Fidel Castro sold the world the myth of Cuba as a medical powerhouse by pointing to a formidable showcase: free medical services.
The world's greatest expert in political propaganda in the second half of the 20th century successfully managed to cover up three inconvenient truths: 1) Public health was financed with money from Moscow 2) It is not free, and never was 3) There is no need for a Communist dictatorship to offer public medical services.
For example, in Costa Rica, Latin America's longest-standing democracy, all citizens who do not have paid-for insurance receive free medical care, subsidized by the State through the Costa Rican Social Security Fund (CCSS). In Uruguay there has been free care for the poorest since the 19th century, according to La República. And the same is true in most Latin American countries.
In addition, "free" services, in fact, do not exist. And certainly not in Cuba. Everything requiring work entails a cost and, someone has to pay it. In capitalist countries the State pays for health services with taxpayer money, but Castroism takes it further, and seizes part of the people's salaries.
The Cuban government not only appropriates the surplus value (profit) generated by workers, which is that which the wage earner creates in addition to the value of his labor, but also seizes part of the value created by the worker to support himself and that he receives in the form of a salary, for his food, housing, transportation, and other expenses for himself and his family.
The Castro civic-military elite not only keeps the profits, but also takes away from the worker part of the value he created for himself (salary). That is, in a "dictatorship of the proletariat" the worker is more exploited than in a bourgeois society. That irony is one of Marxism/Leninism's great disgraces.
This explains why in Cuba the average salary does not amount to even a dollar a day, considered by the UN to constitute extreme poverty. According to National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI), the average Cuban daily wage today is 93 cents; that is, 27.92 per month (670 pesos). In Haiti, it is more than double that ($59).
The supposedly free public health in Cuba is covered by high state-controlled sale prices, and the meager wages paid to farmers for their harvests. At shopping facilities (controlled by the Armed Forces), since the use of the dollar was legalised in 1993, a tax of 240% has been placed on all products. Today that surcharge ranges up to 1200% in some cases.
A kilo of chicken breast with skin and bone has a price that has ranged between 3.60 and $4.50, and a kilogram of beef hash, between $4.75 and $5.95. If the monthly salary is $27.92, then to eat 2.2 pounds of chicken breast and 2.2 pounds of beef hash in a month, a Cuban has to spend up to 37%($10.45) of his monthly salary.
To cite an equivalent, imagine in the US someone paying between 1,000 and 4,000 dollars to eat two pounds of chicken breast and two of beef hash a month. It sounds like a Woody Allen joke, but it's not.
The regime sometimes gives those hospitalized on the island symbolic bills, so that they are aware of the expenses their care has incurred. But they say nothing to those hospitalized at the CIMEQ; this, the most advanced hospital in the country, equipped with state-of-the-art technology, does not serve ordinary Cubans, but only the crème de la crème of the dictatorship, its relatives, or any leftist Latin American leaders or presidents that are really sick. That is, the workers, who pay for these sophisticated services with their salaries, do not have access to them. This, in the country of the "proletariat s power."
Actually, public health in Cuba is the most expensive in the western world. Its citizens pay for it with a lack of fundamental freedoms, extreme poverty, hunger, despair, marginalization from modern life, shortages of everything, abuses.
Medical backwardness before 1959?
One of the greatest propaganda feats of Castroism has been convincing people that before 1959 medical services in Cuba were a disaster and that its medical system was poorly developed.
Intoxicated by his narcissism, Castro I was confident that his word was more credible than the statistics of the UN, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labor Organization (ILO), which stated just the opposite. And, to a large extent, he succeeded. Even today many in the world still believe it, and continue to praise the wonders of public health achieved by the "Revolution."
The cold, stubborn figures, however, don't lie. According to the WHO, in 1958 Cuba had one doctor for every 980 inhabitants, only behind Argentina and Uruguay in Latin America, with one doctor for every 760 and 860 inhabitants, respectively.
In that year the island had 35,000 hospital beds, one for every 190 Cubans, a figure higher than that for many First World countries, which registered one bed for every 200 inhabitants. In 1953 Cuba ranked 22 in the world in physicians per citizen, with 128.6/100,000. And it had one dentist for every 2,978 people.
Cuban medicine boasts a long and notable history. In 1522 King Charles V ordered the construction in Santiago de Cuba of one of the first three hospitals in the Americas, together with the one founded in Santo Domingo in 1503, and another in Mexico in 1524, according to historian Herbert Stern.
Cuba was the first nation in Latin America to use ether as anesthesia, in 1847. In 1881 it was a Cuban doctor, Carlos J. Finlay, who discovered what transmitted yellow fever, and in 1907 the first X-ray service in Latin America was created in Havana.
At the end of the 1950s Cuba was the country in the region with the second lowest infant mortality rate: 33 per 1,000 live births. To get an idea of what that this meant, it suffices to note that in 1958 Italy had a rate of 50 per 1,000; France, 34 per 1,000; and Japan 40 per 1,000, according to the WHO.
Medical education in Cuba began in 1726, under the auspices of the Dominicans of the Convent of San Juan de Letrán; and, since 1842, at the University of Havana. Many Cuban doctors were recognized among the best in the world in their fields. In 1900 the Stomatology School was inaugurated at the University of Havana, one of the first in the Americas.
In short, everything was just the opposite of how the official propaganda portrayed it. The Castros demolished medicine in Cuba. They did not develop the economy to sustain it, they used other people's money to provide it, and when that money ran out, everything came crashing down. There are no longer any resources, nor will there be, as long as there is socialism.
Thousands of nurses and technicians have been fired, and 64 hospitals have been closed. There is now dengue, cholera, malaria, tuberculosis and even leprosy on the island, in addition to Zika and Chikungunya, transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, due to the sewage waters that flood streets, parks and courtyards, and many other bacterial and viral diseases, which drag the island back to colonial times.
This is very sad for a country that, before the Castroist calamity, stood at the forefront of medicine worldwide.