The Squandering of Cuba’s Greatest Resource

Alberto N Jones

Cuban doctors at work.  Photo:
Cuban doctors at work. Photo:

HAVANA TIMES — On November 17, 2014, the most influential print media in the United States, the New York Times published the 6th consecutive editorial on Cuba entitled “A Cuban Brain Drain, Courtesy of the US”.

This shocking revelation was unknown to the majority of its readership, accustomed to a hostile rhetoric about defecting baseball players, stagnated economy and a lack of basic goods.

This contradiction became clear, when Secretary of State John Kerry, US Representative to the UN Samantha Powers and White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest acknowledged Cuba’s critical contribution in the fight against Ebola, while at the same time the US State Department is covertly supporting the infamous Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program.

This program is the brain child of Emilio Gonzalez, an extremist right wing Cuban American, who during his stint as the head of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services in 2006 and fully supported by the Cuban American Congressional delegation, made it part of George W. Bush anti-Cuba policies.

This barbaric piece of legislation is intended to undermine the Cuban government, by encouraging and facilitating Cuban physicians, dentists, therapists, pharmacist and psychologists, working with the poorest of the poor in the most intricate places around the world, to abandon their patients, head to the US and embrace the American Way of life.

Their hate against Cuba, did not allow Ileana Ros-Lethinen, Mario Diaz-Balart, Marco Rubio, Bob Menendez and others to reflect on the harm they were doing to people who may have seen a physician for the first time in their lives and whose destiny has been one of hunger, pain, suffering and death.

Cuban Government Shares the Blame

At the same time, huge blunders by overzealous, insensitive and unresponsive managers of the Cuban Ministry of Health and other governmental entities, repeatedly ignored pleas for fair and just wages, better living conditions in situ, rescinding the draconian limitation on family imported goods and the prohibitive Customs tariffs.

Promises to MDs of the sale of used cars, homes, appliances and the timely access to their bank accounts were broken with impunity or delayed at will without any recourse.

Cuban doctors in Venezuela.  Photo: Caridad
Cuban doctors in Venezuela. Photo: Caridad

Many managers of the Cuban healthcare missions in different countries assumed or were given overwhelming authority, which lead to unfair disciplinary actions, tarnished careers and denied legal recourse to claimants. This combined with the USA’s Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program, created the perfect broth, the right temperature and the ideal humidity for these germs to proliferate and create the tragic defections that follows:

2006 – 11, 2007 – 781,   2008 – 293,  2009 – 519,  2010 – 548,   2011 – 384,  2012 – 681,  2013 – 995,  and 2014 – 1278.  Total – 5,486

Far worse than the cold number of 5,486 professionals ripped away from their patients, is the fact, that none of these professionals were serving patients with options to choose, pay or go to another physician; only suffer and die.

Cuba has been robbed of thousands of years educating its people and millions of dollars in training, healthcare, subsidized housing, food, transportation, stipend and more, to see millions of its intended patients deprived of their service.

Reenacting a similar action against Cuba in 1960-63, when 50% of its 6000 physicians were lured to Miami, by dangling in front of them an expedited exit –Visa Waiver- and the glamour and glitter of the American way of life, millions of patients were left to suffer or die, because of the loss of their expertise.

Cuba countered by building 22 Medical Schools and 80,000 physicians in lieu of one medical school and 3,400 physicians in 1963, to treat and expand the healthcare service of its people and those of 60 countries in 4 continents.

This scorch land policy failed in 1963 and will fail in 2014, as Cuba continues to train thousands of conscientious physicians willing to be on the front line against Ebola in Africa, malnutrition in Pakistan, blindness in Bolivia or Cancer in Surinam.

But the Cuban government must be willing to review critically and correct immediately, the way the country’s most important, valuable and respected representatives have been treated by insensitive bureaucrats and mediocre politicians placed in key positions.

The recent financial compensation which is paid to healthcare professionals in Brazil, South Africa and Portugal, may not be just, but is fair enough to keep both parties happy. How many billions of dollars and professional manpower has Cuba lost, by underpaying or irritating, those who left their patients in disgust?

Cuba has learned that its massive humanitarian healthcare programs can also yield substantial income. There is no doubt, that in the coming years, Cuban healthcare services will become the largest and most stable source of income of the country.

Great Potential

Cuban doctors off on a foreign assignment.  Photo:
Cuban doctors off on a foreign assignment. Photo:

Cuba’s geographical location, make it readily accessible to tens of millions of women deprived of reproductive rights in the United States by fundamentalist religious groups. Millions of Hispanic ex-military men and women in dire need of mental health treatment, sufferers of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Substance Abuse, Depression, Bi-Polar etc., with insufficient Spanish Speaking mental health professionals, could flow to Cuba for help, along with with millions of senior citizen fleeing violence, insecurity and un-affordable cost of living.

Why then, with such a bright healthcare future, is this self-destruct policy in place, because of a few leaders counting pennies and cheating the nation’s most venerable workers, out of a fair and decent standard of living?

Thousands of Cuban physicians who were enticed by the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program to defect after being alienated by absurdities of the Cuban Ministry of Health and others and led them to ignore the suffering of their patients, can be found in Hialeah behind supermarket counters, driving tractor trailers, cleaning bathrooms or learning how to rip-off Medicare without going to jail.

Cuba must demonstrate to the world as it did in the 1960-70’s and 1990’s, what a nation with vision and principles is capable of doing. One way would be by building three huge and superbly equipped Medical Centers and Research Institutes in Santiago de Cuba, Holguin and Santa Clara, to provide critically needed service to millions of patients without healthcare insurance in the US, the Caribbean and Latin America and magnanimously salvage the education, prestige and expertise of those professionals, who for whatever reason left their posts and patients and return them with dignity to their profession, to serve their country, the world and out of the fangs of the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program.

13 thoughts on “The Squandering of Cuba’s Greatest Resource

  • November 27, 2014 at 12:54 pm

    It’s also worth noting, the growth in the Chinese economy did not happen despite of the US economy, it happened because of the US economy. US innovation in science & technology still leads the world, and by a long margin.

    No Nobel prizes in science have been awarded to Chinese scientists working in China. Of the nine Chinese Nobel Laureates, 7 were working in the US, 1 in France and the other in the UK & US.

    Two Chinese Nobel Laureates who are living and working in China are the writer Mo Yan (Literature, 2012) and the pro-democracy activist Liu Xiaobo (Peace, 2010). Both of whom are repressed & harassed by the Chinese government.

    Until the Chinese dictatorship stops harassing their intellectuals, they will remain a second rate power.

  • November 27, 2014 at 12:21 pm

    I tried unsuccessfully to raise concerns about a human tragedy that demands urgent attention and why, destroying healthcare professionals careers for political expediency, compounds, do not solve the problem. Some facts from the World Health Organization

    Country Inhabitants Physician x 1000 inhabitants

    Costa Rica 4.8 1.31

    Dominican Republic 10.4 1.88

    Ecuador 15.7 1.69

    Honduras 8.1 0.37

    Jamaica 2.7 0.41

    Mexico 122.0 1.96

    Philippines 100.1 1.15

    US 319.2 2.42

    Cuba 11.3 6.73

    Compare Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines, with a common history in 1898

  • November 27, 2014 at 11:59 am

    China has the 2nd largest military budget in the world, after the US. Given the difference in currency values, the Chinese get a far greater bang for their buck. Chinese draftees get paid next to nothing for their service in the PLA.

    China does have troops abroad. Currently, the Chinese Navy is engaged provocative exercises in a disputed region of the South China Sea. Chinese troops have continued to occupy Tibet since invading in 1968. Today the PLA labourers are working to build a rail way along the border to India in expectation of a war with the South Asian neighbour.

    In 2012, China established a naval base in the Seychelles island in the Indian Ocean. More bases are planned in the region: Chinese observers forecast 18 possible overseas bases of PLA Navy, including Chongjin Port (North Korea), Moresby Port (Papua New Guinea),Sihanoukville Port (Cambodia), Koh Lanta Port (Thailand) Sittwe Port (Myanmar), DHAKA Port (Bangladesh), Gwadar Port (Pakistan), Hambantota Port (Sri Lanka), Maldives, Seychelles, Djibouti Port (Djibouti), Lagos Port (Nigeria), Mombasa Port (Kenya), Dar es Salaam Port (Tanzania), Luanda Port (Angola) and Walvis Bay Port(Namibia).

    Recently, China has launched their first modern aircraft carrier and tested super-sonic anti-ship missiles.

    So yes, China is a rising economic power, but they are also a rising military power in the Pacific & Indian Ocean regions.

  • November 27, 2014 at 11:31 am

    Are you confusing GNP with trade in Latin America? Even with GNP in mind, the Chinese are still more than “a few years” away. Relax, don’t count us out just yet.

  • November 27, 2014 at 8:20 am

    Forbes indicates that China is gaining fast on the US and will overtake us in a few years. I dont think Forbes is exaggerating. We spend our resources on military might while China concentrates on business and has no military abroad.

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