By: Greg Mishkel, MD, MBA’17
Day 1. Saturday
While the US eagerly anticipates the Oscars and LaLa Land, we have landed in Havana, which feels more like Lada land, a veritable time warp.
From the moment you touch down, the smell of fresh cigar tobacco envelopes you, a very unaccustomed sensation for an American used to sanitized air. The immigration documents are quaint in an authoritarian type way, asking if you are bringing walkie talkies or pornography into the country (no on both counts).
From the parking lot to the drive along the highway to the hotel, you are reminded of the revolutionary fervor and the embargo that still exists.
Everything seems old and faded and smells slightly musty. That being said, the vibe is young and vibrant.
Even acknowledging the profound political differences, one has to wonder why we continue a 60 year old embargo on such a small country. All things considered, it seems like we have bigger fish to fry, when it comes to enemies of the state.
Day Two: Sunday
I woke up after a restful night and had what I call my “embargo coffee” steaming hot poured into a plastic cup.
It’s too physically hot to handle – Why? Because apparently the embargo prevents them [Cuba] from getting regular paper thermos cups. Ingeniously, they create insulation with a paper napkin and place it inside a second cup, all the while muttering under their breath “expletive deleted embargo.”
After I have my embargo coffee, we head to lectures.
This slide to the right summarizes a brilliant historical review and where Havana is going by urban planner Miguel Coyula. It is objective and fair minded, showing significant issues for Havana moving forward as they try to find decent housing for all, with very little market incentives to restore housing stock that may sit empty for years.
We also heard from Surgeon de Marcelino Feal. He talked about a strong, integrated healthcare system. He also explained that state wages for MDs are impoverishing. The most interesting statement was that he wished Cuba had malpractice because when a patient is injured or dies the MD can be found criminally negligent rather than civil.
In the afternoon, we toured different types of housing stock in old Havana. Click through the slides below to see examples of good and bad housing stock.
Today we hear lots of lectures on public health, and the like. Every lecture is sure to include statements of gratitude to the “commander in chief” as well as some reference to his having personally endorsed this or that venture. There is a universal reluctance to give direct answers to fairly direct questions, such as, ‘What is the five year survival for your transplant program?’ Regardless, the common thread is an overwhelming desire to improve the health of their nation and to foster the new detente with the US.
It was a beautiful sunny Wednesday. One photo below shows a view of a hotel from the balcony of an artist’s apartment /gallery. We learned from artist Edel Bordon Mirabel. He had some beautiful work, but no bargains to be hand. Of course, no day is complete without some political history, so before lunch we stopped by Revolutionary Square. Fortunately no lectures!