Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Medical Students Turning to Cuba for Education

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Medical Students Turning to Cuba for Education

Article excerpt

Byline: Tonyaa Weathersbee

HAVANA - Hurricane Katrina taught Amandla Haynes her most enduring lesson about Cuba.

The Tallahassee native, who graduated from Xavier University in New Orleans, had just started attending the Latin America School of Medicine here in August of 2005 when Katrina's winds toppled that city's levies, engorging the city with misery and death.

The disaster also exposed government ineptness, deep poverty and mangled priorities.

But while politicians and pundits in the United States were pointing fingers, and while the suffering at the Louisiana Superdome seemed to provoke paralysis rather than action, doctors at the school here were packing their bags, Haynes said.

Cuban President Fidel Castro had offered to send 1,600 doctors to the stricken city, and they were waiting for word from the U.S. government. The answer was no.

"We didn't even start school because Katrina had happened," Haynes, 26, told me. "The very next day, these doctors came to the campus to learn about New Orleans and the culture there ... it amazed me because they had their bags packed and ready to go.

"They asked those of us who knew New Orleans, or who had relatives in New Orleans, to participate in a panel discussion ... it really touched something inside of me. Then when they were denied, they were crying because they couldn't go to help these people in desperate need."

Seeing that, Haynes said, made her realize that somewhere in the world, compassion in medicine was being taken seriously.

That's the attitude Haynes plans to take back to the United States once she finishes her studies here. That's exactly the way the school, which offers a free medical education to students throughout the hemisphere who can't afford to pay, would have it.

I was glad to see that it wasn't lost on Haynes - or any of the other students I talked to. I've visited the Latin America School of Medicine three times in the eight years in which I've been studying Cuba and its role in the African diaspora.

It's a place that manufactures what is perhaps Castro's slickest export: Doctors. Its physicians are sent to the most impoverished corners of the Caribbean, Central and South America, and Africa.

But students like Haynes won't be sent to Nigeria or Venezuela.

They'll be sent back home - in hopes that they'll go to places like New Orleans or other struggling areas where people are being shortchanged, or in some cases, failed by the U. …

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