Cuban Doctors in Brazil: Are They in the Dark or Not?

Jimmy Roque Martínez

Part of the over 7,000 Cuban doctors working in Brazil. Photo: Juvenal Balán/granma

HAVANA TIMES — Practically no Cuban working abroad as part of an international brigade contracted by the their government knows exactly how much the host country pays Havana for their services, but most content themselves with the money they get, which allows them to buy certain things they need and is always much more than what they earn in Cuba.

Recently, there was news that at least five Cuban physicians in Brazil’s Mas Medicos (“More Doctors”) program, which aims to address some of the country’s healthcare needs, had deserted. Such desertions are far from uncommon. On this particular occasion, one of the doctors, Ramon Matos Rodriguez, is accusing Cuba of lying to her about the actual amount of her salary.

Another physician told me that it was only after six years of work in Venezuela that she was able to find out what her true salary was, thanks to a government official in the mission who was a friend of hers. If Cubans are cheap labor back home, why should they expect anything else abroad (signing a contract with the very same State that exploits them at home)?

During the preparations for the Mas Medicos program at the end of 2012, the first doctors who traveled to Brazil held a meeting with Ministry of Health officials, where they were told that anyone who deserted the mission would not be authorized to work in Brazil (not even in the private sector).

As regards the “work contract”, the members of Cuba’s brigade were told that, in the event a Brazilian government official in Cuba asked them how much they would be paid for their services, they were to reply they didn’t know, as they had yet to sign the agreement.

At the time, no one raised any objections to the bureaucrats who arbitrarily imposed such regulations on them.

The terms under which Cuban medical doctors are to work in Brazil were negotiated by the governments of Brazil and Cuba, as well as the Pan-American Health Organization and the Sociedad Mercantil Cubana Comercializadora de Servicios Medicos (Cuban Medical Services Firm).

It is true the Cuban government deceived Cuban health professionals by concealing the actual amount paid for their services, but the doctors surely suspected this ahead of time. It doesn’t make it any less unjust, but it seems hard to believe it took them by surprise.

Ramona Matos

The salary these doctors earn abroad is high compared to the average salary paid in Cuba (around 20-25 USD a month). This contradicts the foreign press campaign that refers to the work of Cubans in Brazil as “slave labor.”

If there is any maneuver by the Cuban State, it is to be found in the contracts. Lack of transparency is characteristic of this government. The brigade members were denied the right to know the real amount paid for their services and the percentage that would end up in government hands.

Or were they? Can any doctor who has deserted or is still working in Brazil make their contract public?

In addition, Cubans should also be informed of the amounts earned through medical services abroad and how these sums are used to improve Cuba’s healthcare system. There is no reason to conceal this information.

In a comment published in Havana Times this past January, a Cuban medical doctor denounced the government for lying to him about the amount paid for his services in Brazil and quoted Cuba’s Health Vice-Minister Marcia Cobas’ declarations for the Brazilian press on August 26.

On that occasion, Cobas had reported that Cubans would receive anywhere from 40 to 50 percent of the 10 thousand Reales (4,100 USD) Brazil would be paying for each professional. Now, we know the Cuban government is actually paying only 25 per cent of that salary.

In the meantime, Cuba’s official press has limited itself to reporting that some sectors in Brazil are attempting to discredit the Mas Medicos program and has offered partial information about the case of Dr. Ramona Matos Rodriguez, making no mention of the issue of salaries or the 62-thousand-dollar compensation Matos is suing for in Brazil’s courts.

Jimmy Roque Martinez

Jimmy Roque Martinez: I was born in Havana in 1979, and it seems that work has been my sign. Custodian, fish farmer, lens carver, welder, glass maker, optometrist, have been some of my trades. But none consumes as much of my time as caring for my family. For many years I’ve faced the least pretty face of this society, and I try to be happy while I transform it. I am too shy. I like silence, sleep, theater and movies. I hate injustice and arrogance, and I can hardly contain my anger when it happens in front of me.

5 thoughts on “Cuban Doctors in Brazil: Are They in the Dark or Not?

  • The latest news on the subject: from next month Cuban doctors will get $245 more.

    Currently they receive:

    – $400 in Brazil

    – $600 in a blocked account in Cuba. that account is only released to them if and when they return to Cuba.

    Now an additional $245 will be paid and apparently the full $1245 would be paid to them in Brazil.

  • Greg, even the Cuban regime has admitted that with the possible exception of some doctors in Haiti ALL Cubans doctors are paid for by host nations and / or donors. Venezuela pays $130,000 per doctor. South Africa pays the same for Cuban doctors in Liberia. (1)

    The sale of medical services is the largest export earner in Cuba. (2) That even the Cuban regime admits. Earnings are estimated between 6 and 7.5 billion dollars a year.

    It also is a known fact that the Cuban doctors are exploited as indentured labor under these contacts – with no freedom at all to end them or emigrate – as various sources have confirmed.

    (1) “Oposición: Caracas paga a La Habana 130.000 dólares anuales por cada médico”, DDC | Caracas | 24 Mar 2013,

    “SA allocates R268m in aid to 19 countries”, 11 Jul 2012,

    (2) “Cuba: The selling of a nation”,,

    “Mieke Welvaert explains how Cuba pays for its oil imports and the measures it needs to take to make the system work”, February 18, 2014,

  • Do you understand Greg that the only reason this medical ‘diplomacy’ makes sense is because the Castros terribly underpay their medical staff in Cuba? As a result, a payment of $1000 per month in Brazil (which you can’t pay hospital orderlies in most countries) will attract a Cuban neurosurgeon because it is nearly 50 times what he earns in Cuba. Sending Cuban doctors to poor areas in underdeveloped countries has nothing to do with altruism or some noble purpose of helping the underserved. What the Castros do is strictly business, and a profitable one! The US program which offers asylum to Cuban doctors is not intended to discredit Cuban doctors. On the contrary, it counteracts the former onerous emigration policy affecting Cuban medical personnel. Until last year, Cuban doctors and nurses were not issued exit permits to leave Cuba until after 5 years after they quit working in medicine. The ONLY was a Cuban doctor would have an opportunity to emigrate to the US without having to wait at least 5 years to hope to receive a ‘tarjeta blanca’ was through this program. The US expanded the Wet foot/Dry foot emigration program to doctors abroad as a means to counteract the Castros expanded restrictions on doctors. Cuban doctors who are certified in the US work alongside American-born physicians on an equal footing. There have been differences in salary for some owed to language limitations which obviously reduce over time.

  • this dribble of fiction is typical of the US State Dept. campaign to discredit Cuba’s health campaigns in developing countries poor areas where the affluent class doctors refuse to go. This campaign is public knowledge and encourages Cuban doctors to defect and gives them promises and aid to mount malicious campaigns and come to US where they work for less than their American counterparts. If they can get certification. That The Havana Times does not include this program of the US State Dept in the story shows who it gets payments from and who decides its content.

  • I think most doctors are indeed in the dark. More importantly: they don’t have any choice – beyond deserting that is.

    The Cuban regime did indeed promise to pay 40 to 50% of the $4,200:
    “Brazil’s government and the PAHO say they do not know how much Cuba will
    pay its doctors. But Cuban’s vice minister for health, Marcia Cobas,
    said the Cubans in Brazil would receive 40 to 50 percent of the $4,200
    that Brazil is paying monthly for each doctor.”

    Source: Brazil, facing health-care crisis, imports Cuban doctors | Cubafaq –

    But doctors that are sent report receiving much less, even less than the 25% ($1,050).

    The Cuban regime is again caught in a lie and the whole episode shows how these people are used as “serfs” – as Yoani Sanchez referred to them – in Castro indentured labor / slavery scheme aimed at ensuring the regime survives.

    Some Castro apologists argue that Cuba uses its “competitive advantage” in education to generate “international brigades” that work for free – well at least under the price of the competition – in other countries.
    Cuba’s so-called international aid is pure trade and is often at inflated prices of over 120,000 U$ per year per doctor.
    The competitive advantage Cuba uses isn’t education – lots of Cuba educated doctors fail to pass certification in lots of countries. The real “competitive advantage” used here is the totalitarian control the regime has ever its people.
    The countries that (ab)use these doctors should be ashamed.

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