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Friday, August 26, 2005

Cubans Miss Their Doctors in Venezuela

From the International Herald Tribune:

HAVANA Free universal health care has long been the crowning achievement of this socialist state, but the system is now under fire from Cubans who complain that quality and access are suffering as they lose tens of thousands of medical workers to Venezuela in exchange for cheap oil, which this impoverished country desperately needs.

The close friendship between the Cuban leader, Fidel Castro, and the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chávez, has netted Venezuela a loan of 20,000 Cuban health workers - including 14,000 doctors, according to the Venezuelan government - who work in poor barrios and rural outposts for stipends seven times higher on average than their salaries at home. Castro has vowed to send Chávez as many as 10,000 additional medical workers by year's end.

In return for farming out more than one-fifth of its doctors to the petroleum-rich state, Cuba is permitted to import 90,000 barrels of oil a day from Venezuela under preferential terms. The arrangement gives Cuba's struggling economy, crippled by the US embargo in place since 1963, the biggest boost since the country lost Soviet subsidies in the early 1990s.

The Cuban doctors program is wildly popular among Venezuela's poor. But Cubans have begun to object that the exodus of their health care workers is taking a toll on medical care for Cubans. Most people interviewed would speak only on condition that they not be identified or asked that just their first names be used, for fear of reprisals.

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