Contributing to a Healthy Debate

Roger M. Diaz Moreno

Cuban doctors working abroad. Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES — Some writings appeared recently in the Havana Times website that illustrate the refreshing difference between this medium and others that also claim to reflect Cuban life.

In these reports there appear both defenses and criticisms of aspects of the public health care system in our country, each according to the personal opinions of the authors.

I would like to respectfully express some differences I had with the article by Elio Delgado Legon: Free Public Health Care: An Unquestionable Achievement of Cuba.

What I differ with most in that article is the way that he lashes out at “some bloggers who respond to the interests of the enemies of the revolution, and those who devote themselves to writing comments that exaggerate situations so as to denigrate an activity that remains the pride of Cubans.”

I’m hoping that Leon Delgado isn’t referring to colleagues who disagree in Havana Times and other media who are seeking — with much hard work — to maintain a balanced stance based on the free personal opinions of the authors, without engaging in either official triumphalism or spurious opportunism funded by foreign powers.

The attitude of calling people counter-revolutionaries moves away from exchanges based on respect, solid arguments, listening respectfully to other opinions and considering that everyone is partly correct.

Certainly one of the best-known merits the Cuban health care system is that its achievements are within reach of even the citizens with the lowest incomes. Similar accomplishments have only been realized in a few highly developed resource-rich countries, but in these nations there are of course many more possibilities and funding for patient care.

It should be recognized that we lack much to reach that level, but it must also be noted that we’re much further along than other countries that are in conditions similar to ours. This latter fact should not be reason to ignore the fact that we need to improve our health care system and move it in the direction of the most advanced medical systems.

The expression of critical opinions is a legitimate method for identifying and correcting blotches and sun spots whose detection so irritates our colleague. Still, he uses his right to defend the aspects of the system that he believes are the most valuable, thus making an important contribution.

Others undertake the unpleasant task of pointing out the cracks that undermine a considerable portion of the credit that’s deserved by the rest of the system; and by doing so, they too make an important contribution.

Everyone would like to have only positive things to talk about; addressing what is negative is exhausting and exposes Cuba to critical dangers, as well as valuable and valiant ones.

Who told Delgado Legon that anyone who criticizes the Cuban health care system is counter-revolutionary? Did he forget that in 2002, at the beginning of the “Battle of Ideas,” the then president of Cuba, Fidel Castro, called for a revolution in health care to solve the critical situation that revolutionaries identified at that time?

Does anyone believe that the words of Fidel at that time “serve the interests of the enemies of the Revolution”? Careful, Elio, you might discover that you have “spit into the wind.”

We ordinary Cubans, I hope, have the same rights as our leaders to fight for the dreams to which we aspire. We should therefore be recognized as being equal in our authority to identify and to work to solve the problems keep those dreams distant.

Let me recall some of the motives and themes of those efforts. Cuba has solved the fundamental problems of illnesses typical of Third World nations through vaccination and prevention campaigns, of which we are all proud.

The main challenges at present therefore consist of chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer, heart and neurological diseases – ailments that require sophisticated equipment for their diagnosis and treatment.

The perceived inadequacy in this regard led to ambitious plans for the supply of advanced technological equipment to a large number of medical centers. In this way patients wouldn’t have to travel long distances or wait long for tests or therapy – factors that weigh heavily against their health.

Due to economic difficulties with which we are all familiar, as well as corruption by some authorities, this plan could not be realized. Today, in fact, due to severe financial constraints, the current policy is to maintain the levels of care previously achieved while reducing the number of centers and professionals working in them.

Therefore I hope that my colleague can recognize that between black and white is an infinite range of grays. I also hope that he can sympathize with the difficulties of many patients who face problems getting lenses for eyeglasses that have atypical graduations, prostheses and wheelchairs for the disabled; as well as dental work with any degree of complexity or any specific drug difficult that is difficult to find in pharmacies.

These are complaints that are frequently reported on in the official Juventud Rebelde newspaper, headed by the renowned journalist and revolutionary Jose Alejandro Rodriguez.

After all this, there’s still a lot that has to be done. No longer can people be sweet-talked with lines about how much the “the revolution has given you, helped you and made you what you are today.” The revolution was a major accomplishment, undoubtedly, in both inspiring generations of Cubans and kick-starting the engine of the new system.

Now, it is made up of real people with their commitment, and their ridiculously paid jobs, who work in clinics and hospitals, research in laboratories and operate.

Yet there are other people who support — with equally low-paid jobs — the onerous national health care system.

If the merit of individuals is moved to an abstract revolution, it too would have to be charged with corruption, for the deterioration of hospitals that were opened with recognized serious construction problems and those that went for decades without the proper maintenance.

Blame will have to also be placed on each act of negligence of each person who showed little interest,was exhausted or simply corrupt and accepting of the rules of the authorities and the privileged bureaucracy. They are the ones responsible for the theft of food, blankets and medicine from the sick, leaving defenseless patients to die in the face of calamities that have nothing to do with the blockade or the ill intentions of the foreign mass media.

And I don’t think Elio Delgado Legon or any of the other Havana Times colleagues sincerely support such gruesome extremes.


6 thoughts on “Contributing to a Healthy Debate

  • This approach should be highly appreciated. Not only because it provides a fairly balanced view on the subject of medicine and healthcare in Cuba, but also-and above all-, because it reinforces the perception of HT as a publication open to dissimilar views. Here (especially in the Spanish language section) I’ve often come across people seeking to discredit those who uphold an opinion that does not fit their particular interests, thus distorting the nature of what is suppsed to be an inclusive and open dialogue. When someone is very liberal or critical, they run the risk of being pigeonholed as “counterrevolutionary”. If, on the contrary, he or she supports a Government stand, then they will be showered with epithets such as “troll” and “cyberpolice” . All this shows how long and painful will be the road towards an open society in my mother country. Thats one of the reasons why I will never tire of encouraging Circles and his team to keep making history. Step by step and against all odds.

  • I second what ‘Grady Ross Daugherty” wrote. We can have an honest exchange of ideas and open criticism but need to be aware at all times that those hostile to the Revolution will relentlessly use any reports that point out deficiencies as evidence of its failings and reason for its overthrow. One needs to look no further than the obsessive comments emanating from the person who posted the first one here. Totally out of sync with Havana Times and other commenters, is he just masochistic, or an enemy of the Revolution with nothing constructive to contribute to the dialogue?

    New generations of Cubans may be unaware of the chicanery and deception that supporters of capitalism will resort to in order to keep a system in place that is against the interests of the vast majority of people. Are there Cuban agents inveterately posting on capitalist web sites in like manner? I think not. Be aware, all that glitters is not gold, and not an ally of the Revolution.

    Can we simply ignore these false agents? Humans have been biologically selected to trust those who present themselves as having our interests at heart. We have not had enough time to evolve defense mechanisms against those who manipulate us using what science has taught them about what makes us tick. Capitalists are masters of manipulation – whole industries exist to sell us whatever the sellers want to sell, not what we need. This expertise is used not just to move merchandise off shelves but to plant false ideas and perspectives in our heads.

    That is why we cannot simply ignore false agents. Forewarned is forearmed as the aphorism goes. Thank-you Elio Legon for warning us, and Roger Moreno, your idealism is admirable and your naiveté demonstrable. But it is never to late to learn.

  • Socialists like you Grady actually believe that the struggle today is between capitalism and socialism? That battle ended with the breakup of the socialist bloc. The struggle today is within capitalism. In ten years, there will be no more socialist countries on earth, only those flavors of capitalism ranging from China and Vietnam on the left and the good ole’ US of A on the right.

  • Yes, Roger, what you say is true and you say it well. Unfortunately, no reference is made to the fact that there is a worldwide struggle going on between capitalism and socialism, or the role that perfection of the Cuban model of healthcare might make in that struggle.

    The world does not begin and end in Cuba. It would be nice if thinkers in that amazing country would recognize that what happens in Cuba has international implications, and address issues with these implications in mind.

  • Well written. I agree 100%.

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