Bronx medical students in Cuba

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Tue Jun 12 08:23:42 MDT 2001

NY Times, June 12, 2001

Pursuing a Medical Career, All the Way to Cuba


HAVANA - The brave, the proud, the few. The Marines? Not for Mirtha Arzu,
though the lure of scholarship money almost led her to enlist a year ago in
the Bronx. Instead, she joined an even more select group of adventurers:
the first Americans to study medicine in Cuba courtesy of President Fidel

Ms. Arzu and another student from the Bronx are among eight young people
from the United States who received scholarships to the Latin American
School of Medical Sciences. They are undergoing a six-year course of study
alongside aspiring doctors from 24 Latin American, Caribbean and African
nations. Chosen from more than 100 applicants from disadvantaged families,
they intend to return to the United States and practice medicine in the
same poor communities where they grew up.

The scholarships, which will be extended to another group that is scheduled
to arrive in September, are the latest twist in Cuba's longtime emphasis on
not only healing hearts and minds, but also winning them over. Mr. Castro
has long sent medical workers overseas to help struggling nations, and
Cuba's own medical system - though beleaguered by shortages - has been
praised by some experts as a model for community and preventive medicine,
especially in the third world.

Showing up the United States has also been one of Mr. Castro's passions,
which is most likely another reason he suggested the scholarship program
last year to members of the Congressional Black Caucus who were visiting

American students are participating with the permission of the United
States government, which recognizes the program as a cultural and
educational exchange. Conservative critics, however, say the students are
being used as mere propaganda tools.

Ms. Arzu disagrees. "I'd rather be used for something positive than
something negative," she said. "At least I'm going to go back and show my
community what I was used for."

The application and screening process for the program was carried out by
members of Pastors for Peace, a group based in the United States that has
opposed the trade embargo against Cuba and has itself sponsored caravans to
take medicine to the island. Applicants had to be high school graduates, 18
to 25 years old, from disadvantaged backgrounds. While the ability to speak
Spanish helped, it was not required.

Upon joining about 5,000 students already at the school, the students began
intensive studies in basic science. Five of them were also placed in
Spanish classes; Ms. Arzu, 22, whose parents are Honduran, was able to skip


Louis Proyect
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