Symbol of Cuban Medical Brigade Wants to Stay in Brazil

By Jose Alberto Gutierrez  (Cafe Fuerte)

Doctor Juan Delgado, booed on his arrival in Fortaleza, in August 2013. Photo: Jarbas-Oliveira/Folhapress

HAVANA TIMES — Cuban doctor Juan Merquiades Duvergel Delgado, who was made the face of the “Mas Medicos” (More doctors) Program and a symbol of “solidarity in the health field” after he arrived in Brazil in 2013, now represents another side of reality: that of professionals who don’t want to return to Cuba.

Delgado formed part of the first brigade of Cuban health volunteers who were sent to Brazil to take part in the new health program “Mas Medicos”, which was launched that year by former president Dilma Rousseff with the aim of improving medical assistance in regions of the South American country that lacked this service.

When Delgado landed at Fortaleza city’s airport, in Brazil’s northeast, in August 2013, a crowd of Brazilian doctors and Medicine students were waiting for the Cuban doctors to show their unhappiness with the program. The newly-arrived were jeered at and insulted.

A symbol was born

The next day, Brazilian media published photos and videos of a black man surrounded by two white Brazilian doctors who had called him a “slave.” The government and Brazil’s Leftist groups used the photo to take on their program’s detractors. The display of hate towards the Cuban delegation was criticized as an act of the white medical elite’s xenophobia and racism.

Doctor Delgado honored by President Dilma Rousseff and Brazil’s Public Health minister, Alexandre Padilha.

The protagonist of the photo was Doctor Delgado, who unexpectedly became the face of the “Mas Medicos” Program.

The news website Brasil 247 named him Man of the Year in 2013 and Cubadebate’s director, Randy Alonso, took on the task of singing his praises in Cuba. “Juan Delgado is already popular in Brazil. His face is now appearing in newspapers to remind people of the dignity and the values of men and women from a small Caribbean archipelago which, in 55 years of the Cuban Revolution, have multiplied by sowing the seeds of solidarity everywhere across the world,” the pro-government journalist wrote.

Days after the incident, during the official inauguration of the health program, Dilma Rousseff invited the Cuban doctor to Brasilia so she could publicly ask his pardon in the name “of her government and the Brazilian people.”

No to love ties

However, some time has passed since then and the doctor’s understanding has changed. After four years working in the “Mas Medicos” program, Delgado revealed to the newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo that he wasn’t planning on leaving Brazil. The doctor is now married to a Brazilian woman and he practices medicine in the remote Ze Doca municipality – in the Maranhao state’s interior.

Doctor Delgado honored by President Dilma Rousseff and Brazil’s Public Health minister, Alexandre Padilha.

“I met my wife and I wanted to stay, I feel good here,” said the “Cuban doctor”, as he is known in the city, reported Folha.

The contract signed between Brazilian and Cuban governments – which was mediated by the Pan-American Health Organization – was initially only valid for three years, but for Brazil’s part it was extended by three more years at the end of April 2016, as a part of the last measures that former president Rousseff signed off, four months before her impeachment.

However, Cuba doesn’t accept that professionals who have already spent the first period of their mission in Brazil to continue on and is demanding that the brigade be replaced.  This measure follows the Cuban government’s strategy to try and prevent doctors from integrating into their host country and setting up love ties with marriage and children.

An option for married doctors

After an impasse in negotiations between Cuba and President Michel Temer’s government, during which the replacement of more than 700 doctors was canceled, Cuban professionals who had married Brazilian citizens were able to extend their contracts. However, they had to first return to Cuba to “normalize their situation”, according to what Marcia Marques Pinheiro, the Municipal Health Departments’ National Committee advisor said.

Doctor Delgado was sent to the remote Ze Doca municipality and he found love there.

According to the Brazilian Health Ministry, out of the 1500 doctors who had requested to continue their mission after their three years were up, only 38 of them had Cuba’s authorization to remain in the program. Juan Delgado is one of them.

In his municipality, which has a little over 50,000 inhabitants, the “Cuban doctor” also attends to patients in 10 indigenous settlements. According to his statement, he was well received by the population after he had spoken with regional leaders, although the language barrier to communicate with Brazil’s indigenous groups continues to be his greatest challenge. In his district, there are patients of three different ethnicities (Ka’apor, Awa-guaja and Tenetehara-guajajara) and he needs a translator in order to be able to communicate.

Struck by Cupid’s arrow

Before Delgado arrived, two years ago when the city didn’t have any doctors, “There were shortages of food, medicine and there wasn’t a medical assistance framework in settlements. When there was an emergency, they needed to be brought to the municipal hospital,” the doctor says.

Today, Delgado is 53 years old and he met his wife, Ivanilde Lopes, on a visit to one of these indigenous areas, where she had been working as a community health worker for 17 years. They began their relationship in 2015 and they got married last year. Ivanilde told the paper that the marriage proposal, just a few months after they had started seeing each other, took her by surprise.

“I was 56 years old, I was single, I had never married. I would never have thought that he would propose,” the woman revealed to Folha.

There are currently 18,240 doctors who make up the “Mas Medicos” program, 10,400 of which are Cuban. The Cuban government holds onto approximately 70% of the 3.700 USD that Brazil pays per month for each doctor.