A Bubble in Fatigues

The government is doing its best to ensure the military have fine health care. So how long will it be before the crisis reaches them too?

Air-conditioned rooms with satellite TVs, private bathrooms and a well organized, computer-based record keeping system, all carefully guarded by a small group of nurses in olive-green uniforms. A doctor with military badges on her coat stands beneath countless portraits of Chávez and Maduro on the walls.

That’s Mérida’s Hospital Military Ward, a sharp contrast with the overcrowded rooms across the rest of the building, where five patients must share a single bathroom with the sole distraction of Maduro’s voice on state TV.

Military Hospitals and Military Wards are health centers independent from the Health Ministry, managed by the Defense Minister through its General Direction of Health. Contrary to what you’d expect, these institutions aren’t meant for war-injured soldiers; they have pediatrics, internal medicine and obstetric services, to help officers and their families. They date back to 1931, but their role during the Revolution has changed.

Last Friday, while speaking on national TV, Nicolás Maduro inaugurated the new Military Academy of Medicine building, one of the seven academies of the Military Bolivarian University of Venezuela, meant to train doctors for the Armed Forces. Although the Academy officially exists since August 2014, it functioned in the upper floors of the Carlos Arvelo Military Hospital, in Caracas. Students will now go to the new building in Fuerte Tiuna.

In his speech, Maduro assured that Venezuela will finally have “medics with ethics and human values”, because those of us taught by Universidad de los Andes since 1805, or by Universidad Central de Venezuela since 1827, are a bunch of unethical monsters.

Could this be a last shot to guarantee soldiers a better healthcare than that of everyone else?

The institution offers its almost 500 students housing, food, clothing, transport and even laundry, a tempting offer in times of sky-high inflation, and pretty much all the services autonomous universities have been forced to halt in different degrees, after their budgets got crippled, increasing the dropout rates around the country.

Entry requirements for the Military Academy aren’t that different to those in Venezuelan universities (some conditions, like a minimum height, are mandatory). The Academy also requires its students to “renounce any political militancy, to comply with the norms stated by the Constitution to be part of the Armed Forces”; a funny thing to ask of a university whose motto is “Chávez vive, la patria sigue.

But the really interesting part of Maduro’s speech was when he mentioned the thousands of Integral Community Medics (MICs, for its Spanish acronym) graduating every year from government-aligned universities. The President hopes that the Military Academy provides more, although cadets of the Military Academy have an entirely different pensum from that of MIC’s (consistently deemed as deficient). The Military program is very similar to the one I’ve been studying in ULA, if you ignore subjects like Basics of War and Protracted People’s War. Tellingly, graduated officers (who, according to the Academy itself, are expected to provide health services to military officers and their families) will be recognised as Médicos Cirujanos Militares (Military MDs), not MICs.

It’s like MICs are good enough to treat peasants, but insufficient for the military elite.

With thousands of Venezuelan doctors fleeing the country, and MICs slowly taking their place, could this be a last shot to guarantee soldiers a better healthcare than that of everyone else?

One thing is clear: The crisis is unavoidable and it will reach the military too.