On Cuba’s Missions Abroad

Janis Hernández

Cuban doctors in Venezuela. Photo: radiorebelde.cu

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 Revolico.com, 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.

Janis Hernández

Janis Hernandez: I don’t seek to change the world, much less give recipes on how it should or shouldn’t be. I don’t have the gift of oratory or that of the letters. I’m not an analyst or a philosopher. I am just an observer of the things that happen around me and I feel obligated to speak about my country without a muzzle, just write and that’s what I do in my diary.

19 thoughts on “On Cuba’s Missions Abroad

  • March 6, 2015 at 10:44 am

    In Cuba hundreds of thousands of children under 6 – and pregnant women – suffer from anemia and need WFP food aid.

    Cuban families can’t make it on their salaries and the majority survives on remittances.
    “”This limited range of products on their shopping lists is a reflection of the overall low level of income in hard currency, which barely covers basic needs,” he told IPS.
    Although health care and education are free, and utility rates are extremely low, a survey conducted in Havana at the start of the decade found that a family of four would require seven times the average salary to meet all of their basic needs.
    Government sources estimate that 60 percent of the Cuban population has access to dollars.”

    Medical services for Cubans, in contrast to those for tourists, are bad in Castro’s dictatorship.
    Again you show you are very disingenuous in your defense of the Castro dictatorship

  • March 5, 2015 at 9:17 pm

    In the world today, millions of children die from starvation and lack of medicine and medical care.
    Not one is Cuban and Cuba is doing all it can to save the others .
    You probably wouldn’t understand the principles of mutual aid that are involved and which are a part of humanity’s intrinsic makeup.
    You’re too busy spouting inanities.

  • March 5, 2015 at 9:14 pm

    You can get a lot more work out of wage slaves under capitalism than you can under a democratically run economy.
    Capitalism IS a totalitarian form.
    Under a socialist economy it is the workers who make the decisions based on one-worker, one vote and majority rule .
    Production is important but human need is more important than the right to amass fortunes while millions starve .
    It is immoral because right now the world produces some 119 percent of the foodstuffs needed to feed the whole world and it is capitalism : the inability of millions under it to make enough money to buy the food and medicine they need that kills millions every year .
    The only socialist aspect of Cuban society is their socialist means of distributing the essential goods and services to all.
    Were just this one aspect of Cubas revolution applied to the countries in which capitalism kills so many , none of these 6 million or so children would die.
    They aren’t YOUR kids and most of them are black so they just don’t matter as much to you as does the right to become a millionaire.
    You prefer to be “harnessed ‘ because you believe in being ordered around .
    Its how religion, capitalism, an oligarchy and the traditional male-dominate nuclear family structures under which you were raised have conditioned you.
    You prefer these totalitarian forms all the while denying their intrinsic totalitarian way to yourself as you must.
    You contradict what you say you believe with your lifestyle every day.

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