14ymedio, Havana | 2 January 2024 — On Tuesday, the organization Prisoners Defenders (PD) announced a letter signed by the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Contemporary Forms of Slavery, in which several governments are denounced for hiring, under “dubious conditions,” workers from Cuba. According to the text, signed by Tomoya Obokata on November 2, Spain, Italy, Qatar, in addition to the cruise company MSC Malta Seafarers, received a request from their office to clarify the situation. So far, none has responded.
According to PD, for months it has secretly helped the Rapporteur’s administration in the collection of information on the cases of exploitation of Cubans by the Government of Havana and the level of complicity of the countries mentioned in these contracts. The document was also sent to the authorities in Doha, Rome and Madrid, who were asked to respond within 60 days.
What is new is the accusation against the Spanish Government, which the Rapporteur indicates for hiring, at the local level – through companies, municipalities or autonomous communities – “athletes, artists, musicians, dancers and other Cuban professionals” in “precarious working conditions and exploitation.” The document also alleges that a part of their salaries is retained by companies on the Island that mediate the hiring.
For its part, PD says that many of the testimonies it managed to gather in Spain involved Cubans. It explains that they ended up applying for asylum, and Madrid had to grant it for “the conditions of slavery and evidence they presented.” One of these stories that was made public was that of the Basque handball player Lisandra Lima, who abandoned her delegation while competing in 2018 in Barcelona.
The Government of Spain has not taken measures to control the working conditions of the workers and the artistic, technical and sports personnel who arrive in the country
“However, the Government of Spain has not taken measures to control the working conditions of the workers and the artistic, technical and sports personnel who arrive in the country through intermediaries from the Cuban Government and its companies,” says PD.
In the case of Calabria, an Italian region that hired Cuban health workers in 2022 through the state Commercialization of Cuban Medical Services, the complaints revolve around the “insufficient” salaries of the professionals. “It is stipulated that the total salary amount per medical person is 4,700 euros, but 3,500 euros are transferred from the Government of Calabria to the Marketing Company (…). Only an amount of 1,200 euros is given to each medical worker. That gross income is considered insufficient to survive in Italy,” the Rapporteur stressed.
In similar conditions are the health workers hired in Qatar, who are only given 10% of what the country pays for them (between $5,000 and $13,000 per person). The salary, the letter alleges, is not enough for them to live, so “many of the Cuban professionals who work in the country depend on a subsidy called an ’Index’, granted by the Government of Qatar.”
The report also denounced that Cubans hired in this country work an average of 64 hours a week and are closely monitored by their supervisors, to whom they must report each romantic relationship they establish, in addition to their movements outside their homes and intentions to travel or meet family and friends.
MSC Malta Seafarers Company Limited, one of the largest maritime tourism companies in the world, was also accused of exploitation by the Rapporteur. The company, based in Geneva (Switzerland), hires sailors through the Cuban state-owned Selecmar and takes away their passports “during the trip and in the countries where they touch port, to prevent the Cuban workers from ’escaping’.” According to the document, Selecmar receives up to 80% of the salaries paid by the Maltese for the Cubans, while the foreign company has the power to fine those who are “absent” up to $10,000.
A similar case came to light in Cuba years ago, when Alexander Morales, from Havana, complained that the Greek company Northsouth Maritime owed him 60,000 dollars as compensation
A similar case came to light in Cuba years ago, when Alexander Morales, from Havana, complained that the Greek company Northsouth Maritime owed him 60,000 dollars as compensation for injuring himself on one of their ships while doing excessive work. Selecmar then mediated his hiring with the foreign company, which continues to withhold the payment.
Other violations denounced by the UN were the prohibition of entry into the country for eight years to Cubans who leave missions abroad, the conditions of harassment or sexual violence to which they are often subjected and the label of “traitors” and “deserters” that is given to those who breach the contracts.
So far, none of the governments cited by the Rapporteur has responded to the complaints. Dita Charanzová, vice president of the European Parliament, did express her concern about the report: “This United Nations accusation brings to light very serious violations, from forced labor, contemporary slavery, harassment, sexual violence and threats, to physical violence. Once again, it is evident that the Cuban regime systematically and with impunity violates the human rights of its people,” said the MEP.
Translated by Regina Anavy
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