14ymedio Faces of 2018: Doctors Repatriated from Brazil by the Cuban Government

The doctors arrived home from Brazil afterCuba broke with the Mais Médicos program. (Granma / Juvenal Balán)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 28 December 2018 — At the center of an intense political dispute in recent weeks have been the 8,471 Cuban doctors who served in the Mais Médicos (More Doctors) program in Brazil. Since the Brazil’s newly-elected president, Jair Bolsonaro, demanded new conditions for their stay in the South American country, the accusations between Havana and Brasilia have risen in tone.

For five years Cuban doctors worked in Brazil through an agreement signed between Havana, the government led by then Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff, and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).  Approximately 20,000 of these collaborators, deployed in 3,600 municipalities, passed through the country before the electoral victory of the right-wing Bolsonaro last October.

Bolsonaro demanded that the Cuban doctors must undergo tests to measure their knowledge, and in addition must be given the right to have their families with them in Brazil, as well as to receive their full salary, of which they were only paid 30% with the rest going to the Cuban government. The rightist called the doctors “slaves” of a “dictatorship,” and also questioned their qualifications.

In response, Cuban authorities ordered the withdrawal of their doctors on November 14, of which about 90% returned to the island, some 7,635, according to official figures. The rest decided to stay in Brazil and will not be able to enter the Island for eight years, the penalty imposed by the Cuban Government on those it calls “deserters.”

Some families of doctors who did not return to Cuba have denounced acts of discrimination against them by official organizations. Last November, a group of them who escaped to the United States sued PAHO, alleging that the entity benefited from what they consider a forced labor scheme.

The end of the Cuban participation in Mais Médicos is contributing to the gloomy forecasts facing the national economy. In the midst of Cuba’s liquidity crisis, the country will stop receiving about 300 million dollars a year that came through this program.

From a multiplicity of specialties, ranging from Comprehensive General Medicine, through pediatrics to cardiology, thousands of physicians depart from all over Cuba, after going through a strict selection process in which they assessed for their labor skills but also their ideological affiliation to official organizations, such as the Communist Party and the Young Communists Union.

On their return to the Island the Government has the obligation to place each of these doctors in a workplace and to give them access to the money from their salaries, in Cuban pesos, that was deposited in their bank accounts in Cuba while they served abroad. Each doctor also receives a magnetic card with which they can buy, at preferential prices, some merchandise in hard currency stores.

 See also: 14ymedio Faces of 2018


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