No members of the Congressional Black Caucus took ill during their recent trip to Cuba.
Had one of them needed medical attention, he or she would have been whisked to one of Cuba’s premiere hospitals. And it’s a fair bet to say they’d return brimming with tales of how the Castro health care system outperformed our own model.
But first time filmmaker Kevin Leffler says regular Cubans rarely experience that kind of care.
Leffler, a CPA and college professor by trade, has directed a documentary critical of Oscar-winning director Michael Moore — and Moore’s praise for Cuban health care.
“Shooting Michael Moore” [hypocrite.com] debunks Moore’s Everyman shtick but also reveals shocking footage from the kind of Cuban hospitals you won’t see in Moore’s “Sicko.”
The film’s title drew criticism from some of Moore’s supporters who claimed it might incite violence against the filmmaker. The movie’s producers offered, via an ad in a Michigan paper, to change the name from "Shooting" to "Exposing Michael Moore." But no one stepped forward to request the name change occur.
The fledgling director had already shot some footage for what would become “Shooting Michael Moore” when he caught “Sicko” at his local movie house. Knowing Moore’s previous work, Leffler figured the Cuban sequences weren’t to be trusted.
So Leffler began his own investigation.
His research led him to a doctor who still practiced in Havana and wanted to show people what the actual Cuban health care system was like.
So Leffler and two colleagues — a translator a photographer using a tiny camera — flew from Cancun to Cuba.
Leffler’s unit visited two different medical facilities to get the shocking footage found in his film. Hospital beds you wouldn’t let the family dog rest on. Grimy floors and walls. Equipment out of another, less evolved era.
“What Michael Moore showed in the movie ["Sicko"] was the governmental hospital where the top officials and rich foreigners go,” he says. “They do exist, but that is not the normal Cuban health care system.”
The doctor guiding Leffler’s team around Cuba was nervous about the project, Leffler says. But he figured the more people know about him, the safer he should be.
“He’s willing to risk death to get the word out about Cuban health care,” he says.
“Shooting Michael Moore” has played limited engagements in Detroit and Miami, and the film may get broader distribution in the weeks to come.
“We showed it in Miami and people said, ‘[T]hat’s dead on,’” Leffler says.
An anthropology professor who has lived in Cuba but asked this reporter not to include her name says Leffler‘s experience is more accurate than the party line of many of her peers.
The professor says the conventional wisdom regarding Cuba’s health care system is based, in part, on the country’s low infant mortality statistics.
Yes, some of the health indicators released by Cuban health officials are accurate, “but they use extremely authoritative tactics to achieve them,” she says.
If a pregnant woman faces complications with her birth, she is often forced to have an abortion.
The Cuban government is reluctant to reveal any information that puts its own system in an unflattering light, she says. And even interviewing Cuban citizens in person can be a chore.
If you tell a Cuban he or she will be on the record, they tend to parrot the party line, she says. Less formal conversations prove more revealing.
Dual discourse is just part of a Cuban’s way of life.
“No one will say, ‘[I]f you ask me this way I’ll tell you one thing.’ There’s multiple levels of conversation,” she says, adding citizens can get thrown in jail for saying the wrong thing. “We take freedom of speech so for granted in this country.”
Many Cuban doctors are hard working and dedicated, but they labor under a constrained system, she says. Not only must they heal the sick, they’re supposed to conduct political surveillance on patients as well. Heaven help someone if they’re a known political dissident needing medical care, she says.
Plus, the health care system is so bankrupt patients must bring bandages and other medical supplies with them to ensure a decent level of care.
She says a small subset of medical researchers understand the difference between Cuban’s official reports on its own health care system and the reality for Cuban citizens. She regularly corresponds with young researchers who write her notes saying, “All I’m being fed is the party line.”
Older professors and academics, however, cling to what the Cuban message machine spits out. The overwhelming consensus in her field is that the Cuban health care system “is the cat’s meow. We must support it,“ she says.
A few researchers are starting to fight back, especially those who have spent time in the country.
“There is a new generation that’s not so militant. I’m getting more support from people in my peer level,” she says.