Cuba’s Slave Trade in Doctors
Havana earns almost $8 billion a year off the backs of the health
workers it sends to poor countries.
By MARY ANASTASIA O’GRADY
Nov. 9, 2014 5:55 p.m. ET
Western cultures don’t approve of human trafficking, which the
Merriam-Webster dictionary defines as “organized criminal activity in
which human beings are treated as possessions to be controlled and
exploited.” Yet it’s hard to find any journalist, politician,
development bureaucrat or labor activist anywhere in the world who has
so much as batted an eye at the extensive human-trafficking racket now
being run out of Havana. This is worth more attention as Cuban doctors
are being celebrated for their work in Africa during the Ebola crisis.
Cuba is winning accolades for its international “doctor diplomacy,” in
which it sends temporary medical professionals abroad—ostensibly to help
poor countries battle disease and improve health care. But the doctors
are not a gift from Cuba. Havana is paid for its medical missions by
either the host country, in the case of Venezuela, or by donor countries
that send funds to the World Health Organization. The money is supposed
to go to Cuban workers’ salaries. But neither the WHO nor any host
country pays Cuban workers directly. Instead the funds are credited to
the account of the dictatorship, which by all accounts keeps the lion’s
share of the payment and gives the worker a stipend to live on with a
promise of a bit more upon return to Cuba.
It’s the perfect crime: By shipping its subjects abroad to help poor
people, the regime earns the image of a selfless contributor to the
global community even while it exploits workers and gets rich off their
backs. According to DW, Germany’s international broadcaster, Havana
earns some $7.6 billion annually from its export of health-care workers.
This is big business, which if it weren’t being carried out by gangster
Marxists would surely offend journalists. Instead they lap it up. In an
Oct. 24 interview with World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, CNN anchor
Christiane Amanpour lighted up when she talked about Cuba’s health-care
workers in Africa. “Cuba clearly has something to teach the world in its
rapid response, doesn’t it,” Ms. Amanpour gushed. Mr. Kim agreed,
calling it “a wonderful gesture.”
What the Cuban workers in the line of the Ebola fire are being paid
remains a state secret. But human trafficking is not new for Havana nor
is it limited to the medical profession. In October 2008 a federal judge
in Miami ruled in favor of three Cuban workers who claimed they, along
with some 100 others, had been sent by the regime to Curaçao to work off
Cuban debt to the Curaçao Drydock Company. The plaintiffs described
horrific working conditions for which they were paid three cents an hour.
The Christian Science Monitor reported at the time that the company
“admitted that the Cuban workers’ passports were seized and that their
unpaid wages were deducted from the debt Havana owed the company.” Tomas
Bilboa of the Cuba Study Group in Washington told the paper that “these
types of violations are not out of the ordinary for the Cuban
government.” Their attorney told the paper that back home in Cuba, after
they cried foul, their family members lost jobs and access to schooling
and suffered harassment from gangs.
Making medical professionals an export product is provoking a doctor
shortage in Cuba, which is exacerbating widespread privation in health
care. A humane government might turn its attention to this domestic
misery, but there’s no money in that. Instead Cuba sells the labor of
health professionals abroad even in the midst of persistent dengue and
cholera outbreaks on the island.
Cuban doctors are not forced at gunpoint to become expat slaves, but
they are given offers they cannot refuse. As Cuban doctor Antonio
Guedes, who now lives in exile in Madrid, told the German DW, “Whoever
does not cooperate may lose his job, or at least his position or his son
will not get a place at university.” As with the workers in Curaçao, the
regime keeps health-care workers under constant surveillance and
confiscates their passports. Something about that doesn’t sound voluntary.
When given the chance, many of those trafficked have fled. In the last
two years alone almost 3,100 Cubans have taken advantage of a special
U.S. visa program that recognizes the exploitation of Cuban health
professionals sent to third countries. As punishment the regime
prohibits their families from leaving Cuba to see them. Getting
certified to practice medicine in the U.S. can be long and arduous.
Doctors groups in Brazil have pressured the Brazilian government to
demand that Cuba raise the slave wage it was paying some 11,000 Cuban
health workers in that country. But last week Brazilian federal
prosecutor Luciana Loureiro Oliveira said there is evidence that Havana
still keeps at least 75% of the money designated by donors as salaries.
She called this “frankly illegal” because it violates Brazilian labor
law and said the Cubans should be paid directly.
That would be the end of Cuban do-gooding in Brazil.
Write to O’Grady@wsj.com
Source: Mary O’Grady: Cuba’s Slave Trade in Doctors – WSJ – WSJ –