Monday, November 17, 2014

A Cuban Brain Drain, Courtesy of the U.S.

A Cuban Brain Drain, Courtesy of the U.S.

Secretary of State John Kerry and the American ambassador to the United
Nations, Samantha Power, have praised the work of Cuban doctors
dispatched to treat Ebola patients in West Africa. The Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention recently sent an official to a regional
meeting the Cuban government convened in Havana to coordinate efforts to
fight the disease. In Africa, Cuban doctors are working in
American-built facilities. The epidemic has had the unexpected effect of
injecting common sense into an unnecessarily poisonous relationship.

And yet, Cuban doctors serving in West Africa today could easily abandon
their posts, take a taxi to the nearest American Embassy and apply for a
little-known immigration program that has allowed thousands of them to
defect. Those who are accepted can be on American soil within weeks, on
track to becoming United States citizens.

There is much to criticize about Washington's failed policies toward
Cuba and the embargo it has imposed on the island for decades. But the
Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program, which in the last fiscal year
enabled 1,278 Cubans to defect while on overseas assignments, a record
number, is particularly hard to justify.

It is incongruous for the United States to value the contributions of
Cuban doctors who are sent by their government to assist in
international crises like the 2010 Haiti earthquake while working to
subvert that government by making defection so easy.

American immigration policy should give priority to the world's neediest
refugees and persecuted people. It should not be used to exacerbate the
brain drain of an adversarial nation at a time when improved relations
between the two countries are a worthwhile, realistic goal.

The program was introduced through executive authority in August 2006,
when Emilio González, a hard-line Cuban exile, was at the helm of the
United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. Mr. González
described the labor of Cuban doctors abroad as "state-sponsored human
trafficking." At the time, the Bush administration was trying to cripple
the Cuban government. Easily enabling medical personnel posted abroad to
defect represented an opportunity to strike at the core of the island's
primary diplomatic tool, while embarrassing the Castro regime.

Cuba has been using its medical corps as the nation's main source of
revenue and soft power for many years. The country has one of the
highest numbers of doctors per capita in the world and offers medical
scholarships to hundreds of disadvantaged international students each
year, and some have been from the United States. According to Cuban
government figures, more than 440,000 of the island's 11 million
citizens are employed in the health sector.

Havana gets subsidized oil from Venezuela and money from several other
countries in exchange for medical services. This year, according to the
state-run newspaper Granma, the government expects to make $8.2 billion
from its medical workers overseas. The vast majority, just under 46,000,
are posted in Latin America and the Caribbean. A few thousand are in 32
African countries.

Growing Defections
Estimated number of Cuban medical personnel, on government missions
abroad, who were admitted to the United States. (Fiscal years.)
2006 11
2007 781
2008 293
2009 519
2010 548
2011 384
2012 681
2013 995
2014 1278
Source: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

Medical professionals, like most Cubans, earn meager wages. Earlier this
year, the government raised the salaries of medical workers. Doctors now
earn about $60 per month, while nurses make nearly $40. Overseas
postings allows these health care workers to earn significantly more.
Doctors in Brazil, for example, are making about $1,200 per month.

The 256 Cuban medical professionals treating Ebola patients in West
Africa are getting daily stipends of roughly $240 from the World Health
Organization. José Luis Di Fabio, the head of the W.H.O. in Havana, said
he was confident the doctors and nurses dispatched to Africa have gone
on their own volition. "It was voluntary," Mr. Di Fabio, an Uruguayan
whose organization has overseen their deployment, said in an interview.
"Some backtracked at the last minute and there was no problem."

Some doctors who have defected say they felt the overseas tours had an
implicit element of coercion and have complained that the government
pockets the bulk of the money it gets for their services. But the State
Department says in its latest report on human trafficking that reported
coercion of Cuban medical personnel does "not appear to reflect a
uniform government policy." Even so, the Cuban government would be wise
to compensate medical personnel more generously if their work overseas
is to remain the island's economic bedrock.

Last year, the Cuban government liberalized its travel policies,
allowing most citizens, including dissidents, to leave the country
freely. Doctors, who in the past faced stricter travel restrictions than
ordinary Cubans, no longer do. Some 20,000 Cubans are allowed to
immigrate to the United States yearly. In addition, those who manage to
arrive here in rafts or through border crossing points are automatically
authorized to stay.

The Cuban government has long regarded the medical defection program as
a symbol of American duplicity. It undermines Cuba's ability to respond
to humanitarian crises and does nothing to make the government in Havana
more open or democratic. As long as this incoherent policy is in place,
establishing a healthier relationship between the two nations will be

Many medical professionals, like a growing number of Cubans, will
continue to want to move to the United States in search of new
opportunities, and they have every right to do so. But inviting them to
defect while on overseas tours is going too far.

Source: A Cuban Brain Drain, Courtesy of the U.S. - -

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