For years, the Cuban regime has boasted about its humanitarian missions of doctors sent all over the world to sell the image of the power of the Cuban health system. While on the island the health crisis has been collapsing for years, the regime profits multi-million dollar sums by exploiting its health professionals under a state of slavery that is sustained in the face of coercion and blackmail.
“The world has consented to slavery in more than 60 countries with Cuba’s internationalization missions. You cannot exchange health for slavery. The world must react,” said Javier Larrondo, president of the NGO Prisoners Defender International, referring to the abuses suffered by Cuban doctors who star in the so-called humanitarian missions of Cuban doctors.
This repression is not exclusive to Cuban doctors, as athletes, musicians and artists from the island who travel abroad also have to experience it, as they are constantly watched and controlled by party officials who almost always travel with them to prevent them from deserting.
In a study carried out by PDI, 622 Cuban doctors denounced being under a situation of slavery and constant abuse by the Cuban regime officials who accompany them on humanitarian missions.
Critical overcrowding, expropriation of salaries, pressure to falsify statistics and magnify the results of the Cuban health system, and even direct threats to their families, are normal for the doctors on the missions.
A legal system complicit in the exploitation of Cuban doctors
The Cuban legal system itself is complicit in the situation of exploitation and repression experienced by doctors on humanitarian missions. Migration Law No. 312 is a legislation specially designed to control doctors on humanitarian missions. Ordinary Cubans are restricted access to an ordinary passport, and in the case of Cuban doctors, they are given an “official” passport that is only valid for the duration of the medical mission.
Health workers are considered a “regulated” population and require special authorization to obtain a passport to leave the country, even if they resign from their position in the National Health System.
Decree 306 of 2012 empowers officials to regulate the departures of doctors and athletes; the decree allows migration officials to take up to 5 years to approve or deny any request to move abroad made by a health professional.
These are only the restrictions faced by Cuban doctors inside their country; outside in the missions, doctors are watched by Castroist officials who always travel on the missions to avoid leaks.
Privacy is null and void and many times doctors are housed in very poor conditions, in order to save costs for the regime. If a doctor decides to stay abroad longer than the medical mission’s passport allows, he or she can face up to eight years in prison.
Today, more than 10,000 parents are kept away from their children because the Castro regime would arrest these doctors as soon as they set foot in Cuba. The darkest thing of all is that this penalty is contemplated in the Cuban Penal Code itself, in Section 135, so the Cuban courts themselves are complicit in these arrests that have no validity under international law.
The reasons for escaping are not too many, according to the testimonies. First of all, health workers are forced to participate in Cuban medical missions. Out of 622 doctors who spoke to PDI, 70% of the doctors answered that they had not volunteered for humanitarian missions, and 16% reported having volunteered after being victims of some type of coercion by agents of the regime against them directly or their families.
The average salary of a Cuban doctor in one of the humanitarian missions is an average of $490. Nearly 20% of the Cuban doctors surveyed by PDI stated that they never received a salary. Some doctors immediately accept to join the Cuban missions because the salary is higher than what they could receive on the island, which ranges from $25 to $40 per month.
While the humanitarian missions bring millions of dollars to Cuba, the doctors involved remain in conditions of slavery.
Although salaries are theoretically higher in the medical missions, the Cuban regime continues to pay its doctors only a fraction of what it charges countries that accept its medical missions. According to PDI, Cuba has even charged countries receiving “humanitarian aid” up to 10 times the value of the salary it supposedly pays the doctors who make the mission possible.
In order to travel on humanitarian missions, Cuban doctors are subjected to a tenacious indoctrination system. Nearly 80% of the Cuban doctors interviewed by PDI stated that they were given a set of rules of behavior on the missions, not only of a personal nature but also of a political nature. Forty percent stated that a regime official withheld their passport during international missions.
Castro’s officers play a fundamental role in the “humanitarian” missions since they monitor even the most intimate instances of the doctors. Seventy-seven percent of the doctors surveyed by PDI stated that they did not have any kind of intimate relationship or friendship with local people where they were developing the mission; 74 % of the doctors said that they were explicitly warned not to spend the night in a place that was not approved by the regime.
Castroism, in its desire to control, obliges the doctors on the mission to denounce their colleagues in case of suspicious behavior. Some 76% of the doctors interviewed by PDI stated that they were told by regime officials to alert them in case they perceived suspicious or “counterrevolutionary” behavior by their colleagues.
Despite keeping its doctors in a system that resembles slavery rather than paid free labor, Cuba has made multimillion-dollar revenues from the exploitation of its health professionals. According to PDI, Cuba receives more than $8.5 billion a year from humanitarian missions, while exports generate just over $1.21 billion, all at the cost of keeping its precious doctors in slave-like conditions.