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Bracing For COVID-19, Argentina Calls On Cuban Doctors

Cuba could repay part of its $2 billion of debts to Argentina by sending some of its renowned medics to treat coronavirus patients in the Buenos Aires province.

A community doctor in Havana, Cuba
A community doctor in Havana, Cuba
Natasha Niebieskikwiat

BUENOS AIRES — Cuba often charges for its renown medical services abroad by bartering with the respective wealth or commodity of the country where its medics are sent. In Europe it is paid in euros currency, while in Venezuela, its healthcare missions are remunerated with crude oil, a resource in constant shortage on the island. Now, in the face of the COVID-19 health and economic crisis, sources tell Clarín that Cuban officials are in talks with the government of President Alberto Fernández about sending doctors to Argentina in exchange for food.

These would be sent especially to boost medical cadres fighting the epidemic in and around the capital of Buenos Aires, though it has already prompted opposition among local medical associations and in different social sectors.

This "swap" is not new. In 2004 under the late President Néstor Kirchner, the Cuban government run by brothers Fidel and Raúl Castro proposed exchanging $100 million in Cuban medicines for the same amount of Argentine foodstuffs. A year earlier, Argentina's then foreign minister, Rafael Bielsa, discussed with Cuba the possibility of canceling some of Cuba's debts to Argentina, with talk of $50-million tranches whereby poorer Argentines would receive free medical treatment in Cuban hospitals.

The Buenos Aires province owns 60% share of the GDP of the country's prized livestock, and today sectors in the government remain interested in renewing a debt-for-doctors option with Cuba, though progress is not without obstacles. The idea comes from the Vice-President Cristina Kirchner, who spent all of 2019 and early 2020 traveling back and forth to Havana, where her daughter Florencia is being treated for health issues.

With Cuba, there is an added ideological dimension.

Cuba's debt to Argentina was incurred in 1973 when the Health Minister José B. Gelbard lent Fidel Castro almost $1.3 billion. In 2017 the Argentine Bank of Foreign Trade and Investment stated in a report commissioned by CADAL, a foundation focused on good governance, that by then Cuba owed Argentina $2.6 billion including capital and interests. Some place the debt today at some $4 billion.

As previously reported in Clarin, the provincial government of Buenos Aires led by Axel Kicillof is planning on inviting between a dozen and 250 Cuban physicians requested by Buenos Aires health authorities. This reportedly will only happen if contagion figures supersede a peak figure and the province is hard pushed to cope with patient numbers.

Kicillof's plans were recently confirmed by both the Health and Foreign Ministries. The mayor of the town of Pehuajó, Pablo Zurro, formally asked Kicillof for Cuban doctors on April 21, while the province of Chaco is contemplating a similar move. Their arrival is permitted within the emergency presidential decree allowing use of foreign medical staff without prior confirmation of qualifications.

But various sectors in Argentina, notably doctors, are opposed to foreign recruitment. With Cuba, there is an added ideological dimension: the island nation has long mixed business and medical aid with propaganda, with Central Medical Cooperation Unit sending doctors around the world for the past six decades as proof of the Communist regime's efficiency and humanity. In recent years, with deteriorating economic conditions, these medical missions have turned into the country's leading source of foreign exchange earnings.

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My Wife, My Boyfriend — And Grandkids: A Careful Coming Out For China's Gay Seniors

A series of interviews in Wuhan with aging gay men — all currently or formerly married to women — reveals a hidden story of how Chinese LGBTQ culture is gradually emerging from the shadows.

Image of two senior men playing chinese Checkers.

A friendly game of Checkers in Dongcheng, Beijing, China.

Wang Er

WUHAN — " What do you think of that guy sitting there, across from us? He's good looking."

" Then you should go and talk to him."

“ Too bad that I am old..."

Grandpa Shen was born in 1933. He says that for the past 40 years, he's been "repackaged," a Chinese expression for having come out as gay. Before his wife died when he was 50, Grandpa Shen says he was was a "standard" straight Chinese man. After serving in the army, he began working in a factory, and dated many women and evenutually got married.

"Becoming gay is nothing special, I found it very natural." Grandpa Shen says he discovered his homosexuality at the Martyrs' Square in Wuhan, a well-known gay men's gathering place.

✉️ You can receive our LGBTQ+ International roundup every week directly in your inbox. Subscribe here.

Wuhan used to have different such ways for LGBTQ+ to meet: newspaper columns, riversides, public toilets, bridges and baths to name but a few. With urbanization, many of these locations have disappeared. The transformation of Martyrs' Square into a park has gradually become a place frequented by middle-aged and older gay people in Wuhan, where they play cards and chat and make friends. There are also "comrades" (Chinese slang for gay) from outside the city who come to visit.

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