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Playing Doctors


Posted 9/8/2005 | Disaster Relief: Ninety-five nations have pledged $1 billion in aid in the wake of Katrina, and while the U.S. can manage, it's heartening. But one government that wishes us ill has jumped in and it should be rebuked.

We're talking about our antagonist of the last half-century, fidel castro. Cuba's dictator headed straight for the TV cameras to make the most of an offer of 1,600 doctors.

Given how his munificence pales in comparison, say, to Kuwait's quietly pledged $500 million, it's amazing how much publicity he's reaped.

But castro's offer of medical help, supposedly waiting at the Havana airport, is about his need to meddle; it has nothing to do with delivering aid. What he's been up to recently tells the real story.

castro has forged a fresh career offering physicians throughout the hemisphere in a bid to drive a political wedge in other states. And it's often at our expense.

As The Wall Street Journal's Mary Anastasia O'Grady has noted, the U.S. often gets stuck urging fiscal discipline and drug eradication to poor states such as Honduras to ensure their foundation for long-term growth.

It's at these times when castro offers "free" doctors to confuse the poor and encourage anti-Americanism. But that's not all. Paraguay recently threw out 700 of these doctors, citing their interference in domestic politics.

In Venezuela, for another example, castro's 13,000 "free" doctors have replaced the country's real doctors, as funds are siphoned from public hospitals to castro setups, driving thousands of Venezuelan physicians out of work. Those doctors are protesting in the streets. One news photo showed an angry doctor holding a sign calling castro and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez "Pirates of the Caribbean."

While those doctors minister elsewhere, health care in Cuba is nearly absent. The filthy, dilapidated state of the country's public hospitals is a roach-crawling horror. Impoverished Cubans write their Miami relatives begging for aspirin and bandages, revealing the real state of castro's vaunted health care system.

Part of the problem has been the doctors themselves. castro's commitment to building a team of roving doctors has contributed to a lack of development across the nation, leaving Cuba an economic shell.

castro's record on hurricane cleanup is no better. As he touts Cuba's hurricane preparations, the results seen during Hurricane Dennis this summer told a different story. The scores of dead, the destroyed housing stock and the rebellion in the streets looked quite a bit like the scenes in New Orleans.

But at that time, castro turned down U.S. and European aid, insulting U.S. help as "miserable" and letting Cubans suffer.

castro's new aid offer is hardly the act of a good neighbor. He seeks new recruits for his failed revolution with "free" doctors in a new political gambit. castro's playing the same game he played in Honduras; it's the last thing we need at a time like this.

Update: Josué of Latino Issues has more, specifically, on Cuban "doctors" in Honduras.

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