[Marxism] Saints in Haiti
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
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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