Tuesday, July 17, 2007

First aid, Cuba's and ours

President Bush spoke last week at a conference on U.S. aid to Latin America and the Caribbean where he discussed both government and private efforts and highlighted examples of “how best can the United States help people in our neighborhood.”

He drew a response this week from Fidel Castro, who highlighted Cuba’s international health and education programs. “We can do things that Bush cannot even dream of,” he said.

Cuba’s foreign minister says that 31,000 health professionals, including 20,000 doctors, are providing services in 69 countries around the world. Cuba’s medical aid also includes free medical education provided at Havana’s Latin America Medical school (enrollment in 2005 was more than 10,000 students from 27 countries), and programs such as “Operacion Milagro,” which brings Latin American patients to Havana for eye surgery.

Cuba’s aid, like that of other donors, is not a matter of pure altruism. Cuba earns money from them; they are part of agreements with Venezuela that provide Cuba 90,000 barrels of oil per day. And like other providers of foreign aid, Cuba also earns political good will. In Cuba’s case the political impact is multiplied because Cuba promotes its assistance tirelessly, and its extensive programs are not what one would expect given Cuba’s economic condition.

And Cuba’s programs come in for some international criticism, too, from local medical societies that claim Cuban doctors practicing in their countries are not qualified, and from others who say Cuban doctors are underpaid.

But even after taking all that into account, the fact remains that these programs help people in need. Scan the international media, and one finds reports of Cuban doctors in neighborhoods that have never had doctors, Cubans aiding earthquake victims in Pakistan, Cuban doctors providing emergency services in Haiti in 2004 when a civil war nearly broke out and the national medical system stopped functioning.

President Bush was right to highlight American efforts in a hemisphere where American aid is often unnoticed. He wasn’t responding to Cuba’s propaganda, but some of his examples provided a counterpoint, such as when he mentioned a literacy program, a nurse training program, and the visits of American hospital ships.

He did not mention one of his direct responses to Cuba’s medical aid programs – a special immigration policy designed to make it easy for Cuban doctors serving abroad to come to the United States.

Normally, a person of any nationality who seeks and gains asylum in another country has no special claim to a U.S. visa. But last year the Administration announced a policy whereby Cuban doctors who leave their medical missions abroad can come to America. A Congressional office reports that hundreds have taken advantage of this policy.

The policy was announced as part of a package of measures that responded to Congressional complaints about treatment of Cubans in U.S. migration policy. Unwilling to abandon the “wet foot-dry foot” policy, the Administration presented a series of minor new measures, including this one for Cuban doctors. It provided no real policy explanation, leaving the implication that its purpose is to disrupt Cuba’s medical aid missions.

I won’t deny the benefit to the Cuban doctors who make it to America, and certainly the policy earned the Administration some political credit in Miami. But this policy hurts the image of the United States before foreign publics – the same ones the President seeks to influence in his conference – and it enhances Cuba’s victim status.

The United States is not about to match Cuba by sending 20,000 American doctors abroad. But rather than tangle with Cuba with his visas-for-doctors program, President Bush would do better to promote trade and market liberalization, to fight protectionism (starting with our own), to expand U.S. education and exchange programs, and to promote public and private aid as he did last week.

Using American visas to lure Cuban doctors from their missions seems mean-spirited, especially in contrast to the high moral tone the President struck when he said it “renews our soul” and “lifts our collective spirit” when we “help a neighbor in need.”


leftside said...

The US stealing doctors from the neediest areas in the world is one of the most disgusting things I can think of. Lets just hope it does not have the intended effect and force Cuba to scale back the program.

And actually, I understand that the Bush Administration did make reference to Cuba's "relatively modest" medical programs in this latest PR effot. They were upset that US aid programs don't get the media coverage Cuba's do (internationally I assume, as US reports on Cuba's efforts seem mighty rare to me).

This new US "positive" effort in "the neighborhood" is quite interesting to watch play out. Of course it is better than nothing, but I am afraid the effort is rank with hypocrisy, very modest in scope and because it must follow free market principles it will be unable to reach those most in need. Plus everyone in the region knows it is too little too late (and a cynical anti-socialist manuever). But hey, so was JFKs Alliance for Progress.

Anonymous said...

yes, leftside, it's outrageous, isn't it? Those ungrateful Cubans, how dare they choose freedom over Papa Fidel...

Posted on Wed, Jul. 18, 2007

Legless Cuban survivor finally reaches U.S.

He had managed to crawl through the third barrier between Cuban territory and the U.S. Naval Base at Guantánamo when the warning flares lit the night sky.
Amado Veloso Vega thought he'd stay there till dawn, confident the Cuban guards could not enter the mine-laden strip dubbed ''no-man's land.'' But then he heard shots, and when he tried to move, a mine exploded, destroying his legs and flinging him 15 feet.

With no strength to shout, Veloso lay there until he heard the soldiers approach.

It was the beginning of a 15-year odyssey to get to the United States that ended this week. Veloso, 36, arrived in Miami on Monday with a U.S. State Department humanitarian visa.

Veloso is headed for Louisville, Ky., where the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which sponsored him, has found him a home.

''I'm still pinching myself, because I can't believe it. I'm in Miami!'' he said this week at his Miami hotel. ``I want to laugh because I believe I suffered enough. In Cuba, I was a walking dead man.''

The details of his horrific 1992 experience with the mine remain vivid today. ''Strips of flesh dangled from my legs. I was disfigured and my mouth was torn,'' he recalled. ``I couldn't react, though I didn't lose consciousness altogether.''

He'll never forget one man and what he said. Vega, a short man in uniform, told another that Veloso ''wouldn't make it alive'' to the hospital in Guantánamo.

''They started to play with me. They bayoneted me in the hand and in the leg and then pulled me off the fence,'' Veloso said, showing his scars.

Veloso was taken directly to the morgue. There, a doctor wouldn't give up, injecting him with adrenaline. Veloso was revived.

He slowly returned to health, but his nightmare wasn't over. For the attempted escape, Cuban authorities sentenced Veloso to two years of detention at his Havana home. A mystery remains: The mine that did so much damage was in Cuban territory, but at the time, some U.S.-planted mines were in the area, too.

Veloso said he tried to remake his life but that even relatives and friends turned their backs on him. He sought prosthetic legs at a Havana hospital. ``They concluded that my accident was due to my attempt to leave the country illegally and told me the [prostheses] they had were for revolutionaries and fighters back from Angola.''

Then he met activist Francisco Chaviano -- now a political prisoner in Cuba -- who arranged for the Cuban American National Foundation to send him a wheelchair. The chair was presented to Veloso in the name of Jorge Mas Canosa, the organization's founder. Veloso and a medical specialist friend fashioned a pair of plaster prostheses.

Early in 1994, Veloso applied for a refugee visa at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, but he says the office turned him down. He then wrote to U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who answered his letter and agreed to support his application, as did Rep. Lincoln Díaz Balart.

The association with Miami exile politicians caught the attention of the Cuban government. 'State Security constantly visited my home. `Who are you? First, Mas Canosa. Then, Ros-Lehtinen and Díaz-Balart. What are you up to?' they would ask me,'' Veloso said.

During the 1994 Cuban rafter crisis, Veloso tried to escape on a makeshift boat, but he was caught. Ensuing attempts failed as well.

``I lost track of all the arrests and fines. Something compelled me to look for what I couldn't find in Cuba: respect for a human being, respect for life and the right to overcome my handicap.''

In September 2006, during the police raids that preceded the Summit of Non-Aligned Countries in Havana, Veloso made his final attempt to flee. With 15 others he bought a homemade boat made of aluminum tubes. Police intercepted the others before they arrived at the beach, so he decided to travel alone from Cajío Beach in Havana.

'The boat was known as a `tube of toothpaste.' They are made of six aluminum tubes and cost about $4,000,'' he said.

The U.S. Coast Guard intercepted him 27 miles from the Mexican island of Cozumel and sent him to the place that reminded him of his personal tragedy: the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo.

There he remained for nine months, working as a bowling alley assistant. Part of the money he earned he sent to his mother, wife and two children who remain in Cuba.

''That people would risk their lives, like Amado did, that they would risk everything, clearly demonstrates the desperation of Cubans on the island,'' Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, told El Nuevo Herald on Tuesday.

Today Veloso wants to place flowers on Mas Canosa's grave. ''When I look at it from afar, I feel it was worth it,'' he said of his odyssey. ``It's a high price, but it's the price of liberty.''


leftside said...

Then what the heck is wrong with those vast majority of Cuban doctors who remain faithful to helping the poor and do not walk away from their slavery? For those who do defect, I don't suppose it is more about money or family than politics, eh??

Anonymous said...

but, leftside, who needs money when you live in a Socialist Paradise?