Brazilian government defends its More Doctors program
By José Alberto Gutiérrez* (Café Fuerte)
HAVANA TIMES — Ramona Matos Rodríguez , the Cuban doctor who left the “More Doctors” program in Brazil, has opened a Pandora’s Box.
After leaving the doctor’s office where she had been located in the remote Pacajás municipality in the northern Brazilian state of Pará, the Cuban sought protection in the heart of Brazilian politics, the capital Brasilia.
Politicians of the Partido Democratas (DEM), in opposition to the government of President Dilma Rousseff, immediately gave their support to the doctor, seeking the advantages in politics these types of cases tend to provide, especially in an election year.
Matos, who remains hosted on the premises of the Chamber of Deputies, was presented to the parliament, and her case taken to an emergency meeting with the Minister of Justice, the Brazilian Lawyers Association and the Public Ministry, besides receiving considerable media attention .
The latest action from DEM, announced its leader Mendonca Filho, is to file a suit at the Ministry of Labor in which Matos demands the portion of her salary (nearly 90%) that goes to the Cuban government.
Payment to members of the Cuban mission takes place through a web of contracts signed between the Brazilian Ministry of Health, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the Distributor of Cuban Medical Services S.A.
Matos will also request compensation for alleged moral damages. She says she is “deeply deceived” after she was presented with a contract in Cuba for $1,000 a month of which $400 would be paid to her in Brazil and $600 deposited on the island. She claims that it wasn’t until after her arrival in Brazil that she learned the real amount budgeted for the program’s participants is around US $4,200.
“Brazilian law provides that any person who has the value of their work reduced is suffering unequal treatment and has the right to claim moral damages,” said the DEM Rep. Mendonça Filho who is advising the Cuban doctor in this action.
Beyond the individual suit by Matos, the opposition party plans to present a class action suit against More Doctors, the banner program of Rousseff in the field of public health. This suit would cover all Cuban doctors, forcing the Brazilian government to reimburse them the full value of their wages.
In an interview with the newspaper O Globo, Labor Ministry prosecutor Sebastião Caixeta, said he agreed with the claims of Dr. Matos and said in the coming days he will submit a report recommending the full payment of salaries for Matos and the more than five thousand Cubans who are currently working in Brazil in the More Doctors program.
According to Caixeta, the employment contracts revealed by Matos, signed by Cuban professionals and the Distributor of Cuban Medical Services SA, proves that this is not just a simple scholarship grant, but of common labor relations governed by the laws of the country.
Meanwhile, Brazilian President Rousseff tries to distance himself from the Matos case, considering it an isolated case and confident that incidents of deserting Cubans will not multiply. She believes this specific case should be resolved by the relevant ministries of Health and Justice, and never reach the Presidential Palace.
The new Brazilian minister of Health, Arthur Chioro, who replaces the former Minister Alexandre Padilha, has downplayed the defection of the Cuban doctor and announced Mato’s removal from the official program and her prompt replacement in the distant Pacajás. Padilha, the outgoing minister, was the spearhead of the More Doctors program. He left his office to present his candidacy for the post of governor of the State of Sao Paulo, one day before Matos went public in Brasilia.
“The revolution began with More Doctors will continue,” said Chioro.
Matos, 51, also filed a request with the U.S. Embassy in Brasilia for protection under the special program for defecting Cuban physicians in third countries, in force since 2006. Under the so-called Cuban Medical Professional Parole, more than 1,500 members of the Cuban medical missions have been granted asylum in the USA.
* Cuban journalist and executive editor of Terra Latin America and the United States. He lives in São Paulo.