Venezuela, Cuba, and the U.S: Health Care and Oil

Here's an article that came through on the LASolidarity Digest. It's a bit long, but without many outlets online or otherwise, I decided to post it in its entirety. It talks of preferential oil prices that Venezuela gives to Cuba, but in response to the huge army of health care professionals that Cuba has sent in return. Lamrani goes on to compare some related policies of Chavez and Bush, which may put things in an interesting light for many...

Venezuela’s debt to Cuba

by Salim Lamrani
October 27, 2007

The Venezuelan oligarchy vehemently criticizes President Chávez for providing fuel assistance to the government in Havana. It is true that Cuba receives 98 thousand barrels of petroleum daily at preferential prices. Nevertheless the Caribbean nation is not the only nation benefiting from favorable agreements. The majority of the countries in that region including Haiti, Jamaica and Nicaragua also enjoy this political solidarity. London as well as various United States cities are also recipients of Venezuela’s generosity without it stirring up such controversy. (1).

Chávez personally responded to these attacks during his television program “Aló, Presidente” on September 30, 2007. According to him, the debt that Venezuelans have incurred with Cuba is much greater than the fuel assistance provided to the island. “Those who [...] accuse me of giving away fuel to Cuba [are] foolish. If the account were tallied, bolívar for bolívar, cent for cent ...” the president recalled that 30 thousand Cuban doctors have been working in the country on a free and volunteer basis for more than five years. He confirmed that Cuban professionals have saved more lives in those five years than Venezuelan doctors have throughout the entire medical history of Venezuela. “This has no price,” he emphasized. “What is worth more in objective value, the barrels of oil that we sell to Cuba or this?” he asked (2).

Currently around 9 million people have benefited from medical attention provided by the Cuban doctors, who have performed more then 60 million consultations throughout the country. The health mission “Barrio Adentro” (Inside the Barrio) has ensured that all Venezuelans have free and universal access to medical services. The establishment of preventative medicine saved the lives of 1,153 children in 2007, according to the Ministry of Health. (3)

Thanks to the presence of the Cuban doctors and the political will of Chávez six new hospitals are being built in the states of Barinas, Mérida, Guárico, Miranda, Apure and in the capital. Barrio Adentro has entered its fourth phase. The government plans to invest a sum of 800 million Euros (2,500 million Bolívares) in the Public Health System. (4)

Chávez also announced a 60% salary increase for Venezuelan doctors who work for the state beginning November 1, 2007. “I know that doctors’ salaries were falling behind. [...]. It’s justice for those who work for Venezuelans’ health,” he declared. (5) He also emphasized that this economic effort is made possible by the raising oil prices. (6) Of course, the Colegio de Médicos de Venezuela (medical College of Venezuela) expressed satisfaction. (7) The minimum salary for a new doctor starting out in the public system will now be 822 Euros per month which is an extremely high salary for a Third World country. (8) Professors have not been left out. The Ministry of Public Education also decided to raise its salaries by 40% effective November 1, 2007. (9)

In contrast, President Bush, under the pretext of fiscal restraint, vetoed legislation passed by the Congress that would have provided access to medical attention for poor children, while spending billions of dollars on the illegitimate and murderous occupation of Iraq. The societal views of Chávez and Bush are mirror opposites: the well-being of the neediest on one side and the profits of multinationals on the other. (10)

In order to combat excessive alcohol and tobacco consumption and to thus reduce related public health problems, the Venezuelan government decided to raise the tax on liquor by 50% and on cigarettes by 70%. “Our country has one of the highest rates of whiskey consumption,” he lamented. Sales of beer on the street will be prohibited from now on. This arsenal of measures forms part of the preventative policy promoted by the government to improve the health of Venezuelans. (11)

Cuba and Venezuela have once again strengthened regional integration by signing 14 new cooperative economic agreements on October 15, 2007. (12) Provoking the ire of the Venezuelan opposition, during his speech Hugo Chávez reiterated his admiration for Cuba: “Fidel is a father for our people. Cuba is an example for our revolution. Venezuela loves Cuba. Our people love the Cuban people and are very grateful to them.” (13) Later, addressing his detractors, he asked: “how much would we have to pay any other country to provide 30 thousand doctors, nurses, ophthalmologists and dentists, 24 hours a day, dispersed throughout the entire the territory [...]? That can someone tell me that!” (14)

The integration between Cuba and Venezuela is a model that should be followed on the rest of the continent. It is the only way to protect against the threats of Washington, achieve real independence and improve the people’s standard of living.

Salim Lamrani is a French professor, writer and journalist who specializes on U.S.-Cuba relations. He has published the books Washington contre Cuba (Pantin: Le Temps des Cerises, 2005), Cuba face à l’Empire (Genève: Timeli, 2006) and Fidel Castro, Cuba et les États-Unis (Pantin: Le Temps des Cerises, 2006).

Translated by Dawn Gable. Dawn Gable is a freelance translator, writer and member of the Venezuela Solidarity Network and the Santa Cruz Cuba Study Group. She is also co-founder of Bridges Not Walls: Uniting America one word at a time.

(1) Mauricio Vicent, «El presidente de Venezuela alude en Cuba a una confederación entre los dos países», El País, October 16, 2007.
(2) Associated Press, «Chávez asegura que Venezuela tiene deuda con Cuba», October 1, 2007.
(3) Ibid.
(4) Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias, «Arrancó Barrio Adentro IV con la construcción de 6 hospitales especializados», September 30, 2007.
(5) Associated Press, «Chávez anuncia incremento salarial a médicos en Venezuela», October 8, 2007.
(6) Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias, «Chávez anunció incremento salarial de 60% para médicos», October 8, 2007.
(7) Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias, «Colegio Médico del Distrito Metropolitano conforme con aumento de 60%», October 9, 2007.
(8) Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias, «Médicos satisfechos con aumento de sueldo del 60%», October 9, 2007.
(9) Associated Press, «Chávez anuncia incremento salarial a maestros en Venezuela», October 5, 2007.
(10) David Stout, «Bush Defends Veto of Health Care Bill», The New York Times, October 15, 2007.
(11) Christopher Toothaker, «Chávez la emprende contra la bebida y el consumismo», Associated Press, October 9, 2007.
(12) Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias, «Venezuela y Cuba suscriben 14 nuevos acuerdos de integración», October 15, 2007.
(13) Granma, «Estamos en las mejores condiciones Cuba y Venezuela para avanzar en un proceso unitario. Discurso de Hugo Chávez Frías, Presidente de la República Bolivariana de Venezuela, en el acto de firma de acuerdos entre Venezuela y Cuba, efectuado en el Palacio de las Convenciones, el 15 de octubre de 2007, “Año 49 de la Revolución”», October 16, 2007.
(14) Associated Press, «Chávez asegura que Venezuela tiene deuda con Cuba», op. cit.

Hunger Amidst the Food

With World Food Day having recently passed, a bit about the state of the global food supply seemed in order. This article from GNN sheds some light on the bleak picture facing many around the world, and the privilege that those in the U.S. continue to enjoy in the face of such brutality. The authors, Moore Lappe and Lappe, drive home the point:
Because the poor can’t exert “market demand,” 70 percent of the world’s agricultural land is devoted to grazing and crops that become feed for factory-farmed animals — all to produce meat priced beyond the affordability of the poor and hungry.
...on the concentration of the food "business" into just a few hands:
Consider that today the four largest beef processors control 81 percent of the market or that the four largest grain processors control 80 percent of the soybean market. One company — Monsanto — controls more than 90 percent of the market for genetically modified seeds and Wal-Mart collects an estimated one in four food dollars spent in the United States.
Read the rest of the article: The Right to Food Means Freedom from Dogma - see what the rest of the world is doing, and what those in the U.S. would do well to start thinking about.

Life at University...

Having been in university in the early 1990's, and then again over the last few years, I have certainly seen a difference in student behavior both in and out of class. As a teacher's assistant I have watched as students surf the net, text message, and more, all during a class or lecture. Added to the increase in what I consider disrespectful behavior, are all the facets of university life, with unlimited technology along with what seems like unlimited debt. As the life and environment of the student changes, however, the structure of the university and teaching remain largely the same. Check out this video that was on and created by a group of undergraduate anthropology students that addresses some of the thoughts espoused here.

Are you a Gardener?

Gardening, farming, and even simply having plants around the house requires the use of at least an occasional dose of fertilizer. This NJ-based company, terracycle, makes completely organic and non-toxic fertilizers using what they describe as the wondrous poop of worms. Added to the fact that they make earth- and people-friendly fertilizers, the company claims a zero-carbon footprint, and uses recycled materials in all of their products. Check out their website at the above link, or watch this video for more about the company and their products.

the War Against the Imagination

October 11, 2007
Check out this interesting talk by Sean Padraig Donahue that begins to outline the history of our present political, spiritual and ecological crises. This video is one in a series of three available on youtube. Sean is a writer, activist, healer, Reiki Master, and freelance journalist (he can be read on the Narco News Bulletin). You can also check out his website at

If you're interested, the other two videos can be found here:
and here:

Eat Local!!! part 2

I thought I would offer up this link to Local Harvest, an online resource that connects you (the consumer) to farmers (the producers). They offer and collect information on farmer's markets, and other retailers of locally produced foods from around the country. If you're unsure why you should do this, watch here on this site for more articles and links in the future, or take a meander around the site of Local Harvest, which offers some perspectives on why this is such an important decision for every household.

The Indigenous-Corporate Battle: Peru

Last month a group of indigenous people were spotted in a stretch of Amazonian forest where many thought nobody existed. The small group was spotted and filmed by ecologists who were looking for illegal logging sites, and they are believed to be one of the few remaining uncontacted tribes in the world. What makes this significant? Loggers, oil companies, and interests in the Peruvian government want to open the region to development. According to the Guardian online:
The contact was fleeting but the repercussions could be profound because this swath of Amazon, 550 miles east of Lima, is at the centre of a battle pitting indigenous rights groups and environmentalists against the Peruvian state, loggers and oil companies.
All too often in the past, the corporate interests have won this battle, and have been allowed to develop or extract resources from traditionally indigenous lands. Not surprisingly, members of the corporate contingent scoff at the idea of uncontacted peoples:
Those who want to develop the rainforest have played down the impact on its human inhabitants. Some even questioned their existence. Daniel Saba, president of Perupetro, the state oil company, said the notion of uncontacted tribes was "absurd" since no one has seen them. A company spokesman compared the rumours to the Loch Ness monster.
Contact with the outside world could prove deadly to groups like these, as there is still little resistance to western and urban illnesses, although their disappearance would likely go unprotested by the corporate interests. ABC news also reported the event.

Poor Suffer Most from Crime and Disasters, Says UN

Published on Tuesday, October 2, 2007 by Inter Press Service

by Frank Mulder

THE HAGUE - The urban poor are the worst affected by crime, natural disasters and insecurity, says the Global Report on Human Settlements published by UN-HABITAT on World Habitat Day Monday.

Just policies and good governance at the local level are crucial for safe cities, the report says.

Half the world’s population lives in cities. By 2030 an estimated two thirds will be urban dwellers. This rapid urbanization is creating new challenges, says the report, “Enhancing Urban Safety and Security.” The Global Report on Human Settlements is published every two years by UN-HABITAT, the United Nations human settlements program.

Between 1980 and 2000, recorded crimes increased by 30 percent from 2,300 to more than 3,000 per 100,000 people, the report says. As a result, fear has become an important factor in city life. Public opinion surveys in both developed and developing countries reveal that more than half of citizens worry about crime often.

“About 60 percent of urban dwellers in developing and transitional countries have been victims of crime over the past five years,” UN-HABITAT executive director Anna Tibaijuka said at the launch of the report here. “It shatters the misconception that the rich are most targeted by crime.”

About 100 million street children are a consequence of drug and human trafficking, violence, abuse and poverty, the report says.

“For a city to be safe, people have to be safe at home,” said Tibaijuka. But a third of the urban population is constantly threatened by forced evictions or insecurity of tenure. This undermines the safety of almost 1 billion slum dwellers. As land values within cities continue to rise and as housing solutions are increasingly left to market forces, at least 2 million slum dwellers are evicted annually, the UN-HABITAT report says.

The report also reveals that 98 percent of the 211 million people affected by natural disasters between 1991 and 2001 were in developing countries. The consequences have been severe, as natural disasters have increased fourfold since 1975, and man-made disasters increased tenfold. Many of these have hit cities, and the poor are often located in the most hazardous areas of the city.

“It was shocking for us to discover the figure of 98 percent,” Naison Mutizwa-Mangiza, chief of the research division of UN-HABITAT told IPS. “At this moment, 19 African countries are affected by floods. That hasn’t ever happened before in my life.”

But the report is not only about gloom and doom, he said. “We describe many successful policies that give us hope. Cuba, for example, developed a successful system to prevent disasters. It is completely integrated in their planning system, and kids learn in the schools about disasters. It doesn’t take additional money, it takes political will.”

Something can be done also to prevent poor people from becoming criminal, and that goes beyond just a strong police force. “It is not just poverty, but idleness that leads to vice,” Anna Tibaijuka told IPS. “Therefore it is necessary to focus on entrepreneurship. The majority of the poor are young, so creating employment for them is the key to a safer society. They are often ignored by politicians.”

Urbanization is sometimes driven by poverty in rural areas, but that doesn’t mean it is bad, Tibaijuka said. “Urbanization creates opportunities, and people want them. But we should focus on secondary towns, in order to prevent all the people from ending up in one big city.”

Lindiwe Sisulu, minister for housing in South Africa, and keynote speaker on World Habitat Day, focused on the importance of housing after a period of conflict. “In the beginning we didn’t realize that shelter is critical for reconstruction,” she said, “but we discovered that people need the possibility of improving their lives. Otherwise they will never improve their environments, and that shapes society.

“We consider secure tenure as a right,” she told IPS. “We want to provide all indigent people with free basic housing and free sanitation. Ten million people have already been provided for, but another 7 million are still waiting for it.” The main difficulty is the people themselves. “They often don’t want us to upgrade their settlements. Besides, all success stories attract new migrants, creating new problems while we are solving the old ones.”

Sisulu pointed out that combating crime has to be cross-sectoral. “Our National Crime Strategy hinges on the community.” Safety cannot be created by building walls, she added, criticizing the rich who often concentrate in “gated communities.”

“Many rich people are living on islands,” conference chair Jan Pronk, former Dutch minister for international cooperation and former minister for housing, told IPS. “However, social and economic integration is needed for real development.”

In his home country, the Netherlands, the problem is slightly different. “Here the rich are moving back to the rural areas, leaving the cities with problems and less capacity to solve it.”

Migrants, on the contrary, want to live in cities, because they can find more opportunities there, said Ella Vogelaar, Dutch minister for housing. The segregation that results from this creates a lot of tensions and socio-economic problems. “We decided to choose 40 problematic neighborhoods in the country. Together with other departments we integrate our housing, employment, education, integration and safety policy.”

The solutions are similar across the world, she told IPS. “We have to focus on opportunities for the angry young population in the same way as developing countries do.”

A mix of urban planning, policy, design and governance can help make cities safe and secure, UN-HABITAT believes. Therefore local authorities need to be democratic and accountable, said Bert Koenders, Dutch minister for international cooperation. “Where there is lack of governance, horror scenarios can unfold like in Guatemala City,” he told IPS. “The elite flies to Miami for private health care, services like public transport go down, and 6,000 people are killed annually.”

He points to the example of Rwanda. “Kigali is the cleanest city of Africa. People even do community service on Saturday mornings.”

© 2007 Inter Press Service