14ymedio, Havana, December 9, 20180 — Four Cuban doctors who were caring for the population of Nova Odessa, a municipality in the state of Sao Paulo, have asked for refuge in Brazil, according to the newspaper O Tempo. The professionals, who were working in the Mais Médicos (More Doctors) program, did not obey the call to return to the Island and now are considered “deserters” by Cuba’s Ministry of Health.
The president of the local section of the Order of Lawyers of Brazil (OAB), Alessandre Pimentel, laments that the Cuban doctors who have decided to remain in the country have stayed without the support of the mayors’ offices where they worked and now are knocking on the doors of his organization to ask for help.
“Some cities did farewell dinners for the Cubans, said that they were going to support them, but have turned their backs on those who stayed here,” he explains. “Even those who have started families can’t practice their profession because they are not being readmitted into the More Doctors program and they don’t even have a work permit to try another occupation.”
Of the eight Cubans who served at the Basic Health Units (UBS) of Nova Odessa, five decided to stay in Brazil, but only one married and regularized her immigration situation. So that they would not be considered illegal, OAB processed the requests for refuge of the other four to the Federal Police in Piracicaba (SP).
“If they are returned to Cuba, they will suffer reprisals,” assures Pimentel. The lawyer also recalls that the Island’s Government punishes the medical collaborators who decide to abandon a mission with an eight year ban on their entering Cuba, and categorizes them as “deserters.”
Liseti Aguilera, one of the Cuban refuge seekers, explains that she wants to revalidate the qualification as a doctor that she obtained in Cuba and work in basic care in Brazil. “I have come with the the greatest good will and I found a friend in the Brazilian people, I really want to stay, but I need work until I can take the examination.”
Suleidys González, another of the Cuban doctors who has decided to remain in the giant South American country, said that she will not return to the Island because of the bonds she managed to establish with the patients she cared for in Nova Odessa. “We are almost like family,” she explains.
In a statement, the town of Nova Odessa informed that they had supplied transportation and escort to the five doctors who have already requested permission to work. The mayor Benjamín Vieira commented that he was in contact with the Ministry of External Relations to discuss the case.
In other cities in the same state of Sao Paulo, the Cubans who married and decided to stay in the country also faced problems. “We are being discriminated against,” insists the doctor Lissete Quiñones. The health professional, based in San Miguel Arcángel, complains that for the open spaces in More Doctors they are prioritizing “Brazilians who were educated abroad and excluding us.”
In November the Cuban Government announced its decision to withdraw its more than 8,300 healthcare collaborators from the More Doctors program, in response to the demands of Brazil’s president-elect, Jair Bolsonaro.
The Cubans only received 30% of their salary in Brazil and the rest went to authorities in Havana, which Bolsonaro considered “inacceptable.” The rightwing leader also insisted that the doctors pass exams to revalidate their qualifications in that nation.
Last week in Miami four Cuban doctors sued the Panamerican Organization of Health (OPS), which they accuse of having facilitated the “network of human trafficking” and “slavery” that, they believe, was behind the More Doctors program in Brazil.
“There is an international organization (OPS), affiliated with the United Nations, that turned into the principal force permitting Cuba to export its citizens to perform slave labor in a foreign country,” declared the lawyer Samuel J. Dubbin during a press conference.
The More Doctors program was created in 2013 by then-president of Brazil Dilma Rousseff (2011-2016) with the aim of guaranteeing assistance in the most remote and humble regions of Brazil, now that the Brazilian doctors prefer to practice in the large urban centers.
Translated by: Sheilagh Carey
The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.