Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Cuban doctors stranded in Colombia seek alternatives to reach the U.S.

Cuban doctors stranded in Colombia seek alternatives to reach the U.S.

Some 200 Cuban medical professionals are stranded in Bogotá after
leaving their assigned missions in Latin America organized by Havana.
They, too, want to emigrate to the United States.

Annie Rodríguez Alvarez, a physical rehabilitation specialist from Ciego
de Ávila, was arrested last week along with her 1 year-old daughter in
the Colombian municipality of Turbo, Antioquia, while trying to join
hundreds of Cubans en route to the United States who are stranded in a
temporary shelter in that small village in the Gulf of Urabá.

Rodríguez, 30, defected from a Cuban medical mission in the state of
Portuguesa, Venezuela, in 2014 to apply for the Cuban Medical
Professional Parole, a special U.S. visa program for medical
professionals who manage to escape international missions organized by

When she arrived in Colombia's capital city of Bogotá to apply for the
visa program, she was 7 months pregnant.

"I fled the mission because the conditions and mistreatment are
horrible," Rodríguez said. "Also, if you get pregnant they send you back
to Cuba and take away the money you've earned during the mission."

Rodríguez's baby, Wilbelys Antonella, was born in La Victoria hospital,
in the south region of Bogotá, but since her mother entered the country
illegally, she does not qualify for citizenship under Colombian
immigration laws. She only received a birth certificate that guarantees
that Rodríguez is her mother, but does not have a Colombian passport.

Rodríguez has tried and failed four times to obtain the U.S. visa for
the parole program established in 2006 for Cuban medical professionals
fleeing medical missions organized by the Castro government.

Each time she has been told that her application lacks the necessary
documentation, although Rodríguez has presented her medical degrees,
documents from her work in Venezuela and her red passport — the official
document issued by the Cuban government for medical personnel sent to
other countries.

For almost two years, Rodríguez has survived with remittances that some
friends in the U.S. send her and some money that her mother sends from
Cuba, she said.

"Sometimes I don't have enough money to even buy a yogurt for my
daughter," she said.

Rodríguez was released Wednesday night but immigration authorities told
her that she and her daughter must appear in Bogotá's immigration office
within 15 days to rectify their legal status. If she decides to instead
go to the temporary shelter in Turbo "overcrowded" by Cubans, the
Institute of Family Welfare would take custody of her daughter.

"My daughter was never given the rights she deserves for being born in
this country. She was even denied medical care in the hospital once,"
Rodríguez said. "How are they going to say they will take her away from me?"

Rodríguez decided to go to Turbo hoping that the Colombian government
would set up an airlift to Mexico for the hundreds of Cuban migrants
stranded there who want to continue their journey to the U.S.

The cases of medical professionals rejected by the Cuban Medical
Professional parole program have increased, she said, and others wait
for a long time after they apply before getting a response from U.S.
authorities. The trend has created uncertainty and despair among the
Cuban doctors in Colombia.

Some, encouraged by the hope that the migration crisis in Turbo will
result in the establishment of an airlift similar to those organized by
Costa Rica earlier this year and, more recently, Panama, have decided to
join the Cubans stranded in that municipality.

"That's the hope of everybody here: to reach the United States and have
a better life with freedom and everything that we don't have in Cuba,
where we are oppressed and cannot speak or say what we think," Rodríguez

Between October 2014 and September 2015, the United States Citizenship
and Immigration Services received 2,335 applications for the Cuban
Medical Professional Parole program, according to the latest statistics.
Of those cases, 367 were rejected, 26 were closed and 217 are pending.
The rate of cases denied is 18.1 percent against a 81.9 percent of approved.

Yosvani Jimenez Moreno, an optometrist from Granma in eastern Cuba, said
that two months ago he was denied the professional parole and, although
he applied again, he decided to go to Turbo because he thinks "it's more
feasible" and in Bogotá they are "without any help."

"Supposedly, here in Turbo there are many international journalists and
the representatives from the United Nations," he said.

Jimenez, 27, was also arrested along with Rodríguez and released a few
hours later.

"We are hoping that they set up an airlift to Mexico. I want somebody to
help me get out of here. My purpose when I fled the mission wasn't to
stay here in Colombia," he said.

Adrian Perez, 24, an intensive care specialist from Havana who left a
Cuban medical mission in Maturin, Venezuela, said that there is "no
certainty" in the special parole program.

"You take the risk for nothing," Perez said.

Due to an increasing number of Cuban professionals fleeing medical
missions, the chiefs of Perez's brigade in Venezuela withdrew the
doctors' passports to prevent them from escaping. However, Perez fled to
Bogotá, but his request for the parole was denied.

"Now I don't know what to do," he said. "I'm just waiting to see what
happens, if they find a solution for the situation in Turbo."

Perez lives in Bogotá with three other Cuban doctors. Yanquiel Gonzalez
Espinosa, one of his roommates, said that he and his wife have been
waiting over three months for a response about their application for the
parole. Abilio Fernández, another doctor who lives with them, said that
his application was denied and he had to present it again.

According to Fernández, about 200 Cuban medical professionals are
stranded in Bogotá after fleeing their missions. He said that the cases
denied are becoming more frequent, and several doctors have already gone
to Turbo and many other are considering that option.

Julio Cesar Alfonso, president of Solidarity Without Borders, a
Miami-based based organization that helps healthcare professionals find
jobs in the U.S., said that his organization will assess "whether there
is again a crisis with the parole program like it happened last year."

In August of 2015, the Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald reported that
hundreds of Cuban medical professionals were stranded in limbo in
Colombia while waiting to be accepted into the special parole program.
Florida lawmakers Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos
Curbelo, all Cuban Americans, urged for a solution and in September the
delivery of visas began to speed up.

About the current situation, Ros-Lehtinen said that "although each case
presented to our embassies abroad have their own unique characteristics,
we have helped many Cuban medical professionals through the process on a
case by case basis."

"The Castro regime is the ultimate cause of so many medical
professionals fleeing their placement as their homeland lacks human
rights, liberty, and a future for everyday Cubans," she said in a statement.

Meanwhile Annie Rodríguez, whom immigration authorities already warned
to return to Bogotá with her 1 year-old daughter, said she won't do it.

"I'm not going to Bogotá. I'm going to leave this country somehow,"
Rodríguez said. "I don't know how, but I will."

Source: Many Cuban medical professionals across Latin America want to
emigrate to the United States | In Cuba Today -

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