14ymedio, Havana, 29 July 2015 — On June 30, 2015, the pro-Chávez website Aporrea posted a disturbing testimonial about the Cuban healthcare system, with a title that says it all: “Ninety Days in Havana: You Have to be There to Know The Truth.” The Venezuelan Nelson Jesús Lanz Fuentes, a regular contributor to Aporrea, and a great admire of Hugo Chávez, narrates the ordeal he went through first in his country, and later in Havana, where he accompanied his son with the hope that Cuban doctors could save his leg.
A traffic accident left the son of Lanz Fuentes, a resident of the Venezuelan city of Guarenas, with severe injuries to one of his legs. His tibia factured in three places and the doctors from Venezuela’s public health system inserted a plate in his leg to help regenerate the bone. However, the operation caused an infection resulting in a terrible diagnosis: infected pseudoartrosis and osteomyelitis of the right tibia, and a dermoepidermal ulcer with bone exposure. Venezuelan doctors in private practice recommended a very expensive treatment that did not guarantee good results.
Lanz Fuentes, who in recent years has been very critical of Nicolás Maduro’s administration (which he accuses of false socialism) posted an open letter to the President on Aporrea, complaining bitterly how Venezuela dares call itself a socialist country when his son might lose his leg “because of commercialized private healthcare and an ineffective public health system.”
In the same missive, he asked the Venezuelan government to give him permission to exercise his right to travel with his son as stipulated in the healthcare agreement between his country and Cuba because Lanz Fuentes sincerely believed that “Cuba is the only country in the world where the leg could be saved.” He was convinced that “socialism only really exists in Cuba, where every citizen receives free healthcare regardless of medical condition.”
Lanz Fuentes wish came true when on March 30, 2015 he flew to Havana, after being “fast tracked” with the backing of a bureaucrat for the Cuban–Venezuelan Healthcare Agreement.
Like all Venezuelans, Lanz Fuentes’ son was sent to La Pradera International Healthcare Center (built as tourist center at the beginning of the century), which receives patients in accord with the Cuban–Venezuelan agreement. From there, patients are dispersed to different medical facilities according to their pathology. Upon being diagnosed with acute osteomyelitis and infection of the tibia, Lanz Fuentes’s son was transferred to Havana’s Frank País Orthopedic Hospital where he was to undergo emergency surgery as per the Cuban doctors’ recommendation. The diagnosis was completely confirmed at the center, but the urgency ended there.
Thirty days after being admitted, Lanz Fuentes’ son had yet to be operated on. His treatment was reduced to treating the infection with antibiotics. The official rational was a lack of a bed in sterilized room. After complaining for several days and promises broken, Lanz Fuentes reports that a doctor finally confessed that “the truth is my son will have to wait between three and five months. Foreigners who pay in cash and in US dollars get preference.”
Disillusioned, Lanz Fuentes admonished the doctor for his response, and argued that the Venezuelan people already pay the Cuban government with their oil. So since Cuba has incurred a debt of billions of dollars with his country, Venezuelans should receive care first. Lanz Fuentes’ angry reaction resulted in his son being transferred to Havana’s Fructuoso Rodríguez Orthopedic Teaching Hospital in El Vedado.
“We spent 45 days locked up in a beautiful resort. We were allowed to move around freely within the compound, but we could only leave it on Saturdays, from 2:00 to 6:00 PM, and on Sundays from 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM. From Monday to Friday we were locked in there,” protests Mr. Lanz as he recalls the days he spent at La Pradera International Healthcare Center. On top of being confined, Lanz Fuentes had to accept the fact that patients who paid in cash and in U.S. dollars enjoyed priority over Venezuelans, since their care was “free of charge.”
But with all that, the worse was the “bill.” Although he had been assured in Venezuela that the agreement with Cuba guaranteed free healthcare, Lanz Fuentes was charged for antibiotics, medications and vitamins, as well as for all meals and hospitalizations. He was handed two bills for US$7,800 each his son’s expenses, and another one for US$4,800 for his. Lanz Fuentes states: “What this means is that, for the stays of all of us who turn to Cuba, the Cuban government is very well compensated by its principal ally and pimp, our Venezuelan government.”
It took just a few months in Cuba for Lanz Fuentes to fully understand “the absolute truth about the current Cuban reality, all the lies that the Maduro Government tells us about the Cuban government, and the fantastic propaganda machine that the Castros use in order to keep deceiving the rest of the world.”
Translated by José Badué