Cuba welcomes U.S. med students to free six-year program

Les Schaffer schaffer at
Thu Apr 5 14:37:28 MDT 2001

[ bounced from unsubbed "Thomas Warner" <twwarner at> ]

Cuba welcomes U.S. med students to free six-year program

by The Associated Press and Knight-Ridder Newspapers
Students of the Latin American School of Medicine in Havana raise a
U.S. flag Wednesday to welcome eight U.S. minority students.  HAVANA -
A U.S. flag was flown and "The Star-Spangled Banner" played yesterday
as Cuba welcomed eight U.S. citizens here to study medicine courtesy
of the communist government.

The six women and two men from minority families arrived in Havana
late Tuesday. They are the first Americans to attend a free six-year
program originally designed for impoverished students in Latin

Cuan President Fidel Castro offered to extend the free medical
training to up to 500 Americans when he met last May with a delegation
from the Congressional Black Caucus.

"It would be hard for your government to oppose such a program,"
Castro told the U.S. lawmakers. "It would be a trial for
them. Morally, how could they refuse?"

The U.S. State Department later said it would not oppose the program,
saying it had been Washington's policy to encourage contact between
ordinary Cubans and their counterparts in the United States.

"This is a modest beginning to a revolutionary and visionary idea,"
said the Rev. Lucius Walker, head of the U.S. organization Pastors for
Peace, which regularly brings medicine and other humanitarian aid to

"We are confident that you will open your arms and your hearts and
receive our children as your own," Walker told Cubans attending a
small welcoming ceremony at the Latin American School of Medicine.

The event marked the beginning of a new era at the school and a major
public-relations coup for Castro, whose island remains isolated by the
United States under a trade embargo put in place four decades ago.

"This is an opportunity for me to study medicine and become a great
doctor while learning about the Cuban medical system," said Karima
Mosi, 22, of San Diego. "I understand that the medical school in Cuba
is among the best in Latin America and the world, so I have no
reservations about my education."

The eight join more than 4,000 other students from 24 nations in Latin
America and Africa. The medical school opened two years ago.

The program has generated controversy, especially among many Cuban
Americans, who say it is a propaganda ploy by Castro to highlight
income disparities in the United States and tout his system of
universal health care.

When commenting last November on Cuba's proposed program for
U.S. students, the State Department said it was unclear whether those
who receive training in Cuba would be able to meet licensing
requirements back home.

Cuba also proposed sending its own doctors to poor areas of the United
States, but the State Department said the idea was rejected.

Cuba has a surplus of doctors and dispatches thousands abroad each
year to work in other developing countries.

Shortages of basic medicines have been acute in Cuba, particularly in
the decade since the collapse of the Soviet Union, once the island's
principal trading partner.

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