The rich tourists whose luxury yachts once crowded the idyllic Marina
Hemingway complex on the outskirts of the Cuban capital are shocked to find
all Havana's hotel rooms fully booked until mid-2006. More than a dozen hotels
have been temporarily closed to tourists to make way for a different kind of
visitor. Most of them arrive nearly blind; but all will be able to see perfectly
before they leave.
A remarkable humanitarian programme is under way here, which aims to restore
the sight of six million people through free eye surgery. Launched in July by
the 79-year-old Cuban President, Fidel Castro, and Venezuela's Socialist leader,
President Hugo Chavez, Operation Miracle has brought daily planeloads of the
poor from across Latin America and the Caribbean to Havana for surgery. Cuba
provides the medical skills, Venezuela the petro-dollars.
People suffering from cataracts and other eye conditions that can be quickly remedied
Cuba's comprehensive, free healthcare system has a ratio of one doctor
for every 170 Cubans, compared with 188 in the US and 250 in the UK.