14ymedio, Madrid, 12 September 2020 — Just over two months after their arrival, when they were received with honors on the tarmac on June 26, the mission of Cuban doctors in the French department of Martinique arouses more than a few suspicions.
An investigation by the French weekly Le Point, published this week, details the ins and outs of the brigade members’ stay on this Caribbean island and affirms that even Senator Catherine Conconne, who had signed the agreement with Havana, has marked differences with the Territorial Collectivity of Martinique*, the local executive branch, led by the pro-independence Alfred Marie-Jeanne who has the title of President of the Executive Council, because in his opinion, the performance of the Cubans “does not correspond to the text and the project I had defended.”
With the title The Mystery of Cuban Doctors, the report shows, first of all, how the integration of the health workers, whose stay was expected to last three months, was slow. Although they were graduates in Medicine, “they lacked the skills to practice in our territory… In certain services they help, in others they do not contribute anything due to the inadequacy of their French and lack of knowledge of pharmacology,” Le Point quotes Benjamin Garel, director of the University Hospital Center of Martinique, which welcomed the doctors.
For example, they claim that they could not prescribe drugs or examine patients without a translator, and all received intern status. “They all came to Martinique to learn and share their knowledge, which was different from ours, since the [American] embargo does not allow them to possess the same medical equipment, in radiology for example,” says the publication.
The text states that for some in the territory “there needs to be serious thought to prolonging the mission, although even if it were profitable these first months have cost us money without delivering much.”
So far, the official cost of the operation is 300,000 euros, the publication details. This total includes the plane chartered expressly for Cubans, daily transportation and accommodation, as well as a stipend of about 23 euros per day for each of the 15 doctors who make up the brigade.
The publication questions the salary of health workers. “It is a mystery,” the report says, due to the opacity of the agreement. “How much has Martinique paid to Cuba, like the countries that receive these missions? How much do the doctors receive? Does Cuba or Martinique pay them?” And he sarcastically added, “In numerical terms it is clear: the agreement is very opaque.”
Another controversial issue the article puts on the table is that these missions “are an important diplomatic tool,” recalling the words of Alfred Marie-Jeanne when he received the mission last June: “We must show solidarity with Cuba for several reasons, because the imperial power of the United States wanted to designate Cuba as a terrorist state.”
The report notes that “within the brigade, there is usually someone from the Communist Party who watches over them and makes sure that no doctor considers approaching a local or staying in the country.”
“If they do, they will be considered a deserter, and will not be paid and will not be able to return to Cuba for eight years,” the article continues. These missions, Le Point recalls, contribute between eight and ten billion dollars a year to the Cuban State, “practices that some call modern slavery.” (In 2018, the last year of official statistics, Cuba earned 6.4 billion dollars from its medical missions.)
Despite this, the report says, “at the local level everyone, or almost everyone,” celebrates the arrival of the island’s doctors. “Some see it as an opportunity to help these Cuban doctors, who receive an average salary of 50 euros per month in their own country. With these brigades, health workers earn more and can leave their territory temporarily, which is impossible for them in normal times, because doctors do not have the right to leave Cuba freely.”
But others question the missions because “they are not a solution and they overshadow our young doctors.” As an example, they cite the president of the Regional Union of Liberal Doctors of Martinique, Anne Criquet-Hayot: “These 300,000 euros could have created jobs for young Martinican doctors or help finance their medical studies.”
The report concludes that the territory’s medical community “does not lack ideas to rejuvenate the health system in Martinique and attract French-speaking doctors” but “it is all a matter of a political project,” adding, “the local government has focused on change in the urgency and development of Caribbean relations, a choice that is not unanimous but that satisfies the local government, which managed the entire agreement. “
The French satirical weekly Le Canard enchaîné echoed the report, criticizing the close relationship of the independent movement of Martinique with Cuba. “A pro-independence sphere that curiously closes its eyes to the living and working conditions of these medical slaves,” the article says.
Last year, the French Parliament passed a draft reform of the healthcare system that included an article by which the territories of the French West Indies could hire doctors and health personnel from outside the European Union, a standard thought to facilitate the recruitment of Cuban specialists, as their promoters, the senators of Guadalupe and Martinique, Dominique Théophile and Catherine Conconne, respectively, expressly indicated at the time.
*Translator’s note: Martinique is an overseas “territorial collectivity” of France and, as such, is a part of the European Union.
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