May 19, 2008
By Martin Arostegui - SANTA CRUZ, Bolivia — A young Bolivian medical
student, who died of an apparent brain hemorrhage while in Cuba on a
government-sponsored scholarship this spring, was returned to her
family in Bolivia with all of her organs missing, touching off
controversy about Cuba's growing presence in Bolivia.
The case of Beatriz Porco Calle has shocked the Bolivian public, which
has generally welcomed medical and educational cooperation that Cuba
has offered through official agreements with Bolivia's leftist
president, Evo Morales.
"They took out everything," said Miss Porco Calle's horrified sister,
Sofia, who showed the body stuffed with sponge cotton and then
stitched back up to TV cameras.
"Her lungs, kidneys, liver, ovaries down her vagina are gone. They
even pulled out her tongue and her teeth," said Sofia Porco Calle, who
accuses the Cuban government of trying to cover up the scandal to
conceal its role in organ trafficking.
Cuban socialized medicine has been a showcase achievement of Fidel
Castro's revolution and served as an important tool of Cuba's
international diplomacy to gain influence in the Third World.
There are about 30,000 Cuban doctors conducting humanitarian missions
and emergency relief work in Africa and Latin America.
Cuban doctors were recently called in to handle an epidemic of dengue
fever in Brazil.
Close to 2,000 Cuban medics have been sent to Bolivia since Mr.
Morales became president in 2006, establishing clinics in remote areas
and treating thousands of patients in poor rural communities.
Beatriz Porco Calle, a promising student, who had finished at the top
of her class in her home province of Oruro, was among 1,000 Bolivian
medical students who had gone to Cuba to receive free medical training
through scholarship grants arranged between the two governments.
Bolivia's medical association has publicly called for an official
investigation into her death, pointing to the "strange way it's been
Dr. Gueider Salas, who heads the association in Santa Cruz, said the
Cuban government has not offered any satisfactory explanation.
He blames a "lack of professional controls over Cuban medical
activities" and thinks the Cuban government could be trying to hide
the cause of her death.
Cuba's ambassador to Bolivia, Rafael Dausa, said the Porco Calle
family is stirring up the controversy to get a financial indemnity. He
insists the treatment of the woman's body is "normal."
"We carried all the costs of transferring the body, legal procedures,
certificates ... and even the silk thread to sewn up the cadaver. We
did it as a gesture of solidarity and transparency with a Bolivian
family," Mr. Dausa said.
pressures through local government officials to keep her family
silent. "Our fear was that my sister's cadaver would get thrown away,
and we wouldn't receive it."