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On Cuba’s Missions Abroad
February 27, 2015
Janis Hernández

HAVANA TIMES — For years, the Cuban State has been preaching that
so-called “internationalist missions” are a means of offering other
nations “selfless aid.” Many of us know, however, that something else
hides behind this philanthropist spiel, that, over time, this fraternal
assistance has become one of the country’s main source of revenues.

The sending of medical, sports, education, cultural and other
professionals to other nations is formalized through the signing of
agreements with the receiving countries. This personnel isn’t offered
these countries free of charge – the Cuban government charges in hard
currency. According to some reports, by 2009 the main source of hard
currency revenues had already become the export of these services to
other countries, surpassing international tourism.

The Cuban government is paid the total monthly stipend agreed to for the
services rendered by each professional abroad, while the family back in
Cuba of this professional is paid 50 dollars a month and their salary in
Cuban pesos. Only after fulfilling their contract, after their files
have been officially sealed, can these professionals collect the money
in their frozen accounts. Coupled with the stipend they have received
during their stay abroad, the amount they collect is far less than what
the State pockets.

If these professionals wish to stop working before the agreed term – be
it for personal, health or other reasons – then that’s that.

Venezuela is one of the main receiving countries. Cuban professionals
have been traveling to this country and working there for two or four
years for more than a decade.

For Cuban professionals, working in Venezuela means earning a bit of
money, with which they can later buy a house and/or some household
appliances that they would never be able to afford with their Cuban
salaries. It is also an opportunity to buy cheap trinkets to give to
relatives and friends and sell to others to make a little extra cash.

They don’t really care that the government is exploiting them – it is
the only way they and their families can get ahead.

Getting people work abroad became a business for officials at the
Provincial Offices of the Ministry of Health, who would find jobs for
friends and relatives and sell them to others. In the Cuban on-line
classifieds page, I once came across an ad that read: “I’m
a doctor. I’m offering 300 CUC for a mission abroad.”

From Venezuela, Cuban professionals were exporting all manner of
utensils and essentials. Anything from luxury fridges to fine china was
being shipped in containers (subject to preferential customs fees and
lax weight restrictions). One fine day, however, these perks were taken
away and those arriving from the sister nation of Venezuela were
required to pay duties as much as everyone else.

The economic and social crisis that Venezuela has been facing since
Chavez, exacerbated during Maduro’s presidency, makes it more difficult
for Cuban professionals to purchase as many things as they could before.
Though they always claim to be proud of their selfless efforts in front
of the television cameras, in truth fewer and fewer professionals want
to go work in Venezuela. They prefer Brazil or African countries where
the pay is better.

To earn a bit more money and improve their quality of life, Cuban
professionals are willing to face all kinds of risks, from violent
deaths or accidents in remote areas, through contagion of deadly
diseases to acts of sabotage.

More than a hundred Cuban medical doctors working in Venezuela’s Barrio
Adentro (“Into the Neighborhood”) program have died since the program
began in 2003. Though Cuban authorities insist this is not the case, in
2010 El Nacional published an article that reported on the deaths of 69
Cuban medical doctors in the country.

The fact is that, be it as a means of making money, buying household
appliance or trinkets or finding a way to reach the United States, work
abroad has been an option sought out by the island’s professionals that
has nothing to do with the much-advertised humanitarian gesture.

Today, I heard a conversation between two medical doctors. One was
saying to the other: “So here I am, pushing to get sent somewhere,
except Venezuela, you can’t get anything out of that anymore. I prefer
to go to Africa, Ebola and all.”

Just look at all that altruism.

Source: On Cuba’s Missions Abroad – Havana –

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