Monday, September 18, 2006
Best Health System in the World?
On the issue of how Britain delivers essential services, Newsnight of the BBC invited guest reporters to argue the case for the most interesting, innovative and thought provoking examples of public service provision in the world.
John Harris of the Guardian travelled to Cuba to examine its health system, only to discover that the country has achieved extremely impressive healthcare indicators, primarily by focusing on prevention and establishing doctor and nurse teams at the heart of the local community.
He found that even if the person has a clean bill of health, the local physician will still pay the person a visit once a year to check on your lifestyle and home environment.
As John Harris reported, Cuban leader Fidel Castro is recovering after illness forced him to temporarily delegate his government and party responsibilities. "He is lucky to be able to count upon some of the best healthcare in the world", said the journalist.
I worked in London for a year and a half as correspondent for Prensa Latina. While there, the doctor I subscribed to was a fervent admirer of our health service. That´s when I really started to appreciate it. As he looked at an X-ray of my mother´s femur operation, he said in Britain could not have been done better.
Nevertheless, I extolled the British health system for being one of the patterns taken as example for the Cuban system. He told me in confidence that had been true at the beginning but really deteriorated fast under Margaret Thatcher´s rule. Privatization started eliminating the benefits of universal medical attention and prevention ceased to be a priority.
As for education, the Newsnight highlighted Qatar and its innovative system. John Harris could have also evaluated the island for that public service, as it has been awarded by UNESCO for its method of teaching illiterates.
The method Yes, I can, currently used in dozens of countries from Central America to New Zealand, using local teachers, in their national languages through 65 classes of 30-minute duration each has already taught 1.9 million people to read and write in 15 countries and is now underway for 2.3 million in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa and the Pacific, is due to expand to five more nations.
The other public services reviewed by Newsnight were prisons and transport. The places highlighted were Denmark and Portland, Maine in the United States, respectively.
Please be careful, Ramiro Valdes is watching.
Thursday, Oct. 5, 2006
Thirty-nine years ago this week, Ernesto "Che" Guevara got a major dose of his own medicine. Without trial he was declared a murderer, stood against a wall and shot. Historically speaking, justice has rarely been better served. If the saying "What goes around comes around" ever fit, it's here.
The number of men Che's "revolutionary tribunals" condemned to death in the identical manner range from 400 to 1,892. The number of defenseless men (and boys) Che personally murdered with his own pistol runs into the dozens. Imagine Charles Manson, Ted Bundy and Son of Sam T-shirts on such as Johnny Depp and Prince Harry. Granted, these last three didn't match Che's murder tally.
"Executions?" Che Guevara exclaimed while addressing the hallowed halls of the U.N. General Assembly on December 9, 1964. "Certainly we execute!" he declared, to the claps and cheers of that august body. "And we will continue executing (emphasis HIS) as long as it is necessary! This is a war to the DEATH against the revolution's enemies!"
According to the Black Book of Communism, those firing-squad executions had reached around 10,000 by that time. Sloboban Milosevic, by the way, went on trial for allegedly ordering 8,000 executions. The charge against him by the same U.N. that deliriously applauded Che Guevara's proud proclamation was "genocide."
The "revolution's enemies" bound, gagged and murdered by Che and his henchmen were among the most enterprising and valiant fighters of the 20th century. These Cuban freedom fighters rank alongside the Polish Home Army and the Hungarian Freedom Fighters. They fought just as valiantly, as desperately – and, ultimately, just as hopelessly. They fought to the last bullet and usually to the death.
Most heartbreaking of all, they fought alone and abandoned. They specialized in ripping off their gags and blindfolds to yell "VIVA CRISTO REY!" or "VIVA CUBA LIBRE!" or "ABAJO COMUNISMO!" before the bullets shattered their bodies and the coup de grace from Che's henchman shattered their skulls.
The few survivors live today in places like Miami and New Jersey and qualify as the longest-suffering political prisoners in modern history. But you'll look for their stories on the History Channel and PBS and in The New York Times, etc., in vain. They fought the Left's premier pinup boys, you see. So their heroism doesn't qualify as politically correct drama.
To be ignored would be bad enough. Instead, whenever they are acknowledged, the mainstream media (MSM) parrot the Castroite slander against them of "terrorists" and "mafiosi." It's a tribute to the MSM and academia's incurable obtuseness and imbecility that they still depict Castro/Che as the "plucky underdogs" against an aggressive colossus – when that colossus was in fact protecting Castro's regime, as pledged to Nikita Khrushchev by JFK in October 1962.
"I don't need proof to execute a man," snapped Che to a judicial underling in 1959. "I only need proof that it's necessary to execute him!"
Not that you'd surmise any of the above from the mainstream media or academia – much less from Hollywood. From the high priests of the fourth estate Che Guevara receives only accolades. Time magazine, for instance, honors Che Guevara among "The 100 Most Important People of the Century."
The man who declared, "A revolutionary must become a cold killing machine motivated by pure hate" (and who set a spirited example), who boasted that he executed from "revolutionary conviction" rather than from any "archaic bourgeois details" like judicial evidence, and who urged "atomic extermination" as the final solution for those American "hyenas" (and came hearth-thumpingly close with nuclear missiles in October 1962) is hailed by Time not just among the "most important" people of the century – but in the "Heroes and Icons" section, alongside Anne Frank, Andrei Sakharov and Rosa Parks.
"If the nuclear missiles had remained, we would have used them against the very heart of America, including New York City," Che Guevara confided to the London Daily Worker in November 1962. "We will march the path of victory even if it costs millions of atomic victims. ... We must keep our hatred alive and fan it to paroxysm." This was Che's prescription for America almost half a century before Osama bin Laden, Mullah Omar and Al-Zarqawi appeared on our radar screens.
But for the prudence of Nikita Khrushchev, Che Guevara's fondest wish would have made New York's 9/11 explosions appear like an errant cherry bomb. Yet listed alongside Che Guevara in Time's "Heroes and Icons of the Century" is Mother Teresa. From here the ironies only get richer.
The most popular version of the Che T-shirt, for instance, sports the slogan "Fight Oppression" under his famous face. This is the face of a man who co-founded a regime that jailed more of its subjects than did Hitler's or Stalin's and declared that "individualism must disappear!"
In 1959, with the help of Soviet GRU agents, the man celebrated on that T-shirt helped found, train and indoctrinate Cuba's secret police. "Always interrogate your prisoners at night," Che ordered his goons. "A man's resistance is always lower at night." Today the world's largest Che mural adorns Cuba's Ministry of the Interior, the headquarters for Cuba's KGB- and STASI-trained secret police. Nothing could be more fitting.
Yet somehow, this same image is considered the height of hipness on everything from shirts, watches and snowboards to thong underwear and an undisclosed location on Angelina Jolie's epidermis. Ms. Jolie, by the way, recently won the U.N.'s Global Humanitarian Award for her work with refugees.
Will someone please inform Angelina Jolie that her tattoo idol, with his firing squads and prison camps, provoked one of the biggest refugee crises in the history of this hemisphere? On top of the 2 million who made it with only the clothes on their backs, the Cuban Archives Project meticulously compiled and documented by scholars Maria Werlau and Dr. Armando Lago, estimates that close to 80,000 Cubans have died of thirst and exposure, drowned, or been ripped apart by sharks while attempting to flee the handiwork of the man "Ms. Global Humanitarian" honors by having him permanently emblazoned on her skin.
Yet prior to Fidel and Che's glorious reign, Cuba took in more immigrants (primarily from Europe) as a percentage of population than the U.S, and this includes the Ellis Island years. Prior to the glorious Cuban revolution, people were as desperate to ENTER Cuba (especially from neighboring Haiti and Jamaica) as they are now to EXIT Cuba (at extreme risk to life and limb). Perhaps Castro acolyte Charlie Rangel can explain this? Perhaps Jesse "Viva Fidel! Viva Che!" Jackson can explain it?
Not that ignorance, willful or otherwise, is exactly rare on the topic of Cuba or Che Guevara. When Carlos Santana and Eric Burdon (among many other rockers) smugly sport their elegant Che T-shirts, they plug a regime that in the mid- to late '60s rounded up "roqueros" (Cuban rock-and-roll fans) and "longhairs" en masse and herded them into prison camps for forced labor under a scorching sun. These young prisoners' "counter-revolutionary crimes" often involved nothing more than listening to music by The Animals and Santana.
When Madonna camped it up in her Che outfit for the cover of her American Life CD, she plugged a regime that criminalized gays and anything smacking of gay mannerisms. In the mid-'60s the crime of effeminate behavior got thousands of youths yanked off Cuba's streets and parks by secret police and dumped in prison camps with the sign "Work Will Make Men out of You" in bold letters above the gate (the sign at Auschwitz's gate read: "Work Will Set You Free) and with machine-gunners posted on the watchtowers.
The initials for these camps were UMAP, not GULAG. But the conditions were identical.
"Iron" Mike Tyson used to end fights with his arms upraised in triumph. In 2002 he got a huge Che tattoo on his torso, visited Cuba, and has been consistently and horribly stomped in fight after fight ever since, a process perfectly mimicking the combat record of his tattoo idol. Che was indeed proficient at smiting his enemies, Mike, thousands of them – but only after they were bound, gagged and blindfolded. Chances are, nobody disclosed this to you in Cuba, much less in the mainstream media. But I'm afraid the National Boxing Federation won't allow it anyway.
When the crowd of A-list hipsters and Beautiful People at the Sundance Film Festival (which included everyone from Tipper and Al Gore to Sharon Stone, Meryl Streep and Paris Hilton) exploded in a rapturous standing ovation for Robert Redford's "The Motorcycle Diaries," they were cheering a film glorifying a man who jailed or exiled most of Cuba's best writers, poets and independent filmmakers while converting Cuba's press and cinema – at Czech machine-gunpoint – into propaganda agencies for a Stalinist regime.
Executive producer of the movie Robert Redford (who always kicks off the film festival with a long dirge about the importance of artistic freedom) was forced to screen the film for Che's widow (who heads Cuba's Che Guevara Studies Center) and Fidel Castro for their approval before release. We can only imagine the shrieks of outrage from the Sundance crowd about "censorship!" and "selling out!" had, say, Robert Ackerman required (and acquiesced in) Nancy Reagan's approval to release HBO's "The Reagans" that same year.
Che groupies are many and varied. Christopher Hitchens, for instance, marvels at Che's "untamable defiance" and assures us in the same New York Times article that "Che was no hypocrite."
The noted historian Benicio Del Toro, who will star as his hero in a Hollywood biopic due next year, says that "Che was just one of those guys who walked the walk and talked the talk. There's just something cool about people like that. The more I get to know Che, the more I respect him."
More than his cruelty, megalomania or even his epic stupidity, what most distinguished Ernesto "Che" Guevara from his peers was his sniveling cowardice. His groupies can run off in a huff, slam their bedroom door and dive headfirst into their beds sobbing and kicking and punching the pillows all they want – but Che surrendered to the Bolivan Rangers voluntarily, from a safe distance, and was captured physically sound and with a fully loaded pistol.
One day before his death in Bolivia, Che Guevara – for the first time in his life – finally faced something properly describable as combat. So he ordered his guerrilla charges to give no quarter, to fight to the last breath and to the last bullet.
A few hours later, his "untamable defiance," lack of hypocrisy and "walking of the walk" all manifested themselves. With his men doing just what he ordered (fighting and dying to the last bullet), a slightly wounded Che snuck away from the firefight and surrendered with a full clip in his pistol, while whimpering to his captors: "Don't Shoot! I'm Che! I'm worth more to you alive than dead!"
His Bolivian captors begged to differ.
Humberto Fontova is the author of "Fidel: Hollywood's Favorite Tyrant," a Conservative Book Club "Main Selection."