A Cuban Fairy Tale on PBS

The Wall Street Journal’s Mary Anastasia O’Grady nails it again.

A Cuban Fairy Tale From PBS

What public television didn’t tell you about health care in Castro’s socialist state.

In his memoir covering four years in Cuba as a correspondent for Spanish Television, Vicente Botín tells about a Havana woman who was frustrated by the doctor shortage in the country. She hung a sheet on her balcony with the words “trade me to Venezuela.” When the police arrived she told them: “Look, compañeros, I’m as revolutionary as the next guy, but if you want to see a Cuban doctor, you have to go to Venezuela.”

That story was not in the three-part report by Ray Suarez on Cuban health care that aired on PBS’s “NewsHour” last week. Nor was the one about the Cuban whose notice of his glaucoma operation arrived in 2005, three years after he died and five years after he had requested it. Nor was there any coverage of the town Mr. Botín writes about close to the city of Holguín, that in 2006 had one doctor serving five clinics treating 600 families. In fact, it was hard to recognize the country that Mr. Suarez claimed to be describing.

The series was taped in Cuba with government “cooperation” so there is no surprise that it went heavy on the party line. Still, there was something disturbing about how Mr. Suarez allowed himself to be used by the police state, dutifully reciting its dubious claims as if he were reporting great advances in medical science.

Castro’s military dictatorship marks 52 years in power next week. But the “revolution” is dead. A new generation of angry, young Cubans now vents on Internet blogs and through music, mocking the old man and his ruthless little brother. On Nov. 29, in the city of Santa Clara, hundreds of students launched a spontaneous protest when they were denied access to a televised soccer match they had paid to watch. What began as a demand for refunds soon turned to shouts of “freedom,” “down with Fidel” and “down with socialism,” according to press reports.

Dissent is spreading in Cuba like dengue fever because daily life is so onerous. One of the best documented sources on this subject is the Botín narrative (“Los Funerales de Castro,” 2009, available in Spanish only), which pulls back the curtain on “the Potemkin village” that foreigners see on official visits to Cuba. Behind the façade is desperate want. Food, water, transportation, access to health care, electricity, soap and toilet paper are all hard to come by. Even housing is in short supply, with multiple families wedged into single-family homes. The government tries to keep the lid on through repression. But in private there are no limits to the derision of the brothers Castro.

Mr. Suarez’s report, by contrast, is like a state propaganda film. In one segment, an American woman named Gail Reed who lives in Cuba tells him that the government’s claim of its people’s longevity is due to a first-rate system of disease prevention. He then parrots the official line that Cuba’s wealth of doctors is the key ingredient. What is more, he says, these unselfish revolutionary “foot soldiers” go on house calls. “It’s aggressive preventive medicine,” Mr. Suarez explains. “Homes are investigated, water quality checked, electrical plugs checked.”

An abundance of doctors? Not in the Cuba Mr. Botín lived in. In 2006 the government claimed there were 65,000 doctors. That number, he says, was “a figure that many professionals considered inflated.” When Cubans complained they couldn’t get care, he notes that the state upped the number “magically” to 71,000 five months later. Given Fidel’s habit of making things up, it’s hard to know how many competent doctors the government has trained. But there is no disputing the fact that thousands of medics have been sent overseas in large numbers to earn hard currency for the regime. There is also no question that Cubans are paying the price at home.

As to doctors checking on water quality and electricity outlets, the PBS reporter might be surprised to learn that most Cuban homes have no running water or power on a regular basis. This is true even in the capital. In 2006, Mr. Botín says, a government minister admitted that 75.5% of the water pipes in Havana were “unusable” and “recognized that 60% of pumped water was lost before it made it to consumers.” To “fix” the problem, the city began providing water in each neighborhood only on certain days. Havana water is also notoriously contaminated. Foreigners drink only the bottled stuff, which Cubans can’t afford. In the rest of the country the quality and quantity of the water supply is even less reliable.

Mr. Suarez also reported that, according to Ms. Reed, Cuba is suffering an “embargo of medicine.” But there is no embargo on food or medicine. The problem is that the government lacks the money to pay for new medicines that are protected under patent.

Reporters who want access to Cuba know that they have to toe the Castro line. I get that. Mr. Suarez must figure that his American audience does not.

Write to O’Grady@wsj.com

H/T Maggie

9 thoughts on “A Cuban Fairy Tale on PBS”

  1. I already put this elsewhere om babalu, but this is what I wrote them when I saw that program. They will ignore it, of course:

    Dear Mr. Lehrer,
    I used to watch your show religiously. I liked the fairness and even handedness and I learned a lot. But I stopped watching when you added Shields and some stooge who is supposed to represent the other side, now it’s Brooks. What happened to balanced discussion?
    Once in a while I check in to see if there have been any improvements. Yesterday, unfortunately, was one of those times. I know now that I will never watch you again.
    That Cuba segment made me sick to my stomach. I am not a Cuban. I am an American born plain white person. But I know lies when I see them and I am astonished that you are so ill informed.
    For one thing are you aware that that piece of propaganda, the movie Sicko, cannot be seen by the Cuban people? Castro loves it and watches it often. But he will not permit the Cuban people to see it. Why? Because their health care system is nothing like what he shows in the movie and if they could see Sicko, they would want to know why their disgusting health care system doesn’t resemble anything like that. Cubans hospitals are filthy, vermin infested, no clean sheets, with no real health care. While the U.S. under this so called embargo provides Cuba with more medical supplies than the rest of the world combined, no Cuban gets even a band aid or an aspirin. It all goes to the evil ones who run the country for their use or so they can sell it for their own personal profit.
    You describe the wonderful humanitarians of this filthy regime who have set up this gorgeous program for training such loving doctors who can go all over the world to help those less fortunate in poor countries, what about the Cubans? Those kind, caring, physicians are not permitted to treat Cubans, the poorest people in the world, made poor deliberately by this tyrannical regime.
    There is only one truth in your whole piece. The rest was purest propaganda. It was when you showed the young Cuban doctor who was sent to Colombia and Guatemala to treat poor people. He said that they may be poor but they have what no Cuban has, freedom. So he defected. If he is going to be poor as he was in Cuba, he might as well enjoy freedom.
    If you say one word in Cuba that the regime doesn’t approve of you may be arrested and sent to prisons where the conditions are worse than anywhere in the world. There are spies on every street in Cuba to make sure you don’t say one word that is not approved of. If you look at the map of where Facebook is all over the world, there is one spot where it doesn’t exist, in Cuba. I remember those anti Apartheid programs you used to run against the South African government. Where are those programs now for Cuba?
    For your penance I sentence everyone involved in presenting this puff piece for an evil regime to reading all the posts on babalublog.com from the beginning of August until now. You should also read all of the comments, which are called hablaron. It is high time the news media in this country learned the truth about Cuba.
    I will not be stopping by to watch your program again unless someone informs me that you have learned your lesson and start presenting more truth..

  2. Isn’t PBS an abbreviation for Proletarians, Bolsheviks, and Socialists? Does anyone still bother with them? Why?

    Why don’t Shields, Lehrer, Brooks, Moyers, and the rest of PBS’ Jalopy Journalists accept the fact, they’ve been made obsolete by Talk Radio and The Net?

    Here’s the trick for extracting something approaching the truth from PBS and NPR’s litany of leftist lies: Whatever they say, believe the opposite.

    This bunch has long regarded regarded castro as a saintly hero, in harmony with their congenital, marxist traditions.

    Paul Vincent Zecchino
    Manasota Key, Florida
    27 December. 2010

  3. paul,
    I love your translation of PBS.
    The thing is Lehrer used to be so much better than this. How did he get duped?
    The first time I ever saw Dan Quayle was in March of 1988 when Lehrer interviewed him as he gave an explanation of something complicated. I said to myself about Quayle, ” Who is this guy? And why don’t I know him? He’s gorgeous and smart; he made something difficult to understand very clear. Why isn’t he running for something bigger?” The next thing I heard Bush chose him as his running mate. I wasn’t surprised even though the rest of the country was.
    Too bad Lehrer is not what I thought he was.

  4. The great Humberto Fontova did the best piece about PBS/NPR Castroism i’ve ever seen over at bigpeace earlier this year
    “Many taxpayers indeed find it galling to fund lopsidedly liberal programming. Even more galling for some is funding the distribution and broadcasting of films produced by Fidel Castro’s propaganda ministry, a PBS specialty.

    Equally as galling for many U.S. taxpayers was paying part of the salary for Alan Sagner, who was appointed chairman of Corporation for Public Broadcasting by President Clinton and served on the board from 1994-98. Mr Sagner was a founder of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee. You may recall that one of its members really racked up some headlines on Nov. 22nd 1963. Less well known is how, a year earlier, two members of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee (Marino Suero, Jose Garcia), acting in concert with Castro’s delegation to the United nations, and under the direction of Che Guevara’s “Foreign Liberation Department,” plotted a terrorist attack against New York civilian targets would have dwarfed the 9/11 death toll. Fortunately J. Edgar Hoover’s crackerjack FBI foiled it.”

    oh dear how the world must miss having a top-rate healthcare system like their was pre-commies

  5. I concur with Honey. MacNeil/Lehrer used to be very good. I remember programs where they spoke up and exposed the situation inside Cuba and I was frankly surprised considering that their program was/is televised from the pro-castro PBS. It was as if MacNeil/Lehrer were an oasis in that cesspool that is PBS. What a shame that Ray Suarez who is associated with MacNeil/Lehrer did this horrible piece. Did they have any input in this, or did they allow this horrible Ray Suarez to make this propaganda piece independently? What happened to Ray Suarez? It’s evident that he relied totally on the regime for this piece. The sad part is that partly due to his reputation as someone associated with MacNeil/Lehrer, most viewers will probably take these lies as truths. After all, he has a solid reputation and comes across as serious.

    That said, it boggles the mind that many reporters continue to allow themselves to be so manipulated. I guess that if they don’t, the regime will just kick them out of the country and they won’t finish their report, or as they say, not allow them back in for the “big one,” or in the worst case scenario, publicize the pictures and films that they took in the hotel of the little encounter that the reporter had with the prostitute or hustler.

    Or is it something as simple as bribing these reporters? I read somewhere [was it here on Babalu?] that the regime invites them to lavish parties or give them a castro autograph or something like that.

    It’s all sad and frustrating.

Comments are closed.