A Cuban Health Alert

Fernando Ravsberg*

Cuban doctors in Brazil.  Photo: cibercuba.com
Cuban doctors in Brazil. Photo: cibercuba.com

HAVANA TIMES — Cuba’s Ministry of Public Health has reportedly presented medical doctors working in Brazil with an ultimatum, stating that, if their accompanying relatives do not return to the island before next Sunday, they will be expelled from their missions.

On December 17, Dr. Marina de la Torre, one of the officials responsible for training the medical doctors who work abroad, told us that Cuba is trying to send MD couples together and that, when one of them does not work in public health, there is no objection to their traveling to join their partners through their own means.

A text written by Cuban doctors and circulated through the Internet claims that Cuba is setting up all of the obstacles, while Brazil has issued a law that makes it easier for “medical doctors involved in the [More Doctors] program to live with their families during their time in Brazil.”

These doctors believe it is absurd that they should be authorized “to have relationships with a Brazilian, even marry them, but that living with their Cuban wife or husband is considered an act of indiscipline by the Cuban Ministry of Health.”

Medical professionals explain that “bringing one’s family over is not illegal, neither under Cuban nor Brazilian law. It is only illegal for our Minister of Public Health, who imposes this regulation on us without an explanation, telling us that, if we don’t send our relatives back before February 1st, our work contract here will be terminated.”

They claim that no such condition “was ever included in the contract we signed with Cuba. It’s just the Minister of Health, exercising and abusing his power, who is imposing this on us, knowing he has full control over us.”

The Ministry of Health headquarters in Havana.

The doctors remind readers that they “inject money into our country and that, today, medical services offered abroad are the country’s main source of revenue. This, though many don’t see it this way, is thanks to our sacrifices. It’s true we receive a small benefit, but it is nothing compared to what we give the State.”

Several doctors that I know who are working in Brazil have confirmed that this situation is real and has people very upset, particularly because the measure was never discussed with them – they were simply presented with the “final” Ministry resolution.

I have no idea what could lie behind this directive or why this radical change took place between December 17 and February 1. What seems unjustified is that the measure should be applied without any kind of previous consultation and that it should involve a threat.

What the Cuban doctors in Brazil are saying is entirely true: they are the country’s main economic pillar. The Minister of Health would not be able to put fuel in his car if it weren’t for the thousands of physicians working in Venezuela in exchange for oil.

Cuba cannot spit on the hand that feeds it or be ungrateful towards those who travel abroad to work under the worst conditions, in remote rural regions, the jungle or poor urban neighborhoods, or to combat dangerous epidemics.

This white-coated army has already suffered dozens of deaths in the fulfillment of its duties and that alone ought to inspire the respect of all Cubans. They have willingly left behind their families many a time, but, if Brazil has no objections, why should they be separated unnecessarily?

Many of these medical doctors could have left Cuba’s public health sector, gone for their families and moved to another country, and earn much more than they do now. However, they have decided to continue working for the benefit of the entire nation and all Cubans.
(*) Visit the website of Fernando Ravsberg.


6 thoughts on “A Cuban Health Alert

  • Some ballpark figures: (per annum)
    – “doctors for rent”: 8 to 10 billion dollars (depends on source)
    – Venezuelan aid: 6 billion dollars (some overlap with doctors, hard to separate)
    – remittances (mainly from US): 5 billion dollars (cash and goods)
    – tourism: 2.5 billion dollars

    Tourism is a distant 4th.
    The problem with tourism is that the “inputs” (food, equipment, …) all have to be imported and revenues have to be shared with foreign partners. That means that the net contribution of tourism is highly overrated.

  • I was surprised to read that “…medical services offered abroad are the country’s main source of revenue.” I thought tourism, and all of its spin-off business, would be the primary revenue source. It must be a close second! I know this is a bit of a tangent, but do you have a comment on that point Fernando?

  • Another example of how the Castro regime considers the Cuban people as “economic assets” that should be squeezed. The right to a family life is protected by international law. The families of Cuban doctors are the hostages that have to ensure that the “income earning doctors” don’t think about escaping. Vile and inhuman treatment.

  • Your guess is probably right. What’s missing throughout Cuban society is “due process”. Not just as a legal term but also as a social norm. Too often, people in charge are imbued with the authority to do whatever pleases them without fear of negative consequences. Emblematic of totalitarian systems is a debilitating lack of recourse for the airing of grievances. As the military junta takes further control of the government, the military-style “yes sir, no sir, three bags full sir” method of governance has expanded.

  • A very ugly side of socialist state totalitarianism. A little personal freedom goes along way. And if freedom means disparate distribution, well it’s a bargain over forced economic equality.

  • The reason the Cuban government wants these family members to return because then the healthcare worker is less likely to run away and never come back to Cuba. As a Cuban once said to me, “We Cubans have a poor sense of direction. We get lost and can’t find our way home. That’s why the government makes sure our families stay in Cuba, to help make sure we find our way back home.”


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