14ymedio, Mario J. Pentón / Luz Escobar, Miami / Havana, 29 January 2019 — Kept quartered in some states and working in others, the thousands of doctors that the Cuban government maintains in Venezuela await the outcome of the conflict between the president-in-charge Juan Guaidó and ruler Nicolás Maduro, without evacuation plans.
“Since Guaidó assumed office as president, they told us that we should continue working as if nothing was happening. We are scared because nobody is guaranteeing our security and the situation is deteriorating rapidly,” says a Cuban professional, who, like the rest of her colleagues, is prohibited from speaking with the press.
Several doctors who spoke with this newspaper under condition of anonymity said they were afraid of finding themselves in the middle of a crossfire if tensions lead to a civil war. “The Venezuelan army is waiting for an invasion from the United States and the criminal gangs move with total freedom,” said a general medicine specialist in Tachira who was speaking by telephone.
“In the state of Bolívar, they looted a CDI [Comprehensive Diagnostic Center] and they took all the medical equipment.” In other offices, doctors have been forced to provide emergency services to criminals and motorizados* [Chavista paramilitaries], illustrated a third doctor .
In Caracas and some other cities the doctors were ordered to remain “quartered” while the the protests last in the country. The entire mission is strictly forbidden from going out on the streets after 4:00pm and thay have been asked to limit their contact with the opposition.
Cuba maintains a contingent of 21,700 health professionals in Venezuela which will be joined in the coming days by another 2,000 doctors that Havana had taken out of Brazil after the electoral victory of Jair Bolsonaro. In return, Venezuela subsidizes the oil it sends to the Island, which has been reduced to 30,000** barrels per day, according to Reuters, although other sources say it is 40,000. In addition to the doctors, Cuba has thousands of teachers, technicians, military advisers, electricians and construction workers in Venezuela.
The work of the doctors provides the Island with more than 10 billion dollars annually, according to official figures. Several countries have denounced this work as “slave labor”. The US Senate has asked the State Department to reactivate a special program to grant Parole (refugee status) to doctors fleeing missions while in Spain the Popular Party (opposition) urges the Socialist government of Pedro Sanchez to grant political asylum to Cuban doctor “deserters”.
On Friday, those responsible for the medical mission in Venezuela asked the coordinators to carry out “special mornings” to demand from the doctors “discipline and firmness” in the current situation, as was made known to this newspaper by three sources. In addition, courses of “reflection and debate” were held to discuss the situation in the country.
“They have kept some of the doctors quartered in the capital for fear of reprisals. Thus far they have not informed us of a plan to withdraw if Maduro leaves power,” said one doctor, who also recalled that Cuba had maintained all their staff in Venezuela even during “the coup against Chávez in 2002”.
The interim president of Venezuela, Juan Guaidó, said on Friday that Cubans “are welcome” in the country,” but demanded that they end their interference in “the armed forces and decision-making positions.”
On the island, relatives and friends of the Cuban professionals say they are worried because they have no information about what is happening in Venezuela.
“The only thing we know is what is seen in Telesur and what is said on Cuban television, that there is an attempted coup d’état and that the collaborators are doing fine,” said Joanna, daughter of a “collaborator”, via telephone from eastern Cuba.
Doctors in Venezuela also lack information about what is happening in the country.
“The internet is lousy, extremely slow, in the mission we are only allowed to view Telesur and the newscasts from Cuba. I have bought few things, in case we have to flee, but until now we have not been informed of any contingency plan” explains one of the doctors interviewed in the state of Carabobo.
*”Moto” (from motor[cycle]) is a word for a motorbike or motorcycle; “motorizado” (“motorized”) is a reference to the paramilitaries who ride them.
**Down from a previous 100,000 barrels
Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria
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