Excerpt from 'Revolutionary Doctors: How Venezuela and Cuba are Changing the World’s Conception of Health Care'

July 19, 2011 -- Monthly Review Press has kindly given permission to Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal to publish an excerpt from one of their latest books, Revolutionary Doctors: How Venezuela and Cuba are Changing the World’s Conception of Health Care by Steve Brouwer. You can download the excerpt HERE (PDF), or read it on screen below.

Readers of Links are also urged to purchase copies of Revolutionary Doctors; click HERE to order.

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Revolutionary Doctors gives readers a first-hand account of Venezuela’s innovative and inspiring program of community health care, designed to serve—and largely carried out by—the poor themselves. Drawing on long-term participant observations as well as in-depth research, author Steve Brouwer tells the story of Venezuela’s Integral Community Medicine program, in which doctor-teachers move into the countryside and poor urban areas to recruit and train doctors from among peasants and workers. Such programs were first developed in Cuba, and Cuban medical personnel play a key role in Venezuela today as advisors and organisers. This internationalist model has been a great success—Cuba is a world leader in medicine and medical training—and Brouwer shows how the Venezuelans are now, with the aid of their Cuban counterparts, following suit.

But this program is not without its challenges. It has faced much hostility from traditional Venezuelan doctors as well as all the forces antagonistic to the Venezuelan and Cuban revolutions. Despite the obstacles it describes, Revolutionary Doctors demonstrates how a society committed to the wellbeing of its poorest people can actually put that commitment into practice, by delivering essential health care through the direct empowerment of the people it aims to serve.

The Cuban medical education model, so eloquently described in this book, has not merely transformed health care in much of Central and South America. It has shown doctors and medical students who work in the unjust and dysfunctional US health care system that another world is possible.—Steffie Woolhandler, MD, MPH; professor of public health, CUNY; visiting professor of medicine, Harvard Medical School

Venezuela and Cuba clearly show that the basic human right of access to medical and health care in time of need is not dependent on the level of economic development. Venezuela and Cuba are not rich countries yet, and in spite of this, health care reaches the majority of their populations. They should be considered points of reference for poor countries that want to break with the underdevelopment of health. This book is a rigorous and balanced account of how they did it.—Vicente Navarro, MD, PhD; professor of health policy, Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University; editor in chief, International Journal of Health Services

Revolutionary Doctors tells the story of Cuba’s extraordinary medical personnel who leave their homes and families to support radical struggles for health care abroad. And it shows how this struggle is taken up in places like Venezuela, where poor communities are organising to provide health care from the ground up. This is a story that deserves to be known.—Sujatha Fernandes, assistant professor of sociology, Queens College and CUNY Graduate Center; author, Who Can Stop the Drums? Urban Social Movements in Chávez’s Venezuela

Steve Brouwer is one of the nation’s best front-line reporters from the ongoing class war.—Barbara Ehrenreich, author, Nickel and Dimed

Steve Brouwer is the author of Robbing Us Blind: The Return of the Bush Gang; Sharing the Pie: A Citizen’s Guide to Wealth and Power in the United States; Exporting the American Gospel: Global Christian Fundamentalism (co-authored with Susan D. Rose); and Conquest and Capitalism, 1492-1992. He is also a carpenter and designer, and has organised worker-owned construction businesses and housing cooperatives. In 2007-2008, he lived in a rural village in the mountains of Venezuela and wrote about his campesino neighbours and the Bolivarian Revolution.

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Download the excerpt HERE (PDF), or read it on screen below.

Excerpt from Revolutionary Doctors: How Venezuela and Cuba are Changing the World’s Conception of Health C...

Thursday 30th June 2011 was the start of the annual 5-day Marxism event, organised by the Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP), which I attended for the first time.

Having signed up for membership of the SWP in early March of this year, I was convinced by many friendly and enthusiastic fellow members that ‘this year would be the biggest and best ever and not to be missed!’. It certainly was the largest attended in over a decade (approximately 4,500 people according to the SWP) but I for one was left underwhelmed.

I arrived at the Friends House venue in Euston, London for a talk entitled ‘Che Guevara and the Cuban revolution’. The listed speaker was Dave Sewell, billed as a Latin America expert. He spoke for 20 minutes with wave after wave of negative connotation and shallow rhetoric.

A few remarks that stuck were: ‘Che suffered with asthma from an early age’, ‘Granma landing...an abject failure, poorly prepared & executed’ and my favourite, ‘Cuba, was no more than a sugar plantation...who’s type of revolution conducted by a few guerrillas in the mountains, hardly made any noticeable difference on the world stage’. I kid you not!

Following this historical assassination, the floor was opened to questions and contributions. Each person was given a limit of 3 minutes, within a total of 20-25 mins for contributions. To correct so much of what was so wrong in so short a space of time required a Herculean effort.

Thankfully a few of members of the audience were from the group Rock Around the Blockade and were able to pursue a vigorous line of redress when called upon and, when not called, a bit of required heckling. Seasoned SWP members also took the microphone to reply. If only there had been a critical view instead of simply the critic’s view (very different in my opinion) that seems to be held in perfect unison by members of the SWP.

Regrettably, in this case, the format of the session allowed the tabled speaker to come back and address the questions and comments with even more turgidity for a further 10mins. He went on to link his seemingly pointless reference to Che’s asthma with a description of him as a vulnerable ‘romantic revolutionary’ who died unnecessarily, abandoned and as an emaciated figure for the world to see, “a tragic waste”.

I have to admit I can be a bit naive at times as I had actually been looking forward to the session on a subject I’ve been personally studying for the last couple of months. I was more than disappointed, frustrated and angry. So much that could have been said wasn’t, and there was definitely a discernible bias. Too much energy seemed to be invested in portraying the Cuban revolution, along with the outstanding figures of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara in a purely negative way, and I ask why?

A nod to the prescience of said members of RATB who were handing out leaflets headed ‘Socialist Cuba: The Facts’, which also asks, ‘The poor and oppressed of the world support Cuba, why doesn’t the SWP?’ It also lays out the first two inaccuracies of the slant in the session being:

• The working class played no role in the revolution and have hardly benefited from it.

• Che Guevara knew nothing about Marxism and left Cuba because Fidel kicked him out.

These claims were indeed made during the talk session and are easily swatted aside with any basic level of reading.

My main reason for being angry is that I feel guilty I didn’t take the microphone and make the plea to everyone in that room to do the research for themselves! There are plenty of films and books that provide the facts and required critical analysis. A fair few people in that audience will I’m sure, have only that particular afternoon session as their most informed and detailed insight into arguably the modern world’s most impressive revolutionary process. What a shame!

Cuba makes no claim to be perfect and nor should anyone, but surely they can offer us hope if we look with clear sight.

‘On Jan 1st 1959, with a firm base of workers & peasants, we began to storm the heavens.’ - Raul Castro (1961)

‘The working people of Cuba have resisted & continue to resist. By doing so we have given an example to the world that revolution is possible, that working people can struggle & win.’ - Luis Alfonso Zayas (a soldier of the Cuban revolution).

Trying to close with a positive, I realized the SWP as a political entity is not for me and I cancelled my monthly subscription.

Ben Watson