Friday, November 14, 2008

Fidel´s WMDs versus Bush´s WMDs - World Medical Doctors are more powerful than Weapons of Mass Destruction

(originally written in June of 2007)
This is a confrontation that has been brewing for 45 years: the United States versus
Cuba. George W. Bush and Dick Cheney have been acting more and more belligerent, as if they believed that their WMDs, the most deadly collection of "weapons of mass destruction" in the world, are superior to Cuba's own brand of WMDs.

What the North Americans ignore, at their peril, is that Cuba's WMDs are "World Medical Doctors," an incomparable force for peaceful cooperation that is winning the admiration of people the world over (except in the United States, where almost everyone, including the media, is unaware of their existence.) How can the U.S. assortment of nuclear and biological warheads compete with tens of thousands of highly trained, humanitarian physicians?

One example of a superior weapon
One of the Cuban WMDs is a young ophthamologist working at a Barrio Adentro 2 diagnostic clinic in the town of Sanare in the mountains of Venezuela. Dr. Eulogio (his first name – all the patients seem to call the Cuban doctors by their first names) is one of over 30,000 medical professionals who are currently serving people outside of Cuba, and 20,000 of them in Venezuela alone. In January of 2007, he and his older colleague, Dr. Frank, spent about six hours talking about medical care and medical education.

The Cuban doctors are treating thousands of people each month at the various Barrio Adentro sites around Sanare. There are several small neighborhood medical offices that treat outpatients, and one new diagnostic clinic that has an intensive care unit and medical specialists, plus MRI and X-ray equipment.

But they also have another job – training the doctors who will one day replace them. At present 42 local residents of the municipality are going to medical school through an intensive training program known as “integral community medicine.”

Dr. Frank has four second-year students who follow him around on his medical rounds and appointments during the week, observing diagnosis and care while discussing physiology and pathology that are pertinent to their current studies. Their afternoons are spent in intensive classes which include CDs designed by the best professors at medical schools in Cuba. The CDs are available for the students to watch as many times as they like, allowing them to review the information and concepts in the lectures with local instructors such as Dr. Frank.

In January of 2007, Dr. Frank spent hours talking to three students from the Dickinson College in Pennsylvania about the concepts and practice of medical care and education in Cuba and Venezuela.

After studying six days a week for six years, these students will become family physicians who will treat everyone in this agricultural area. If, at some point, they want to become specialists, they would have to do another three years of study and residency.

Some of the local students recently completed high school and others, like Juan, are more than twice their age. A forty-seven year-old man in his second year of training, Juan says that he dreamed of going to medical school over twenty years ago but that was financially impossible for him and his family, so he worked for years as a nursing assistant in a local physician’s office. While he gets a small scholarship while completing his studies, Jose says he is only able to pursue his medical career because of strong financial and moral support from his wife and their extended families.

This physicians’ training program is being implemented nationwide on a huge scale, so that by 2012 there will be 23,000 new doctors in Venezuela, all educated to provide medical care in their home towns and barrios. Some of these physicians will undoubtedly become WMDs, or World Medical Doctors, and will be available to join their Cuban counterparts in deployment to Latin America and other parts of the globe.

Dr. Frank and Dr. Eulogio say that the Venezuelan students are the beneficiaries of a “revolution within the revolution” in Cuba, where the system of education is being radically changed. In Cuba, too, doctors are now being trained differently, and are starting go on rounds to see patients in their first year like in Venezuela, rather than in the fourth year as in the past. Other kinds of educational progress are also evident; for instance, increasing quality of primary and secondary schools, where class sizes are being reduced to 15-20 students per teacher.

The doctors think the scholastic achievements of their Venezuelan students are impressive, but they emphasized something else: “What is even more satisfying for us to see is the creation of moral and ethical values that allow them to really influence their own communities.”

I told the two doctors that I had talked to several people in the waiting room downstairs who were very happy with their care at Barrio Adentro II. They felt comfortable because the Cubans treated them as equals and enjoyed answering questions and chatting with them. During the lengthy time I spent talking with Dr. Frank and Dr. Eulogio, many people banged on the door and stuck their heads in just to say “Hi!”

“I think we and our students are creating a new model of what a medical professional is supposed to be,” explained Dr. Eulogio. “The old Venezuelan stereotype of a doctor, at least in the cities, was somebody driving around in a fancy car with black windows and air-conditioning. So nobody knows who they are -- people only get to see them in their offices if they can pay.”

One of the people responsible for this extraordinary investment in human capital is Dester Rodriguez, a military general and a director of PDVSA, the Venezuelan national oil company. He is responsible for overseeing the billions of dollars of oil profits that are channeled directly from PDVSA into the “misiones,” the social missions that are designed to lift the majority of Venezuelans out of poverty. He likes the idea that he is financing ultra-sophisticated human weaponry, but he doesn't refer to them as WMDs. He puts them in a category "more powerful than atomic weapons" and calls them "missiles of love." [see article on “Sowing the Oil”]

Fighting capital with human capital – the battle of WMDs is a “Battle of Ideas”

After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989, the United States and George Bush the Elder announced that there was a “New World Order.” They expected to impose a global capitalist regime that would allow no room for any small, revolutionary nations like Cuba. The U.S. economic blockade had damaged Cuba in previous decades, but in the 1990s it became much more devastating because the Cubans no longer engaged in significant trade with the Eastern Europe and Russia. The Cuban economy sank into a true depression and the production of goods and services fell by at least 30%. The nation struggled to feed its people, and only by imposing strict food rationing did it prevent the health of its children from deteriorating. The capitalist world waited for Cuba to collapse.

When Cuba invigorated its tourist industry in a effort to attract dollars and euros into their economy, it did not allow capitalist values to overwhelm revolutionary values. But it wasn’t easy, particularly since some people working in the tourist industry were earning a lot more than professionals in various kinds of public and social service jobs.

Cubans decided to emphasize the kinds of social solidarity and humanistic concern for other people that distinguishes their society, and to contrast them with the materialistic and self-centered behavior that characterize advanced capitalist societies. When Fidel Castro addressed the nation on May Day in 2000, he told the Cuban people that Cuba would survive by engaging in a Battle of Ideas: "Our consciousness and the ideas sown by the Revolution throughout more than four decades have been our weapons. Revolution means …being treated and treating others like human beings ….it is challenging powerful dominant forces from within and without the social and national milieu …. it is a profound conviction that there is no power in the world that can crush the power of truth and ideas.¨

Interviewed four years later, Abel Prieto, the Cuban Minister of Culture, expanded on this theme and explained why the Battle of Ideas was connected to Cuba’s programs of international medical assistance. “… in contrast to the stupidity, barbarity and the law of the strongest that today intends to impose itself worldwide, we try to defend the idea that another world is possible. Against the neo-liberal model, this fierce version of capitalism that reserves for a small minority the luxury of consumerism and excludes ¾ of the population of the world, we propose the defense of the values of social justice and authentic democracy. We believe that what should be globalized are not bombs or hatred but peace, solidarity, health, education for all, culture, etc. That is why, when our physicians go to help in other countries, although their mission is to work for medical attention, they are also bearers of our values and our ideas of solidarity. This is the essence of the Battle of Ideas.”

As the United States has kept expending its energy and hundreds of billions of dollars on neo-colonial wars, it did little to engage the Cubans on the philosophical battlefield. Some State Department figures weakly declared in 2005 that the U.S. wanted to engage in its own “battle of ideas,” without pointing out that the Cubans had defined the terrain of the battlefield five years earlier.

There were some efforts at genuine humanitarian assistance by the U.S., such as military helicopters delivering medical aid to Pakistan in the wake of a terrible earthquake in late 2005. In 2007 the State Department played up the visit of a U.S. hospital ship to Panama where it dispensed free medical care. But these efforts paled beside he much more extensive aid that Cuba dispensed to Pakistan (1,500 doctors and nurses living in wintry conditions they had never experienced before) and to Latin America and the rest of the world.

Cuba has more than 45,000 students studying medicine, almost 20,000 of them coming from poor parts of Latin America and Africa (as well as a handful of students who come from poverty-stricken areas of the United States.) The U.S.A., almost thirty times bigger in population than Cuba, and hundreds of times greater in material wealth, has roughly 64,000 students in medical school.

For a refreshing look at the practice of Cuban medicine and medical education as they affect many parts of the world, see the feature-length film, Salud, directed by Connie Field. She is a veteran documentary film-maker who was previously nominated for an Academy Award for Rosie the Riveter, the story of working women in the U.S. during World War II.


George Dutton said...

Great site, glad I found it from a link on Oil wars.

Former UN Official: US blocked certification that Iraq had no WMDs in 1990s…

In Solidarity.

Solidarity, Scotland...

Keegan Smith said...


Thanks for your posts! I was recently in Venezuela for a couple of months, then I went to Colombia and now I'm in Mexico. Seeing the differences between these societies has made me even more certain that the changes taking place in Venezuela are for a better world.

Getting involved in social movements in Mexico I can also see the need for definite capacities with which I can contribute to these movements and a better world. As such I've decided to become a doctor. I have a degree in biomedical science which gives me a good foundation.

I have been searching for information about how to get into the Medicina Integral Communitario program. I have been in Latin America for the last year and a half and studied quite a bit of spanish in this time so I don't think that the language barrier will be a problem.

Right now I'm preparing for the exams to come and trying to find out when to arrive in Venezuela and some details about costs.

I've probably sent twice as much info as I needed to but if you can offer any advice or links it would be greatly appreciated.

In solidarity,
Keegan Smith (Australia)