Cuban Doctors: Free Education and Widespread Exploitation

Whoever strives to graduate from university in Cuba is faced with a restricted present and an even more uncertain future.

By Alejandro Armengol (Cubaencuentro)

Cuban doctors returning from Brazil.

HAVANA TIMES – If any professional class has been harassed in Cuba post-1959, that has been its doctors. They have had to suffer the orders, and whims even, of a power that has always considered them to be one of its most valuable resources.

Even the most basic conversation about the subject highlights the fact that a Medicine degree on the island is free, while it can cost thousands and thousands of dollars in the US. However, the regime never needed this excuse to hold onto doctors.

In the first and second decade after Fidel came into power, doctors who requested to leave the country were “punished”, downgraded, sent to remote places and not allowed to leave for years, no matter where and how they got their qualifications, which back then wasn’t the result of the “Revolution’s achievements”, of course.

There was another punishment that was far worse than those listed above: holding onto the families (especially young children) of Cuban doctors who “deserted” abroad, after being sent to practice in other countries.

In fact, the language the Cuban government used in these cases (which is even adopted by international media to some extent) had a military, war-like connotation for work: “mission”, “contingent”, “desertors”.

This was all meant to underline the war-like nature of all the plans that the late ruler Fidel Castro conceived: a war philosophy by other means (peaceful and even humanitarian), but this didn’t stop laying the foundations for political and ideological expansionism. When circumstances pushed for an ideological (but not political) retreat, the ends became diplomatic and economic.

If doctors taking part in these “missions” decided to break the contracts imposed on them by the Cuban government, then they aren’t humanitarian workers who are leaving their exemplary work tempted by “Imperialism’s siren song”, but simple professionals who are fleeing exploitation in search of a better future.

Whoever strives to graduate from university in Cuba is faced with a restricted present and an even more uncertain future: limited to working a mediocre job or forced to look for a more lucrative profession, which has nothing to do with their studies. Education is one of the Revolution’s accomplishments that is bragged about the most and it has gone from being an achievement to a hindrance.

Not only in the case of doctors. For decades, the regime didn’t allow other university graduates to leave the country, they placed a million hurdles in their way and delayed their travels. Like anything that happens in Cuba, there were times of greater control and other times that were more relaxed, depending on many factors that ranged from international to national politics.

The Cuban government has always fallen back on the “brain drain” argument. Only this “brain drain” is nothing but a third world argument to cover up leaders’ negligence.

There are doctors from India and Pakistan working in US hospitals; in US universities – for example, here at the University of Miami, there are highly skilled engineers who have come from Arab countries; in Madrid and before Brexit, you could easily find a doctor who dreamed of and was looking to work in London. People try to live wherever they feel good, where they feel they are recognized more for their work and are well-paid.

When it comes to Cuban professionals, the Cuban government isn’t too interested in most cases because it can’t exploit them as a labor force that they hire out and export in keeping with political and financial agreements. Doctors are the best example of this.