The Militant (logo)  
   Vol. 70/No. 18           May 8, 2006  
Cuba expands medical program in East Timor
AUCKLAND, New Zealand—Cuban president Fidel Castro announced in December that 300 additional Cuban doctors will be traveling to the South East Asian nation of Timor Leste (formerly East Timor) to offer medical assistance. They will join 60 of their compatriots already there.

Cuba has also provided more than 800 scholarships for young people from Timor Leste to study at Havana’s Latin American Medical School and has helped set up a medical school in Dili, the nation’s capital.

“We have many health problems—malnutrition, malaria, TB—from being colonized for too long,” said Ego Lemos, a member of the newly formed Timor Leste-Cuba solidarity group, in an interview with this reporter during a visit to New Zealand in March. “We want the Cuban doctors because they’re not just coming to make money but to contribute to other third world countries.”

Cuban teachers have begun work on setting up a program to teach people in Timor to read and write, in a country where 56 percent of men and 43 percent of women are illiterate.

East Timor was a colony of Portugal until 1975 and was then occupied by Indonesia until 1999. A United Nations force, led by troops from Australia with significant backing from New Zealand, then took over until independence was finally won in 2002.

It is the poorest country in Asia, with the majority of the population of 900,000 living as subsistence farmers. A recent UN report showed that half the population lack safe drinking water, 60 out of every 1,000 babies die before their first birthday, life expectancy is only 55 years of age, and the per capita income of $1 a day is declining.

In 1999 there were only 35 doctors left in the country. Cuba’s aim is to assist in reaching a goal of one doctor per 1,000 inhabitants.

Timor Leste is rich in oil and gas deposits off its shores. However, the Australian government has for years controlled the distribution of profits from the extraction of these resources, and in January pressured Timor’s government to sign a maritime treaty perpetuating this ongoing theft.
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