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
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    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.”
    http://www.ipsnews.net/2006/06/cuba-us-new-squeeze-on-family-remittances/

    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
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    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
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    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.

  • March 4, 2015 at 10:27 am
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    But in this case posible only in Cuba.

  • March 3, 2015 at 12:19 pm
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    “…to each according to need , from each according to their ability to give”
    But who decides, eh John? That’s how tyrannies come about. Those in charge always end up “needing” more. It’s human nature.

    Capitalism is about opportunity. It’s why Capitalist countries, in all their varied forms, are historically more productive! …proofs in the pudding John. You can argue the nuances of different forms of Capitalism; some with more, others with less government involvement, but that’s about it. In the end Capitalism harnesses human, it doesn’t suppress it.

  • March 3, 2015 at 10:06 am
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    In Cuba the only “need” that is satisfied by the “doctors for rent” scheme is the need for survival of the Castro regime.
    Cuban “socialism” is all about providing for the necessities of the elite while denying the people even the basics.
    In Cuba it is the elite that is amassing wealth and that is partying with the capitalist socialites.
    In Cuba it is the elite that is making over 500,000 people unemployed.
    The “fool’s errant” is to try to support abuses of human rights.
    The victims here are the Cuban people, including the doctors. They are getting beat up by the thugs of the Castro regime that you admire.

  • March 2, 2015 at 9:27 pm
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    Mayari? OK, I guess anything is possible.

  • March 2, 2015 at 9:20 pm
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    The true nature of socialism is exemplified by “to each according to need , from each according to their ability to give.”
    Socialism is not capitalism .
    You SHOULD know that each system is motivated by different things.
    Socialism, as the word implies, is about providing the necessities of life for all the people .
    Capitalism is about the amassing of wealth by individuals without regard for the deleterious effects on the poor such as a normal 20% unemployment rate .
    You should also know that it is a fool’s errand to try to compare very wealthy, highly developed First World countries with small , developing , poor and economically besieged Cuba.
    It’s a really shitty argument to blame the victim for getting beat up by an imperial thug you admire .

  • March 2, 2015 at 7:50 pm
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    Mayari, and I was just in Cuba and have seen it.

  • March 2, 2015 at 11:22 am
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    The “existential economic threat” for the Cuban people is the “internal embargo” of the Castro regime.

    Treating Cubans as virtual slaves like the doctors are has no excuse.

    A doctor in the US is free to work where he wants and can pay back his
    debt in a number of years. The so called “free education” is no valid
    excuse for lifelong serfdom.

    In many countries in Europe education
    is also free (France, Belgium, …) and people that graduate are NOT
    forced to surrender their freedom for life.

    As far as quality
    medicine goes: Western Europe again shows the way how good quality
    services can be provided for free or at very low cost. Medical services
    for Cubans in Cuba are bad. Hospitals lack everything (equipment,
    medicines, bed-sheets, …). Most now also lack doctors. Most of Cuba’s
    specialists are rented out for cash for the survival of the regime.

  • March 2, 2015 at 10:14 am
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    Cuba’s international missions violate UN labour laws. By law, the host countries are supposed to pay the Cuban workers directly. Instead, the Cuban government insists on collecting the payroll from the host country, and then passing on a small percentage of the payment to the workers.

  • March 2, 2015 at 9:11 am
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    You are mistaken. Cuba is paid for its services in Nicaragua through a variety of UN programs and directly by the Ortega regime. Moreover, Nicaragua supports the medical school in Cuba for the education Nicaraguan medical students receive. Go easy on the Castro Kool-Aid.

  • March 2, 2015 at 9:07 am
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    Don’t be naïve. If what you say is true, do the math. Homes in Cuba are relatively very expensive in comparison to salaries. Let’s say she saved her entire year’s salary while working in Brazil. I dare say she did not receive more than 1000 cuc per month. So if you are suggesting that she paid only 12,000 cuc for “a fairly nice house”, I have a question: Where in Cuba can you buy a fairly nice house for only 12K cuc?

  • March 2, 2015 at 3:47 am
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    While Cuban doctors may be “proud” of what they do and happy to earn some dollars, most are revolted by the abuse they suffer. Often pressured to go, most of the salaries confiscated and well aware that their families are held as hostages for their compliance and return, they struggle one.
    As far as payment goes: the only place where (some of) the doctors aren’t paid for is Haiti as far as I know.

  • March 1, 2015 at 2:11 pm
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    I have a relative who has worked in Brazil 1 year of her contract and on her holiday break bought a fairly nice house in Cuba. Couldn’t do that in the US!

  • March 1, 2015 at 10:18 am
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    My experience both in Cuba talking to people who have been on brigades, and in Nicaragua to Cuban medical staff, is that they are very proud of what they do. I’ve never heard anyone complain about it. Indeed, the Cuban teams in Nicaragua go out into rural areas looking for patients (e.g. who need eye surgery). They also train Nicaraguan medics. As far as I’m aware the Nicaraguan government doesn’t pay for these services. Certainly the Nicaraguan students who go to medical school in Cuba don’t pay and neither does the government. Surely the arrangements with Brazil and Venezuela are different, as both are richer countries and can afford to pay? This article gives a very biased picture of Cuba’s missions abroad.

  • February 28, 2015 at 1:25 pm
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    FYI,
    Cuba is under an existential economic threat imposed by the U.S. government’s embargo.
    It was set in place EXPLICITLY to create poverty so deep and painful that the Cuban people would rise up and throw out their own revolution.
    Cuba must use all its resources to survive an attack that few other countries in the world out of the 68 in which the USG has intervened have survived.
    One of those economic resources created entirely by the Cuban socialist-style means of distributing health, education and welfare is a very well educated population .
    In the U.S. a doctor goes into debt to the tune of about US$250,000 before his/her education is done and then they must go right to work paying back that debt .
    Un Cuba , the state pays that enormous amount of money/time and then reaps the benefit from the debt-free graduates by farming out their services.
    In the U.S. all doctors must work for themselves after graduating to pay off what they owe or to set up practice.
    In Cuba, the doctors become a part of the fight against the embargo and go to work for mainly humanitarian reasons in areas of the world like Haiti , where few U.S. doctors spend more than a week or two as volunteers because they cannot afford to do so.
    Different economies, different reasons .
    The capitalist USA is not set up for the socialization of medicine. Capitalism is what prevents U.S. medicine from being given free as a human right .
    It’s why Obamacare forces everyone to buy insurance rather than provide care to those who need it.
    Cuba is well set up as state capitalist and has created this resource from which the Cuban people and the people of the world benefit.
    You have to be a real shit to jump on this aspect of Cuban society as a negative.

  • February 28, 2015 at 7:52 am
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    Well put, this selling of services is much like the slave trade run out of Cuba in Colonial days. It should end.

  • February 27, 2015 at 3:01 pm
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    My beautiful mother-in-law spent two years on a mission in Venezuela. It nearly cost her marriage. In the end, she came back with a new TV, some kitchen appliances, clothes and maybe an extra couple thousand CUC. Two years! Over the same period, the Castros collected almost $80,000. The Castros are little better than slave-masters and Cubans who accept these international missions are indentured servants.

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