Michael Moore’s health care documentary Sicko did a good job of showing the problems of American health care but unfortunately Moore resorted to Fox standards of truthiness when looking at foreign health care systems. The most blatantly dishonest section of the documentary (as I’ve mentioned previously) was the segment on a Cuban hospital. A hospital for foreign tourists was shown with the implication that it represented the type of health care available to Cubans. The Guardian reports that, according to WikiLeaks, Cuba banned Sicko out of fear that it might lead to a “popular backlash” from Cubans who were denied access to the health care portrayed in the movie.
The secret 2008 cable is based on reports from the USINT’s foreign service health practitioner (FSHP) of her conversations with local people, unauthorised visits to Cuban hospitals, and experience of helping USINT American and Cuban personnel access healthcare.
The cable describes a visit made by the FSHP to the Hermanos Ameijeiras hospital in October 2007. Built in 1982, the newly renovated hospital was used in Michael Moore’s film as evidence of the high-quality of healthcare available to all Cubans.
But according to the FSHP, the only way a Cuban can get access to the hospital is through a bribe or contacts inside the hospital administration. “Cubans are reportedly very resentful that the best hospital in Havana is ‘off-limits’ to them,” the memo reveals.
According to the FSHP, a more “accurate” view of the healthcare experience of Cubans can be seen at the Calixto Garcia Hospital. “FSHP believes that if Michael Moore really wanted the ‘same care as local Cubans’, this is where he should have gone,” the cable states.
A 2007 visit by the FSHP to this “dilapidated” hospital, built in the 1800s, was “reminiscent of a scene from some of the poorest countries in the world,” the cable adds.
The memo points out that even the Cuban ruling elite leave Cuba when they need medical care. Fidel Castro, for example, brought in a Spanish doctor during his health crisis in 2006. The vice-minister of health, Abelardo Ramirez, went to France for gastric cancer surgery. The neurosurgeon whoheads CIMEQ [Centro de Investigaciones Médico-Quirúrgicas] hospital – widely regarded as one of the best in Cuba – came to England for eye surgery, returning periodically for checkups
Update: Michael Moore Responds
Writing at his website and Huffington Post, Michael Moore states that Sicko was not banned in Cuba. Moore accuses the diplomat who wrote the previously secret cable of lying. It is certainly possible that diplomats in Cuba might send home reports which are negative of Cuba but we cannot be certain the author was actually lying. The cable was written January 31, 2008 and Moore reports that Sicko aired in Cuba on April 25, 2008. The author of the cable might have been lying, but it is also possible that the Cuban government changed their policy after this was written.
Moore did not respond to the real problem with the Cuban segment. He portrayed a Cuban hospital which is used for tourists and diplomats as an example of Cuban health care. Moore only looked at the worst aspects of American health care, which by itself is fine as there are enough problems to necessitate a change. However, when he selectively shows the worst of American health care and an atypical example of Cuban health care he is really not being honest. He also took a selective view of health care in other countries. This is no better than the reports in the conservative media which highlight the best aspects of American health care while concentrating on (and often exaggerating) problems in other countries.
Not having been to Cuba and basing my view on what appears to be reports which are not based upon ideology, I get the impression that health care varies tremendously for Cuban citizens. At least it is available to all. Michael Moore’s portrayal is false, but I also believe that the description in the cable highlights the worst.
Update II: Sicko Was Banned, Maybe
In the above section I questioned whether Michael Moore was right that the diplomat in Cuba lied about Sicko being banned versus this being a change in policy after the report was written. It might have been latter. Ed Morrissey demonstrated this with a simple Google search showing numerous reports of Sicko initially being banned.
However it might not be this simple. Reason found evidence suggesting that there was another reason the story spread that the movie was banned, regardless of whether or not it was:
I may have found the origins of the error. The dissident Cuban doctor Darsi Ferrer Ramírez wrote an editorial in 2007 predicting that the government would censor the film. Some writers outside Cuba misread this as a statement that the film had been banned. I suspect that the author of the cable then heard that version of the story and passed it along.
I was already disappointed in Moore for his erroneous portrayal of the Cuban health care system. Such dishonesty really was not necessary to make the case for needing reform in the United States. I would also think that Moore would be aware of this information showing either that the movie was banned or that there was reason for people to believe it was banned, making it unfair to accuse the original author of the report of intentionally lying.
I am also disappointed in Moore for also being deceitful in his response by citing a World Health Report ranking of Cuba as being just two places behind the United States. This report is ten years old and the World Health Organization has since stopped issuing such rankings, realizing the complexity of such rankings and that they are of questionable validity. Besides, even if true this still would not excuse Moore’s dishonest portrayal of Cuban health care in Sicko.