I attended Saturday afternoon’s showing of Salud! What puts Cuba on the map in the quest for global health at the Princeton Human Rights Film Festival.
Leslie Burger, head of the Princeton Public Library and the American Library Association, opened by saying that she’d rather be working at her garden ( we had very good weather) than be at the PHRFF – which was organized and sponsored by the PPL – but she was there because she knew this was a controversial subject. She then introduced Ellen Bernstein, of IFCO/Pastors for Peace., who urged us to keep an open mind for what we were about to watch.
After several attempts at getting the DVD player to play the version with English subtitles the film started. As people arrived, one of the women in the audience handed out to other attendees a 7-page printout of Human Rights Watch’s CUBA’S REPRESSIVE MACHINERY: Human Rights Forty Years After the Revolution, which I urge my visitors to read.
The film Salud! portrays the Cuban health system in glowing terms, as expected, but 90% of its content focuses on Cuban and Cuban-trained doctors practicing medicine in locations overseas, such as South Africa, Honduras, and so on. You can get a pretty good idea of its stance by visiting the website (link above). It is a very lengthy 90+ minutes, and features young, enthusiastic students, including a very charismatic Venezuelan named Vanessa who is studying medicine in Caracas under a Cuban-sponsored program.
The film does not mention what kind of curriculum, technology, or specialized training the students receive. It does not mention the 93,000 barrels of oil Venezuela sends Cuba in lieu of payment for the doctors. It does not mention that all the governments where the Cuban doctors are assigned must pay Cuba in dollars for each doctor and in turn the Cuban government pays the doctors in pesos. We do see a lot of enthusiastic young people wearing white coats in exotic settings.
After sitting for 1 1/2 hrs of this there was a question-and-answer session with Ms Bernstein, who stated that she’s travelled to Cuba “over fifty times”, and urged us all to keep an open mind, again.
Ms Bernstein repeatedly blames the obviously ancient equipment and obsolete technology used by the Cuban medics on the embargo. She chooses to ignore that Spain, France, and other EU, along with Asian countries, are free to bring in state-of-the-art technology to the island if they so pleased.
The first member of the audience to speak was a Princeton University student who has travelled to Cuba three times and witnessed the deplorable conditions of a Cuban hospital (dirt, roaches, etc.), which he compared to the deplorable conditions of the pre-Cuban doctor South African hospital shown in the film. While on another trip he also witnessed how a Cuban citizen he rushed to an emergency room was turned away for being Cuban as that hospital only treated foreigners.
Another gentleman in the audience had a similar experience where he rushed a very ill Cuban to a hospital in the island and she was turned down because that hospital was for foreigners only.
The most memorable member of the audience was Luis Abreu, a former political prisoner in Cuba, who spoke of how he had been sent to prison for trying to have the freedom to show films like this in Cuba. Mr. Abreu is executive director of the Commitee to Aid Human Rights Activists (CAHRA), and asked Ms Bernstein if she had met other Cuban doctors, like Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet. Ms Bernstein said she had heard of them.
A gentleman in the rear of the room pressured Ms Bernstein to answer whether she believed that Cuba was a democracy, something she apparently had stated in the past. She first avoided the question by saying, “In a democracy we all wait our chance to speak”; he then waited and the second time he pressed for a reply, she said that Cuba has had elections, and that we must study the situation with an open mind because it’s not as bad as we think.
As a third-party observer I found it very insulting of Ms Bernstein to tell an audience where she knew there was at least one former Cuban political prisoner “to study the situation with an open mind”. Obviously someone who spent over a decade in a concentration camp has had plenty of time to ponder the situation.
Of course, exiled Cubans in the audience (I’d say half the audience) were offended. One gentleman demanded that the film festival be called “the right to healthcare film festival” since Cuba and human rights have nothing in common.
The film is part of a canvassing effort to encourage American students to study in Cuba “with full scholarships”. We are expected to believe that “President Castro” is doing this out of the kindness of his heart as champion of the poor.
On Friday I sat through The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil, which mercifully was less than an hour. The film praises the virtues of Medieval agriculture as practiced in modern-day Cuba, including the return to the use of oxen, and how superior plowing a field with two oxen is compared to using tractors. My late father, who was not Cuban, had a farm and if he got wind of that he would have turned in his grave.
In other, unrelated Cuba news, U.S. Fugitives Worry About a Cuba Without Castro, because they might have to face justice after all.
The Princeton Human Rights Film Festival
The Princeton Human Rights Film Festival, part 2
The Princeton Human Rights Film Festival: Cuban “healthcare“
The Princeton Human Rights Film Festival: part 4
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Most jumped at the chance to work overseas, seeing it as an opportunity to earn far more than the $15 a month they were paid in Cuba. But the workload was heavy — from early morning until night, sometimes seven days a week. And the pay — around $200 a month — quickly evaporated in a country with high prices and double-digit inflation.
Go read the rest.
Update, Tuesday, 15 May
Welcome, Red State readers. Please note that the film festival is hosted by the Princeton Public Library, not by Princeton University. Indeed, it is ironic that the director of the PPL is also the director of the American Library Association, since Cuba has repressed the free circulation of books by independent librarians. The ALA has repeatedly refused to support the jailed Cuban librarians: read more about it at this post.