Venezuela’s debt to Cuba
By Salim Lamrani, Oct 24, 2007, 14:22
The Venezuelan oligarchy furiously criticizes President Chávez for the aid it provides in the form of cheap oil to the government in Havana. Indeed, Cuba receives 98,000 barrels of oil per day at preferential rates. Nevertheless, the Caribbean island is not the only nation that benefits from these favorable agreements. Most of the countries in the region, like Haiti, Jamaica, or Nicaragua, are also benefiting from this policy of solidarity. London, along with a number of cities in the U.S, also benefit from Venezuelan generosity, though without as much controversy (1).
Chávez responded to those attacks personally on his TV program “Aló, Presidente”, (Hello Mr. President) on September 30th, 2007. He stated that the debt the Venezuelan people now owe to Cuba is far greater than the petrol aid they provide to the Caribbean island. “Those who […] accuse me of giving oil as a gift to Cuba [are] stupid. If anybody would only calculate it, Bolívar by Bolívar, cent by cent…”. The President reminded his audience that 30,000 Cuban doctors have been working in the country voluntarily and free of charge for more than 5 years. He said that the Cuban health professionals saved more lives in five years than Venezuelan doctors during Venezuela’s entire history of healthcare. “It is priceless,” he emphasized. “What is of greater value, in objective prices, this, or the barrels of oil we are selling to Cuba?” he asked (2).
At present, about 9 million people benefit from the medical care provided by Cuban doctors, who have made a total of more than 60 million examinations nationwide. The healthcare programs, the Missions “Barrio Adentro”, made it possible for all Venezuelans to have universal and free access to medical care. The development of preventive medicine saved the lives of 1,153 children in 2007, according to statistics provided by the Health Ministry (3).
Thanks to the presence of Cuban doctors and the political will of Chávez, 6 new clinics are under construction in Barinas, Mérida, Guárico, Miranda, Apure and in the Metropolitan District. The Mission “Barrio Adentro” has reached its fourth phase. The government foresees to invert a total of 800 million Euros (2,500 million Bolívares) in the public healthcare system (4).
Chávez also announced a 60% increase in the salaries of Venezuelan doctors employed by the state, effective from November 1, 2007. “I know that doctors’ salaries have been falling behind […]. This [Increasing the salaries] is a matter of justice for all those working for the health of the Venezuelan people”, he declared (5). He also emphasized that the rise in oil prices made this investment possible (6). Naturally, the Medical Association of Venezuela welcomed the announcement (7). The minimum salary for a new state doctor will now be 822 Euros per month, which is an extraordinarily high income for a Third World country (8). Teachers haven’t been left behind. The Ministry of Public Education decided to increase their salaries by 40%, also as of November 1st, 2007 (9).
In contrast, President Bush vetoed legislation passed by Congress to provide access to health care for poor children, using the pretext of an austerity budget even as hundreds of billions of dollars are being spent on the illegitimate and genocidal occupation of Iraq. Two radically opposed visions of society are embodied by Chávez and Bush: on the one hand, the wellbeing of those who are in need, and, on the other, the profits of multinational companies (10).
To fight excessive consumption of alcohol and tobacco and thus reduce the health problems of the population, the Venezuelan government has decided to increase by 50% the tax on liquor and by 70% the tax on boxes of tobacco. “As a country, we have one of the highest rates of whiskey consumption,” Chavez complained. The sales of beer on the streets will be prohibited from now on. This battery of measures is part of the preventive policies enacted by the government aimed at improving the state of health of the Venezuelans (11).
Cuba and Venezuela have strengthened anew their regional-based integration by signing 14 new economic cooperation agreements on October 15, 2007 (12). During his speech, Hugo Chávez reiterated his admiration for Cuba, very much to the annoyance of the Venezuelan opposition: “Fidel is a father to our people. Cuba is an example for our Revolution. Venezuela loves Cuba; our people love the Cuban people and owes them a huge debt of gratitude” (13). Then, addressing his detractors, he asked: “How much would any country have to pay to have almost 30,000 doctors, nurses, ophthalmologists and dentists 24 hours per day, all over the country […]? Why don’t you answer me?” (14).
The integration of Cuba and Venezuela is a model the rest of the continent needs to follow. It is the only way to take precautions against Washington’s threats, achieve true independence and improve the living standards of the population.
(1) Mauricio Vicent, “El presidente de Venezuela alude en Cuba a una confederación entre los dos países”; The Venezuelan President aludes in Cuba to a confederation between the two countries. El País, October 16th, 2007.
(2) Associated Press, “Chávez asegura que Venezuela tiene deuda con Cuba”; Chávez affirms that Venezuela is in debt with Cuba. October 1st, 2007.
(4) Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias, “Arrancó Barrio Adentro IV con la construcción de 6 hospitales especializados”; Healthcare Mission Barrio Adentro IV takes off with the construction of 6 specialist hospitals. September 30th, 2007.
(5) Associated Press, “Chávez anuncia incremento salarial a médicos en Venezuela”; Chávez announces salary increase for doctors in Venezuela. October 8th, 2007.
(6) Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias, “Chávez anunció incremento salarial de 60% para medicos”; Chávez announces salary increase by 60% for doctors. October 8th, 2007.
(7) Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias, “Colegio Médico del Distrito Metropolitano conforme con aumento de 60%”; Medical Association of the Capital District in agreement with salary increase by 60%. October 9th, 2007.
(8) Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias, “Médicos satisfechos con aumento de sueldo del 60%”; Doctors satisfied with salary increase by 60%. October 9th, 2007.
(9) Associated Press, “Chávez anuncia incremento salarial a maestros en Venezuela,” Chávez announces salary increase for teachers in Venezuela. October 5th, 2007.
(10) David Stout, “Bush Defends Veto of Health Care Bill,” The New York Times, October 15th, 2007.
(11) Christopher Toothaker, “Chávez la emprende contra la bebida y el consumismo”; Chávez takes up arms against drinks and consumerism. Associated Press, October 9th, 2007.
(12) Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias, “Venezuela y Cuba suscriben 14 nuevos acuerdos de integración,” Venezuela and Cuba sign 14 new agreements on integration. October 15th, 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,” Cuba and Venezuela are in the best conditions to move forward in a process of unity. Speech given by Hugo Chávez Frías, President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, on the event of the signing of agreements between Venezuela and Cuba, at the Palacio de las Convenciones, on the October 15, 2007, “49th Year of the Revolution”. October 16th, 2007.
(14) Associated Press, “Chávez asegura que Venezuela tiene deuda con Cuba,” Chávez affirms that Venezuela is in debt with Cuba. Op. cit.
Salim Lamrani is French teacher, author and journalist, specialist on international relations between Cuba and the United States. 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 Etats-Unis (Pantin: Le Temps des Cerises, 2006).
Translated into English for Axis of Logic by Iris Buehler and revised by James Hollander.