Friday, June 15, 2007

Cuba says Moore's 'Sicko' highlights its humanism

15 Jun 2007 21:53:52 GMT
Source: Reuters

HAVANA, June 15 (Reuters) - Cuba's Communist government joined the debate surrounding Michael Moore's new documentary "SiCKO" on Friday, saying the film will allow the world to get a glimpse of the humaneness of its health system.

The film, due to open in the United States on June 29, indicts the U.S. health-care system as putting the profits of insurance and pharmaceutical companies ahead of public health concerns.

To make his point, Moore traveled to Cuba in March with three volunteers who worked in the ruins of New York's World Trade Center after the Sept. 11 attacks. He said the three are now suffering health problems tied to that work and are struggling to get appropriate treatment in the United States.

In Cuba, the film says, they received exemplary treatment at virtually no cost.

Since coming to power in 1959, Fidel Castro's government has built a universal health-care system that has won praise around the world for delivering results on par with wealthier developed nations.

"There's no doubt that a documentary by someone of Michael Moore's stature will help the world see the deeply humane principles of Cuban society," Cuban Health Minister Jose Ramon Balaguer said on a public Web cast.

The U.S. Treasury Department is investigating Moore's trip to Cuba as a potential violation of Washington's long-standing embargo, which tightly restricts U.S. citizens' travel to the Communist nation.

Moore, who has stashed a copy of the documentary in Canada in fear that the U.S. government might confiscate it, has said he did not break any laws because he traveled to Cuba for a "journalistic endeavor."

"Sicko" was met with a standing ovation at this year's Cannes Film Festival, where Moore won the highest honor in 2004 for his anti-Bush polemic "Fahrenheit 9/11," which became the most successful U.S. documentary of all time.

But some critics have suggested he may have painted an overly rosy portrait of Cuban health care, which is hampered by medicine shortages and run-down equipment.

Balaguer said Moore's portrayal was accurate and denied that Havana collaborated with him to tout the Cuban health system. "Our country ... is always open to those cases that, from a humane point of view, may need the services of our public health care," he said.

Besides providing universal coverage for its own citizens, Cuba has also sent doctors to more than 70 other countries. Most recently, it has sent as many as 15,000 doctors to work in the slums of Venezuela, its main political ally, in exchange for oil supplies.

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