ANTIGUA, Guatemala — Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is visiting Guatemala to perform pro bono eye surgeries, a trip his political advisers are saying is strictly charity work but offers an important platform for the Kentucky Republican at the epicenter of the border crisis.
“It is an honor for me to be able to use my skills as an ophthalmologist to give back to the community,” Paul told Breitbart News. “I am thrilled to join a team of ophthalmologists in Guatemala to perform life changing and sight-restoring surgeries.”
While many details of the trip are temporarily withheld for security reasons, Paul’s trip is being run by the Moran Eye Center from the University of Utah. It’s funded by charity–no taxpayer dollars will be used for Paul’s mission. Spokesman Sergio Gor told Breitbart News he’ll be meeting with several patients of his from who can now see after Paul performed surgery on them when they were younger.
The team of doctors is expected to perform around 300 surgeries, Gor said, over the course of several days in Guatemala.
While Paul isn’t pushing a political angle, thousands of unaccompanied children are currently traveling illegally from Guatemala to the U.S., and the nation has hosted several key delegations of American lawmakers in recent weeks.
The pro bono work also gives Paul a chance to offer an apolitical perspective of himself to voters headed into what’s expected to be a brutal battle for the GOP nomination in 2016.
Paul’s trip allows him to say he supports private charity that isn’t funded by the government, and that he wants to help the people in Central America who are legitimately struggling. But he doesn’t want to do so through encouraging U.S. government intervention, or illegal immigration to the U.S.
But Paul’s team is adamant the trip is apolitical. When Paul’s hometown paper, the Lexington Herald-Leader, asked him what the political ramifications were for the trip, Paul replied that he “doesn’t know.”
“It’s just something I kind of miss in my life, and I want to be able to give back,” Paul told the local paper.
The circumstances make it a key political opportunity.
“They won’t see him attached to just the ideological or partisan policy debates that take place in Washington,” veteran GOP consultant Kevin Madden told the Kentucky newspaper. “He can step out of that and let people see him through a different lens, that of a doctor helping people.”
While the vast majority of Guatemala’s population suffers from harsh economic conditions, there is a sliver at the top in Guatemala–the “one percent,” or the elites–who are doing more than fine. The disparity between the rich and the poor in this country goes back centuries.
“This unequal pattern dates back to the colonial era when the Spanish crown granted large extensions of land to colonizers,” the World Bank wrote.
The income disparity here seems more up-and-down and all over the place when it comes from one person to another than the geography of the nation. In between Guatemala’s two coasts are mountains, valleys, volcanoes and ruins, and laced throughout the peaks and hollows is what appears to the naked eye as a developed nation.
While landing at Guatemala City international airport, one can’t help but notice the hundreds, maybe thousands, of residences for inner city families below as the plane gets lower and lower–row upon row of rusted tin roofs lining dusty dirt roads, conditions Americans wouldn’t let happen on U.S. soil. But drive around the nation’s capital city for a while, and you’ll find luxurious casinos, Chuck E. Cheese pizza parlors with video games for kids, brand new McDonald’s and Burger King locations shinier than American counterparts, Shell gas stations, booming supermarkets, big box electronic stores, and billboards pushing the cutting edge of culture–so sharp that if the language weren’t in Spanish, Guatemala City would feel a lot like Los Angeles, California.
Paul raised tens of thousands of dollars through various donors, including real estate magnate Donald Trump, to help cover the Moran Eye Center’s trip costs.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to bring attention to the global burden of blindness, because I don’t think people really realize how much of it is out there and how much of it is preventable and curable,” Michael Yei, the Moran Eye Center’s outreach manager, told the Lexington Herald-Leader.