Families of the "Deserter" Doctors Are Having a Hard Time in Cuba

The doctors who have stayed in Brazil aspire to find better opportunities there, even though, for the moment, they are separated from their families.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Gaby Hidalgo, Santa Clara, 14 December 2018 — “My mom told me that at school the teachers won’t call on my son, as if he had a contagious disease, they mark him as the son of the ‘doctor who stayed’,” says a doctor who left her son in her hometown of Sagua la Grande (Villa Clara) when she went to work in Brazil as a member of the Mais Médicos (More Doctors) program.

After Cuba left the program, she decided to stay in the state of Sao Paulo and, although she fears that some consider her a bad mother, she insists that she has made the decision to “defect” for her child, who has now become the son of a “traitor.”

“My decision was not taken lightly, it was something I had already discussed with my family,” she says. “Everyone should be free to decide what they want to do with their life. In Cuba the simplest thing becomes a conflict as it has now happened with the boy, not that they mistreat him but they talk about it in his presence, as if it were something terrible,” says the young doctor, saddened, who prefers to remain anonymous so as not to harm her family.

The families of the Cuban doctors who left the Mais Médicos mission to stay in Brazil are beginning to experience the repercussions of the decision on their loved ones. Contacted via the Internet and through social networks, the healthcare workers are not oblivious to what happens to their parents or their children, but they say they are sure that they have made the best decision.

M.B., also from Villa Clara, believes that “opportunities are presented once in a lifetime” and that in Cuba what she earned was not enough to cover her basic needs. “Everybody knows what you have to do to eat or dress there and I got tired of living on the mercy of my patients. My brother is in his fifth year of Medicine and, as soon as he finishes his studies, I will bring him with me, although I know that the government can put obstacles in the way of the paperwork to travel,” he says.

The Mais Médicos program was created in 2013 during the mandate of then Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff (2011-2016) with the aim of guaranteeing assistance in the most remote and humble regions of Brazil. However, last November, the Government of Cuba announced its decision to withdraw its more than 8,300 health workers from the Mais Médicos program in response to the intentions of the new Brazilian Executive to modify the terms of the agreement.

Cuban doctors began to return to the island almost immediately and on Wednesday the last plane carrying workers from the mission landed in Havana and was received by the Communist Party leadership with former President Castro at the head. However, many of the professionals have chosen to stay in Brazil. Although there are no official figures, the latest data provided by the Government indicates that 5,853 doctors had returned. After that number was reported only one more plane arrived, which indicates that almost a quarter of the contingent may have decided to settle permanently in Brazil, despite the consequences.

Medical deserters, as the government calls them, can not return to the island for eight years, but there are other, lesser-known consequences. General practitioner Leugim Espinosa knows this very well, having not been paid for the last month he worked, and having in Cuba his mother, already retired, and his grandmother who is 89.

“With their pensions they can not live, barely two hundred and fifty Cuban pesos (roughly $10 US) are not enough for food. As soon as my flight departed and they found out that I had not left, they withheld the money from the last month of my work here in Brazil, time that I had already worked and they also appropriated the savings [they had deposited for me] in banks in Cuba,” he laments.

C.A., a native of the coastal town of Isabela de Sagua, is one of those who have decided to return, although only for the moment. The doctor, who arrived in Brazil at the beginning of the program, is married to a Brazilian woman.

“When, on November 14, they announced that Cuba was leaving Mais Médicos, I assumed that I would not have any difficulty.” The state coordinator told me that I should travel on the plane with my wife, so that we would not overload the first trip home of my colleagues,” he said.

However, his idea is to return to Brazil as soon as possible. C.A. acknowledges that in Brazil Cuban doctors care for extremely disadvantaged sectors of the population, but points out that in Cuba poverty is general and there are no options for improvement. “When we were there our families suffered from distance but enjoyed economic privileges that they would not otherwise have known, now they take it out on the relatives of those who stayed behind.”

Recently the Brazilian press leaked a call from a Cuban official to Dr. Dayaimy González Valón, from the Máis Médicos program in Brazil, who had decided not to return to Cuba. In the conversation, the official resorts to intimidation by insistently pointing out to the professional that she risks facing eight years without being able to enter the country.

“If, unfortunately, something happens to someone in your family, you will not be able to enter Cuba,” says Leoncio Fuentes Correa, the state coordinator for the brigade in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso. The official assures the doctor that with her decision not to return to Cuba she is “distancing [herself] from [her] family, which is the greatest thing that a human being has.”


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