Apartheid en Cuba
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    Doctors for oil – international trade Cuban-style

    Doctors for oil – international trade Cuban-style
    By Phillip Hart
    12:01AM BST 31 Jul 2006

    For a man who is so averse to the ways of capitalism, Fidel Castro, the
    Cuban president, has spotted a lucrative money-earner for his
    economically stagnant island. He is exporting the country's medical
    expertise in return for hard currency and cheap oil – even as the
    country's health service needs emergency treatment of its own. Always on
    the look-out for a propaganda coup, he portrays the operation as an act
    of selfless revolutionary solidarity.

    Jabbing his spindly fingers at an audience in a speech in southern Cuba
    last week, Castro boasted that 30,000 Cuban medics were sharing their
    skills abroad. To loud applause, he contrasted this with the fact that
    some 40 million Americans do not have health insurance. Better known for
    sending soldiers to Third World war-zones, Castro has now dispatched an
    estimated one in five Cuban doctors and nurses to work abroad for his

    There are 15,000 in Venezuela and nearly 1,000 in Bolivia – Latin
    American allies run by fellow Left-wing radicals. Most are genuine
    medics, although their ranks also include political operatives and
    security agents.

    The payback for Castro is the highly subsidised oil that he receives
    from Venezuela, estimated to be worth up to $1 billion a year. It helps
    to keep Cuba's industry afloat and he reportedly re-sells some for a profit.

    Elsewhere, Cuban doctors work in large numbers in countries such as
    South Africa, Pakistan and China. It costs those governments much less
    to pay Havana direct for their services than to train and remunerate
    their medics.

    At home, Cuban specialists receive a basic salary averaging just $25-$30
    (£13 to £16) a month. The exported doctors are understood to be paid
    $100 a month, with another $100 put aside in a special account for their
    relatives to ensure their return. This does not always work – local
    media have reported hundreds of defections among doctors in Venezuela
    and Bolivia.

    Cuba is also establishing itself as a base for medical tourism from
    friendly countries. A beach resort near Havana has been turned into a
    sanatorium for mainly Venezuelan patients. Here, eye doctors paid $30 a
    month conduct hundreds of cataract operations in a lucrative business
    for the regime.

    Castro is sending waves of his best doctors abroad while Cubans have to
    fork out dollar-convertible pesos – local pesos buy little – to obtain
    anything other than basic medicines or treatment. "It's an apartheid
    system," said Luis, a geography teacher. "If you can afford it, you can
    get treated today. If not, good luck. So much for the revolution."


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