14ymedio, Havana, 29 December 2022 — A first group of 50 Cuban doctors hired by Calabria last August has arrived at their destination three months late. In an announcement through his social networks, the president of that Italian region, Roberto Occhiuto, took the opportunity to defend the controversial decision to import health workers from the Island.
“They tried to stop us, with controversies and bureaucratic setbacks, but we did it,” wrote the alderman, who belongs to the right-wing Forza Italia party, founded by Silvio Berlusconi. Doctors will begin a course to learn Italian at the University of Calabria on January 2, and, “as soon as they are ready,” the official added, they will move to the hospitals.
Last August, Occhiuto signed a healthcare agreement with Cuba’s ambassador to Italy, Mirtha Granda Averhoff, to hire 497 Cuban professionals, who were expected to start arriving from September. The decision is based, as justified by the alderman, on the fact that the European country is facing a shortage of health personnel, particularly in the region of Calabria.
In his latest statement, he insisted that the doctors “will not steal any work from Italian doctors” but “will help us keep the wards and hospitals open.” “We are still looking for Italian doctors through competitions, but now the danger was that we had to close the health facilities due to lack of staff,” he added.
The local Italian press specified that Cuban professionals will stay in a military facility where, for three weeks, they will perfect their Italian. Then 16 doctors will be distributed in Locri, 16 in Polistena, 10 in Gioia Tauro and 10 in Melito Posto Salvo. A total of 52 professionals, two more than the official figure.
Calabria will pay 4,700 euros for each doctor, of which 3,500 will be delivered to the Cuban regime and 1,200 euros will go to maintenance, accommodation, travel and training expenses. According to calculations by the Italian press, the annual cost for hiring Cuban health workers will be 28 million euros per year.
Medical brigades are one of the main currency inflows for the Government of Havana and have been denounced as forced labor by international organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Prisoners Defenders. The United States also has Cuba on the list of countries that fail to comply with international human rights standards, precisely because of these missions.
In addition to Italy, medical brigades have arrived in Mexico and Qatar, and Cuba has sent health workers to dozens of countries such as Nicaragua, Venezuela and Angola. Within the framework of the World Cup, Prisoners Defenders accused these countries of hiring professionals in conditions of slavery since doctors are threatened with the Cuban Criminal Code that, if they do not return to the Island or leave work, they can be sentenced to eight years in prison.
Also, health workers complain that they are not allowed to participate in public events that don’t have the approval of the brigade chiefs, and that they are urged to participate in campaigns to support the Government on social networks.
The NGO, based in Madrid, noted that the European Parliament condemned the Cuban brigades in a resolution of September 2021, stating that the “Cuban State continues to systematically violate the labor and human rights of its health personnel sent to work abroad in medical missions, which makes the practice comparable to a contemporary form of slavery according to the United Nations.”
Cuba sent doctors to Italy for the first time in March 2020, at the most critical moment of the COVID-19 pandemic for the European nation. These professionals performed in the field hospitals installed in Crema and Turin.
Translated by Regina Anavy
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