Thursday, June 20, 2013

Doctors reap in billions as Cuba's top export

Doctors reap in billions as Cuba's top export
By Carlos Batista | AFP

Cuba is out to boost its top export, an ever-more critical pillar of its
economy. And it's not sugar: hired-out Cuban doctors earn the Communist
government over six billion dollars a year.
Medical services exports "are now the leading source of hard-currency
income for the nation, and have great potential to keep growing,"
Foreign Trade Minister Rodrigo Malmierca said at a recent event.
About 40,000 Cubans doctors are working on contracts in 66 countries in
Asia, Africa and Latin America.
The next big-ticket client could be Brazil -- the booming South American
giant is considering hiring 6,000 Cuban doctors to help cover its health
care staff shortage.
It may be somewhat surprising that Cuba -- once known for its exports
like sugar, cigars, citrus fruits and rum -- now has four main pillars
of its state-controlled economy.
Only one -- nickel -- is a traditional commodity, bringing in $1.1
billion a year as the country's fourth most important import. But in
this nation of endless white beaches, nickel is still less than half as
significant as tourism, which brings in $2.5 billion a year into
government coffers.
Impressively, in a Caribbean country of just 11 million people,
remittances -- money sent by relatives abroad -- also end up giving $2.5
billion to the Cuban government. Why? Because their family members here
spend it mostly at stores owned by the government.
Each of those big-ticket, hard-currency spinners however pales in
comparison to the whopping $6 billion Cuba earns each year in exporting
professional services -- sports trainers, teachers and especially
doctors -- on overseas contracts.
At home, doctors earn between $25 and $41 dollars each month, and they
are not allowed to leave Cuba at will.
If they were to head to the nearby US state of Florida, where Cubans can
work legally just after arrival, they could earn a physician's salary of
$150,000 per year or more.
Private mechanics, waiters at restaurants catering to tourists, and even
hairdressers can earn far more than do highly-trained doctors in Cuba,
making overseas medical missions appealing to this country's doctors.
The Cuban government acts as a middleman in the transactions, hiring out
their medical staff to foreign countries.
The amounts Havana charges for the services of their workers are not
made public, but payment, in hard currency, is for significantly more
than what the doctors are paid personally. The government keeps the
difference between its contracting price and what it pays the Cuban
worker monthly.
It's a big business that is getting bigger: Havana has said it wants to
increase the number of countries paying to import Cuban doctors. In a
nation proud of its public health tradition, it also is charity in some
cases: Cuba gives doctors' services to 40 countries that cannot afford
to pay for them for free.
President Raul Castro's government recently vowed that medical missions,
which started under his brother Fidel Castro back in 1998, would be
maintained and even expanded.
"We are going to continue assistance in solidarity to countries that
cannot pay for these medical services, as in the case of Haiti," said
Health Minister Roberto Morales.
At the moment, 26 nations are paying the Cuban government to send them
doctors, at a salary level determined by the Cuban government.
Morales said money earned from the medical contracting arrangement with
Venezuela, for example, "helps pay for expenses we incur in other
countries" and is also used "to improve workers' health care and working
The politically based economic arrangement with Venezuela harkens back
to the Cold War, when Cuba exported its sugar to the East bloc for
cut-rate Soviet oil.
Cuba hopes one day to be able to tap yet another source of revenue: the
cash-strapped government believes there are vast crude oil assets off
the island's north coast.
But as long as it is unable to access them, Cuba remains economically
isolated and dependent on Venezuela, which provides the communist island
with cut-rate oil and is the single largest importer of Cuba's medical
export workers, taking in about 30,000 of them.

Source: "Doctors reap in billions as Cuba's top export - Yahoo! News UK"

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