Wikileaks/Cablegate: Guardian reports Cuba banned Michael Moore's "Sicko" for fear of public backlash (UPDATE)

UPDATE: Michael Moore responds here. In short, he says Sicko was not banned in Cuba, and describes the cable referenced below as "[A] stunning look at the Orwellian nature of how bureaucrats for the State spin their lies and try to recreate reality." A spokesperson from Moore's production company tells Boing Boing, "The online references are clear, it really did play on national Cuban TV, and it really is still playing on a Cuba website."

US diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks state that the government of Cuba banned Michael Moore's 2007 documentary, Sicko, "because it painted such a 'mythically' favourable picture of Cuba's healthcare system that the authorities feared it could lead to a 'popular backlash', according to US diplomats in Havana."

What, those gleaming hospitals aren't available to everyone in Cuba? And you can't believe everything you see in a Michael Moore movie? Say it ain't so! Snip:

Film-maker-Michael-Moore--007.jpg The revelation, contained in a confidential US embassy cable released by WikiLeaks , is surprising, given that the film attempted to discredit the US healthcare system by highlighting what it claimed was the excellence of the Cuban system.

But the memo reveals that when the film was shown to a group of Cuban doctors, some became so "disturbed at the blatant misrepresentation of healthcare in Cuba that they left the room". Castro's government apparently went on to ban the film because, the leaked cable claims, it "knows the film is a myth and does not want to risk a popular backlash by showing to Cubans facilities that are clearly not available to the vast majority of them."

WikiLeaks: Cuba banned Sicko for depicting 'mythical' healthcare system (Guardian, via Michael Moynihan)


  1. I was just in Havana last week (I’m Canadian) and spoke to a bunch of Cubans about Michael Moore as part of some larger conversations. All had seen the film and all said it did really well in Cuba, and one person even said that Michael Moore “is a great friend to Cuba,” so take that with however many grains of salt you wish…but true story.

  2. Cuban commies still have the ability to feel shame at having their failures exposed? Aww. That’s kinda’ sweet, actually. If they were total sociopaths, they’d just declare that the movie was truth, and anyone who didn’t believe that such facilities were available to them was clearly a wrecker sorely in need of reeducation.

    1. Cuban commies still have the ability to feel shame at having their failures exposed?

      So the Cuban government has an imperfect health care system and admits it, at least to themselves. And the US government has an imperfect lack of a health care system and largely lies about it. And that’s proof about how evil communism is?

      Is that a knee print on your forehead?

      1. How do you get that the Cuban government admits problems with its healthcare system? I thought this article is about them banning a film so as not to incite unrest.

        Here are some stats that may give us some good anchor points in the developing flamewar:

        In 2008, life expectancy for a Cuban infant was 78.72 years. In the US life expectancy for an infant was 78.44 years.

        Cuban infant mortality was 4.4 per 1000 births; American infant mortality was 6.8 per 1000 births.

        Source: World Development Indicators, The World Bank. (Google it for yet another neat feature)

        For the heck of it, I compared the above numbers with the CIA World Factbook. Factbook numbers for the US are basically in line, but numbers for Cuba give life expectancy as 77.64 years and infant mortality as 5.72 per 1000.

      2. No, it’s proof that Cuban commies are sweet and endearing, because they haven’t totally lost their human emotions (shame) to ideology. In fact, I’d be willing to trade straight across, Cuban commies for California liberals, who seem to support the same old talking points even when the state is drowning in crime and debt and an education system that doesn’t work even though it spends plenty.

        1. The crime rate per capita in California has declined steadily over the last decade, actually, and is far lower than it was in the 1980’s.

    1. actually british national healthcare is of a pretty high standard. I have used the uk nat. healthcare system for a wide range of issues have always been happy with treatment/ service etc.

  3. After seeing the movie, it wasn’t so much that I thought the Cuban hospitals or the health care system was so awesome. It merely showed how shitty it was that the people he brought there were unable to get what they needed HERE.
    The overall tone of the movie was to provide those of us in the USA the problems inherent in our system.

  4. You believe anything an American government official says about Cuba?

    I mean, it may very well be true, but notoriously unreliable source of information on this topic.

    1. Well, that’s kind of the whole problems with *all* the cables, actually. Basically US diplomats are sending unsubstantiated water cooler gossip back and forth and giving it classified status just to cover their asses. Almost nothing in the cables has any solid basis.

  5. Where is the cable? I can’t find it, and it bothers me that none of the news articles referencing specific cables link to them.

    1. The Guardian article links to the complete text of the cable, here:

      BTW, it’s not a leaked official Cuban cable, but comes from the US Interests Section in Havana. The first paragraph cautions that the cable “provides anecdotal accounts from Cubans about their healthcare”. It’s a mix-bag of all sorts of different issues: rampant corruption, substandard healthcare due to lack of funds and/or connections, discrimination against HIV positive patients… And an anonymous report that the Cuban govt banned (or try to ban, it’s not clear in the context) the film “Sicko”.

  6. And this pretty much sums up my problems with Moore. I don’t mind that he has an agenda, but he constantly misrepresents the facts, which ultimately undermines the entire enterprise. He’s little better than a lefty O’Reilly, which is a pity.

  7. No one ever said the USA cables were actually the undistorted truth. Self-delusion is often much easier than coping with reality.

    Hillary Clinton runs the State Dept. and her post-invasion take on Iraq intelligence was: “They lied to me!”

  8. And some people believe in everything they read on the internet.
    Sicko was about the failure of the American health care system. Who cares about Cuba? What Moore showed was that Cuba’s system was better than ours. And it is. Although it is under funded.

    With the amount of money we spend in health care in this country we deserve a better health care system, period.

  9. I have been medically treated in Cuba. I was having an allergic reaction and needed an emergency shot of antihistamine.

    My personal experience was that both the doctor and nurse approached their job with the same amount of enthusiasm as any other Cuban. No one is really in a hurry, no one is more important than anyone else, (even if your body is covered head to toe in blisters and hives). That’s just the way it is. Universal health care? Maybe. Communist health care? Better description.

    1. Doctors in Cuba have seen worse skin conditions than your hives and know how to appropriately triage cases, rather than over reacting as if everything is an emergency as we do in the US.

      Those lazy Cubans apparently saved your life, so way to question their qualifications you ungrateful asshole.

  10. The weirdness here is that the US medical industry and their associated contractors (the gub’ment) would ever keep this secret.

    If true, would they not publicize the fact? I’m doubting their desire not to embarrass the Cuban gub’ment will fly as an impetus here.

    Not that I have any other reason to think this, and not that I’m claiming it, but it brings to mind the idea of wikileaks as a source of disinfo.

  11. When my boss visits his relatives in Cuba, he always buys, in his words, a “shitload of drugs” in Mexico to bring to the Cuban family, because they would otherwise have no access to common antibiotics, allergy medications, pain meds (OTC and the fun kind!), and even simple stuff like prenatal vitamins.
    Boss also told me they have two different currencies in Cuba, one for locals that doesn’t buy shit, and one for tourists that buys (almost) whatever you want. You can’t get “tourist money” if you’re a local. Local money, I repeat, doesn’t buy SHIT…barely buys bread. They also treat tourists with WAY, WAY more respect and give them access to much better places and experiences in Cuba than the locals get.
    So, when Michael Moore shows up there with a bunch of sicko americanos, of COURSE they’re going to get better health care options than the average Cuban. And yes, I believe my boss of 8 years over Michael Moore.

    1. You seem to be mixing medical care with lack of medications due to the US Embargo. Two different things.

      Cuba is a poor country. So, their universal heal thcare reflects their own means. US is a rich country. We can do much better since we are already spending lots of money without good results.

    2. I live in Southern California and half the people that I know go to Mexico to get their health care.

      1. I live in Southern California and half the people that I know go to Mexico to get their health care.

        …for the quality, to be absolutely sure.

        1. …for the quality, to be absolutely sure.

          I know a lot of people who go to Mexico to buy drugs, get dental work done and to have outpatient surgery. They do it because they either can’t afford any insurance coverage or because they can’t afford full coverage and it’s cheaper to have things done in Mexico than to receive health care in their own country. If we weren’t close to the border, they would be shit out of luck. They would get less care than the paint-peeling, don’t-have-the-drugs-that-you-need hospitals that Michael Moore didn’t show you on his VIP trip to Cuba.

    3. This is a misguided understanding of the two currency system. Spending convertible (tourist) pesos only enables you to spend much more money than the locals do. The local pesos are indeed worth much less than convertible pesos, but everything you can buy in local pesos is MUCH cheaper. If you leave the tourist area in Havana your tourist pesos are like a foreign currency. The fact that your dollar goes so much further in local pesos than convertible pesos is just an illustration of how ripped off you are in Havana vs. the rest of the country. Currency inequity is not a byproduct of Cuban communism, it’s a byproduct of traveling.

  12. So the Cuban government has an imperfect health care system and admits it, at least to themselves. And the US government has an imperfect lack of a health care system and largely lies about it…

    Did I completely misunderstand the entire healthcare legislation debate? Hours upon hours of politicians of all sorts of political persuasions bloviating about what was wrong with the US healthcare? They disagreed on WHAT was wrong and on HOW to fix it (which is fine with me). But I don’t think you can claim the US is lying about healthcare or sweeping the issue under the carpet, especially given that it was the current administration’s number one priority, pursued at the expense of everything else. It’s all you saw on the news, for a long time. It would be like, a year from now, somebody claiming, “and Boing-Boing has been largely silent on the Wikileaks issue and its spokesperson.” :-)

  13. I don’t think you can claim the US is lying about healthcare or sweeping the issue under the carpet

    Squeeze any member of Congress and they’ll still claim that American Healthcare Is The Best Healthcare In The World.

    1. Squeeze any member of Congress and they’ll still claim that American Healthcare Is The Best Healthcare In The World.

      I’ll give you that. But those representative and senators would be making meaningless statements. I imagine they’ll also say America is the best country in the world. And their home state is the best state within it. And they don’t have to be crazy or illogical to say so: there are many metrics to characterize state quality or healthcare system quality, and even smart, well-intentioned people disagree on these things, let alone people who are trying to game things to come out a certain way.

      But really, Is there really a difference between “we’re the best but we need to improve” and “we’re not the best and we need to improve”? Does anyone care about distinctions like that?

      thanks and have a nice day

  14. I’d be willing to trade straight across, Cuban commies for California liberals, who seem to support the same old talking points even when the state is drowning in crime and debt and an education system that doesn’t work even though it spends plenty.

    California is in financial distress because your right-wing comrades have capped property taxes at 1% for decades.

    1. California has some of the highest taxes in the nation and it’s STILL broke. The problem here in California definitely isn’t tax collecting, it’s the ridiculous over-spending by the democratic government.

      Whats more, when your government has shown, time and time again, that it has absolutely zero ability to manage your money, do don’t attempt to rectify the situation by giving them *more* of your money.

      1. Government waste != government failure. I just means there is work to do to fix it.

        Government has SOME ability to manage your money as you get water out of your taps, roads that function and schools that almost function (spoken as a Canadian).

        In Canada, government does do better at providing some of these things than the US, and in Europe, service delivery also seems to work (mind you on a smaller scale than the US).

        So, perhaps instead of throwing the Government baby out with the bathwater (SCREW GOVERNMENT, PRIVATIZE EVERYTHING!), why not take a rational approach and say the US version of it isn’t working.

        That has more to do with the corporatization of your government than government itself.

        In fact, by you attacking the government, you actually help the corporatists take over more and more.

        If I wasn’t a Canadian, I might say “Stop bitching, Get your ass out there and get involved in fixing things before you screw the whole planet you lazy SOB” But because I am a Canadian, I’ll just say… “I don’t understand you guys in the US.”

        (Spoken as a high income earning canadian, happily paying 50% of my income to taxes, still wanting MY government to waste less and provide more services so that more people can get a leg up and break the cycles of poverty that still exist here too.)

        1. “Government has SOME ability to manage your money as you get water out of your taps, roads that function and schools that almost function (spoken as a Canadian).”

          Actually, California has issues with these two items too.

          I’m not saying we need to abolish government all together (no one is). I’m just saying that we need to seriously think about limiting it. Government solutions, while sometimes necessary, are always the most inefficient and wasteful solution available.

          California’s high taxes are hurting the economy too, forcing jobs out of state while at the same time putting the screws to the middle class and wealthy (the job creators).

          1. Actually it’s very often the other way around.

            Just some examples in Germany:
            – Winter services have been outsourced to the private sector in some states. Where it has been done, taxpayers pay four times as much for the service now AND it is done much less reliable to the point we currently experience shortages in gas on gas stations as trucks can’t reach them to refuel anymore. Just as a sidenode: we do not have a particular hard winter this years. It’s merely average. If it was a winter like in 1946 or in the early 80s, I would not complain.
            – The Deutsche Bahn has been sold and now those damn trains get stuck in the snow, heating not working very often, trains are late all the time and ICE is overheating during summer months as conditioning was not dimensioned strong enough. The S-Bahn (part or the Deutsche Bahn) is currently only providing 52-76% of the due services in Berlin. This is now the third winter in a row where S-Bahn is surprised to experience snow and ice …
            – Since water sector has been sold, prices have more than quadrupled (in less then 10 years) and are still climbing fast each year.

            Your claim has never been proven right but I can prove you wrong on countless examples here. Private sector is most of the time inefficient, lenient and unable to operate critical infrastructure. Just take a look at the number of giant black-outs you US-guys are experiencing each decade with some 100.000 people cut from electricity for days and weeks.

            From a European perspective the US resemble to a third world country. Inefficient health care, regularly failing electric infrastructure, ridiculous edu-system and hardly any useful public transports. That’s what you get from cheering the private sector as much as you do.

  15. As much as I love making excuses for the Cuban dictatorship, I suppose it’s possible that the movie was only forbidden from showing in certain parts of the country (the areas with bad healthcare are the parts where tourists don’t usually go).

    As for why U.S. medicine and procedures cost so much, I always chalked that up to a combination of patent enforcement, bad regulation, good regulation, and insane billing practices. It’s way too complicated to be explained away by simple platitudes.

  16. Read the article carefully. The leaked cable does not “show” anything. Rather, it is a message sent by a US diplomat in Havana making claims, which may or may not be true.

    The Wikileaks cables are not “truth”, rather, they are communications between US government officials, and need to be understood as such.

    1. It also points out that many local Cuban employees are using the medical facilities at the interests section rather than using their local clinics. Since the report also uses information from the doctor at the interests section this gives the cable much more insight than if written by anyone else.

  17. I had a major illness in Jan when between jobs. I got absolutely top shelf health care at LA County USC including 14 days hosp mostly in Cardiac ICU. Several follow ups, stent procedure and implantation of a Boston Scientific defib (top of the line).
    1. Never paid one cent and was never asked.
    2. They will take everything I have earned or saved in my entire life because they will take the proceeds from the sale of our house after both my wife and I die.
    3. I have seen maybe three or four white people in the whole system over a years time.
    4. I am thankful for myself and for the poor people I have seen get help. Better to have nothing, there is a big penalty for ilness in the USA.

  18. I think the reality is a bit different. See, for Americans, with dollars, Cuba is an amazing place. The Cubans don’t give a fuck, the fact that you’re there spending your money is almost a godsend for them. However, to Cubans, who have to both live and work there, the place remains a shithole. The only reason why Moore got great treatment is 1.) He’s a celebrity 2.) He had an amazing sob story and 3.) Inflation wins. Being the president of Cuba, if I felt like I had a choice, there’s no way I’d want my citizens thinking all health care is free. He’s worked to hard rationing it out in a way to give as little without creating rushes on pharmacies that, will likely not restock for years, so it’s better to keep everyone in the dark. Go to the doctor when you’re sick, he’ll do his best to keep you alive, but please, please, please, please if you’re not sick, stay the fuck out the hospital. Unlike in America, where people go to the ER because they noticed a hair where there wasn’t hair before.

  19. Michael Moore distorts facts in such a way that the reality is somewhat lost.
    At least what he says has some basis in fact unlike the rhetoric that spews from the right wing nut jobs. I am not defending him after seeing Fahrenheit 9/11 the bullshit flowed freely and probably helped bush get a second term and how he can call that a documentary is beyond me

  20. Sicko also included a segment about french healthcare wich, even if it did not provoked censorship of the movie (France is still not a dictature, even with the crappy president we have), still brought down Michael Moore street cred to nothing, in a country where he was quite popular before. To put it shortly, he failed to see the continuous fall of quality in french health services for ten years (the same time the conservative majority in ruling) painting an idyllic picture of health paradise instead.

    1. It’s a question of comparing the French with Moore’s own, USA, system.
      Compared to the system in the USA, the French system looks great to Moore.

      The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, eh?

  21. Darn you boingboig readers. I come here expecting a simple gotcha moment and you have to have an intelligent conversation showing that the issue is more nuanced than the headline would lead one to believe.

  22. Don’t automatically believe something is true, just because it’s in a cable.
    As others have already pointed out, the movie wasn’t actually banned in Cuba.

  23. I’m disappointed in Michael Moore for not being honest in his film. The point that healthcare spending is so much more effective in Cuba than the US is a valid one, and didn’t need to be sensationalised.

  24. Per Michael Moore’s diary on dailykos today, the cable was a complete made-up BS job. Sicko was indeed screened and broadcast in Cuba. It is unfortunate, as Mr Moore says, that The Guardian didn’t bother to do a little digging instead of taking the cable at face value.

    PS: I live in France. The healthcare is great. Though I pay higher taxes, if you figure in the co-pays, premiums, deductibles, not-covered procedures and services of the U.S. system, I come our *way* ahead financially (and physically, for that matter). Plus I never have to worry about not being able to afford to see a doctor, or having to choose between food and meds, or losing my home because of medical bills.

  25. According to Moore himself, published this morning on DailyKos, not only was the film shown on Cuban National Television, but widely supported in Cuba. The cable referenced actually documents a ploy by the state department to smear the film… as it exposed the US Medical System for the greed, life-sucing machine that it was.

    More here:!-SiCKO-Was-Not-Banned-in-Cuba

    Moore mentions that several right wing outlets published this “story” without checking the facts, and that “even BoingBoing and The Nation” did so.

    BoingBoing needs to issue a retraction or clarification, and pronto.

  26. Most states are basically subsidized partially by California.

    California is a net contributor of taxes to the Federal government to the tune of $50 billion/year. If we could recoup that, we’d have more than balanced our budget years ago.

    Of course if this happened, those other states would start facing budget deficits. So let’s not pretend like we’re comparing apples to apples here.

    1. Most states are basically subsidized partially by California.

      There was a good article on that somewhere a few months back and I absolutely can’t find it.

  27. Xeni, you should have added more than “Michael Moore responds here”, since he has completely demolished the story. Clearly if the Cuban government put the film on state television for the whole country to see, they did not ban it.

  28. Agree with #50 Joe. Moore demolishes the story and shows that “Sicko” was NOT banned in Cuba, it was shown on TV! Xeni, I believe you should change the title of the post to reflect that fact.


    “Phony diplomacy: How the State Department lied about “Sicko” and Cuba

  29. Once more for the dummies: that diplomats make claims in their cables to State is not evidence of the truth of those claims, it is evidence that the claims were made. Which isn’t entirely useless information but must never be confused with verification of the facts claimed. Here in Oz we were most amused when local media started squawking that the US cables had verified their depiction of the previous PM as a control freak, while failing to notice – while reporting it! – the detail that the diplomats were relying on those very same media depictions for evidence of the claim. The incoming cables aren’t proof of anything: they’re media-clippings and scuttlebutt. Like Chalmers Johnson said about NIEs: they’re probably only secret because they don’t want people to notice this is the best they can do.

    The important info is what we can learn from them about the orders going the other way, and they also reveal the doctrinal limits on expressible thought within State: e.g. according to the relevant cables, US diplomats are under the false impression it was Hamas, rather than Israel, that broke the ceasefire prior to Operation Cast Lead.

  30. Anyone suspicious about the fact that an official cable misleads the own administration with false information that can be double-checked on the Internet very easily? This is no coincidence or exception I d say.
    Until now, the basic premise has been that the cables reveal the truth of the political world, ‘as it really is’.
    I wonder if there has been a ‘management’ of deliberate misinformation that fuels specific cables for strategic purposes (knowing that rather many employees have had access to the cables prior to public exposure)?
    And what is the rationale or method of finding out the political/motivational background of these specific cables?

  31. Wow, Cuba really wants us to believe that Moore’s film was *not* banned… Very interesting. It’s pretty obvious you can’t trust a thing Moore says – yet there are a few people here who seem to believe everything the man says. Interesting and scary.

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