Michael Moore’s ‘Sicko’ and Cuba’s Health-care System

LeiLani Dowell
(Reproduced from Workers’ World, May 31, 2007)

Much publicity for Michael Moore’s newest movie “Sicko,” which puts a spotlight on the negligence of the U.S. health-care system, has focused on a U.S. Treasury Department inquiry into Moore’s breaking of the U.S. travel ban to Cuba to film the movie.

In “Sicko,” Moore takes a number of 9/11 relief workers to Cuba to receive health care. These workers have suffered from a number of severe respiratory and other problems without U.S. government support for their needs. The boats first traveled to Guantánamo Bay—where, despite a systematic pattern of detainee torture that has received worldwide condemnation, the U.S. claims its prisoners receive high-end health care. After being denied services there, the group ends up at Havana’s central hospital.

In an article entitled “‘Sicko’ Stars Thank Moore for Cuba Trip,” the May 19 Associated Press reports: “There, the film shows the group getting thorough care from kind doctors. They don’t have to fill out any long forms; health care is free in the Communist nation, after all.” The group received medical tests and services to deal with conditions ranging from reflux problems to eye and nose infections and dental problems. states, “The pathos of the story makes [Moore’s] point for him. A poor Caribbean island, whatever its ideology, can afford health care for everyone while we do not. The only possible conclusion is that our society has chosen not to.”
This conclusion is all the more startling given the history of the U.S. blockade against Cuba.

Since the very beginning of the Cuban revolution in 1959, the U.S. has aggressively attempted, and consistently failed, to destroy the communist government of Fidel Castro through “legal” and extra-legal means, including the support and funding of bombings and other acts of terrorism. One of these tactics has been the ongoing blockade of goods and services to the country.

In his book, “Island Under Siege: The U.S. Blockade of Cuba,” Pedro Prada explains, “In 1992, 70 percent of Cuba’s trade with U.S. subsidiary companies was in food and medicine, accounting for 15 percent of its imports. ... This trade was banned under the Torricelli law (Cuban Democracy Act) in violation of international law and United Nations resolutions that food and medicine cannot be used as weapons in international conflicts.”

The U.S. also places immense pressure on other countries to stop their trade with Cuba, often forcing them to request higher prices to compensate. Prada explains the specific effect this has had on medicine: “Medicuba, the Cuban firm that imports medicines and health technology ... in just one year ... had to pay an extra $45 million for pharmaceuticals. ... According to the list prices, Cuba often pays 80 to 140 percent more than other buyers of medicines, medical technologies or equipment.”

Despite this, Cuba has continued to offer free, comprehensive health care to all its citizens. In addition, since 1963 Cuba has exported its exemplary health care services around the world, sending doctors and its own technological advancements in medicine to countries throughout Latin America and Africa. Cuba provided medical support after the 2005 earthquake in Kashmir, Pakistan.

When Hurricane Katrina coupled with U.S. government negligence to ravage the lives of the people of the U.S. Gulf Coast, Cuba immediately offered its assistance—an offer that was arrogantly and callously rejected by the Bush administration. Meanwhile, according to the group Healthcare-NOW, the U.S. is ranked 38 in the provision of health care, and more than 50 percent of U.S. bankruptcies are the result of medical emergencies. (, May 24) The National Center for Health Statistics reports that from January through September 2006, 43.8 million persons of all ages (14.9 percent) were uninsured in the United States. (

Break the travel ban!

Another facet of the blockade against Cuba is the travel ban that Moore may face charges for violating. Under current law, U.S. citizens are prevented from traveling to Cuba unless they receive a license from the State Department. The number of these licenses, given to educational institutions and faith-based groups, has been severely slashed under the Bush administration.

Why limit travel to Cuba? In addition to trying to curtail the tourism industry there, the U.S. government knows that despite its propaganda to the contrary, many who visit the island return to become firm supporters of Cuba’s sovereignty. They see the gains that a socialist revolution can make for the poor and oppressed, exemplified by but not limited to Cuba’s health care system.

The responses of some of the relief workers demonstrate one of the reasons why the travel ban continues to exist. At a private screening of the movie, 9/11 volunteer Bill Maher said, “This trip opened my eyes. ... I was uneducated. ... Now, you know what? I’m going back!” First-responder Reggie Cervantes replied, “I’m going with you.” (AP, May 19)

In July, several solidarity organizations, including the youth group FIST—Fight Imperialism, Stand Together; the Venceremos Brigade; U.S./Cuba Labor Exchange; and Pastors for Peace, will participate in a travel challenge to Cuba. Some of these groups will be bringing material aid—much needed as the U.S. blockade continues to rob the island of resources. In defiance of the travel ban, each group will openly travel to Cuba without asking for permission from the U.S.

It is expected that all who participate will return with their eyes opened to the potential of socialism—the dedication to people’s needs above profit—and with greater resolve to demand “U.S. hands off Cuba!”