. It’s like operating with knives and spoons.”
And doctors are not necessarily privileged citizens in Cuba. A doctor in exile told the Miami Herald that, in 2003, he earned what most doctors did: 575 pesos a month, or about 25 dollars. He had to sell pork out of his home to get by. And the chief of medical services for the whole of the Cuban military had to rent out his car as a taxi on weekends. “Everyone tries to survive,” he explained. (Of course, you can call a Cuban with a car privileged, whatever he does with it.)
So deplorable is the state of health care in Cuba that old-fashioned diseases are back with a vengeance. These include tuberculosis, leprosy, and typhoid fever. And dengue, another fever, is a particular menace. Indeed, an exiled doctor named Dessy Mendoza Rivero — a former political prisoner and a spectacularly brave man — wrote a book called ¡Dengue! La Epidemia Secreta de Fidel Castro.
(Dr. Miguel Faria has more on ¡Dengue! here.)
University of Oklahoma Professor of Anthropology Katherine Hirschfeld actually conducted ethnographic field work in Cuba on the health care system for 10 months in 1997. She experienced the effects of Cuban health care first hand: “Hirschfeld, then a 29 year-old doctoral student, was hospitalized in May 1997 with dengue fever in Santiago. Doctors were expected to keep the outbreak quiet, she says. And she was sent to a secret ward where an armed guard stood before her door.”
In a paper on her field work in Cuba, Hirschfeld noted some of the difficulties: “Formally eliciting critical narratives about health care would be viewed as a criminal act both for me as a researcher, and for people who spoke openly with me.”
Professor Hirschfeld’s increased awareness of Castro’s tyranny caused her to ask a question that evidently did not occur to Suarez: “to what extent is the favorable international image of the Cuban health care system maintained by the state’s practice of suppressing dissent and covertly intimidating or imprisoning would-be critics?”
Professor Hirschfeld’s book is Health, Politics, and Revolution in Cuba Since 1898. Professor Hirschfeld discovered that Castro has been cooking the books on his health care system, another revelation that would undoubtedly come as a shock to Suarez.
Suarez’s report on Cuban health care in 2010 is a disgrace. When Congress gets around to examining the funding of National Public Radio in connection with the termination of Juan Williams, it ought to do likewise with respect to the Public Broadcasting System.
O’Grady discusses her column on Suarez’s Cuba series in the video below. It is well worth a look.
ONE MORE THOUGHT: With Suarez’s report, PBS returns to its venerable Cold War role as one of Communism’s useful idiots. Why now? I believe the answer is obviously Obamacare. Suarez wants to persuade Americans that a state-run health care system is just what the doctor ordered. Like NPR, PBS is a media adjunct of the Democratic Party.