Responding privately to a precedent post a reader that we shall call Tim sent me this note which I am posting below (well, I had him arrange it a little bit for privacy purposes).
Help from Cuba
Perhaps it is time to be fairer to Cuban medical staff working in Venezuela. We live twelve kilometers from Plaza Venezuela in an area which has some ranchos, some brand new apartment buildings and some older dwellings all mixed up together. Definitely not a slum. We are 200 yards from a CDI [barrio adentro II] and on at least two occasions they have saved the life of my wife. Yes, she has had five emergency transfusions at the Clinica Metropoliana, a six week course of radiation treatment at the Centro Docente La Trinidad and is also receiving genetic therapy from a major European Cancer Center. However it has been the Cubans who, without any payment, come to the house and give my wife her twice weekly 'drip'. They have been splendid. We are a very squalid [escualido] family but all the members of the CDI have made a very strong impression on us and our community. True the Venezuelan National Health is a mess and I agree with nearly every word you put in your blog. 'Renting' medical services in exchange for oil is not the ideal solution but our experience is that here, today in our community it is working and the Cuban's who provide the service are hardworking, professional and very very kind. While I strongly criticize the government’s inability to run a proper efficient National Health Service it would be less than fair to say, based on our own experience, that the Cubans are not doing an excellent job.
Lastly I do not believe that they earn huge salaries. The Cuban government may charge a lot but I don't think much of that reaches the medical staff. Most seem experienced having worked in Honduras after hurricane Mitch (1998) or formed part of an international effort to aid Pakistan after the earthquake of 2005. They live in simple accommodation and for 'security reasons' they are supposed to off the streets by 4pm. There biggest luxury is to buy a phone card to call home to their families. This is not what we have been told. This is what we have seen with our own eyes.
True, not all Cubans are dangerous spies. Probably 80% or more are nice folks seeing their stay in Venezuela as either a job like another or a way to bail out from Cuba at some point. Also, I have never attacked the idea of Barrio Adentro, just the amazingly inefficient way it is managed and its inherent ability to attract stable medical professionals. I have also attacked that Chavez prefers to inaugurate new CDI, which future is apparently as aleatory as the barrio adentro modules, rather than starting by fixing up the already extensive hospital network of Venezuela. His policies of "all about ME", of reinventing the wheel, will eventually end up wrecking even the few good initiatives he has had.
And by the way, before barrio adentro there was an extensive network of "dispensarios" set up all around the country in relative proximity of popular areas, and which I had personally experienced them more than once as a kid when vacationing far from Caracas (you know, sun burnt, stitches and the like). Barrio Adentro is simply a retake and reformatting of an experience that had been very successful . But not a single chavista, even those who went to a dispensario like Chavez surely did in Barinas will ever acknowledge them, preferring the world to believe that before Chavez people were just dying massively in the streets.