July 16, 2004

Who cares where the doctors are from?

For a long time, Chavistas have latched on to the opposition's criticisms of Barrio Adentro - the emergency plan to bring Cuban doctors to outpatient clinics in Venezuelan shantytowns - as evidence that the opposition doesn't really care about the health and well-being of the poor. I agree that criticizing a plan like Barrio Adentro is politically silly, even if I share the overall sense of discomfort with the idea of needing to import thousands of undernurished Cuban doctors to do a job Venezuelans should and could do.
Still, the basic chavista retort - Who cares where the doctors come from? - is right on the money. To a poor person in a shantytown, where the doctor that's treating him comes from, who pays his salary, etc. are all clearly secondary considerations. People need help, and they need it ASAP.
The question, then, is where is the philochavista outrage over the treatment of doctors and nurses at the Maternidad Concepcion Palacios? The largest obstetrics center in Caracas, La Concepcion Palacios is managed by the opposition-controlled Metropolitan City Hall of Caracas, but funded by Central Government funds. Central government is months behind on its transfers to the Alcaldia Metropolitana. Chavez has never hidden his disdain for the idea of having to send the constitutionally mandated transfers to the regions in cases where the opposition controls the decentralized governments. The Alcaldia Metropolitana is, of course, on the top of his shit list.
As a result, the doctors and nurses at Concepcion Palacios can and often do go for months without getting paid. Since they did take their hypocratic oath, they continue to work, to help the poorest women in Caracas to give birth. But since they happen to work for a maternity clinic that happens to be run by an anti-Chavez mayor, they have to move heaven and earth to put food on the table.
The question, then, is who is fooling whom here? How can philochavistas slam the opposition for opposing Barrio Adentro but fall dead silent when faced with the outrageous political manipulation of public health funds at a place like Concepcion Palacios? Who is manipulating the desperation of the poor for political purposes here? And who cares where the doctors come from, anyway?