Cuba’s system of free medical care, long considered a birthright by its citizens and trumpeted as one of the communist government’s great successes, is not immune to cutbacks under Raúl Castro’s drive for efficiency.
The health sector has already endured millions of dollars in budget cuts and tens of thousands of layoffs, and it became clear this month that Castro is looking for more ways to save when the newspaper voice of the Communist Party, Granma, published daily details for two weeks on how much the government spends on everything from anesthetics and acupuncture to orthodontics and organ transplants.
It’s part of a wider media campaign that seems geared to discourage frivolous use of medical services, to explain or blunt fears of a drop-off in care and to remind Cubans to be grateful that health care is still free despite persistent economic woes. But it’s also raising the eyebrows of outside analysts, who predict further cuts or significant changes to what has been a pillar of the socialist system implanted after the 1959 revolution.
The psychologist and independent journalist said he was held at a police station in Santa Clara, the city where he lives some 270 kilometers (168 miles) east of Havana, from Thursday afternoon until Saturday morning, adding that this was the fourth time he was detained in one week.
State security agents arrested him on Thursday, he said, along with other members of the opposition, for mounting a street protest against the supposed removal of a computer from the home of dissident Jorge Luis Artiles, something they blame the authorities of doing.
If the hosts feared that Benedict XVI might emit criticisms about the management of the Communist Party on Cuban soil, real life calmed them. His public speeches were centered on pastoral themes and the boldest phrase that came out of his mouth was to assure us that “Cuba is looking to the future.” Beyond that, there was incense in abundance while social and political references were scarce.
Cuban dissidents Friday reported a crackdown across the island, with more than 30 activists detained to keep them from marking the monthly “Day of Resistance” and the one-year anniversary of one of the most active opposition groups.
Fourteen members of the Cuban Patriotic Union were detained in Havana as they gathered for the anniversary of the group, according to Pedro Arguelles, another member of the Union.
Five other dissidents were reported detained in the central city of Santa Clara during a vigil demanding the release of all political prisoners. Another four were arrested in the eastern town of San Luis and three more in the central town of Placetas.
Police told a dozen dissidents in eastern Camaguey province they would be arrested if they left their homes to attend an opposition gathering, and told seven others gathered in a Placetas home that they would be arrested if they did not leave.