Cheaper oil has a price

August 28, 2005

Miami Herald- Indira A.R. Lakshmanan

HAVANA - Free universal healthcare has long been the crowning achievement of this socialist state, but the system is now under fire from Cubans who complain that quality and access are suffering as they lose tens of thousands of medical workers to Venezuela in exchange for cheap oil, which this impoverished country desperately needs.

The close friendship between Fidel Castro and Venezuela's Hugo Chávez has netted Venezuela a loan of 20,000 Cuban health workers -- including 14,000 doctors, according to the Venezuelan government -- who work in poor barrios and rural outposts for stipends seven times higher on average than their salaries at home. Castro has vowed to send Chávez as many as 10,000 additional medical workers by year's end.

In return for farming out more than one-fifth of its doctors to oil-rich Venezuela, Cuba is permitted to import 90,000 barrels of oil a day under preferential terms.

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