Category Archives: Heath care

What if we tried to emulate instead of demonize Cuba?

The right-wing narrative on Cuba is so peculiarly imbecile and propagandistic that it takes properly educated intellectuals to swallow it. I mentioned a short editorial in yesterdays Dagens Nyheter, our most important paper, in which the Castro regime was described as “grotesque and disgusting”. The author claims that the Castro brothers have used the US embargo as an excuse for “tormenting their people”.

This torment must of course have been very sophisticated since it has placed Cuba at the very top, among Latin American countries, on United Nations Human Development Index list, second only to Chile. It has also given Cuba more medical doctors than any other nation in the world (6 of 1000 inhabitants), making it possible for the poor country to send 19 000 doctors and 10 000 nurses to help people in need around the globe. The Cubans, living on pennies, enjoy the same longevity as people in USA, and have a lower infant mortality. Adding also things like successful land reforms and an advanced educational system, most poor people in Latin America have a lot to envy the Cubans.

So, what torment is the author referring to? It seems first of all to be about freedom of expression, or the lack of it. “Dissidents, journalists and human rights activists are subject to harassment, random house arrests and other restrictions”, DN claims. The heart-felt concern for these indeed brave people is of course warming, especially since the traditional assassinations, which was the standard procedure for eliminating dissidents in the rest of Latin America through all the years, had left DN remarkably unconcerned. The endemic neo-Nazi and other extreme regimes on the continent were treated by DN as just some kind of quite natural disruption, nothing to lose temper about.

A childish narrative implies that the communists’ persecution and oppression of dissidents is part of their nature, and something they engage in for the pleasure of exhibiting their power, eliminating competitors, or something equally deplorable. But Stalin has been dead for 60 years, implications of which many right-wingers have difficulties accepting. Cuban leaders are in all likelihood aware of the bad PR that actions against dissidents generate in the world, and most certainly know that they would be much better off with a more lenient treatment.

To deliberately perform seemingly counterproductive actions implies some kind of necessity and coercion. I dealt in the previous Postcard with CIA’s horrible and numerous terrorist activities hitting Cuba during many decades. It’s likewise well known, and obviously trivial, that CIA has used its unlimited resources to conduct advanced espionage and unscrupulous provocations towards Cuba, using all kinds of obnoxious methods and crooked agents. No regime whatsoever could have watched these kinds of subversive activities by an enemy state without reacting. The repression in Cuba is in many ways defensive.

The Cuban situation is more revealing for us, the self-proclaimed saints of western “capitalism”, than for the island’s leadership. Living conditions when it comes to health care, education and other things we call quality of life, is arguably much better in Cuba than in many places elsewhere in the developing world. The very policies that have created these welfare conditions are the ones that right-wing westerners consider “grotesque and disgusting” and fight with utmost frenzy. We never seem to ask ourselves the simple question: Why is it that our abundantly wealthy societies have such difficulties in taking care of those who are most in need, at least in par with the poor country Cuba? We neither seem to reflect upon the quite obvious answer.

Ebola, Cuba and embargo

Since half a century US upholds a policy against Cuba that lately has become an interesting exception from the ordinary habit of the political system, which is to serve the real decision makers – the economic power. The American Chamber of Commerce, the business community’s most important lobby group, wants the embargo on Cuba to be abolished, while the politicians on Capitol Hill persist with their wish to strangle Cuba economically. The Masters of mankind prefer this time business to the ostentatious and cruel politics since long obsolete.

Not surprisingly one finds conservative media on the side of the real power. Some days ago New York Times made a policy statement in an editorial urging that the embargo be brought to an end. That was followed by such a rarity as a positive news report from Cuba, telling about the country’s efforts to help Ebola victims in Africa. 500 medical personnel will be specially trained for the task and prepared to go to the affected African countries. The US Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, had publicly given special credit to Cuba and East Timor (!) for their willingness to send health care workers to the dangerous places where they are most needed, something many rich countries obviously hesitated to do on a larger scale.

In an academic work by two American scholars the Cuban health care system is described more precisely. One astonishing fact is that Cuba has sent out 30,000 health care workers – of which 19,000 doctors – to more than 100 countries around the world. (Doctors Without Borders – awarded the Nobel Peace Prize – have apparently around 3,000 doctors in field service. They are also active in African countries, treating Ebola patients.)

The Swedish population is of the same magnitude as the Cuban (9 versus 11 million), but we are immensely richer. Still we could certainly not send 19,000 doctors to help poor people abroad. We have just above 30,000 physicians altogether and can barely cover our own needs. We have to import doctors from less rich countries in Europe and elsewhere. That’s what’s happened to the former social role model in which people’s important needs used to be prioritized. (Instead we can nowadays buy hecatombs of stuff: a new cell phone each year, clothes we wear a few times, lots of food that bring us to premature death, and thousands of other things, all for the purpose of a superficial “happiness” but more for enriching the rich with ever growing profits.)

For us there is a lot to learn from this. Our mainstream media have not realized that it’s time to change foot on the Cuban issue. There is still just demonizing of the poor island to expect from our enlightened journalists and reporters. But we use to follow suit on USA even if we mostly lag some years behind. Like all others (except USA, Israel and occasionally some Pacific Island) we vote each year in the UN General Assembly for cessation of the Cuban embargo. But that’s because the strangulation violates the UN charter and WTO rules, and that acceptance of it could be precedential and thus hit back on us (it’s by no means for moral reasons, anyway).

The most important wisdom to gain from the Cuban example is how much humanitarian work we could have done with a minimum of our resources allocated to it. We can just imagine what enormous results we could achieve, had the rich countries made an effort in proportion just a fraction of the Cuban one. The lesson learned is that the well-being of mankind to a very large extent is a question of distribution based on a humanitarian ground.

Decay in Swedish school performance duplicated by health care

It’s been more than a month since my last postcard from Sweden. The reason for the pause is just that other activities have intervened and not that political developments here suddenly have turned in a radically different and positive direction. Not at all!

The parties forming our present government who are eagerly engaged in burying the old Swedish model probably sense that voters will through them out in the upcoming elections (in September). Thus they try to sneak in as much of their ideological stuff as possible, hoping that some of it may be irreversible.

I have reported on the plummeting Swedish ranking in the PISA studies, which indicates that our school system, once one of the best in the world, is more or less decaying. This deplorable process happens to coincide with radical privatizations of schools, followed by dismantling of resources like libraries, school nurses, special teachers for the children most in need and other cutbacks favorable for profits.

As one would expect we can now watch the “economic scientists” rush to save the tatters of credibility for capitalism in schools left by our right wing government’s experiments. Thus our most prestigious newspaper (Dagens Nyheter) the other day had an op-ed by three economists representing something called the Center for Market Reform of Education (there is no modesty or lack of resources when economic power strives to commercialize life in all its aspects).

The defense line that the three “scientists” draw is to reject simple correlations as proof of causality. (This is of course not a day too early, since simple correlation is the very oxygen that popular economics breathes.) The fact that privatization and plummeting outcome coincides is of course not a proof that the one causes the other. But there are other indications of causation between the two observations.

It has been established that private schools give high, false grades (unlike public schools), a temptation apparently hard to resist in a competitive business. If these grades then are being used to demonstrate good performance by private schools its naturally doubly fraudulent. I mentioned the dismantling of privatized schools, a confirmed and widespread phenomenon which hardly can lead to any quality improvements. Furthermore shallow testimony indicates that some private schools are popular among student by being pleasant and laid back, another attractive lure.

The Swedish decay is also visible in other sectors, one of which is health care. The CEO of the Swedish pharmaceutical companies’ trade association wrote the other day about the decline in health care indicators, despite the fact that a large majority of the population regards this area as one of the most important in politics. A measurement called Euro Health Consumer Index, rating the health performance in EU countries from the patients’ perspective, has recently been released. It shows that Sweden has fallen from 6th to 11th place in just the last year.

Another undeniable drop in our performance is revealed by the OECD statistics on life expectancy. From enjoying the forth longest life-span 20 years ago we have now fallen to eighth place. We have been used to see our country in the very top of all socio-economic rankings since ages. Now we are a former welfare super power in sharp decline. This is certainly not what ordinary people want, but it’s obviously an inescapable ultimate consequence of the adaptation to a “globalized”, neoliberal world, constructed by the economic powerful with the purpose to enrich the already rich at the expense of people in real need.

This is something really worth fighting against!