Madeleine Albright’s Lies

War Against Health — Truth Is a Casualty

by W.T. Whitney Jr.

That well-known practitioner of tough love, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, told a national television audience on May 12, 1996, that the deaths of one half million Iraqi children due to the Gulf war and to economic sanctions were “worth it.” Now, four years later, she lies about the 40-year old embargo against Cuba.

Editorializing in a leading U.S. medical journal, the Annals of Internal Medicine, she falsely claims that “food and medicines have always been exempt from sanctions against Cuba.” A new State Department web site makes the same false claim. The Secretary was responding to an article critical of the blockade against Cuba that appeared in the same issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine (January 18, 2000). The author of that article, Michelle Barry MD, had suggested that “health professionals have a moral duty to protest an embargo that engenders human suffering to achieve political objectives.”

Albright’s assertion is at odds with the historical record. Economic sanctions were eased during the Carter administration, and foreign affiliates of U.S. companies were permitted to export to Cuba. After the demise of the Soviet Union and the “socialist bloc,” Cuba came to depend upon these foreign affiliates of U.S. companies for large amounts of essential medical materials and food products. Then in 1992 the bipartisan Congress passed the so-called Cuban Democracy Act. That law reimposed the ban on exports to Cuba from the foreign subsidiaries of U.S. companies.

Ships docking in Cuba now had to wait six months before being allowed to visit a U.S. port. The Cuban Democracy Act did permit foreign companies to apply to the U.S. Treasury Department for a license to export to Cuba if the value of U.S. components and U.S. investment in the products contributed no more than 10 percent of the total value.

Dr. Anthony Kirkpatrick Exposes the Lies

The rest of this sad story is told by Anthony Kirkpatrick MD. In November 1997 this Tampa, Florida, anesthesiologist published a report in the British medical journal Lancet that fully described the difficulties faced by foreign companies seeking to trade with Cuba.

According to Kirkpatrick, the Treasury Department processed very few of the license applications, and the few licenses that were granted applied to individual shipments rather than to long-term contracts. The 1992 law required that agents of the exporting company inspect the material on arrival and track it to its point of use (for fear of diversion to military use). Very few foreign companies have been able to brave the bureaucratic hurdles and increased costs put in place by this U.S. law.

Devastating shortages began to mount in Cuba after passage of the Cuban Democracy Act. Medical drugs became hard to find at every level of care, because, as Kirkpatrick points out, 90 percent of all patents for new drugs during the past 25 years have been issued to U.S. companies or to their foreign affiliates. For example, kidney dialysis machines, cardiac pacemakers, and replacement parts for X-ray equipment have periodically been unavailable throughout the island of Cuba because manufacturers in Argentina, Sweden, and Canada, respectively, have connections with U.S. companies. Poultry from South America could not be sent to Cuba, because the chickens had eaten grain grown in Minnesota. U.S. agents visit foreign companies to enforce compliance with the Cuban Democracy Act.

Anthony Kirkpatrick has fought a hard, lonely struggle against the embargo. He publicly condemned the “fact sheet” put out by the State Department in response to the 1997 report of the American Association of World Health. That report documented both the shortages in Cuba and the human suffering, as well as the culpability of the U.S. government.

Kirkpatrick has submitted a “White Paper” to a special prosecutor’s office to seek judicial condemnation of State Department deceptions. In that paper he accuses State Department representatives of lying before Congressional committees deliberating about proposed legislation to exempt food and medical supplies from the embargo. (The 120 cosponsors of the proposed legislation presumably held a different version of the truth regarding restrictions on humanitarian material from that of Secretary Albright.)

According to Kirkpatrick, State Department spokespersons exaggerated the number of licenses issued to foreign companies, falsely denied that there were restrictions on humanitarian materials, and gave false data on Cuban spending for health care. For his pains Dr. Kirkpatrick was removed from a consulting post at the Tampa Veterans Administration Hospital.

In a review of a recent study of Cuban health care (Lancet, April 1, 2000), Kirkpatrick describes Cuba’s response to scarcity. He quotes the author Theodore MacDonald: “Cuba has invested more in health services than almost any country, and it has a higher health profile than the United States.” Kirkpatrick writes, regarding the embargo, that “human catastrophe has been averted only because the Cuban government has maintained a high level of budgetary support for [its] health care system.”

The big business news media pay little heed to criticism from independents like Kirkpatrick. Along with the mainstream political parties, they are oriented to the power of money and greed. Ordinary people — distracted, consuming, overworked, among them the readers of medical journals — have little inclination to learn about Cuba on their own, even if individually they are critical of the blockade. Spared for the time being from having to answer to a strong, worker-based opposition movement, Secretary Albright is free to lie with impunity.

The truth is that the blockade against Cuba, alone among U.S. embargoes, restricts food and medical supplies. If the public were to learn about this crime, it might not be totally surprised. The stage has already been set over the years with U.S. government-sponsored actions against Cuba, including the Bay of Pigs invasion, guerrilla warfare, assassination attempts, lavish payments to terrorists and “dissidents,” agricultural sabotage, and full-time radio propaganda.

Why Does Albright Choose to Lie?

Health care in Cuba has gained worldwide admiration, and the fact of a poor nation being able to provide for its people’s basic health needs poses for Washington the threat of a good example. Cuba’s practice of social justice — part of which is accessible and comprehensive medical care — stands out as an anomaly in a world given over to markets and greed.

Hospitals and other medical facilities, dependent as they are on imported, technology-based materials, have provided Cuba’s enemies with an opportune point of attack in the effort to discredit the revolutionary government. The truth may be that Washington has targeted the health care system by design. Such a campaign appears now to have met with some success because embargo-related shortages threaten to seriously undermine health care in Cuba.

Secretary Albright could have confessed to this cruel scheme and even declared that it is “worth it” — as with Iraq. But the victim in this case is Cuba — a neighbor only 90 miles away, a travel destination for many U.S. citizens, native soil for émigrés, and a possible venue for future exploitation. Full disclosure might have stirred up a slumbering press and public, thereby jeopardizing the U.S. campaign of mayhem. In the end Albright chose straightforward lying.

Meanwhile, Cuba — defending itself against this and other attacks — is joined by friends worldwide who have high regard for a nation that has given dignity to the once scorned and excluded. In the United States, voices in support of Cuba’s achievements tend to be drowned out by the defenders of market hegemony, who hold center stage. The apostles of profit may at first hide behind platitudes and blandishments of incremental change, but then their basic arrogance comes to the fore and they show their true colors. In regard to Cuba they bully, break international law, violate ethical norms, and, of course, lie.