Reports refuted by Beijing and Havana have appeared in the US media since Chinese President Jiang Zemin's visit to Cuba in April. "For over 30 years, Cuba has not imported any weapon from China," Cuban President Fidel Castro said on Tuesday night on a special program broadcast by Cuba's state-monopolized TV. Sun Yuxi, spokesman for China's ministry of Foreign Relations, had already stated that reports claiming his country was selling arms to Cuba were totally unfounded.
Citing a US intelligence report, the Washington Times reported on June 12 that at least three boats carrying explosives and other weapons had been traced from China to the Cuban port of Mariel in the past few months. According to the newspaper, China was taking advantage of Cuba's proximity to the United States to carry out electronic espionage to intercept US communications.
The government of President George W Bush is "very much concerned with this PLA [People's Liberation Army] cooperation [with Cuba] and movement of military equipment into Cuba", James Kelly, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said at a subcommittee hearing in the US House of Representatives.***
Alfredo Pena, mayor of metropolitan Caracas, is a fierce government opponent, who ironically depends for his financial resources on the central government. Caracas health officials say their budget has been cut by over 50 percent, with the result that their already over-burdened clinics are facing collapse. They suggest that this may be part of a plan to shift resources to the Cuban cooperation project.
Adding to the controversy are accusations that the Cubans are neither qualified to practice medicine nor familiar with modern pharmacology or treatment methods. There have been claims by Venezuelan doctors of serious malpractice that allegedly placed patients' lives in danger.
The Cuban personnel have not been required to validate their qualifications in Venezuela, and according to the president of the Venezuelan Medical Federation, Douglas Leon Natera, they are operating illegally.
President Chavez dedicated most of his regular Sunday radio and television show to denying these allegations. He added that the plan was to bring in a thousand Cuban doctors in all.***