The Services Cuba Offers Abroad

Elio Delgado Legón

In addition to medical services, Cuba also offers educational, cultural, sporting, agricultural, construction and other services.

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.

23 thoughts on “The Services Cuba Offers Abroad

  • You are quite right, MLK was in no way anti-American. However, he was a sharp critic of capitalism, which is why he described himself as a social democrat. Certainly, he was far more critical of capitalism than George W Bush and his “compassionate conservatism”.

    Just as Canada has a universal healthcare system, and a quality public education system, so can a free and democratic Cuba maintain and even improve on those institution within a free market economy.

  • Griffin, I would resist the label anti-capitalist. Not because it is entirely untrue but largely because it implies for some that he was anti-American and maybe pro-Communist. Neither of which is even remotely true. To describe his politics correctly, it is safe to say he was a ‘compassionate’ capitalist along the same lines that Bush adopted the mantle of compassionate conservative. This is relevant to this thread and HT in that a future Cuba can maintain universal health care and education and incorporate a market-driven economy at the same time. The politics of MLK would be a good guide to this outcome.


  • Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was indeed a great man. When I was a young boy, my mother called to me, “I want you to see this.” It was his famous “I have a dream speech” on TV, possible the finest by any American who was not also President. It left a deep impression on me. I also recall the morning some months later, my mother weeping over the headline announcing the assassination of Dr. King.

    As for his politics, King believed in a democratic socialism, greatly informed by his deep religious faith. He was anti-capitalist, but not a Marxist and certainly not a Communist.

  • “U.S. Blacks have the right to redress our grievances. We are in the streets protesting our distrust of rogue cops…” etc.
    As long as such protests are no danger to those who perpetrate the racism, or to the economic powers who really control Ferguson, they are tolerated. Instead of burning down some of the black businesses in Ferguson, if some of the protesters had dared to turn on the big box stores–Walmart or Target, for example, they would have received the same fate as Michael Brown.
    As the American Taliban (i.e. the right-wing fundamentalist) use biblical quotations to justify their own prejudices and turn Christ’s teachings on their heads, you too turn MLK’s words against the very essence of the ideas for which he stood.

  • That’s right. There is no free lunch. We all pay for our healthcare, one way or another. As do the Cubans, and a far greater share of their income, about 95%, is shaved off the top by the government. That’s why the average Cuban income is $18 per month.

    And yet, the quality of the Canadian healthcare system is far and away better than the Cuban system.

  • Griffin, In case you haven’t noticed you pay medical premium bills every month. This along with tax money is what pays for your medical expenses.

  • If you check out Cuba-Pakistan relations on Wikipedia you will find this comment re Cuba’s aid to Pakistan after the 2005 earthquake.
    A statement issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that “President Pervez Musharraf expressed profound gratitude of the government and people of Pakistan for the substantial assistance provided by Cuba in the relief and rehabilitation work”. The statement also stated that “the President said that Cuba’s contribution to our relief efforts would always be remembered by the people of Pakistan.”

    Perhaps you can provide some examples of Cuban aid that failed. But this is one instance of successful Cuban aid to a country in need.

  • No, not at all. You misunderstand MLK. He was not a communist and those who want to coopt his legacy to imply as much are mistaken. He believed in equal opportunity, not equal outcomes. Commies want everyone to be equal. Dr. King wanted everyone to be treated equally. Until you understand the difference, you will continue to misapply Dr. King’s words. America is very violent. As an African-American man with two boys, no one understands and is more aware of the risks associated with being Black in America than I am. But, here in the US, Blacks have the right to redress our grievances. We are in the streets protesting our distrust of rogue cops even as I write this comment. Cubans do not have the right to do the same. That is the difference.

  • Your Mom must be very disappointed. Your opinions coincide more with Jesse Helms than with Lucius Walker. Did you stick your fingers in your ears when MLK said ” America is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today” ?

  • The Canadian government has opposed US foreign policy on many occasions. For example, Canada has had good diplomatic relations with Cuba ever since PM Pierre Trudeau visited Havana in 1976. PM Brian Mulroney championed the embargo on apartheid South Africa and pressured Ronald Reagan on the issue. The Canadian government opposed the US invasion of Iraq and declined the US invitation to join their coalition. There are many, many other examples if you care to look them up.

    You are ignorant of the Canadian political system. We have a multi-party parliamentary democracy, not a two party system. Currently, members from 5 different political parties sit in our House of Commons. The current government is conservative, while the largest opposition party is the social democratic NDP. The Liberals, Greens and the separatist Bloc Quebecois round out the list of elected MPs. Several Marxist political parties and anarchist organizations also exist and run candidates, but very few people are attracted to their moribund ideas and they don’t manage to get elected.

    (In fact, the US also has many political parties, but the two largest parties dominate).

  • My mother marched with Dr. King. I grew up with his preachings. You, of all people, choose to quote MLK to me? LOL!!!!

    By the way, the Baptist preacher Dr. King knew very well NLT Matthew 26:11 “You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” His quote in no way implies that there should be no poor people. He knew better. No economic system will rid humanity of those in need. You should know better as well

  • In Canada and in the U.S. their are two wings of a single capitalist party.
    To think that that is any different vis a vis one’s ability to change things than Cuba’s one-party system is illusory .
    At least the Cubans are intelligent enough to realize they have no choice.
    Capitalism does not allow change either .
    To quote a famous anarchist regarding U.S. so-called democracy :
    ” If voting could change anything, they would outlaw it.”
    I will not respond to replies.
    I’m just pointing out what should be obvious .

  • “Philanthropy is commendable , but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice (capitalism) which makes philanthropy necessary.”:
    Martin Luther King Jr.
    Were capitalism replaced with an equitable and democratic economic system, charity, philanthropy would not be necessary.
    Ameliorating the drastic poverty of those at the very bottom is just the wealthy .001% ‘s way of preventing a revolution against them .
    And their charitable gifts are deductible from their taxes.
    I will not respond to (further) idiocies .

  • Canada has never told Washington NO! on any issue – that is why you can have a 2 Party System, just like us. Too bad most people just vote for the ‘lesser of 2 evils’, rather than a great candidate. Somehow, those don’t survive the Primaries – one way or another…

  • Here is a list of the aid projects the Canadian government is funding in Cuba:

    The projects CIDA funds include work in healthcare, forestry, agriculture, economic management, employment training, women’s issues, jurisprudence, & so on.

    Canada is also helping the fight against ebola in West Africa by contributing mobile medical facilities, vaccines, financial aid to local programs, as well as medical and logistical personnel.

    Canada also has a high quality publicly funded universal healthcare system accessible to all Canadians free of charge. (we pay for it through our taxes, as do Cubans for their system).

    And yet, somehow, we are able to do all this without the need for a single party dictatorship which abuses human rights and denies basic freedoms. Therefore, the argument Elio makes that Cuba is a great country for doing these good deeds abroad and the Castro regime should therefore be excused for it’s failures and excesses, fails. In fact, Cuba could do so much more if it were a free and democratic society.

  • 1) Medical services and education in Cuba are not really free. They are paid by the enormous tax fee that the Cuban State takes on wages: workers are paid only a fraction of what their work is worth.

    2) My ex-girlfriend is a Cuban doctor. She has participated in several missions abroad. The Cuban medical assistance is rarely a generous action. This is a very profitable financial service for the Cuban state. Or it comes to getting the votes of developing countries in international agencies such as the UN.

    The reason why the Cuban doctors are working abroad is that they earn a miserable salary in Cuba. This is a chance for them to improve their standard of living. Not because Cuban doctors are more generous than physicians in other countries.

    When the Cuban state offers its services for free (which is rare), Cuban doctors are paid only measly Cuban wage and are under pressure to participate. They are told that if they do not accept… they will not have the chance to participate (in the future) in missions abroad that pay well, they will have a bad record and their children will not be admitted to the University.

    3) Elio is outraged when the foreign press dares to criticize Cuba. He is too used to the Cuban propaganda to appreciate the value of critical thinking.

    Reading articles from Elio is like listening to sermons by imams preaching Islam. We must have faith to appreciate.

    Unfortunately I believe neither in Allah nor in Marx.

  • It is telling that your comments never deal with the reality on the ground in Cuba and instead you choose to focus on generalizations and overused propaganda. Any claim that Cuba’s medical system is more “fair” while ignoring the dilapidated conditions and shortages is disingenuous. At your age you should also realize that while being poor today is no picnic, 70 years ago it was worse. You should also be willing to acknowledge the good and charitable work that the “rich” do to help the poor. Shame on you for presenting such a one-sided argument.

  • The “services” Cuba offers abroad are based on the repressive system in Cuba.
    Workers have few choice as they are often pressured in participating. Nearly all of the earnings are expropriated and dedicated to the survival of the regime (8 billion dollars a year) while anyone susceptible to earn money becomes a virtual slave of the regime whose rights to travel are blocked.

  • Elio Delgado-Legon I am an elder too, turning 79 in a few days. Growing up in America, we were not taught much about reality in other courntries or in the poor areas of our own. I learned the hard way and once I did, I joined those trying to make it better, or at least not so terrible. As you well know, long before Cuba had it’s revolution, the same wealthy and corrupt Americans were hapily stealing from Cuba and the poor elsewhere. Now, of course many Americans and some Cubans are confused and think that if a few are rich, the poverty of the rest is their own fault. I have had very similar politial discussions in Cuba and America. But the big differences between our two countries are huge in spite of both countries being imperfect. If our medical system was even half as fair as yours, life for the poor, unemployed, elderly and challenged would be so much less painful. But the same people who selfishly argue Cuba was wealthy and better off before the revolution, are arguing that those in trouble in the US today, bring it on themselves. This nonesense shows that to a certain extent, many Americans are mentally and socially ill. So thanks for your informative article, but ignore the haters and continue to speak to those who are open to new information.

  • Once again an excellent article, Elio. Too bad I agree with all you said, it makes for a one-sided conversation.

    I could add a bit about the carping comments I have read about the Cuban Doctors and Medical teams and other Professionals working in Foreign Countries. It amazes me that people who have never visited Cuba and know nothing of its History read the Right-Wing Press and then proudly display their limited knowledge. And, they do it not only in the MSM which is also known as the Presstitutes in some circles – but they drag their ignorance like a colorful flag to the Alter-net Media to display it to people who can actually utilize logic and understand what they read.

    Good thing I am an optimist. It is a strange world we live in. Especially strange at the moment. The volcano I live on is seeping lava in a slow river towards one of the town nearest me. It is like molasses flowing on a cold day. Of course it is very hot and incinerates all in its path. it stops and the starts again, then changes direction. I think we all know it will eventually reach the ocean. The only real question is what route it takes. At least it won’t blow its top like Mt St Helens did. That was the last volcano I lived near that erupted – before I moved to Hawaii.

    The local Press is having hot flashes!

  • Elio, the ‘devil’ is in the details. The reason Cuba can pimp medical services, and all the other services you mentioned, is because the Castros pay these folks so little money in Cuba, is it any wonder many of them jump at the chance to earn more money by working in some God-forsaken jungle somewhere in Africa? Yes, many have benefitted from the availability of Cuban doctors in poor remote areas. No argument there. But let’s not beat the altruism drum too loudly. This ‘benefit’ is because of low pay in Cuba and not because Cubans have an extra charity chromosome. Proof of this is how Cuban doctors treat Cuban patients in Cuba. Not every doctor does this but try going to see a doctor in Cuba WITHOUT a ‘propina’ of some sort. You will be the last one in the Policlinico to get seen, that’s for sure.

  • Cuba offers agricultural, construction and other services? Is that a joke?
    Cuba can’t repair it’s own infrastructure, properly feed its own people or produce enough toilet paper to go around, and they are exporting the same incompetence abroad.

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