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Venezuelan Opposition Fears 'Cubanization' - 2003-07-09


Government of Hugo Chavez launches a Cuban-inspired literacy campaign, hundreds of Cuban doctors set up consulting rooms in poor districts of Caracas

The launch of a Cuban-inspired literacy campaign in Venezuela, together with the arrival of hundreds of Cuban doctors to set up consulting rooms in poor districts of the capital, Caracas, have brought fresh accusations that the government of President Hugo Chavez is seeking to "cubanize" Venezuela.

Hugo Chavez once remarked, on one of his many visits to the Cuban capital, Havana, that the two countries were sailing towards what he called "the same sea of happiness." Ever since then, the accusation that Venezuela's leftist president wants to copy Fidel Castro's communist system has been a constant of opposition speeches and rallies.

That claim, repeatedly denied by the government, received fresh impetus this month. The catalyst was the launch of a nationwide literacy campaign designed in Cuba. But there have also been renewed allegations that Cuban doctors and sports instructors, as well as teachers, sent in the hundreds by Fidel Castro, are part of an indoctrination scheme aimed at introducing communism by stealth.

The poor barrios of Caracas are the scene of a new pilot program aimed at improving health care for the poor. Cubans described as "volunteers" have moved into private homes, where they offer free consultations and medication, often in open competition with clinics run by the metropolitan authorities.

Alfredo Pena, mayor of metropolitan Caracas, is a fierce government opponent, who ironically depends for his financial resources on the central government. Caracas health officials say their budget has been cut by over 50 percent, with the result that their already over-burdened clinics are facing collapse. They suggest that this may be part of a plan to shift resources to the Cuban cooperation project.

Adding to the controversy are accusations that the Cubans are neither qualified to practice medicine nor familiar with modern pharmacology or treatment methods. There have been claims by Venezuelan doctors of serious malpractice that allegedly placed patients' lives in danger.

The Cuban personnel have not been required to validate their qualifications in Venezuela, and according to the president of the Venezuelan Medical Federation, Douglas Leon Natera, they are operating illegally.

President Chavez dedicated most of his regular Sunday radio and television show to denying these allegations. He added that the plan was to bring in a thousand Cuban doctors in all.

There have been similar complaints by the teachers' unions about the Cuban-designed literacy campaign. Over 70 Cuban teachers were brought in to train Venezuelans to use the audio-visual material.

So far, the opposition has been unable to prove its accusations of indoctrination. But with President Chavez facing the possibility of a recall referendum within the next few months, the war of words seems bound to continue.