Posted on Wednesday, 08.28.13
U.N. agency may sponsor "modern-day slavery"
BY ANDRES OPPENHEIMER
The United Nations Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) is doing
great things in Latin America, but I wonder whether its latest role as a
middleman to help place 4,000 Cuban doctors in remote areas of Brazil
does not amount to sponsoring slavery.
Under a deal between Brazil and Cuba that was brokered by the
Washington-based PAHO, the Latin American branch of the U.N. World
Health Organization, the Brazilian government will pay Cuba the
equivalent of $4,080 a month — or nearly $49,000 a year — for each of
the Cuban doctors.
The Brazilian government says the Cuban doctors are needed in remote
areas of northern and northwestern Brazil, because no Brazilian
physicians want to take those jobs. The first 400 Cuban doctors started
arriving in the South American country on Aug. 24 amid public criticism
from Brazil's biggest physicians' associations.
Brazil's National Federation of Brazilian Physicians, Fenam, has said
that "the Cuban doctors contracts have the characteristics of slave labor."
Under the PAHO-brokered Brazilian program, called Mais Medicos (More
doctors), Brazil pays Cuba the entire amount of the Cuban doctors'
wages, and Cuba later pays a fraction of it to the doctors.
Here's the problem: Neither Brazil, nor Cuba, nor PAHO are saying how
much of the $4,080 a month per doctor will go to the doctors working in
Solidarity without Borders, a Miami-based organization that helps Cuban
doctors around the world, says the Cuban government pays its doctors
working in Brazil and other countries between $250 and $300 a month, or
about 7 percent of the full amount it gets from the Brazilian
government. The remaining 93 percent are pocketed by the Cuban
government, the group says.
"It's a modern-day slavery system," Solidarity Without Borders President
Julio Cesar Alfonso told me in an interview. "The only difference is
that it uses highly skilled slave work."
Asked how does he know the amount paid by Cuba to its doctors in Brazil,
since it's an official secret, Alfonso responded, "It's very simple:
there are about 30,000 Cuban doctors in Venezuela, and other tens of
thousands around the world, and more than 5,000 have already defected.
They tell us how much they were being paid by the Cuban government."
Former Cuban ruler Fidel Castro created this doctors-for-export racket
in 1982 as a way to earn cash for the country. Castro opened medical
schools throughout Cuba to produce as many doctors as fast as possible.
As Cuba's economic situation deteriorated over the years, Cuba stepped
up its doctors' export business, Alfonso says.
Some of the Cuban doctors that are being sent abroad have not even
graduated, Alfonso said.
"They are now exporting 5th and 6th-year medicine students to Venezuela,
as part of their training to get their degree," he said.
Cuban doctors who are sent to Brazil, Venezuela and other countries
don't complain about their pay: the $250-$300 a month that they can make
in Brazil is nearly ten times more than the average of $30 a month that
they make in Cuba. In addition, it gives them a chance to defect,
"It's a good business deal for Cuba, and it also serves as a way to
export Cuba's ideology to the poorest parts of the world," Alfonso says,
adding that Cuban doctors played a big role in helping late Venezuelan
President Hugo Chavez win support in poverty-stricken parts of
Venezuela. "In remote jungle regions where they never saw a doctor, the
presence of a fifth-year Cuban medicine student is a godsend."
When I called PAHO to ask how much the Cuban doctors in Brazil will be
paid by Cuba, I was told that PAHO's director, Carissa E. Etienne, was
not available but that PAHO's Brazil office would respond via e-mail.
A few hours later, I got PAHO's non-answer. It said that that "the Cuban
doctors are Cuban government officials," and that they will be paid
their normal wages with "an additional salary" by the Cuban government
"according to the laws of that country."
As for the Brazilian doctor's federation assertion that the deal amounts
to "slave labor," PAHO's response was that, "This question has been
examined by various departments of the Brazilian government and the
country's authorities do not agree with that assertion."
My opinion: There is nothing wrong with Brazil hiring Cuban doctors who
are willing to go to remote areas of the country, where Brazilian
doctors allegedly refuse to go.
But the Brazil-Cuba deal whereby the Cuban government reportedly pockets
93 percent commission on the Cuban doctors' salaries is scandalous.
And for an affiliate of the United Nations — an organization whose
charter calls for the abolition of all sorts of slavery, and that
celebrated the U.N. International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave
Trade just last week — is even more outrageous.
Cuban doctors should be allowed to work in Brazil, but they should be
paid their full salary. Otherwise, it's hard to see the ongoing deal —
and the fact that all three sides are not disclosing how much the Cuban
doctors in Brazil will be paid — as anything other than a modern day
high-skilled slave trade.
Source: "Andres Oppenheimer: U.N. agency may sponsor "modern-day
slavery" - Andres Oppenheimer - MiamiHerald.com" -