"Deserter" Doctors Call a Demonstration Against Ban on Returning to Cuba

Cuban doctors in Colombia. (File EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 11 May 2018 — Two associations of health professionals from Cuba have called a demonstration for Saturday to be held in different cities around the world to demand that the Cuban government allow them to return to the island to visit their relatives. The organizers of the marches will protest against the ban on their returning to Cuba for eight years, which has been imposed by Havana on those who left medical missions abroad without permission.

“We want our demonstration to coincide with the celebration of Mothers Day so that the world can see how unfair it is that regime does not allow us to return to our own country to embrace our relatives,” the Cuban doctor Paloma Nora, now living in South Florida, explains by phone.

The Association of Free Cuban Residents in Brazil and #NoSomosDesertores #SomosCubanosLibres (We Are Not Deserters, We Are Free Cubans), whose members include thousands of Cuban doctors, have decided to hold this demonstration to put pressure on the new Cuban government to eliminate the regulation.

Cuba continues to deploy its medical personnel in 62 countries and does not provide data on the number of health professionals outside its borders, although in 2015 the number exceeded 50,000, according to the official press.

The most recent statistics, published on the Cubadebate site, reported that the export of services is the largest contributor to the national economy, bringing in “an estimated 11.5 billion dollars as an annual average between 2011 and 2015,” according to the former minister of Cuban Economy José Luis Rodríguez, although the figure has fallen approximately 20% in the last two years, due to the crisis in Venezuela.

Several human rights organizations have denounced the working conditions of Cuban professionals as “modern slavery.” The Cuban government keeps more than half of the salaries paid by the countries around the world where Cuban medical providers work. The Cuban government pays for shared accommodations, some food, and airline tickets in most cases, along with a small stipend.

If the doctors leave their positions under the control of the Cuban state, it classifies them as “deserters” and they are forbidden to return to Cuba for eight years. The same conditions are applied to athletes, teachers and musicians.

“We are an Independent Organization of Free Cubans residing in Brazil, fighting for our rights,” said Yuleidis Legrá, a Cuban doctor who left the official mission.

“I prefer to be a foreigner in other countries to being one in mine, I will never debase my soul by asking permission to leave, much less to enter my country,” he adds, paraphrasing José Martí.

The group #NoSomosDesertores #SomosCubanosLibres has been carrying out a Campaign for Family Unity for months, asking Havana for the chance to return.

In 2015, the Cuban government called for the return of health professionals who had taken part in United States’ Cuban Professional Parole program which was created to assist doctors who were escaping from missions. While the Parole program was in force, at least 8,000 professionals traveled to the United States between 2006 and 2017.

The Ministry of Public Health allows professionals to return to the island on the condition that they work in the national health system, with salaries between 60 and 80 dollars per month. The punishment for those who want to visit their relatives continues in force for those who refuse to return to live on the Island.

The lawyer André De Santana Correa, who represents 80 doctors on the island who left the Mais Medicos program in Brazil, says that the objective of the demonstration is to achieve “equal treatment for all doctors who participate in that program.”

The Mais Medico program was established in 2013 by President Dilma Rousseff with more than 11,000 professionals from the island; under the program the Cuban government keeps 70% of the salaries assigned to doctors.

“We want them to permit the possibility of re-contracting until 2019, which is only withheld from Cuban doctors,” says De Santana, who compares Cuban physicians with those of other countries participating in the healthcare program.

“How is it possible that a doctor who tried to visit his daughter hospitalized on the island is deported to Miami?” he says, outraged. “We are fighting to bring down the Berlin wall that exists in Cuba.”


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