UN Rapporteurs Request Information on Alleged Slavery of Cuban Doctors

By El Toque

Cuban doctor seeing to a Venezuelan patient. Photo: Taken from Venezuelan TV

HAVANA TIMES – In November 2019, two UN rapporteurs asked the Cuban government to supply information about alleged human rights violations suffered by Cuban medical aid workers abroad.

The request, which recognizes the consolidation of the National Health System and free university studies on the archipelago, highlights the contribution of medical assistance to a large number of people who wouldn’t have had access to healthcare services otherwise.

“However, we would like to express our concern about the working and living conditions that are affecting Cuban doctors who have been sent abroad to offer their services,” they point out.

One of the main concerns they sent was health professionals’ working hours, which are over 64 hours per week (48 on normal shifts, plus 16 on weekend shifts), which shines a light on possible labor exploitation.

The report claims that the medical aid workers “don’t receive a work contract and if they do, they don’t always receive a personal copy.”

In this regard, they stress that the aid workers only receive between 75-90% of their monthly wages [sometimes considerably less], and the rest is handed over to the Cuban government, either directly or paid back by the professionals themselves. One of their main concerns in this regard is that the final wage workers receive isn’t enough for them to live a dignified life.

“Plus, the Cuban Government is “freezing” a part of the wages, which doctors will only be able to access once they return to the country, but, according to sources, a lot of the time they don’t receive the full amount they should,” the report explains.

Issues they have asked the Cuban government to clarify involve reports of threats, pressure and fear of reprisals of doctors who refuse to fulfill some of their mission or “desert the mission”, whether that’s before or after it ends.

The rapporteurs mention Article 135 of Cuba’s Penal Code, which stipulates that “the official or employee with the responsibility of completing a mission in a foreign country, who abandons or (once the mission has come to an end, or called back to Cuba at any given time), expressly or tacitly refuses to do so, will be sanctioned with a three to eight-year prison sentence.”

They express their concern with the punishment of defector doctors, who are prevented from returning to the island for 8 years “and relatives who remain in Cuba are subject to being targeted and suffering repercussions from government bodies.”

The rapporteurs explained that even though the Cuban government announced that doctors who had stayed in Brazil after the “Mais Medicos” program was withdrawn, would be able to return to Cuba, many health professionals were afraid of suffering reprisals if they returned to Cuba.

They also asked for other matters such as Cuban workers’ restricted movement abroad, limited privacy, including communications and relations with national and foreign citizens, to be explained.

“Working conditions reported could be understood as forced labor, according to the forced labor indicators established by the International Labor Organization (ILO). Forced labor is a modern-day form of slavery,” the rapporteurs explained.

The request for clarification asks the Cuban government to supply them, in their defense, with any information, additional comments, future measures they hope to adopt and ways health professionals can file complaints to denounce violations, as well as channels for access to this information from abroad.

They also asked the Cuban Government if there is any intention to ratify Protocol 29 of the Forced Labor Convention, which was passed at the 2014 General Conference of the International Labor Organization.

The request was signed by Urmila Bhoola, special rapporteur about modern-day forms of salvery, including its causes and consequences, and Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, special rapporteur about humane treatment, especially of women and children.

The 60-day period for the Government to respond ended on January 6th 2020. If the Cuban government considers the above as requirements from UN representatives, then they should be issuing a statement anytime now.

Protected by Resolution No. 168/2010 issued by the Ministry of Foreign Commerce and Investment (which outlines the disciplinary measures against Cuban civilian workers offering services abroad), states that some 600,000 health professionals have provided medical services abroad in over 160 countries ever since 1963.



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