By Sayli Sosa (OnCuba)
HAVANA TIMES — The bags had been packed when a new order arrived. “We’ve been informed no one has to leave. The problem of the debt has been solved,” a Cuban health worker based in Angola tells OnCuba.
The message arrived when rumors in Cuba maintained the island’s health personnel and experts were leaving Angola owing to a lack of payment for their services.
Angola’s financial problems and inability to meet its commitments with the Cuban government came to light in May, when Cuban authorities approached Luanda with a proposal to create a joint commission to analyze issues of bilateral interest, including the debt.
At the time, the Angolan health minister told the Angolan Press Agency (ANGOP) that there were “certain concerns regarding the debt to Cuba, arising from the current global situation and, consequently, the readjustment of the 2015 State budget.”
The health official added that the sums owed would be paid and that “despite the current debt, we’re going to continue to promote joint initiatives.”
The crisis required the attention of the highest levels of government. In July, Vice-Chair of the Cuban Council of Ministers Ricardo Cabrisas traveled to southwest Africa. Following the meeting, the head of the America Department of the Angolan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Francico Jose Da Cruz, remarked that relations between the two nations continued to be dynamic, “but that adjustments within these long-standing collaborative ties were being made because the country is in financial arrears owing to the sudden drop in the oil price on the international market.”
Angola’s failure to pay for Cuban services had led to the decision to terminate the contracts of the 4,000 professionals that today are providing services in sectors such as education (1,400) and health (1,800).
Despite the farewells published on social networks, where some Cuban professionals announced their unexpected return home prior to the end of their contract, little or nothing of this has been mentioned by the island’s official media.
The sudden drop in the price of oil, valued at 114.49 dollars a barrel in 2008 and today below 50, has not only had an impact on Angola’s economy – it has also brought serious consequences for Venezuela.
More than 30 thousand Cuban health professionals are currently working in Venezuela: 1,163 in the cultural mission, 1,500 in the Barrio Adentro Deportivo sports initiative and a similar number in the educational project. This constitutes by far the largest number of Cuban professionals working abroad and provides one of the island’s main sources of revenue.
More than 51,000 health professionals are currently working in 67 countries around the world under contracts with the State-run Comercializadora de Servicios Medicos de Cuba (“Cuban Medical Services Company”)
However, very little is known about how these professionals live abroad, the emotional and personal cost of being away from home, the number of people who abandon their missions, the degree of satisfaction with the pay and the ups and downs of an exportable resource that is directly affected by the fluctuations of the economies of receiving countries (as became evident in Angola).
“They say that Raul Castro said that if Cuba didn’t abandon Angola during the toughest years of the war, it surely wouldn’t abandon it now. That’s why he told everyone to stop packing their bags,” another professor tells us, convinced of this.
There’s no way to confirm this version of events, and Raul Castro’s government has shown a tendency to moderate the altruism that characterized previous Cuban internationalist missions.
Three different types of collaboration agreements have been implemented since the reform process began in Cuba: one in which Cuba covers the larger costs, others where it shares these and a third which is purely profit-driven. We have not been able to determine which of the three was implemented in Angola.
Cuba’s businesses with the sub-Saharan country also include such sectors as construction, energy, water, transportation and defense. A Reuters dispatch from Luanda dated July 15 published statements by Ricardo Cabrisas, who announced that the Angolan oil company Sonangol could begin prospecting in the Gulf of Mexico Exclusive Zone controlled by Cuba in 2017.
The start of oil exploration in the area will however depend on what progress is achieved between Havana and Washington, as the lifting of the maritime blockade and the restricted areas of the Gulf of Mexico are pending issues following the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries.