[Marxism] Saints in Haiti

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Mar 14 11:43:10 MST 2004


 From a New Yorker Magazine profile on Paul Farmer:

Leaving Haiti, Farmer didn’t stare down through the airplane window at 
that brown and barren third of an island. "It bothers me even to look at 
it," he explained, glancing out. "It can’t support eight million people, 
and there they are. There they are, kidnapped from West Africa."

But when we descended toward Havana he gazed out the window intently, 
making exclamations: "Only ninety miles from Haiti, and look! Trees! 
Crops! It’s all so verdant. At the height of the dry season! The same 
ecology as Haiti’s, and look!"

An American who finds anything good to say about Cuba under Castro runs 
the risk of being labelled a Communist stooge, and Farmer is fond of 
Cuba. But not for ideological reasons. He says he distrusts all 
ideologies, including his own. "It’s an ‘ology,’ after all," he wrote to 
me once, about liberation theology. "And all ologies fail us at some 
point." Cuba was a great relief to me. Paved roads and old American 
cars, instead of litters on the 'gwo wout ia'. Cuba had food rationing 
and allotments of coffee adulterated with ground peas, but no 
starvation, no enforced malnutrition. I noticed groups of prostitutes on 
one main road, and housing projects in need of repair and paint, like 
most buildings in the city. But I still had in mind the howling slums of 
Port-au-Prince, and Cuba looked lovely to me. What looked loveliest to 
Farmer was its public-health statistics.

Many things affect a public’s health, of course—nutrition and 
transportation, crime and housing, pest control and sanitation, as well 
as medicine. In Cuba, life expectancies are among the highest in the 
world. Diseases endemic to Haiti, such as malaria, dengue fever, T.B., 
and AIDS, are rare. Cuba was training medical students gratis from all 
over Latin America, and exporting doctors gratis— nearly a thousand to 
Haiti, two en route just now to Zanmi Lasante. In the midst of the hard 
times that came when the Soviet Union dissolved, the government actually 
increased its spending on health care. By American standards, Cuban 
doctors lack equipment, and are very poorly paid, but they are generally 
well trained. At the moment, Cuba has more doctors per capita than any 
other country in the world—more than twice as many as the United States. 
"I can sleep here," Farmer said when we got to our hotel. "Everyone here 
has a doctor."

Farmer gave two talks at the conference, one on Haiti, the other on "the 
noxious synergy" between H.I.V. and T.B.—an active case of one often 
makes a latent case of the other active, too. He worked on a grant 
proposal to get anti-retroviral medicines for Cange, and at the 
conference met a woman who could help. She was in charge of the United 
Nations’ project on AIDS in the Caribbean. He lobbied her over several 
days. Finally, she said, "O.K., let’s make it happen." ("Can I give you 
a kiss?" Farmer asked. "Can I give you two?") And an old friend, Dr. 
Jorge Perez, arranged a private meeting between Farmer and the Secretary 
of Cuba’s Council of State, Dr. José Miyar Barruecos. Farmer asked him 
if he could send two youths from Cange to Cuban medical school. "Of 
course," the Secretary replied.

Again and again during our stay, Farmer marvelled at the warmth with 
which the Cubans received him. What did I think accounted for this?

I said I imagined they liked his connection to Harvard, his published 
attacks on American foreign policy in Latin America, his admiration of 
Cuban medicine.

I looked up and found his pale-blue eyes fixed on me. "I think it’s 
because of Haiti," he declared. "I think it’s because I serve the poor."

-- 

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