Escape Or Get Married: The Dilemma Of Cuban Doctors In Brazil / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

The Cuban doctor Yohan Batista Martí when he resided as a volunteer in Brazil. (Courtesy)
The Cuban doctor Yohan Batista Martí when he resided as a volunteer in Brazil. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 16 October 2016 — Yohan Batista Martí spent nearly four months hiding to avoid persecution by the authorities of the Cuban Medical Mission in Brazil. Like him, thousands of Cuban doctors have fled to the United States before the date of their return to the island. Escaping or marrying a local resident are the best options for these health professionals.

“I had to hide. I commented to the Brazilian in charge of the mission that I was going to Cuba on vacation and that was how I escaped from the region of Piaui in the north, but when they realized I had defected they began to look for me,” Batista told this newspaper.

The cooperation program with Brazil was announced three years ago as a “stimulus mission” for the best Cuban professionals. The initiative was officially launched to support Brazil’s Workers Party (PT) and then-President Dilma Rousseff, considered a “friend of Cuba.”

During their work in the program each doctor receives a salary equivalent to 1,000 dollars US, 600 paid in Brazil and the other 400 deposited in a bank on the island and payable on their return. This represents less than one-third of the $3,300 that the Brazilian government pays the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) to be paid to the state Cuban Medical Services.

Many doctors, however, pass up the money accumulated in Cuba and choose to flee. Throughout the country, this year alone, 1,439 health professionals have escaped Brazil to the United States, taking advantage of the US Professional Parole program, a visa program started under President George W. Bush which over the last decade has brought more than 8,000 of these workers to the US.

Other doctors have resorted to the option of marrying Brazilian citizens to avoid forced return.

“The Cuban government benefited from the money due us and now they want others to come so they can do the same,” a doctor working in the region of Minas Gerais and who requested anonymity told this newspaper. The health professional says they are “alarmed” by the increase in marriages between Cubans and Brazilians for the former to obtain residency.

Marriages with foreigners and loving relationships are a taboo subject on the missions. The disciplinary regulations of civil workers abroad regulates that “if any loving relationship develops with natives it must be reported immediately and be consistent with the revolutionary thought of our stay and in no measure be excessive” (sic).

In June 2015, a case came into the public spotlight and exposed the limitations under which Cuban doctors live. After nine months of a legal battle the Cuban doctor Adrian Estrada Barber managed to marry the Brazilian pharmacist Letícia Santos Pedroso. “I met the woman of my life,” said the proud husband on hearing the court ruling.

Estrada Barber is just one case among hundreds. During the first ten months of this year more than 1,600 Cuban doctors took the exam to revalidate their titles in Brazil and win contracts on their own. They make up the largest group of foreigners who have applied for recognition of their university degree in the South American giant.

After the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff, the Cuban government pressured the Brazilian authorities to renegotiate the medical contract and obtained a 9% increase in payment. The Plaza of the Revolution also achieved an increase of 10% for food for doctors in indigenous areas, which will be effective in January 2017.

The government of Raul Castro has demanded the doctors return to the island when their “lease” expires. After much prodding, Brazilian authorities managed to get Cuba to reluctantly reauthorize the married doctors to be contracted for another three years.

Brazilian Minister of Health Ricardo Barros declared that in the middle of this year he had asked the Cuban Government and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) to relax the conditions that force the doctors to return to the island, because,”More than 1,000 have married Brazilians and some have children,” the official said.

After hiding as a fugitive, Batista currently lives in Miami. From that city he related how he first tried to flee to Argentina but then traveled to Brasilia to seek refuge in the US embassy. “Everything has to be done in secret. A colleague in Venezuela who said she wanted to leave the mission was accused of a robbery that never happened and returned to Cuba,” he recalls.

Although he is a general practitioner and also has a specialty in physical rehabilitation medicine he has had to start from scratch in Miami. “I deliver results of laboratory tests and study to revalidate my title,” he says proudly, while helping others through social networks to “restore the dignity of Cuban medicine.”­­­