Castro’s Doctors Plot | Jacob Laksin | July 26, 2007

Arriving in Cuba last week for the first time since the release of his new documentary, Sicko, Michael Moore met with an enthusiastic reception from the communist authorities. Previously, Cuba’s health minister, José Ramón Balaguer, had led the way in gushing that Moore has helped “the world see the deeply humane principles of Cuban society.” For a dictatorship that imprisons journalists and dissidents as a matter of course, it was a rare rave for political commentary.

It’s easy to see why Party apparatchiks should be so taken with the filmmaker. In Sicko, Moore paid the Cuban regime the ultimate compliment. Taking at face value its claim to provide superior medical service to Cubans and breathing fresh life into official propaganda that health care is one of the great achievements of the Cuban revolution, Moore cut a generous advertisement for Castro’s one-party state. Such was the success of the Cuban system, Moore enthused, that the country even dispatched doctors abroad to treat the sick of needy nations.

As with much else in Moore’s manipulative film, this claim strains the definition of disingenuous. To be fair, Moore is far from original in making it. Cuba’s “doctor diplomacy,” through which some 20,000 Cuban doctors travel to provide care in poor African and Latin American countries, is routinely cited as a point in its favor, an example of humanitarian outreach that purportedly transcends politics and belies the country’s reputation as a brutal dictatorship. How bad can Cuba really be if it is willing to tend to the world’s desperately ill?

On the political Left, the notion enjoys popular currency. Thus, the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, a left-wing think tank, has repeatedly hailed the program, most recently in a 2006 policy paper sympathetically titled “Cuban Medical Diplomacy: When the Left has Got it Right.” The BBC, evincing none of the skepticism that governs its coverage of the United States and Israel, lauds the program as a “tool for winning hearts and minds in the developing world.” Michael Moore’s contribution was to stamp this symapthetic script with Hollywood’s seal of approval.

To say that such glowing tributes are not vindicated in practice is to understate the tragic reality. In fact, convincing gullible supporters to carry its ideological water is about the only “success” that can be credibly ascribed to the program. Considered closely, “doctor diplomacy” is a farce, one that reveals much about the continuing repression in Castro’s prison state and yet more about the activists and ideologists who turn a blind eye to political malpractice when it accords with their preference for socialized medicine.

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