Doctors Without Freedom

Right after half-heartedly condemning Castro's Cuba for being "authoritarian" and "undemocratic" at Wednesday night's debate, Bernie Sanders made a pivot that was predictable to anyone who has ever eavesdropped in a coffee shop in Sanders's adopted state of Vermont: He rhapsodized on the wonders of Cuban health care. Cuba has "made some good advances in health care," Sanders said. He then added, admiringly, that "they are sending doctors all over the world."

On the latter point, Sanders is right. Cuban doctors have indeed done brave work in horrifying circumstances, such as Ebola-terrorized West Africa.

But it's precisely because Cuba is "undemocratic" that this is the case. Indeed, doctors from free countries, such as our own, often travel to troubled areas to provide medical care. The difference is, they are not "sent" by their governments: They go of their own free will.

As the Wall Street Journal noted in 2014, the Cuban government nets nearly $8 billion a year by coercing doctors to work overseas. Here's how the racket works: Havana orders medical professionals to go abroad to work, then bills host governments or organizations like the World Health Organization for their services. Only a small amount of the funds collected actually trickle down to the doctors. If doctors refuse to go abroad, their families are threatened: Their children may be denied admission to university, for example.

Given his praise of what is effectively a form of forced labor and human trafficking, one wonders whether Sanders considers Cuba's authoritarian political system a feature, rather than a bug.
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