Herald Sun, Australia
April 17, 2007 12:00 am
FILMMAKER Michael Moore has caused a furore by taking ailing Ground Zero emergency workers to Cuba to show the US health-care system is inferior to Fidel Castro's.
The trip by his production company was reportedly filmed as part of the director's latest documentary, Sicko.
The film is an attack on US drug companies and private health insurance firms, which Moore hopes to show at Cannes Film Festival next month.
Two years in the making, the flick also takes aim at the shortfall in medical care being provided to people who worked on the toxic World Trade Centre debris pile.
The movie, which critics say uses ill 9/11 workers as pawns, has angered many in the emergency services community.
"He's using people that are in a bad situation and that's morally wrong," said Jeff Endean, a former SWAT commander who spent a month at Ground Zero and suffers from respiratory problems.
Moore made his name with the controversial social documentaries Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11.
A spokeswoman for Weinstein Co, the film's distributor, would not say when it would hit cinemas or provide details on the film or the trip.
Emergency workers were told Cuban doctors had developed new techniques for treating lung cancer and other respiratory illness, and health care in the communist country was free, according to those offered the two-week February trip.
Cuba has made recent advancements in biotechnology and exports its cancer treatments to 40 countries around the world, raking in an estimated $120 million a year.
In 2004 the US Government granted an exception to its embargo against Cuba and allowed a California drug company to test three cancer vaccines developed in Havana.
Some ill 9/11 workers baulked at Moore's idea.
"I would rather die in America than go to Cuba," said Joe Picurro, a New Jersey ironworker approached by the filmmaker via an e-mail that read, "Joe and Mike in Cuba".
After helping remove debris from Ground Zero, Mr Picurro has a long list of respiratory and other ailments so bad that he relies on fundraisers to help pay his expenses. "I just laughed. I couldn't do it," he said.
Another ill worker who said he was willing to take the trip ended up being stood up.
Michael McCormack, 48, a disabled medic who found an American flag at Ground Zero that once flew atop the Twin Towers, was all set to go.
"What he (Moore) wanted to do is shove it up George W's rear end that 9/11 heroes had to go to a communist country to get adequate health care," said Mr McCormack, who also suffers from chronic respiratory illness.
But Mr McCormack said he was abandoned by Moore.
At a March fundraiser for another 9/11 responder in New Jersey, Mr McCormack learned Moore had gone to Cuba without him.
"It's the ultimate betrayal," he said. "You're promised that you're going to be taken care of then you find out you're not.
"He's trying to profiteer off of our suffering."
Not everyone was unhappy. Some who went reportedly said they "got the Elvis treatment". Moore's publicist did not return calls.
JG: It is a well known fact that Cuba's health care system is much better than that of the United States. And it is better because it is based on helping people, rather than the almighty profit motive as is the case here.