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Well, well, well

WikiLeaks: Cuba banned Sicko for depicting ‘mythical’ healthcare system.

According to the Guardian (!):

Cuba banned Michael Moore’s 2007 documentary, Sicko, because it painted such a “mythically” favourable picture of Cuba’s healthcare system that the authorities feared it could lead to a “popular backlash”, according to US diplomats in Havana.

The revelation, contained in a confidential US embassy cable released by WikiLeaks , is surprising, given that the film attempted to discredit the US healthcare system by highlighting what it claimed was the excellence of the Cuban system.

But the memo reveals that when the film was shown to a group of Cuban doctors, some became so “disturbed at the blatant misrepresentation of healthcare in Cuba that they left the room”.

Castro’s government apparently went on to ban the film because, the leaked cable claims, it “knows the film is a myth and does not want to risk a popular backlash by showing to Cubans facilities that are clearly not available to the vast majority of them.”

Back in 2007 I mentioned a milder version of the same reaction among British people to Moore’s depiction of “empty waiting rooms and happy, care-free health workers” in the NHS.

UPDATE: Hat tips to commenters Jock and Alisa. The Guardian story has now been corrected to say that Sicko was shown in Cuba, confirmed on Michael Moore’s own website. Pity. That was a fun meme while it lasted, but truth must prevail. Moore says that the cable was purely a lie. Not necessarily: indecision as to the “line to take” is not exactly unknown in totalitarian regimes. Both showing the film and forbidding it have their dangers from the point of view of the Cuban rulers.

This round to Michael Moore, but I shall defiantly repeat something I said in 2008:

When the history of Fidel Castro’s rule in Cuba comes to be written all that stuff about the excellence of the healthcare system will turn out to be lies but the claim of high literacy rates will be more or less true.

Communist education gets results because force is near to the surface. I acknowledge but do not approve … A further advantage of communist education is that the wishes of the teachers are given almost as short a shrift as those of the pupils.

Force works well in education because the forcers can look at the forcees all the time they are doing the forcing. It works less well in healthcare and very badly indeed in agriculture.

32 comments to Well, well, well

  • Say it ain’t so, Mickey?

  • Frederick Davies

    Even those on his side think he is a liar…

  • Americans!
    Hear me!
    Please be aware of the vast, vast extent to which “Cuba’s National Health Service” has been held up, time and time again to us here in the UK labouring as we do under Labour Parties, as “a model” and as “a beacon to the world”.

    I have always suspected this to be a wicked falsehood and a total fabrication. Indeed, for the totality of ordinary Cubans, they’d probably have been better off in East Germany, and certainly in the USSR. Ours is bad enough, for ****’s sake. How a system run by a psychotic murdering butcher, whose upper-class-Argentinian-Student-friends routinely concentrated their victims in football-stadiums before mass-shootings, can be better, beats me.

  • Natalie, thanks for spotting this. It’s the Cuba healthcare meme I and surely many others have been waiting for. Like DD I have always assumed it to be out there. Now we have it.

  • Thanks for your kind words, Brian, but just looking around the blogs today I have noticed that this story is everywhere.

    In truth, I’m quite impressed with the Guardian for spotting this in Wikileaks and publicising it.

    One question I do have is why was this confidential in the first place?

  • Natalie: I can imagine that it could have been kept confidential to protect the Cuban source who may be providing other kinds of information, not related to “mundane” subjects such as healthcare. Am I being naive?

  • Unfortunately, Alisa, I do not think you are naive. Now that you have pointed it out, it seems obvious that is the reason.

    And now that source is exposed.

  • I’m not so sure that it’s that obvious – seems to me it could be either way, or even both. Interesting times:-/ I am also not sure that the source has necessarily been exposed, but I haven’t looked deep enough into the item to decide.

  • Laird

    Well, I for one am shocked, shocked ! I had always viewed Michael Moore as the very model of honesty and rectitude, ever since I saw his even-handed treatment of GM in “Roger and Me”. I’m sure it was an honest mistake. ;-)

  • Sure, Laird, I’m with you there – it’s just that this little item is the cherry on top:-)

  • Well…
    I have seen the exhibition of “boats” the Florida National Parks keep on the Dry Tortugas. 90 miles of open sea…

    Obviously just folks trying to see a cartoon mouse.

  • Thanks Jock – curiouser and curiouser

  • John B

    Where ever it leads (or is directed) I guess one can be certain that it will not be the advantage of liberty.
    Narratives established and nourished by the powers-that-be, including their media, have yet to ever do that, in my experience.
    (Assange’s big mates are the Front Line Club. JournoList, anyone?)
    Why does that pic of Bradley Manning remind me of Alfred E Neuman?
    Would Alfred be upset?

  • Richard Garner

    Ha! I knew I wouldn’t need to bother with this film when I saw clips of Moore showing how low the WHO ranks the US healthcare system, and then going on to praise Cuba… without mentioning that the US is ranked above Cuba!

  • For the benefit of anyone who missed Jock’s link: MM claims that the movie was shown in Cuba in theater throughout the country and on national TV. So, which big fat habitual liar should we believe? Tough one there…

  • Brian, You have never seen evidence Cuba’s health system is questionable? Really?

    This stuff was doing the rounds, on a number of sites, about five or six years ago. Dunno how representative it is, how much may simply be propaganda, but the ethnicities look right. Enjoy(Link).

  • I was just shown this, from 2007.

  • Another hot item from the Too Good To Check File. Kudos to Samizdata for nevertheless owning up to it.

  • A lot of the reputation of Cuba’s education system comes from the annual UNESCO report based on selected studies in different Latin American schools.

    The (Cuban) writer of this blog entry makes a persuasive eyewitness case that these results, in the case of Cuba, are at least partly based on fraud.

    Nevertheless, having seen a little of the most direct competition, I am willing to concede that Cuba’s K-12 education system might be comparatively not at all bad. It’s certainly hard to imagine anything worse than the Ecuadorian system. And bloggers like Yoani Sanchez and Miriam Celaya aka Eva are certainly a credit to their teachers.

  • Good info, as always, but the [!] after your reference to The Guardian can be explained. That bastion of Leftism would be trying to paint the Cuban sensor as scrupulously honest, saying No Pasaran! to the Yankee truth-manglers. Yankee truth-manglers. Good name for a band.

  • mdc

    On the topic of literacy rates – they are one of these misleading indicators, like “child poverty” (actually a measure of parental income equality), that means one thing to the general public and quite another to the statisticians who compile them.

    Literacy rate is actually defined as the number of children who have attended a certain number of years of school. What, if anything, they actually learned is irrelevant. Literacy rate is essentially a measure of the % of people who don’t truant. Totalitarian states clearly have an advantage there, irrespective of how effective their education systems actually are.

    I wonder how many Cuban Nobel Prize winners or Fields Medals there are per head of population, compared with US/UK?

  • another_anon

    “Another hot item from the Too Good To Check File. Kudos to Samizdata for nevertheless owning up to it.”

    MM is claiming the film was shown at the end of April. The cable was from three months earlier. I don’t see why it couldn’t have been banned for exactly the reasons stated, then ‘unbanned’ later for other reasons.

    Or not, but it is rather like MM to muddle the timing to score a gotcha.

  • Got a point there, a.a. Still, there is that link from 2007. Also, a thought expressed elsewhere: it could well be the case that the version shown in Cuba was different from the one shown in the West.

  • John W

    Force works well in education because the forcers can look at the forcees all the time they are doing the forcing. It works less well in healthcare and very badly indeed in agriculture.

    Force does not work well in education for the same reason that it doesn’t work well in agriculture and medicine.


    To force a man to drop his own mind and to accept your will as a substitute, with a gun in place of a syllogism, with terror in place of proof, and death as the final argument—is to attempt to exist in defiance of reality. Reality demands of man that he act for his own rational interest; your gun demands of him that he act against it. Reality threatens man with death if he does not act on his rational judgment; you threaten him with death if he does. You place him in a world where the price of his life is the surrender of all the virtues required by life—and death by a process of gradual destruction is all that you and your system will achieve, when death is made to be the ruling power, the winning argument in a society of men.
    Be it a highwayman who confronts a traveler with the ultimatum: “Your money or your life,” or a politician who confronts a country with the ultimatum: “Your children’s education or your life,” the meaning of that ultimatum is: “Your mind or your life”—and neither is possible to man without the other.


    Ayn Rand, from Galt’s speech in “Atlas Shrugged.”

  • Douglas2

    Guardian: “Sicko” was a blatant misrepresentation of healthcare in Cuba, and it was banned in Cuba.

    Moore: That’s a lie! It wasn’t banned in Cuba.

  • It’s kind of interesting that the Guardian article has just been deleted rather than corrected to show that there is a conflict as to whether it was banned or not. (Something like “Michael Moore denies that Sicko was banned in Cuba.”)

  • Paul Marks

    The Michael Moore lie fest “Sicko” was actually very useful for pro freedom people.

    Firstly it was when he “jumped the shark” – people forget, but Moore used to be taken seriously as a sincere (if wildly wrong) person. After “Sicko” even Hollywood people started to openly describe Mr Moore as what he is – a lying propagandist.

    The film also helped flush out some pro totalitarian moles in odd places – for example a film reviewer on the Fox News site gave the film lots of praise. And promptly had his review torn apart by lots of people who were actually from Cuba, Britain (etc). I have not heard from that reviewer again (always good when a mole gets exposed and his claws pulled).

    As for Cuba – the regime, and its allies – such as the U.N. and the universities, lies about everything.

    One of the more interesting types of lie is the lies they tell about 1950’s – i.e. what the base line was (in health and so on) before the regime came to power.

    U.N. lies (for example) are easy to spot – without even having knowledge of Cuba now. One simply compares what the U.N. publishes now (for life expectancy, infant mortality and so on) for the early to late 1950’s and what it publishes (about the same period) now.

    No – new facts have NOT been discovered. They are simply trying to blacken the past in order to make the present (for which the figures the produce are also false) look better. Not that I like Batista – who (it is often forgotten) was a leftist, and corrupt, social democrat, strongly supported by the trade unions (indeed he came to power via a coup led by the de facto soldiers union – the so called “sergeants revolution” of 1932.

    That the present figures are false is also easy to spot – for example infant mortality figures in Cuba are normally published a couple of days after the year they are supposed to apply to has ended.

    If the figures were even vaguely honest they would take a very long time to work out – but it is much less difficult if you are just making up a number. Actually they might as well publish the figures (on infant mortality and so on) for a given years before the year has even started – they would be no more fantasy figures than they are anyway.

  • Paul H

    If you want to get some perspective on the way in which the Cuban government actually manages their medical system, have a look at the experiences of a Cuban doctor who protested at their ‘Substantial raise’ which amounted to $1.60 per month

    (Link)

  • James Waterton

    On reflection, I have to say I believe MM. The cable doesn’t ring true, simply because I don’t credit the Cuban authorities with the subtlety of thinking to be able to see beyond the obvious “Hey! This movie bashes the US and makes us look good! What’s not to like?” conclusion that would be drawn by them.

    You’d think the comparison between the American dissident Michael Moore, who is rich and successful and whose propaganda can be effortlessly viewed in his home country – and his rather more courageous Cuban equivalents, gagged and festering in cells or worse – wouldn’t really be a good look either. I doubt that implication crossed the minds of the Cuban dictators. Hopefully it wasn’t lost on more than a few Cubans.

  • James, I tend to agree with you, but there is at least one other scenario, such as that the film shown in Cuba was an edited version of the original.