ANDRES OPPENHEIMER for El Nuevo Herald
Mexico’s populist government says it defends the oppressed. Still, it has hired more than 590 Cuban doctors and nurses despite reports by United Nations human rights reports that members of these Cuban “medical missions” may be subjected to semi-slavery conditions.
Overall, there is nothing wrong with Mexico inviting foreign doctors to help combat the COVID-19 pandemic. And there would be nothing wrong with Mexico inviting Cuban doctors if it were done transparently and within international human rights standards. But that doesn’t seem to be the case here.
According to EFE news agency report attributed to Mexico City government sources, between 590 and 800 Cuban doctors have arrived in Mexico City in recent weeks.
The government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has given few details about the arrival of these doctors.
“We have had a health cooperation agreement with Cuba for some time. In particular, now for the attention of the pandemic, several Cuban doctors are in different hospitals of the city; said the capital mayor Claudia Sheinbaum, of the governing party, on May 15.
Last November, the UN Special Report on “Contemporary Forms of Slavery” and the UN Special Report on “Trafficking in Persons” said in a letter to Cuban authorities that these medical missions “could amount to forced labor.”
Cuban doctors abroad receive only about 20 percent of their salaries. In comparison, about 75 percent goes to the Cuban dictatorship and the remaining 5 percent to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). It shamefully lends itself to mediating such agreements with Cuba.
What is equally alarming is that many of the so-called “Cuban doctors” on these missions are not even doctors. The interim government of Bolivia said in March that of the 702 Cuban “doctors” who were in the country until recently, only 202 were doctors https://www.eluniverso.com/noticias/2019/12/02/nota/7631426/202-702-cubanos-mision-medica-bolivia-tenian-titulo-medicina
In recent days, I spoke with two former members of Cuba’s medical missions abroad. Like many others, they had signed up for these missions because the pay was much better than in Cuba.
Cuban doctors in Cuba earn only $20 to USD 40 per month. The Brazilian government used to pay Cuba USD 3,400 per month per doctor, of which Cuban doctors received about 790 USD per month.
Dr. Fidel Cruz, who worked in these missions in Venezuela and Brazil and defected in 2016, told me that as soon as he arrived in Venezuela, his passport was taken away. Cuban doctors could not bring their families, nor leave their homes after 6 p.m., nor invite Venezuelan friends. He pointed out.
At election time, they were required to do work supporting the campaigns of Hugo Chavez and then Nicolas Maduro. “When we gave consultations, we had to say things like ‘if you don’t vote for Maduro, or you don’t vote for Chávez, maybe next month you won’t have health services, because we are going to Cuba.” he told me.
Dr. Rossella Rivero, who also defected in Brazil in 2016, told me that when Cuban doctors defect, their families in Cuba suffer reprisals. One of her sons, a doctor, was demoted from his job as a practicing physician and forced to spray homes for dengue mosquitoes for two years, she told me.
Mexico probably needs foreign doctors, but it should hire them individually and directly, not as if they were the property of the Cuban regime.
And Lopez Obrador should disclose how much Mexico is paying Cuba for these missions. If Mexico pays Cuba the $3,400 a month per doctor that Brazil used to pay, it would be paying four times as much as most Mexican doctors.
If Mexico is not transparent about its agreement with Cuba, we may be looking at a gigantic political gift of tens of millions of dollars to the Cuban dictatorship and a violation of international conventions on human rights and labor rights.
Andrés Oppenheimer is the renowned author of “¡SÁLVESE QUIEN PUEDA! ” and “¡CREAR O MORIR!”. He is also a columnist for The Miami Herald, El Nuevo Herald and host of “Oppenheimer Presenta” on CNN en Español on Sundays at 8 p.m. EST.
Andrés Oppenheimer was a member of the Pulitzer Prize winning team, and has received the Ortega y Gasset Award, King of Spain Award and the Emmy.
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