Elio Delgado Legón
HAVANA TIMES — I have read articles and comments by the foreign press criticizing Cuba for exporting medical services on more than one occasion. These express opinions full of cynicism and bad intentions and use false or distorted information to denigrate the Cuban government, joining the chorus of the ultra-Right press that caters to the US government policy of destroying the Cuban revolution.
First of all, I want to stress that, in addition to medical services, Cuba also offers educational, cultural, sporting, agricultural, construction and other services. Medical services, however, are the only ones attacked by the press.
Many of these services are provided on the basis of cooperation agreements with poor countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America, where Cuba does not charge one cent – not because it has resources to spare, but because it chooses to share what little it has with its friends in need. If there is one thing that has always characterized the Cuban revolution, it is its altruism, selflessness and internationalism, based on Jose Marti’s principle that “to say homeland is to say humanity.”
Cuba is not a wealthy country. Nor does it have vast reserves of natural resources that would allow it to fully satisfy its developmental needs. What it does have is an open and free educational system that has allowed it to develop high-quality productive forces and to create the human capital that today constitutes one of the country’s most important resources.
Cuba’s foreign cooperation efforts in the field of medicine date back to the early years of the revolution, when the country had suffered a massive exodus and half of the six thousand medical doctors in the country left. Its first aid campaign was in response to Chile’s 1960 earthquake. Later, in 1963, a medical brigade offered aid services in Algeria for a year, at the request of that country’s government, following independence from French colonialism.
Since then, Cuba has offered selfless aid to numerous poor countries that have requested it, saving millions of lives. It has also freely trained more than 25 thousand medical doctors from over 100 countries and mostly poor families that would have never been able to afford a career in medicine, including US citizens.
Studying medicine or any other discipline is entirely free for Cubans, even though it costs the State a lot to provide such education. Even though medical and other services continue to be provided free of charge to countries that are unable to pay for these, Cuba charges countries with financial resources for these services on the basis of agreements. This is also the case for the engineers and teachers that countries request from Cuba. I must add that those Cubans who take part in internationalist missions aren’t forced to work abroad, but do so entirely of their own free will.
People from other countries, where a university career costs a fortune, may find it difficult to understand that these medical doctors do not keep all of the money earned this way, but the fact of the matter is that their career cost them nothing and cost the State much. Therefore, it is right that the State should charge for the service or decide to offer it free of charge, as is often the case. These doctors, however, continue to receive a salary in Cuba plus an additional sum and stipend in the country where they work, so as to be able to cover their expenses.
What is unacceptable is that other powerful countries should offer Cuban medical doctors who are working abroad certain facilities to abandon their place of work and move to those countries. This is undeniably a form of brain-drain, a policy that was recently criticized by an important US newspaper.
I could say much more about Cuba’s medical services around the world, but that would make my post excessively long.
To those who write such diatribes against Cuba, I can only say that they ought to worry about the problems that affect their country and systems (which aren’t few) and let Cubans solve their own, as they see fit.