Yesterday, September 30th, the State Department announced that it was "imposing visa restrictions under the Immigration and Nationality Act Section 212(a)(3)(C) on Cuban officials responsible for certain exploitative and coercive labor practices as part of Cuba’s overseas medical missions program." The Center for a Free Cuba considers this the latest in a line of positive developments in U.S.- Cuba policy that both recognizes the role played by Havana in the region, the nature of the Castro regime, and how best to deal with it.
On September 26, 2019, the U.S. State Department hosted a news conference during the UN General Assembly at the Foreign Press Center in New York City where Cuban doctors testified on their ill-treatment in overseas assignments. Reuters covered the event and reported that "'the State Department is analyzing where Cuban missions are practicing, which is in at least 66 countries,' said Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Cuba Carrie Filipetti. The U.S. government also is publicizing its criticisms of the Cuban medical missions so that host countries 'can't say they weren't aware that this was human trafficking,' she said."
Two days earlier, addressing the UN General Assembly, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro spoke of the exploitation of Cuban doctors:
In 2013 an agreement between the former Workers’ Party and the Cuban dictatorship brought to Brazil 10,000 doctors who had no evidence of professional training. They were prevented from bringing their spouses or children, and 75% of their wages were confiscated by the Cuban regime, and they were further prevented from enjoying fundamental rights such as, for example, the right to go and come. Truly tantamount to slave labor, believe me.
Supported by human rights organizations both in Brazil and the United Nations organization, even before I took office, almost 90% of these Cuban citizens left Brazil as a result of a one-sided initiative by the Cuban government.
Months earlier, author and journalist Andres Oppenheimer in his November 16, 2018 column "Brazil’s Bolsonaro is no hero, but he’s right to end Cuban doctors’ slave-labor program" provided more details into the scandal involving trafficked Cuban doctors, the Castro regime and the D.C.-based Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), a branch of the U.N.’s World Health Organization (WHO).
Under the deal between the Brazilian and Cuban governments, and brokered by PAHO, more than 18,000 Cuban doctors have been working in Brazil’s rural areas with little access to healthcare. They have received 30 percent of their salary. The remaining 70 percent goes directly to Cuba’s dictatorship.
Just as outrageous, Cuba does not allow its doctors to take their families with them. Families remain in Cuba as de facto hostages, to reduce the risk of mass defections. If the doctors defect, they can’t return to the island for at least eight years, according to physicians who have been part of the program.
And PAHO has been happily going along with all of this, publicly praising the program without any international outcry about its role enabling this form of virtual slavery.
“It’s scandalous that an international organization such as PAHO doesn’t have serious objections to the exploitation of these Cuban doctors,” says Jose Miguel Vivanco, head of the Americas’ division of Human Rights Watch.
The outrage extends beyond the treatment of the doctors, and into how patients treatment is conditioned on their obedience to advancing Castro regime objectives. The New York Times reported that Cuban doctors in Venezuela were ordered to deny or ration care to advance Nicolas Maduro's election prospects in the March 17, 2019 article, "It Is Unspeakable’: How Maduro Used Cuban Doctors to Coerce Venezuela Voters."
In interviews, 16 members of Cuba’s medical missions to Venezuela — a signature element of relations between the two countries — described a system of deliberate political manipulation in which their services were wielded to secure votes for the governing Socialist Party, often through coercion. Many tactics were used, they said, from simple reminders to vote for the government to denying treatment for opposition supporters with life-threatening ailments.
All of these practices led to impacted Cuban doctors filing a class action lawsuit on November 30, 2018 against the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) for facilitating in their trafficking. The Cuban physicians, in their lawsuit, assert that PAHO "collected over $75 million since 2013 by enabling, managing, and enforcing illegal human trafficking of Cuban medical professionals in Brazil." According to the class action complaint "PAHO paid at least 85% to the Cuban government, and retained a brokerage fee of 5% for itself."
Since the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) is a branch of the World Health Organization (WHO), and is allegedly profiting from illicit activities in collusion with the Cuban government that should place in a new light their glowing claims about the Cuban health care system that do not reflect the reality on the ground.
Visa Actions Against Cuban Officials Exploiting Cuban Doctors
MORGAN ORTAGUS, DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON
SEPTEMBER 30, 2019
The State Department is imposing visa restrictions under the Immigration and Nationality Act Section 212(a)(3)(C) on Cuban officials responsible for certain exploitative and coercive labor practices as part of Cuba’s overseas medical missions program. Profiting from the work of the Cuban doctors has been the decades-long practice of the Castros, and it continues today. These practices include requiring long work hours without rest, meager wages, unsafe housing, and restricted movement. The regime has also withheld passports and surveilled some doctors outside of work. In addition, the regime has also compelled some Cuban doctors to use medical care as a political tool by providing care in exchange for pledges of loyalty.
Any health program that coerces, endangers, and exploits its own practitioners is fundamentally flawed. We call on governments that currently engage with Cuba’s overseas medical programs to ensure safeguards against labor abuse and exploitation.
Reuters, September 26, 2019
U.S. says Cuban medical missions are trafficking doctors
By Ellen Wulfhorst
The Caribbean island nation has a respected health service and generates major export earnings by sending more than 50,000 health workers to more than 60 countries
NEW YORK, Sept 26 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - United States officials on Thursday called on all nations to stop using Cuba's medical missions, which send doctors around the world, saying that Cuba refused to pay the medical staff and held them against their will.
Cuba's international medical missions are a form of human trafficking and modern slavery, U.S. State Department officials told a news conference in New York.
The Caribbean island nation has a respected health service and generates major export earnings by sending more than 50,000 health workers to more than 60 countries.
But it came under criticism in Brazil, where President Jair Bolsonaro last year called the Cuban doctors "slave labor" and Cuba recalled its 8,300 medical workers stationed there.
Ramona Matos, a Cuban doctor, said she worked with medical missions in Bolivia and Brazil where Cuban security agents took away the doctors' passports and other identification.
"We were undocumented," she said at the State Department's news conference. "If anything happened to us, we got hurt, we died ... nobody would know our identity."
Nearly all of the doctors' earnings were sent back to Cuba where they were frozen in accounts that they could not access until they completed their missions, she said.
"We were basically being trafficked, and we were victims and exploited by the Cuban government," she said.
The United States and Cuba have had a strained relationship since Fidel Castro took over in a 1959 revolution, and a U.S. trade embargo has been in place for decades.
The State Department is analyzing where Cuban missions are practicing, which is in at least 66 countries, said Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Cuba Carrie Filipetti.
The U.S. government also is publicizing its criticisms of the Cuban medical missions so that host countries "can't say they weren't aware that this was human trafficking," she said.
Nations where the Cuban medical missions are working need to end the practice, said Carlos Trujillo, U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States.
"Across the Americas, there are multiple countries that continue to have these programs," he said.
"What we're really asking here is for a lot of the countries ... who are continuing to traffick and conduct these type of activities with Cuban doctors in their countries to please stop."
Several doctors who were part of Cuba's program but left filed a federal lawsuit in Florida last year against the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), an international agency that brokered Cuba's arrangement with Brazil.
The doctors said PAHO, a division of the World Health Organization, was enabling the trafficking of medical professionals.
(Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst, Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)