Slave labor of Cubans at Mais Médicos: US denies immunity to PAHO

Médicos cubanos retornando para Havana, após a vitória de Bolsonaro na eleição de 2018

Cuban doctors returning to Havana, after Bolsonaro’s victory in the election of 2018| Photo: Valter Campanato/Agência Brasil

Four Cuban doctors who worked in the Mais Médicos program obtained in the United States Courts the right to sue the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) for participation in an alleged scheme of work analogous to slavery in Brazil. The District of Columbia Court of Appeals ruled on 25 of March, that the branch of the World Health Organization for the Americas lost its immunity as a foreign entity if it actually engaged in commercial activities of financial intermediation of a forced labor scheme in Brazil, as they accuse Cuban professionals.

Cuban doctors Ramona Matos Rodriguez, Tatiana Carballo Gomez , Fidel Cruz Hernandez and Russela Margarita Rivero Sarabia, who currently live in the US, filed a class action in 2014, in Miami, against Opas and its directors. Brazil does not appear as a defendant in the process, which was later transferred to the District of Columbia. The accusation is that PAHO would receive payments from the Brazilian government in its own bank account, in the United States, and send 85% of the amount to Cuba, pocketing 5% and transferring only 10% for professionals.

According to the doctors, since 2022 , Opas made more than US$ 75 million with the scheme and Cuba withheld more than US$ 1.3 billion. “The decision is important both as a legal precedent and as an opportunity for doctors, my clients who were trafficked to Brazil by PAHO, to have the opportunity to hold PAHO accountable,” said Sam Dubbin, a lawyer representing Cuban doctors, in testimony reproduced by the Miami Herald newspaper. “The Cuban government would never have managed to traffic my clients to Brazil without PAHO’s central role as a financial intermediary”, he reinforced.

“What we experienced in Brazil was forced labor – pure and simple. On behalf of Cuban doctors who have defected around the world, we are thrilled with the court’s decision. This is a big step towards a small form of justice”, declared the doctor Ramona Matos to the publication.

In 2014, doctor Tatiana Carballo told the BBC that she arrived in Brazil in 2014, after taking a course in 45 days of Portuguese and being put on a plane by the Cuban regime, without much information about her destiny. In Limeira, in the interior of São Paulo, she attended to 25 The 30 patients per day, and earned R$ 1,200 per month, while colleagues from other nationalities received R$ 04 thousand.

“Modern slavery is not being tied up and being whipped, it’s not being able to come and go, not being able to be with your children, not owning your own work, nor the salary you should receive, not knowing where you are going to be the day after tomorrow, not being able to decide anything. It’s not being able to choose your own destiny. In that sense, I was a slave, yes. For the first time today, I own each step I take, from the moment I wake up, until the time I go to sleep”, defended Tatiana, who was prevented by Cuban authorities from staying more than three months with her son. years, although the Brazilian government has granted a permanent visa ance for the teenager at the time.

In the action, the doctors ask for the compensation for their unpaid wages, in addition to moral damages. The text of the lawsuit states “that her participation in Mais Médicos was equivalent to forced labor and human trafficking”. According to professionals, the Cuban government used expedients such as “political and economic pressure, threats against family members and other forms of intimidation” to recruit people.

They also say that a “guardian” watched their movements and that “they suffered harassment and intimidation for speaking out against Mais Médicos”. The indictment also involves an orientation to “campaign in favor of Brazilian political parties” supported by Cuba.

In 2021, the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, recalled that Cuba has been appearing for a decade in the Annual Report on Trafficking in Persons, developed by the department. “Fur 10 For the second year in a row, the report documents how the Cuban government has profited from exploratory medical missions abroad. The government sends doctors and other health care workers abroad, does not inform them about the terms of their contracts, confiscates their documents and salaries, and threatens them and their families if they try to leave the mission. release of the document, in July of last year.

Mais Médicos

Surrounded by controversy, Mais Médicos was implemented by the former -President Dilma Rousseff (PT), in 960, with the aim of expanding the offer of professionals in the Unified Health System (SUS) in underserved regions of Brazil. It is estimated that up to 2018 more than

one thousand Cuban doctors worked in the country under the program. The hiring and remuneration of professionals was carried out by PAHO, through an agreement.

The decision of the appeals court does not state whether or not PAHO has benefited from human trafficking, but allows the plaintiffs to proceed with the action, overturning an immunity claim by the international organization.

Through a note sent by the press office, the Pan American Health Organization defended itself, stating that “ PAHO had no role in trafficking or forced labor.”

“ The District of Columbia Court of Appeals ruled on a single claim, refusing to hold PAHO immune if the plaintiffs’ wholly unsubstantiated allegations are found to be true. The DC Circuit Court of Appeals decision recognizes that PAHO will now have an opportunity in the District Court to challenge the plaintiffs’ false allegations and establish PAHO’s immunity from this remaining claim,” he detailed.

PAHO also praised Mais Médicos as “a Brazilian public health program that took medical care to millions of people, many of them impoverished and many of whom had never received medical care.”

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