Portugal Will Contract for 200 to 300 Latin American Doctors and Says Their Rights Will be Respected

The medical brigades are one of the main sources of foreign currency for the Cuban government, despite being frequently pointed to as systems of forced labor. (EFE)

14ymedio biggerEFE/14ymedio, Lisbon, July 26, 2023 — The Portuguese government plans to hire between 200 and 300 doctors from different Latin American countries to perform functions in health centers and ensures that all the rights of professionals will be respected.

The Portuguese Minister of Health, Manuel Pizarro, confirmed these contracts today in an appearance in Parliament, where he clarified that the doctors contracted for will not only be from Cuba, as local media had previously published.

They will also come from Colombia and other countries that have the capacity to export healthcare workers, said the head of Health, who explained that their academic training will be recognized by a Portuguese university and they will enroll in the Portuguese College of Physicians.

Pizarro went to Parliament at the request of the Liberal Initiative, which wanted to question the minister about the hiring of Cuban professionals, since this party alleges that they work abroad in “slavery” conditions, through a Cuban state company that only gives them a part of the salary they receive from the Portuguese State.

“There are hundreds of companies of this type that operate in Portugal,” replied the minister, who pointed out that the Portuguese State will remunerate foreign doctors the same as Portuguese ones, but admitted that the Government does not control what these companies pay professionals.

And he assured that “human rights will be scrupulously respected.”

During Miguel Díaz-Canel’s visit to Portugal in mid-July, the President of Portugal, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, had revealed his interest in hiring Cuban doctors after verifying the work that one of these contingents is doing in Italy. Initially, the service would be exercised for a period of three years.

According to the Portuguese outlet Jornal de Noticias , Rebelo de Sousa explained that the Cubans would collect their money without intervention from the Havana regime. The president said he had asked Cuba for a “different agreement than usual” to also pay those hired directly*. Supposedly, he managed to get the Cuban government to accept it, although the exact terms of the agreement are still unknown.

In addition, the Portuguese Government has already started procedures for these professionals to join the public system as soon as possible, taking into account the various steps that foreigners must go through outside the territory of the European Union before being considered fit.

To be authorized, doctors who come from third countries must undergo several tests, not only in medicine, but also in Portuguese, for example.

It is not the first time that Portugal has resorted to Cuban healthcare workers; in 2009 it welcomed 58 to reinforce the public network in the regions of Ribatejo (center), Alentejo and Algarve (south).

Some sources from the Portuguese Ministry of Health, consulted by the EFE news agency, indicated that the hiring of foreign health professionals is “complementary and transitory” and its objective is “to contribute to the adequate provision of human resources and response capacity” of the National Health Service.

In this sense, “joint work is underway between the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Science, Technology and Higher Education.”

According to the data provided by the portfolio, the Portuguese public system had 1,270 foreign doctors in 2022. Local media, for their part, reported that the total number of foreign health workers registered with the College of Physicians was 4,503.

Health is one of the sectors that has caused the most complaints in the last year, marked by a crisis in emergencies, especially in maternity and obstetrics, due to the lack of resources. Faced with pressure from the sector, the Portuguese Government has found an alternative in health contingents.

For the Cuban government, medical brigades sent abroad are one of the main sources of foreign currency for the, despite being frequently pointed to as systems of forced labor by international organizations such as Human Rights Watch or Prisoners Defenders. The United States also included Cuba in the list of countries that violate human rights.

The Cuban government has also been accused of using the contingents to maintain its influence in allied countries, such as Mexico, Italy, Qatar, Brazil, Venezuela and Nicaragua. The National Office of Statistics and Information (Onei) calculated that, in 2021, the Cuban State collected 4.349 billion dollars for the export of health services to foreign governments.

In contrast, on the island, health services are deteriorating, not only due to a lack of health professionals, but also due to the shortage of basic medicines, which the government in Havana attributes to financing problems and the international supply of raw materials. On the other hand, infrastructure modernization investments are focused on tourist complexes, the bet to activate the compressed economy, while complaints about the precarious conditions in hospitals are increasingly frequent on social networks.

*Translator’s note: The common arrangement to date has been for foreign governments to pay the Cuban government directly for each worker, and from this the Cuban government pays each worker only a portion of the total — in some cases as little as 10% — and retains the rest.


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