Political leaders are not usually camera shy, so it was a surprise when President Ricardo Martinelli made an “under the wraps” trip on the presidential jet, to Cuba, for a “private” visit with Cuban leader Raoul Castro.
The visit was not reported by the President's Office in Panama. Relations between the two countries became strained after Martinelli decided not to renew a medical agreement with Cuba, an arrangement that helped thousands of underpriveleged Panamanians and had been signed by his predecessor Martín Torrijos.
The Cuban newspaper Granma, ran a front page story on the visit on Saturday, August 14 and said that the two leaders discussed bilateral relations.
The program that Martinelli cancelled had brought eye doctors to Panama from Cuba, and in three years had provided no-cost care for almost 45,000 people, many of whom were flown to Cuba for eye surgery.
Recently the Ministry of Health complained of a shortage of doctors in Panama at a time when a major hospital construction campaign is about to begin. The Health Minister said that that would be looking out of the country for doctors. Because of the relatively low incomes, compared to the U.S. it seems unlikely that there would be a flow from the north. But Cuba has an enviable record in providing health services at home and in other countries in the region.
Perhaps a U-turn for the president or just a birthday visit . By coincidence, his arrival coincided with the 84th birthday of Fidel Castro.