The Business of La Pradera
The well-known (and questionable) health services agreement between Caracas and Havana contains a clause that has existed since April of 2001: the sending of Venezuelan patients (mainly the poorest) to Cuba, to receive medical attention at the La Pradera International Health Center located in Siboney, Havana, and to other hospitals in the capital that have been equipped for such services.
It was a top priority mission which was overseen every Friday, in the early hours of the morning, by Fidel Castro himself (until stepping down due to illness in 2006). I can offer a detailed testimony of this because I worked in this mission every Friday from 2001 to 2003, and was even entrusted with secret tasks during this time.
To get a sense of the importance of this whole affair, suffice it to know that the Venezuelan patients were transported to Havana in Fidel Castro’s personal plane (flown by his crew).
The patients were selected during field surveys conducted by the medical doctors in each of Venezuela’s municipalities or states. Following this selection process, the patients files were sent to the Miraflores presidential palace for a final assessment and then the patients traveled to Havana.
As in other areas, the more streetwise and business-minded Cubans came along and began to profit from this privileged service Cuba was offering poor Venezuelan patients. That is how seats on these flights to Cuba began to be sold.
Who were making these sales? It wasn’t the doctors out in the field, working hard to overcome many difficulties in Venezuela’s most recondite places. It was those in charge of these missions, those who represented Cuba at Miraflores: Dr. Rafael Garcia Portela, head of the control office responsible for sending Venezuelan patients to La Pradera, and his colleague Frank Diaz, as well as their respective wives.
These white-collar criminals set up their base of operations in Caracas’ presidential palace, selling seats on the Havana-bound plane for US $2,000 and even $3,000. The beneficiaries were the relatives of Venezuelan government officials and the country’s bourgeoisie (from both the Chavista and not-so Chavista camp).
When we came upon these crimes, after going over the clinical histories, names and social strata of the patients, the officials in charge of the investigation almost immediately discovered that they had even used fake names and resorted to unlawful proceedings to carry out the activities.
During a coordination meeting, we sent a report to Hugo Chavez, who immediately consulted with his mentor and the project sponsor, Fidel Castro. Time passed and we saw no measures taken by the government, which failed to explain why some rich people could hop on the plane with tickets sold to them by the criminals at Miraflores.
Officials at La Pradera, corrupt Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP) officials and even Central Committee members involved in coordinating these activities were getting a cut out of those US $3,000.
These “bombshells” about the idealized health plan aimed at poor Venezuelans began to go off in Cuba, but Fidel Castro was told a different story and the whole thing was shelved.
Read the whole thing.