Opinion

Commentary: The Cuban health care hoax

Myriam Marquez is a columnist for the Miami Herald. (Patrick Farrell/Miami Herald/MCT)
Myriam Marquez is a columnist for the Miami Herald. (Patrick Farrell/Miami Herald/MCT) MCT

Teresita died on my birthday almost five years ago. I didn't grow up with my older cousin -- she stayed behind in Havana after the revolution and my father, her uncle, was wise enough to leave.

But when I met Teresita and her son and daughter during a month-long reporting trip to Cuba in 2002 it was an instant connection. The grainy black-and-white photos of a beautiful teenage Teresita at my baptism, with her long black locks and beaming smile, came to life in the color of five decades of regrets.

What if she had left when my parents started making arrangements to bring her to Miami, instead of falling in love, at 18, and deciding to marry and stay? Why did she wait too long to leave during the Mariel boatlift? Why didn't we keep in touch all those decades?

After our bittersweet encounter we tried to make up for lost time. I would send her antacids every month, and money when I could. She complained about digestive pains a lot, and after I visited her home in the historic and crumbling section of Havana and saw the filthy cistern where trucks delivered the water I had a queasy feeling about the possibilities.

Except I never realized that Teresita's yellowish-brown color might not be from biking to her accountant's job every day in the hot tropical sun. She had a liver disease, undiagnosed for years. When she became severely ill, I was alerted and told to send all kinds of special prescriptions. I was hunting for the medicine when the call came.

Maria Teresa Marcos had died, as so many Cubans do, because the communist island's much-lauded health care system is an evil hoax.

For years she had been complaining to doctors about her digestive problems. For years they told her to try to get antacids from family or friends abroad. No scans were done. No blood tests were taken — until her liver was so dysfunctional it became her death sentence.

A transplant? For Fidel, sure. Maybe for a hard-core member of the Communist Party. But for my cousin, a typical Cuban who lived in a ramshackle building, where the top floor had crumbled and the water likely had amoebas, nada. At least she was able to bring new bed sheets to the hospital — the ones I had bought her and my cousins.

Teresita became another statistic, collateral damage in a revolution that promised elections and prosperity and delivered dictatorship and desperation.

That's the real Cuba that lefty propagandist Michael Moore doesn't want to see. The "documentary" filmmaker of Sicko gloated about the lack of health care insurance for millions of Americans by taking American rescue workers with respiratory problems from the 9/11 terrorist attacks to get "free" treatment in Cuba at one of its swank hospitals that serve tourists.

The film, which was shown at Doral Middle School last week to a social studies class looking into the health care systems of Canada, France and Cuba, is hardly an educational tool. But perhaps the teacher had that in mind.

The school system went by the book. Students had to have signed forms from parents if they did not want to see Sicko, and two decided not to watch. What irks me is that they are still required to know what's in the movie. How can they without watching it?

The discussion the class should have is what Sicko didn't show. In Teresita's memory, please do.

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