Posted on July 30, 2007

Not only has Michael Moore helped bring the truth about Cuba’s superior health care system out of the shadows, but now people are beginning to learn about Cuba’s Latin American School of Medicine and that US students are among its graduates. At the end of the post is a CBS story about a US student from NY who graduated this summer. Unfortunately, the story does not tell the genesis of US students getting the chance to study in Cuba and, even more, does not highlight the long history of Cuba providing a free university education to thousands of young people throughout the world, especially from Africa.

Here’s the background on how US students got the opportunity to study at the medical school. This is from the Pastors for Peace website — Pastors for Peace coordinates the program to get qualifying US students enrolled:

During a Congressional Black Caucus delegation to Cuba, organized by IFCO/Pastors for Peace, caucus representative Bennie G. Thompson, a Congressman from the Mississippi Delta, remarked to President Fidel Castro that there are large areas in his district which do not have a single physician. President Castro responded with an offer of full scholarships for students from impoverished regions of the US to study medicine in Cuba. This offer was intended to be more than a short-term solution. It is the beginning of the creating of a heath care infrastructure for generations to come.

In his speech on Sept 8, 2000, at New York City’s Riverside Church President Castro said, “we are prepared to grant a number of scholarships to poor youth who cannot afford to pay the $200,000 it costs to get a medical degree in the US.” Cuba is offering 250 full scholarships per year for students in under served communities in the United States to study medicine in Cuba. Tuition, dormitory room and board, and textbooks are free of charge.

What we want from The Latin American School of Medical Sciences is for students from our sister nations to become imbued with the same doctrine in which our own doctors are educated, with that total devotion to their noble future profession – for a doctor is like a shepherd, a priest, a missionary, a crusader for the people’s health and physical and mental well-being.
— Cuban President Fidel Castro

African Students:
About 37 years ago, a mere 10 years after the Cuban revolution, Fidel, in visits to Africa, offered young Africans the opportunity to study in Cuba. Because of the dearth of educational opportunities for most black Africans — don’t forget that it was not until 1958 that Ghana threw out its colonial ruler, Britan, the first African country to do so — Fidel knew that these sprouting revolutions would not be sustained unless young Africans got a solid education. By the early 1970’s , Cuba was graduating African doctors, agricultural engineers, architects, biologists, chemical engineers, etc.

After sending Cuban military advisers to assist the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) in the summer of 1975, Fidel announced, in revolutionary square, in Havana a few months later, that he had decided to send troops to Angola in early November of the same year, in response to apartheid South Africa’s invasion of that country. The African students, in attendance at Fidel’s speech that day, filled with revolutionary fervor and brotherhood with their fellow Angolan brothers, vowed to join the Cubans to go fight in Angola. Upon hearing of this, Fidel thanked them for their revolutionary spirit, but said that he would not allow their blood to be spilled. Instead, Fidel told them,their responsibility was to complete their education, return to their countries, and build their revolutions.

For a remarkable assessment of the Cuba-Africa relationship, check out:

“Conflicting Missions: Havana, Washington, and Africa, 1959-1976,” by Piero Gleijeses, which is counter to the official history provided by U.S. policy-makers, most notably then-secretary of state Henry Kissinger.

Nothing left for me to say but, Viva Cuba! Viva Fidel!


U.S. Med Students Study For Free In Cuba

July 29, 2007(CBS) It’s graduation day at the world’s largest medical school. Among the sea of 2,000 graduates in lab coats are eight Americans, CBS News correspondent Kelly Cobiella reports, new doctors educated in Communist Cuba.

Evelyn Erickson is from Washington Heights in New York City. She was lured to Cuba’s Latin American School of Medicine by the promise of a free education — a gift of sorts from the Cuban government.

Fidel Castro started the school in 1999. His goal was to train people at no cost, in return for their pledge to practice medicine in poor communities back home — an offer extended to a handful of U.S. students in 2001.

It’s a world away from the United States. Home for Evelyn and her fellow students was an old army barracks with bunk beds, cold showers and a four-dollar-

a-month stipend. And, unlike the U.S. where students spend four years in classrooms and labs, these students spend six years in classrooms and clinics.

“They were calling me doctor, and I was like, ‘No, no I’m not the doctor. I’m the medical student,'” Evelyn says. “But what happens is that we are the people who examine the patients from the very beginning.”

They also learn about a much different healthcare system, which was documented in the recent Michael Moore film Sicko, where all services are free and everyone is covered.

“I was one of the people that was there translating for these patients when they came here to Cuba, and so I was actually there hearing their story,” Evelyn says. “And I think it proposed a really good question about looking at our medical system and seeing what kinds of things we need to change.”

Still, Cuba is no healthcare paradise. The hospitals are crumbling, doctors make about 20 dollars a month and there are shortages of almost everything from drugs to high-tech equipment.

Cobiella asks Evelyn if she thinks she’ll be accepted as a doctor back in the U.S. with an education from Cuba.

“I think so,” Evelyn says. “I would like to believe that we will be.”

Evelyn and her fellow graduates face one final hurdle before they can practice in the United States: passing the U.S. medical board exams. But by the looks on their faces, they’re not worried a bit.

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Editor-in-Chief, CubaNews
writer – photographer – activist

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