Weaponizing Cuba against Bernie: Childish Thinking and A Family Experience

They’re at it again – red-baiting Bernie Sanders. Because the senator from Vermont has (like President Obama) recognized the educational achievements of the Cuban Revolution, he’s being attacked as an apologist for brutal dictatorships everywhere. The syndrome played out in yesterday’s episode of “The View,” and last night in the South Carolina debate.

It’s all so tiresome – so 20th century, so chauvinistic.

It also contradicts my own personal experience of Cuba over many years of visiting the island, where Fidel Castro remains as revered as George Washington here in the United States. By most on the island, he’s considered the father of his country.  (I remember a U.S. embassy official in Cuba lamenting to my students that if free and fair presidential elections were held there, Castro would win “hands down.”)

However, more recently still, such demonization of Cuba and Fidel Castro flies in the face of an experience my daughter and her husband had of the Cuban healthcare system just two weeks ago. I want to share that story with you. It sheds light not only on Cuba and Castro, but on Medicare for All.

But before I get to it, consider the attacks on Mr. Sanders.

Forbidden Thought

According to the simple-minded received wisdom here in the U.S., no one is allowed to tell the truth about a designated enemy. That is, you can’t say anything good about any government that refuses obedience to U.S. empire. And that’s true even if, like Cuba, the said government provides enviable education and childcare, or if health services are free there for everyone.

Meanwhile, to say anything bad about a “friend” – apartheid Israel for example – is absolutely forbidden. As an international outlaw, Israel can transgress UN resolutions against its illegal occupation of Palestinian territories. It can even kill with abandon peaceful protestors including Palestinian children, the elderly and disabled. However, to criticize it for doing so – to propose boycotting, divesting, or sanctioning Israel’s internationally proscribed occupation of Palestinian territories – is not only unacceptable but actually forbidden by law.

(In case you haven’t noticed: no debate participant has or will ever accuse anyone on stage of supporting a “brutal dictatorship” in Israel – or in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Brazil, Honduras, Hungary, Turkey . . .)

I mean, instead of thinking critically or just recognizing undeniable facts, U.S. citizens and candidates for public office are virtually commanded to see and describe the world in terms of good/bad, black/white, friends/enemies, vendors/customers. To make even unsubtle distinctions in those regards is beyond the pale. In terms of electability, its’ the kiss of death.

To put it kindly, such thinking is not only simple-minded; it is childish. It’s insulting. It dumbs us all down and makes us stupid pawns of publicists and propagandists supporting reflexive U.S. ideology.

As a result of such stupidity, Bernie Sanders had to limit his “defense” of Fidel Castro to acknowledging the virtues of teaching people to read and write.  He could easily have added points about free education through university level and praise for Cuba’s medical system that provides healthcare for everyone on the island – including visitors from other countries. However, to do so would have opened him to attacks alleging that his free college tuition and Medicare for All programs will inevitably lead to the Cubanization of America.

Not even Bernie Sanders has that much courage.

Healthcare in Cuba: A Recent Experience

And that brings me to the personal story I promised earlier. Just two weeks ago, it involved my daughter, Maggie, and her husband, Kerry as they led a weekend excursion to Cuba.

The junket was the payoff of a fund-raising project for our local Montessori school in Wilton, CT which our daughter’s five children have attended. At an auction held for its benefit, Maggie and Kerry had “sold” the trip to several parental teams. That was last fall.

So come early February, everyone went off to Cuba, even though Maggie was feeling poorly from the outset.

By the time the group arrived in Havana, our daughter was experiencing severe stomach pain that literally brought her to her knees. The next thing she knew, she was being whisked off in a cramped taxi to the Clinica Central Cira Garcia, Havana’s “hospital for tourists.”

There, admissions officials checked very carefully to see that Maggie and Kerry had the required health “insurance” which is included in the purchase price of airline tickets to the island. Then, following an x-ray, our daughter was informed that she was having an appendicitis attack and that an immediate operation was imperative.

The long and short of it is that the laparoscopic appendectomy took place, that hospital care was excellent, and that it cost her and her husband not a dime for the operation or for her five days in the hospital. (They were however charged $50 for each of the two nights Kerry stayed overnight there, and a few dollars for laundry.) In other words, the operation had been paid for by the airline ticket “insurance” which was really a tax on all travelers pooled to meet the cost of health emergencies like the one I just described.

The same procedure in the United States would have cost on average $33,000.

Conclusion

The point here is twofold. The first is that “Americans” need to exit the 20th century once and for all.

Cuba is not our enemy. In fact, it never was until U.S. policy (intolerant of people-friendly socialism) made it so. Moreover, Fidel Castro remains a hero to most Cubans and to most informed people in the Global South. His “repressive” policies were absolutely necessary to protect his country from actual U.S. invasion (e.g. the Bay of Pigs in 1961), from numerous CIA attempts to assassinate him, and from a 60-year long embargo intended to undermine Cuba’s economy, including its health and education programs.

To understand that point, think about our own country’s response to 9/11. Think about the Patriot Act, about resulting restrictions on travel, about Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, imprisonment without trial, torture of suspected terrorists, and extra-judicial drone killings even of U.S. citizens. Think about the panopticon surveillance systems uncovered by Edward Snowden. Think about encouragement to inform on neighbors and others.

Were those responses to 9/11 brutal and repressive? No doubt, they appeared that way to their victims. But undeniably it’s what governments do under threat from external enemies and their internal agents. In that regard, the U.S. is no different from Cuba. George W. Bush, Trump – or Obama for that matter – are no different from Castro, except in their wider swath of brutality.

The second point is that Cuba’s social system as experienced by our daughter is unprecedented in the impoverished world of former colonies. No other victim of colonialism has been as committed to caring for its people, its children, or its environment as Cuba. But instead of being rewarded for such achievements, it is consistently vilified by U.S. politicians and a mainstream media stuck in Cold War thinking.

Thank God that the Sanders revolution invites us to leave all of that behind. His opponents should follow suit.  

Italy’s Healthcare System Much Better than Ours

Health Care

Following our arrival in Tuscany on the first leg of our journey to India, our extended family had some medical problems, one of them serious.

Less seriously, I ran out of a medication I’ve been taking. More seriously, my wife, Peggy, contracted a virulent case of poison ivy. Most serious of all, Carla, my daughter’s au pair from Mexico, came down with appendicitis. Each of these incidents highlighted the superiority of the Italian medical system to what we have in the United States, and the direction we must take to improve our healthcare procedures.

Begin with my running out of pills. . . . I tried to get my prescription filled before leaving the states. Since we’ll be gone for nearly 5 months, and I need to take one pill each day, I decided that I’d buy180 pills from my local Rite Aid. My doctor gave me the “script” without any trouble. However, my pharmacist informed me that I needed my insurance company’s O.K. to cover the cost. That would be about $100 for 30 pills, with my co-pay being $8.00.

So one month before leaving home, I phoned my insurance company. After three phone calls by me and a couple by my pharmacist – all preceded by lengthy and repetitious “conversations” with an automated responder – permission was granted.

However when I actually tried to obtain the pills just before departure, neither I nor my pharmacist was able to do so. There was no record of the previously granted permission. So the process had to start all over again, and I had no time to spare.

More phone calls . . . . More conversations with machines . . . . Lengthy arguments with “representatives” and their supervisors. . . . More than an hour wasted . . . . In the end, permission refused.

By contrast, when I arrived in Tuscany, I tried to get the prescription filled at the local pharmacy. After complimenting my Italian, the pharmacist simply asked “How many boxes do you want?”

“How much will they cost?” I asked.

“Six dollars a box,” came the reply.

“I’ll take two for now,” I answered.

I gave the pharmacist the money. She gave me my two boxes of pills. She never asked to see a prescription. I went on my way wondering about the $102 dollars somehow “saved” in the transaction.

And then there’s the case of my wife’s poison ivy. She came down with that after doing some yard work just before leaving our home in Berea, Kentucky. It was pretty severe – so much so in fact that her arms swelled and the rash covered both of them and had spread to her face, neck and torso.

So off to the pharmacy she went. She obtained some anti-rash skin cream there. When that proved ineffective, she visited the walk-in clinic attached to the pharmacy. She joined the line of about 10 people waiting to see the doctor about their varying ailments.

When her turn came, Peggy was examined, and the doctor prescribed some pills – 2 different kinds. They were purchased at the neighboring pharmacy for a total of about $20.00.

Problem solved. No cost for the doctor’s visit. No insurance cards or discussion of money. No phone calls to the insurance company, its machines, “representatives,” and supervisors. No paper work. Hmm. . . .

Carla came down with appendicitis just before we arrived in Panzano, the small town in the Chianti region of Tuscany where we were staying.

After experiencing severe stomach pains, she went to the pharmacy’s walk-in clinic, was quickly diagnosed and whisked off to the hospital in Firenze by ambulance.

They operated immediately. Before admitting her to the operating theater, the administration asked only to see Carla’s passport, for identification purposes. Afterwards, she was hospitalized for three full days. She was released with a simple “arrivederci” and an appointment to return in a week’s time to remove her stitches. Once again there was no discussion of money or payment. And, according to Carla, her treatment was top notch.

By the way, she wasn’t using Mexico as a point of comparison. She had experienced a gall bladder operation in Connecticut about a year earlier. She’s still receiving bi-weekly communications from the hospital about payments and insurance coverage.

Recently former President Bill Clinton, the so-called “Secretary in Charge of Explaining Sh*t,” spoke about the inferiority of the U.S. medical system and how curing its ills would benefit the economy.
It’s the most expensive system in the world, he remarked. Our country spends 17.9% of its gross domestic product on health care. Yet the U.S. is ranked (at best) about 25th in terms of its quality. Italy and France are far ahead of it.

Do you want to transform the economy Clinton asked? Reform the medical system, and reduce the share of GDP devoted to health care to the level achieved by Switzerland and the Netherlands – about 12%.

“The difference between 17.9 percent and 12 percent is $1 trillion a year,” Clinton said. “A trillion dollars that could go to pay raises, or to hire new employees or to make investments that would make our economy grow faster or to provide more capital to start small businesses or to expand others or to support diversifying and strengthening agriculture. You name it. A trillion dollars is a lot of money to spot our competitors in a highly competitive global economy.”

To implement Clinton’s recommendation, it would be necessary to introduce a Single Payer health care system into the U.S. President Obama wanted to move toward that system when he pledged to make a “public option” part of Obamacare. That meant, of course, giving people a choice between the ultra-expensive and globally inferior system we endure in the U.S. on the one hand, and something like the Italian system my family has just experienced on the other.

However, to please his opponents, Obama quickly took the public option off the table even before negotiations about health care reform began.

Bankrolled by Big Pharma and the insurance lobby, Obama’s opponents knew that most of us would choose what we’ve experienced in Italy over the inefficient, bureaucratic, and budget-busting monster that’s ruining our economy.