14ymedio, Mario J. Pentón, Havana, 13 July 2018 — After the robbery of 152,000 dollars (a figure later reduced to 16,000 by the police) Cuban doctors in Venezuela have come to be seen as privileged due to their access to the green bills in contrast to the unfortunate situation of the local population. Several physicians consulted by this newspaper fear that the media exposure will make them targets of criminal gangs, although, according to them, the standard of living of a Cuban health professional in Venezuela leaves much to be desired.
“They give us a million bolivars a month, that’s the stipend, but it’s not enough,” explains a doctor who, like the rest, is strictly forbidden to talk to the press. Some doctors assume that the stipend will be as much as three million after the minimum wage increases, but so far no action has been taken in this regard.
In the black market, which regulates street trade, the price of the dollar is over 3.4 million bolivars. All Cuban personnel, technicians, nurses and doctors receive the same stipend.
The Venezuelan Government guarantees them a home where they live with other “internationalists,” as well as a bag of food, and Cuba pays for their plane tickets to return on vacation to the island.
“We are not to blame for what is happening in Venezuela, the Government of this country has not been able to control the situation,” says this doctor, who has sometimes felt “despised” by his patients. “I prefer the Cuba of the Special Period to the Venezuela of Nicolás Maduro,” he says.
To buy toiletries and food, the professional brought money with him from Cuba. “When it’s all gone and I have nothing left, I send for more,” he says. On the island, the government keeps his salary and also deposits an amount in convertible pesos in a frozen account that he loses if he leaves the mission or he is sanctioned.
Among the prohibitions whose violation could mean returning to Cuba are being absent from work, talking to the foreign press about the medical mission or trying to escape to Colombia or any neighboring country. The doctor says that it has not crossed his mind because he fears he would not see his family on the island again. “They would punish me by forbidding me to enter Cuba for eight years, I can not stay away from my family that long,” he says.
The Cuban Government participates in medical missions in exchange for obtaining oil from Venezuela. Caracas sends some 55,000 barrels of oil a day to the island, which represents 1.5 billion dollars a year, a surprisingly high figure for a country sunk in a severe humanitarian crisis. The government maintains that it receives more than 11.5 billion dollars annually for the professional services it provides to countries all over the world, a figure questioned by independent economists.
Personal security is among the greatest concerns for Cuban doctors who provide services in Venezuela. Although the Special Action Forces of the police arrested the thieves, some Cubans consulted by this newspaper say that most of the time this is not the case.
“Many have been assaulted and some have died here, but nothing is said because the policy of the medical mission is total discretion, they tell us that it will become a political problem if we report these cases and they can punish us by terminating our mission,” says a doctor who works in eastern Venezuela.
The doctor also states that she has been the victim of harassment by the mission heads. “Sometimes I have had to face the machismo of the bosses, they believe that because we come alone to work we have to serve them as maids and as women in their beds,” she complains.
Most cases of abuse, according to this doctor, go unpunished, silenced by the secrecy surrounding the mission.
The doctor is concerned about the deteriorating situation in the country. “They have asked us to bear up until the end, but that end never comes and things get worse every day,” she explains.
Venezuela is experiencing a hyperinflationary process that has left its currency worthless. The economy of the country contracted the first quarter of this year by 12% according to the calculations of the opposition National Assembly. Oil production, the main export item in the country, has plummeted and reached 1.5 million barrels per day in June, the lowest figure in 70 years. Added to this is the widespread violence that has claimed the lives of more than 280,000 people since Chavismo came to power in 1999.
“Cuban professionals here are in a situation of war in a country that is crumbling to pieces and without any protection,” she laments.
Several doctors have sent messages to the heads of mission asking for better wages and protection, always under the slogan “everything for the Revolution” so as not to be branded as counterrevolutionaries, explains a third professional who works in Zulia.
“If our relatives in Cuba or our colleagues knew the things that we have to go through in this shitty country nobody would come,” says the doctor. But the official media of the Island censors the negative news about the missions abroad.
The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.