The Militant (logo)  
   Vol. 70/No. 21           May 29, 2006  
Clinics in Bolivia operated by
Cuban doctors gain popularity
(front page)
Clinics offering quality medical care to all, staffed largely by Cuban volunteer doctors, and a nascent government-sponsored literacy program with aid from Cuba and Venezuela, are gaining popularity among Bolivia’s working people. At the same time, Bolivian president Evo Morales has announced that his government’s decision to take greater state control of the country’s natural gas and oil resources may not include compensation to some of the foreign companies that are nationalized.

At the inauguration in late April of the third ophthalmologic eye care center in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, Cuban vice minister of foreign affairs Rafael Dausa reported that Cuban doctors, nurses, and technicians are now providing free care in 180 municipalities across the nine provinces of Bolivia. Since the program, Operation Miracle, was launched in Bolivia in early February, nearly 375,000 patients have been treated. “Dausa said that in this period 687 lives were saved and eyesight has been restored to 7,613 Bolivians in Bolivia and Cuba, at absolutely no cost,” the Cuban News Agency reported April 24.

The Morales government, which took office in January, plans to use Cuban aid to open ophthalmology centers in the capital, La Paz, and Cochabamba, Santa Cruz, Sucre, Potosí, and Copacabana. They will have a combined capacity to operate on at least 100,000 people a year. In addition, the Cuban government is providing 5,000 scholarships to Bolivians to study medicine in Cuba.

Currently some 700 volunteer Cuban doctors are providing free medical care throughout Bolivia. This includes helping to staff and equip 20 rural hospitals. “We have doctors in Bolivia and they don’t want to come out here,” said Della Pacheco, 30, a small store owner in El Palomar, located 30 miles south of La Paz, according to an article in the May 14 New York Times. “At least we now have a president who remembers the most out-of-the-way areas.” The article was headlined, “U.S. Aid Can’t Win Bolivia’s Love as New Suitors Emerge.”

“The United States just subordinated Latin America and Bolivia, and it bothers me,” medical student Enrique de la Cruz told the Times. “The alliances with Venezuela and Cuba are super.”

The growing popularity of these programs is in sharp contrast to Washington’s “aid” to Bolivia, much of which focuses on training Bolivian military officers and, under the guise of eradicating coca crop production, deepening U.S. military operations in the country.

Morales won the presidency by campaigning for an end to this U.S.-led “war on drugs,” and for greater state control of the oil and natural gas industry, which he announced May 1 would be nationalized. In February Washington announced plans to slash military aid to Bolivia by 96 percent, from $1.7 million in the current fiscal year to $70,000.

Advisers to Bolivian volunteers in the literacy program are coming from Cuba and Venezuela. Havana is also providing reading materials and 30,000 television sets. The goal is to teach 720,000 Bolivians to read and write in two years. In addition to Spanish, the program will be conducted in Aymara, Quechua, and Guaraní.

“I cannot believe it,” Francisca Tarqui, an Aymara Indian, told the Times in El Palomar. “I am 83 years old,” she added. “Now I am going to go to school. I always wanted to learn to read.”

Morales defended his government’s steps to nationalize Bolivia’s oil and natural gas industry at the European Union-Latin American summit, attended by representatives of some 60 governments from the two continents. The gathering was held in Vienna, Austria, May 11-13. “For more than 500 years our natural resources have been pillaged and our primary goods exported,” Morales said. “This has to end now.”

“Morales seemed to harden his country’s bargaining position, saying that some foreign companies might not get compensation because Bolivians have yet to benefit from technologies used in the oil and gas sectors,” the Associated Press reported May 11. “If they have recovered their investment, then there is no reason to compensate them whatsoever,” Morales said. “If we expropriated assets or technology we would have to provide compensation, but in this case we are not expropriating.”
Related articles:
Washington bans U.S. arms sales to Venezuela gov’t
U.S. gov’t conducts war maneuvers in Caribbean  
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