Japanese-American Doctor’s First Visit to Cuba

By Dr. Kazuko Tatsumura Hillyer.

Havana, Cuba. I consider myself such a lucky person. At almost 75, I have visited over 140 countries on all continents, and I have lived in the U.S. for over 50 years. My impresario and cultural exchange work took me to many countries in the world. During the Cold War, I visited almost all of the communist countries – except for Cuba and North Korea. Finally, I am in Havana, making up for lost time.

Teaching Onnetsu Therapy to my international colleagues in Cuba.  Photo courtesy Dr. Kazuko

It seems that my luck continues. Cuban health authorities invited me to speak at a conference. I had the opportunity to visit Havana and work with over 100 doctors, acupuncturists and other health care professionals. It was my first visit to Cuba. I had butterflies in my stomach… I admit that my knowledge about Cuba was practically nil, and I am ashamed to say that I had no time to read and study ahead of time.

The week before I arrived here was particularly busy. I had traveled to Lima, Peru for the work I started last year with incurable tuberculosis patients who did not respond to their current medical therapy. I am extremely honored that the Peruvian authorities decided to make case studies of tuberculosis therapy. An important friend named Ferdinando Pisani and I flew from Lima to Havana via Panama City.

Americans are not allowed to travel to Cuba and vice versa. As our plane flew rather low into Havana, I saw Guantánamo Bay, the U.S. detention center. Upon arrival, we took a taxi to a private house in an excellent neighborhood. It was a Russian lady’s house. Throughout Cuba, there are such houses licensed to accommodate tourists. We stayed in her house for three days. Then we explored other accommodations to acquaint ourselves with other Cubans.

Train station in Havana with horse taxi in front. Photo by Dr. Kazuko.

The currency system in Cuba is like other communist countries I visited in the past. But it was a little different from the old European communist system. In the former Soviet Union, for example, one U.S. dollar was officially exchanged into one ruble, but many different rates existed using the same ruble. There were many black market exchanges. I remember when I was in St. Petersburg – then Leningrad – on the day of Gorbachev’s revolution. In the middle of that day, all of a sudden, the exchange rate jumped from one dollar to one ruble, to two hundred rubles to the dollar!

In Cuba, the exchange is one peso to one dollar, but there exists two totally different currencies: one for local Cubans, and the other for foreigners called CUC (the convertible peso). At rooming houses, restaurants or stores, foreigners must pay with CUC pesos. Prices of most of the goods are fixed. A room was always 30 pesos in Havana and 25 in other towns. Breakfast was always 5 pesos. The CUC peso is worth 25 times more than the local peso. This means locals can pay 25 times less for everything. Cubans who receive CUC pesos, in the case of a room rental for example, have to take our passport and money to the police authority the next day. Having U.S. currency is not advantageous here, so I brought Euros instead. U.S. credit cards are simply not accepted.

My health conference here has been very well attended. About 100 doctors, physicists and other scientists showed up and were enthusiastic to hear what I had to say. I never had such an eager and knowledgeable audience. Their questions have been marvelous. My Onnetsu Therapy demonstrations on illnesses, such as asthma, arthritis, fibromyalgia, and even cancer have turned out to be 100percent successful. The audience has been very surprised by my presentations, and each day more people have come to study with me.

One of many old cars beautifully preserved. Photo by Dr. Kazuko.

Humans have always had the urge to excel and succeed. This is human nature from the beginning of human history. In capitalist societies, this often turns into eagerness for financial success, political power or the desire for fame and influence.

In Cuba, since profit making is not a possible motivation underlying the drive to excel, I have come to understand that people have a different focus. Cubans want to excel in their field. This is why they have fabulous MDs, dancers and athletes. I had no idea that Cuba received 14 Olympic medals in London—this is a remarkable accomplishment for such a tiny country with a population of only 1.2 million. Viewed from a medal to population ratio, Cuba placed 17th in the world, compared to 49th for the U.S. and 50th for Japan.

I attended a performance of the Alicia Alonso Ballet Company here, consisting of mostly young dancers. They were absolutely superb, and they had especially talented male dancers. They would all be stars in any U.S. company – I should know, as I was an impresario for 25 years, importing and exporting excellent artists to and from all over the world. It had been my dream to bring the Alicia Alonso Cuban Ballet Company to the West. Of course, 30 years ago, it was impossible to persuade the U.S. State Department to approve such a project. Alicia Alonso was a blind dancer, and in Cuba she created the world’s greatest ballet company. The tradition still is alive in Havana, and what I saw was an excellent company.

With some of doctors who studied with me. Photo courtesy Dr. Kazuko.

Based on my past experiences, the most striking difference between Cuba and other communist countries is that Cubans are seemingly unafraid. Even meeting foreigners was difficult for the inhabitants of other communist countries. But Cubans seem to have no fear of engaging foreigners. In fact, they are eager to talk with me. Of course, if we say anything against the current regime, there may be trouble. But generally, people seem to talk freely about any subject. No one, as far as I see, thinks Mr. Castro is a dictator but rather his or her wonderful leader.

It seems that there is not as much suppression of free speech or human rights here, as I heard about in the U.S. The level of suppression is not close to the high levels I remember in other communist countries. The Communist political slogans on the streets or highways with huge billboards are absent in Cuba. I have seen a poster of Che Guevara occasionally but no huge pictures of Fidel Castro in stores, restaurants, offices or parks.

It has been rather refreshing to drive on the highways of Havana and outskirt of the city without seeing billboards advertising something. One can hardly drive 100 meters without being bombarded by billboard advertisements in the U.S. or by political slogans in other communist countries. There are few posters in Havana clouding one’s eyes.

The people I am meeting here are very nice, kind and compassionate, so appreciative of everything. They are fun loving, always dancing and making music. They seem humble and lacking in obvious greed. It seems there are no starving poor people. Sick people seem to get the care they need. Basically, it appears to me that Cuban society does not neglect its citizens. Although they do appreciate Western souvenirs, they are not very hungry for them as in other poor or communist countries, as I remember.

Street dancing and music outside. Photo by Dr. Kazuko.

Americans tend to have a lot of unnecessary goods. Clever advertising entices American consumers to acquire unnecessary material things. Cubans drive around in old cars – that still move. They carry old briefcases that they can still use. You can say, “That’s because they do not know better.” But are they less happy? I don’t think so. I think we in the U.S. are more unhappy because of our constant wish to have more and more.

I invited a few people to dinner, but it seems that they feel it is unnecessary. Maybe it does not make them any happier to go to a fancy restaurant meant for foreigners. They have good food at home. I met one nutritionist who told us that almost all Cuban produce are organic, except potatoes. The consumption of potatoes is very high here, much more than they can produce organically.

Someone told us about hot springs in the outskirts of Havana. You know me. As any Japanese person, I am crazy about hot springs (on-sen) for their health merits and spa pleasure. We decided to go looking for them and found them in two locations!

Hot spring water running  endlessly. Photo by Dr. Kazuko.

Both hot springs once had fancy spas, health facilities, hospitals and hotels in the past. These facilities were partly shut down and run-down. But beautiful hot water was there. I dream there will be a beautiful Japanese hot spring spa here one day with excellent hospitals, super doctors and nurses, healing cancer and other difficult diseases in a holistic way –coexisting with high-quality Western medicine.

In the medical field, Cuba enjoys a very good reputation. There are many Cuban doctors active all over the world, especially in South American countries. I hear there are more than 30,000 in Venezuela alone. Many Cuban doctors are helping and teaching throughout South America, Africa and the Near East. Even in Europe, I was told that Cuban doctors are considered superior. Also, Cuba’s education system is admirable. There is no illiteracy.

Breakfast in old, beautiful home. Photo by Dr. Kazuko.

Extreme capitalism negatively impacts health care in the West. Too much greed creates failures in our system, which focuses on making a profit at every step. Pharmaceutical companies develop new medicines not for the sake of improving the health of people in need but for the sake of profit. Researchers come up with new medicines, often with incredibly bad side effects, that patients depend on to live.

Meanwhile, patients are not getting better. These drugs often just eliminate their symptoms. Respect for the human power of self-healing is just about gone. Sadly, our medical field believes that only pills can heal. Our medical costs keep going up and up and insurance keeps going up. Why can’t we wake up and see different ways to take care of our health, such as exploring holistic methods that first respects our own healing power and natural immunity system? Maybe we have to give up making money somewhat. In the name of “helping the sick,” we create a huge business for making money.

I think at least today things are different in Cuba because they do not have such financial greed in their health care system. Cuba is not infected by pharmaceutical giants and money machines. With its incredibly high standard of medicine, Cuba could conceivably lead the world. We can make this happen in Cuba. Cuba can become the world’s leading center of holistic healing.

Old car with famous scientist and physician. Photo by Dr. Kazuko.

Last night was my last for this first visit to Cuba. I was at a very nice house of a distinguished family, and gave Onnetsu therapies to a number of influential people. We were invited to a dinner. It was very pleasant. I have come to admire deeply Cuba as a nation and a people. Americans do not know the truth about today’s Cuba. I pledge to do what I can to assist Cuba in its embrace of holistic health care. I yearn for my next trip already. I leave as I came, with deep gratitude and compassion.

Dr. Kazuko Tatsumura kazuko@gaiaholistic.com

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The Stewardship Report on Connecting Goodness is the communications platform of The James Jay Dudley Luce Foundation (www.lucefoundation.org). There are now more than 100 contributors around the world to this publication.

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