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Organizacion Autentica

Translated by GLADYS P. MARTINEZ

Oscar Rosales and Silvia Acosta traveled separately from the United States to Nicaragua to visit relatives. Each believed this was also an excellent opportunity to purchase medicines that family members still residing in Cuba had asked them for. "In Cuba, people lack the most basic medicaments, and I thought that in Nicaragua I could find less expensive medicines, so I could help my sister who lives in Santiago de Cuba," said Rosales, 64, an employee of Continental Airlines who traveled to that Central American country in February. Acosta, a resident of Hawthorne, California, decided the same thing upon her arrival to Managua, capital of Nicaragua, in early March. "My family needed antibiotics, and in Managua they can sometimes be found even without a prescription," reported Acosta. But each was surprised to read the phrase "Made in Cuba" on the labels of the medicines they were planning to purchase. The name of the exporting company, MediCuba, a business enterprise owned by the government of Fidel Castro, was printed very clearly on each package. MediCuba is also in charge of the so-called "health tourism," which consists of offering medical services (in Cuba) to foreigners who are able to pay in US dollars. "Can you imagine what it means to have a relative living in Cuba ask that you send him antibiotics because they are impossible to find over there, and then discover that the Cuban government is selling them outside of the country and blaming the US for their scarcity in Cuba?," asked Rosales. "I was so upset that I handed them back and left."

"The pharmacist told me that, yes, those medicines were being sent from Cuba, but then he started behaving uneasily when I asked him a few more questions," commented Acosta about the employee of La Vid pharmacy, located on Cruce de Villa Progreso, Managua, Nicaragua, where he purchased a package of 20 tablets of 500 mg each of Amoxicillin for 40 cordobas, the official Nicaraguan currency, and a package of Dicloxacillin, also of 500 mg each, for 60 cordobas. The total cost for both purchases was approximately $10.00 US dollars. The packaging of the antibiotics seen by Rosales and Acosta, a type of penicillin that is administered orally, is very similar to that of those manufactured in the US and the rest of the world.They are wrapped using a light aluminum sheet on the back and are covered with transparent plastic on top. No one could tell that they were manufactured in the environment of scarcity and lack of resources that Cuban laboratories supposedly labor under. Their final packaging, however, is not a box, but a simple, non-descript white envelope. For her part Rosa Silva Molineros, a resident of Cartagena, Colombia, reports that she has seen public hospitals in her country use, among others, medications and vaccines against meningitis and hepatitis manufactured in Cuba. According to Silva Molineros, in the shopping center San Andresito, in Cartagena, one can easily find a medication against vitiligo, a skin disease, as well as an arthritis medication that goes by the name of Sales de Oro (golden salts). It is reported that the latter, although it does seem to alleviate the symptoms of arthritis, also has side effects that affect the kidneys. Both medications are manufactured in Cuba. In the Dominican Republic there are also medicines for sale that have been manufactured in Cuban laboratories, reports Dominican born Sofia Valdivia, who now resides in New Jersey but travels frequently to her native country. "It is true. In some pharmacies (in the Dominican Republic) it is possible to buy medicines manufactured in Cuba, but the public must purchase them with a medical prescription," points out a Dominican doctor interviewed by Contacto, who asked not to be identified by name. He resides in that country.

Eye-Opening Numbers

According to data which appeared in a report from the US Department of State in 1997, the Cuban government exported the equivalent of 110 million US dollars in medical supplies in 1994 alone. In 1995 the number increased to 125 million dollars. These sales were made primarily to Argentina, Colombia, China and Mexico. However, in the early 90s, there was a well-documented scandal in Brazil caused by the sale, in that country, of polio vaccines manufactured in Cuba which were spoiled as a result of having gone past their expiration dates.

The same report estimates that, during this time, approximately seven thousand (7,000) foreigners who took advantage of the so-called "health tourism" enriched the coffers of the Castro government by approximately 25 million dollars. This "health tourism" has been the object of strong criticism by countless members of the opposition, both in and outside of Cuba, because of the discrimination it subjects ordinary Cubans to, since they have no access to the medical services enjoyed by foreigners. Official US sources reported that in 1996, with 11 million inhabitants, Cuba imported approximately 3 billion dollars in goods, but of these only 46 millions were for the medical sector. Compare that to the Dominican Republic which, with only 7.5 million inhabitants, imported 208 million dollars in medical supplies during the same period. During 1996 and through June of 1997, the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the Department of the Treasury (OFAC) issued 68 licenses for the delivery of humanitarian aid to Cuba, and 44 for the evaluation of the health needs of the island. During that same period, the Commerce Department of the US approved 123 licenses for humanitarian aid donations to the island. Since the enactment of the so-called Torricelli Law in 1992 until the publication of the aforementioned report by the Department of State, the US had approved 36 of 39 license requests for medical sales to Cuba, of which 31 were for the commercial sale of medicines, medical equipment and health related items. At the same time, between 1992 and 1997, according to the same report, the US had allowed the shipment of 5,227 humanitarian aid donations of medicines and medical equipment to the island.

The Double Standard

Exactly a year ago, between April 21 and 25 of 1997, the Castro government organized the "Cuban Medical Technology Fair" in Havana, during which many medicines and high-tech equipment manufactured in Cuba and in foreign countries were showcased. During this event, foreign visitors were encouraged to participate in tours of hospitals and clinics in which "health tourism" is practiced. These tours were promoted by the government enterprises ServiMed and MediCuba. It is reported that these hospitals also care for members of the Cuban government elite. However, ordinary citizens of the island are not able to take advantage of the medical services offered by these centers. A brochure that advertises the services of one of these 'institutions, Cira Garcia. located in the exclusive area of Miramar, in the city of Havana, asserts the following: "the highest level of medical treatment at your disposal. We offer the latest treatments for schizophrenia, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, hypertension; executive check-ups; stomatological services; aesthetic surgery; recovery rooms and intensive care units, and ambulances with all the necessary equipment to revive patients." The same brochure states that "In addition, accommodations for persons accompanying the patients include services such as a la carte menu, hairdressers, dry cleaning, travel tour reservations, and taxis. Julio Arellano, 20 year old member of a rich Ecuadorian family, was taken to the Camilo Cienfuegos Hospital in Cuba to undergo a delicate eye operation which cost $22,000. The Camilo Cienfuegos located at Linea and L Streets in the Vedado area of Havana, specializes in the experimental treatment of retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease which frequently progresses until the patient becomes blind. The hospital facilities include housing for family members and a very well-stocked cafeteria. The Cuban government elite, however, also receives treatment outside of the country, even in Miami, FLA. These treatments are paid for by the Cuban government. Cuban-born journalist Ninoska Pérez Castellón, who now resides in the US, has been able to tape conversations with these patients and later transmit them by radio (to the island).

One of these conversations took place with María Antonia Morales, the wife of Javier Domínguez, an official of the Cuban Institute for Friendship With Other Lands. This and other interviews were published as part of the book El Exilio Indomable ("The Unconquerable Exile") by Peruvian writer Alvaro Vargas Llosa, published in Spain earlier this year by the Espasa Calpe publishing house. Morales told Pérez Castellón, who was pretending to be an employee of the medical center where Morales was staying as a patient, that payment for her treatment was "coming directly from the Cuban Embassy in Washington." When asked what kind of treatment she had received, she confessed: "well, facial surgery."


(Contributors to this article: Aleida Durán, from Union City, New Jersey, and Manuel Balboa, of Hawthorne, California).

CONTACTO Magazine, a monthly publication on Cuban issues published in Burbank, California, since 1994.
1317 N. San Fernando Blvd.-246, Burbank, CA. 91504
(818) 842-3308 Fax: (818) 557-6251


Cuba, España y los Estados Unidos | Organización Auténtica | Política Exterior de la O/A | Temas Auténticos | Líderes Auténticos | Figuras del Autenticismo | Símbolos de la Patria | Nuestros Próceres | Martirologio |

Presidio Político de Cuba Comunista | Costumbres Comunistas | Temática Cubana | Brigada 2506 | La Iglesia | Cuba y el Terrorismo | Cuba - Inteligencia y Espionaje | Cuba y Venezuela | Clandestinidad | United States Politics | Honduras vs. Marxismo | Bibliografía | Puentes Electrónicos |

Organización Auténtica