Countries Seeking Cuban Doctors Must Insist the Government Reforms Its ‘Orwellian’ System

A special envoy of Cuban doctors arrives at the Aimé Césaire International Airport, Martinique. (Twitter/@CTM_Martinique)

14ymedio biggerEuropa Press/14ymedio, Madrid, 23 July 2020 — Last Thursday, Human Rights Watch issued a reminder that “countries receiving Cuban doctors have a duty to protect the human rights of all people within their territories, including those of Cuban health workers”. For that reason, they “must ensure that any agreements reached with the Cuban government include effective guarantees for the rights of workers”.

In personal communication, the director of HRW for the Americas, José Miguel Vivanco, stated that “governments interested in receiving the help of Cuban doctors must insist that the Cuban government reforms its Orwellian system, which dictates with whom the doctors are allowed to live, speak with, or even establish an amorous relationship”.

The head of the NGO has warned that should this not occur, “governments that accept Cuban assistance that comes with absusive labor conditions imposed by La Habana, could be considered accomplices to serious human rights violations”. continue reading

“No one is surprised that the Cuban regime is not willing to respect the rights of its health workers, but other governments should refuse to contribute to this exploitation,” Vivanco demanded.

The organization has condemned the “draconian measures” imposed by the Cuban government on its health workers, which includes those health professionals who have travelled to other countries to assist in the fight against the Coronavirus pandemic.

The first special envoy of Cuban doctors was sent to Algeria in 1963; since then, they have spread across the world. At present, there are an estimated 30,000 Cuban doctors stationed abroad, to which a further 1,500 have been added in various countries in Europe, Africa and South America during the fight against COVID-19,  according to the figures published by HRW.

“The Cuban doctors sent in response to the pandemic offer vital assistance to numerous communities, but at the cost of their most basic freedoms”, Vivanco went on to criticise.

The NGO insists that “Cuba has designed repressive laws that dictate the lives of those they send abroad”, laws which “severely limit freedom of expression, association and movement, as well as the privacy of health workers”.

Enacted in 2010 by the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Investment, “Resolution 168” would subsequently limit the right of freedom of association by defining as an offence “the establishing of friendships or any other type of relationship” with anyone “whose behaviour does not conform to the values and principles of Cuban society”, and especially those who hold “hostile or inimical views towards the Cuban Revolution”.

Furthermore, the resolution “limits the freedom of circulation”, because it also defines as an offence “the visiting of places which negatively affect the prestige (of the doctor) in the eyes of the public” or “places that, given their nature, pose a threat to public order”. “Health workers must also obtain ’authorization’ to ’take part in public events of a political or social character’”, the NGO explained.

HRW has indicated that “the freedom of expression of Cuban health workers is also severely limited”, since “they need ’direct orders and authorization’ to ’provide commentary’ to the press regarding ’internal matters within the workplace’ or which ’undermine Cuban assistance’ in the country. Likewise, “it is considered an offence to ’disseminate or propagate opinions or rumours which are to the detriment or the collective morale or prestige of any member of the group’”.

Cuban legislation also “significantly limits the right of the doctors and other Cubans to leave the country”. To that end, “health workers that form a part of the special envoys receive so-called ’official passports’ that are only valid for the duration of the mission. Upon their return to Cuba, authorities are able to prevent them from leaving the country for up to 5 years if it deems them to be workers who “provide services that are essential to the economic, social and scientific-technical development of the country”.

“The prospective sanctions for those who commit disciplinary offences range from the withholding of salaries to expulsion from the special envoy itself and a return to Cuba”, the two most commonly employed disciplinary measures, HRW went on to remark.

However, there is also the possibility of criminal proceedings for health workers who “abandon” the envoy, an act punishable by up to 8 years in prison or exile from the island for the same amount of time. Both penalties are established in Cuba’s immigration laws for those who it determines as “undesirable”.

Human Rights Watch issued a reminder that in November of 2019, a group of special rapporteurs from the United Nations investigated the predicament of workers participating in the Cuban medical envoys. Following the “first-hand” data they received regarding working conditions, the group warned that “it could constitute forced labor”.

Translated by: Andy Barton


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More Than Half of Cuban Households Live Below the Poverty Line, Human Rights Group Reports

8.1% of Cubans do not have drinking water service.

Europa Press (via 14ymedio), Madrid | October 22, 2019 — More than half of households in Cuba live below the poverty line, according to a report by the Cuban Observatory of Human Rights (OCDH) that shows the incapacity of a wide majority of households to live in a dignified manner and with access to basic services like water and electricity.

The study concludes that 55.4% of households make less than $100 per month in a country where the minimum wage is barely $16. One out of every four families earns between $50 and $100, while a little more than 12% don’t make even 20 euros, according to the Observatory of Social Rights, which does not take into account funds from remittances.

Only 11% believe that the money they have is enough to live in dignity, as 45.6% believe that they can get ahead with limitations, and 43.2% label the funds they earn as “insufficient.” Despite that, three out of every four households receive no type of assistance, while 13% have help from the State and 7% from some NGO. continue reading

The Obervatory has questioned the regime’s official statistics regarding the employment level, given that only 21.5% of those interviewed said they work full-time and 23.2% have a part-time job.

Of those surveyed, 22% admitted that they have inadequate food and 38.4% consider it repetitive — the diet is based on rice, bread, and beans, while beef and fish are scarce. A third of the population eats two times or fewer per day, says the report, composed from 1,082 cases in 11 of the Island’s 16 provinces.

When it comes to medical attention, more than four out of ten people who recently needed some medication were unable to get it. In this sense, only 18.6% of Cubans find the medicines they need in the Cuban health system.

The report also examines the state of basic provisions and determines that almost 70% of Cubans do not have a permanent water supply: 32% have water between four and five days a week and 28% have it fewer than three days, and 8.1% do not have any drinking water service.

The Observatory has denounced the general living situation in Cuba, where approximately half of the houses need repair work, with 7.6% of the buildings at risk of collapse. Only one out of four houses remains in good condition.

The deficiencies also extend to the electricity supply, unavailable in an uninterrupted form for 80% of the population. Six out of ten citizens affirm that they have suffered up to ten power cuts in recent months, while 18.8% have suffered more than ten.

The executive director of OCDH, Alejandro González Raga, emphasized during the presentation of the study that “it is evidence of the reality that Cuba is experiencing… Not the reality that the Government says, but what Cubans say,” he stressed.

The report, the first of this type published by the Observatory, was compiled from personal interviews carried out between August 15 and September 8 of 2019 and has a margin of error of 3% and a confidence level of 95%.

Translated by: Sheilagh Herrera