Cuba’s Doctors in Venezuela

To travel around Venezuela and not run into a group of Cuban medical doctors is like going to Africa and not finding a lion, or at least not seeing the savanna.


More than five years ago, perhaps seven to be more exact, along with the Cubans doctors there circulated many rumors.  Some of these might have been worthy for the Guinness Book of World Records had there been a category for the most senseless lies.

What’s true is that these people are just that, people who do their jobs; they are neither heroes nor assassins gunning for Fidel Castro or Hugo Chavez.

But it would be a little selfish of me if the work of these people in Venezuela didn’t seem very useful.  Here I’ve found few hospitals and I’ve noted that it’s common for fire trucks or ambulances to be sent to pick up accident victims, but later they’re charged the cost of the service.

Recently I spoke with some people who were saved by doctors from the Cuban provinces of Pinar del Rio, Santiago de Cuba and Matanzas.  Several of those patients do not support the movement toward socialism that the current Venezuelan president proposes; and before going under the knife of Cubans, they would have preferred anything or anyone else.

Several of them were discharged from private clinics, where they had been brought for urgent attention, but there medical insurance didn’t  cover enough of the bill.  They didn’t have enough money and were therefore kicked out at the risk their lives.  What they all agreed on was the kindness shown by the Cuban physicians.

The truth is that I had no intention of writing about the kindness of the Cubans doctors, but this is what people talked about to me.

The Cubans themselves have lots of anecdotes; some that make you laugh and others that shock.

In the community of Wayü, in Mara, Venezuelan doctors now refuse to treat the indigenous people; they say they’re vindictive natives.   When one of those patients was dying, there was fear that his relatives would later kill the doctor who treated him.  The Cubans, on the other hand, have been there for several years and up to now there have been no conflicts between them and the locals.

Similarly, I got together with a Cuban friend who now lives on a hillside neighborhood of Caracas.  For her it’s normal that every once in a while one of the area’s “head thugs” will knock on her door to warn her to not to go out into the street that day; they advise her to “be careful” of some shootout that’s expected in the vicinity.  But no one has to warn her.  The gunshots are enough to force her under the bed or make her lock herself in the least insecure room in the house.

People had told me about a doctor who has already returned to Cuba.  She was the one who had to get psychological treatment after being here 15 days because of these situations of extreme violence.  To my surprise, however, the woman decided to stay here, and what’s most surprising is that she married a Venezuelan and today they live somewhat more peacefully in Cuba.

Recently rain caused a lot of mudslides here.  The flooding also resulted in deaths in the poorest areas, especially in Caracas.  There I met another group of Cubans dressed in white.  One of them had been a clown before graduating and had come to Venezuela to prove that he could heal and make people laugh at the same time.  Did he do it?

Most Cuban doctors in Venezuela spend more than two years working here, some more than five, though they go back once or twice on vacations to see to their family.  To me it would be sheer agony to be separated from my loved ones for so long.  There are mothers who have barely had a chance see their children grow up, and others who left their little girls just after their first menstruations and in their last trips back have found them already married.

As for me, I didn’t want to go through such situations; that’s why I didn’t study medicine.

Meanwhile, those who have been treated by the island doctors, and were willing to give their opinion, agreed that they don’t want them to ever leave.  But them?