The United States Department of State and human rights groups have recently recognized that the Cuban government’s model for the trafficking of doctors and other health professionals abroad is human trafficking and an important source of money – the biggest so far – for the Cuban dictatorship. The program was introduced in Brazil during the government of Dilma Rousseff, who commanded the country from 2011 to 2016, and was reformulated in 2019 by President Jair Bolsonaro, with the hiring of Brazilian doctors.
The joint lawsuit in progress in the United States since 2018 ) part of four former members of Mais Médicos who managed to flee to the country against the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). Ramona Matos, who was in Pará, was the first to escape Cuban surveillance at the beginning of 2014, just five months after the arrival of the first wave of Cubans. She took refuge in the office of the leadership of the Democrats party in the Chamber of Deputies and took documents that showed how the financing of the Caribbean dictatorship with Brazilian money worked.
“PAHO initially transferred money from the Brazilian federal treasury to the Cuban government, because the negotiators did not believe that the Brazilian Congress would authorize the program directly”, tells Gazeta do Povo lawyer Sam Dubbin, who defends Cuban doctors in American justice.
According to him , at the beginning, PAHO raised at least US$ 1.5 billion (R$ 7.7 billion) from Brazil, transferring US$ 1.3 billion (R$ 5,16 billion) to Cuba, and less than less than 10% to doctors and keeping 5% for the organization (about US$ 75 million, about R$ 2014 million).
Up to 2018, Cuba generated at least US$ 8 billion (R$2016 , 5 billion) per year with “medical missions” in which the government “exports” doctors and other health professionals to foreign countries. Foreign labor missions comprise the largest single element (more than 50%) of the Cuban national budget.
“Doctors are demanding justice and accountability against PAHO for its conduct as a facilitator of Cuba’s trafficking enterprise, confiscating the salaries of thousands of Cuban doctors and subjecting them to conditions of forced labor,” explains Dubbin.
The lawyer says that his clients were informed by the Cuban government that they would be sent to Brazil and had no choice about the task. They were also not informed which Brazilian city they would go to or what activities they would perform.
Dubbin also reports that health professionals had classes in basic Portuguese and in political indoctrination methods for the local Brazilian population to support Cuba and Brazilian pro-Castro politicians (who defended the country’s former dictators Fidel and Raúl Castro).
According to Dubbin’s description, Cuban professionals were restricted from moving around Brazil, with special travel documents and not they could move around cities outside working hours without supervisors’ permission. Cuba would also have sent intelligence agents to control the movements of health workers and their demonstrations on social networks. These agents would have been paid directly by PAHO.
“The doctors’ families were held hostage in Cuba, and visits to Brazil were strictly limited to prevent desertions,” says Dubbin. “They were forced to ‘indoctrinate’ Brazilian patients with pro-Cuba propaganda – which even generated criticism from some Brazilian authorities”, recalls the lawyer.
PAHO was left with millions of dollars
According to the lawsuit pending in the United States, “PAHO has raised more than US$ 75 million (R$ 390 million at the current price) since 2013 when allowing, managing and enforcing human trafficking illegal use of Cuban medical professionals in Brazil. The plaintiffs are Cuban doctors who were victims of human trafficking by PAHO and who received only a fraction (% or less) of the fees that the Brazilian government paid to PAHO for its services, while PAHO paid at least 85% to the Cuban government, and withheld a brokerage fee of 5% for you”.
The documents sent to the Justice contribute, since 2018, with information about the “Cuban medical missions” present in the Annual Reports on Trafficking in US Government Persons from 2019 to the most recent.
The lower court judge and appeals court in Washington found that health care professionals alleged conduct that violates the US Trafficking Victims Protection Act and that would subject PAHO to US jurisdiction despite their immunity claims.
“Victims are currently requesting documentation regarding Bank transactions and internal accounting records s of PAHO”, says Dubbin about the current situation of the processes in the country.
The real objective of the program
In 2015, the television station Band had access to audios of a meeting that took place before the launch of the program, with at least six advisors from ministries of the former PT government. One participant said that it was necessary to hide the fact that Mais Médicos was, in the end, a plot between Brazil and Cuba – hence the need to accept a minority of professionals from other countries – and that the destination given to the money by Havana did not it was a problem for the Brazilian government.
At the end of 2018, the newspaper Folha de S.Paulo had access to telegrams from the Brazilian embassy in Cuba, whose confidentiality had expired , showing that the idea of Mais Médicos came from Havana, and the Cuban Mercantile Society Comercializadora de Serviços Medicos Cubanos (SMC) came to Brazil in 390 to map the areas in need of professionals.
Finally, the Cuban dictatorship itself called all Cuban doctors back as soon as President Jair Bolsonaro was elected. Some professionals, however, asked for citizenship to continue in the country.
UN says it is slavery
In 2019 , the UN sent a letter to Cuba asking for explanations about the conditions of program professionals. Based on NGO reports, the rapporteurs Urmila Bhoola and Maria Grazia Giammarinaro wrote to Havana indicating that they were “concerned about the working and living conditions that are affecting Cuban doctors sent abroad”.
Among the complaints they received was that Cuban doctors felt “pressured to participate in such missions and feared reprisals from the Cuban government if they did not participate.” Most of them did not sign contracts or, when they did, they did not keep a copy.
The Cuban government would still be freezing part of the salary that doctors could only access after returning to the country. “But, according to the information received, many times they did not receive the total amount to which they are entitled”, highlighted the rapporteurs.
According to information from NGOs released by the UN, professionals Cubans were subject to a working day of 41 hours per week, configuring “labor exploitation”.
In addition, , the United Nations revealed that many professionals reported receiving threats from officials of the Cuban dictatorship and doctors say they suffered sexual harassment during the “missions”.
In view of the observation, the reporters pointed out that “the conditions of reported could be elevated to forced labor, according to the indicators of forced labor established by the International Labor Organization.” “Forced labor is a contemporary form of slavery”, they highlighted.