President Obama’s historic trip to Cuba this past week returned U.S. and world attention to the small Caribbean island of 11 million people and the long, curious history between it and the United States. It’s hard to think of a similarly sized country that has had such a memorable, tumultuous, often romantic hold on U.S. history and imagination. That narrative encapsulates a welter of assumptions — some propagated by the 1959 revolution, others by the Cuban diaspora and the rest by Americans who haven’t seen Cuba up close in more than half a century. Here are some of those myths.
1. Cuba’s free health-care system is great.
In a 2014 visit to Cuba, the director general of the World Health Organization, Margaret Chan, declared Cuba’s health-care system a model for the world: “This is the way to go,” she said. And U.S. documentarian-provocateur Michael Moore, in his movie “Sicko,” favorably contrasted Cuba’s system with the expensive, complicated American arrangement.
Yes, there have been health-care advances in Cuba in the past half-century, especially when compared with some of the poorest countries in the hemisphere. According to UNICEF, life expectancy in Cuba is 79.1 years, the second-highest in Latin America. And the country is famous both for training foreign physicians and dispatching its homegrown ones to nations across the region.
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