Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Crisis Hits Cuban Doctors In Venezuela

The Crisis Hits Cuban Doctors In Venezuela / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

14ymedio, Miami, Mario Penton, 21 June 2016 — Tania Tamara
Rodríguez never thought of fleeing the Cuban medical mission in
Venezuela and become a "defector" who is prohibited from entering her
own country for eight years. The plight of the island's health
professionals in Venezuela has led an increasing number to seek refuge
in neighboring countries or to take alternative work to meet their needs
in the midst of the economic crisis in that "Bolivarian" nation.

"The situation of doctors and aid workers Cubans is terrible. The whole
time you are living under the threat that they send you back to Cuba and
you lose your mission. You're afraid they'll take away all the money –
which is in official accounts in Cuba – and if they take some
disciplinary measure they will revoke the mission," says Rodriguez.
While working in a clinic lab in the "Barrio Adentro" mission, her
salary of 700 Cuban pesos (about $26 US) is deposited in Cuba and she
has the right to an account of 280 dollars a month and a card giving her
25% off on purchases at Foreign Exchange Collection Stores (TDRs) in Cuba.

In 2014, recognizing that the island earned more than 8.2 billion
dollars from the "export of health services, the Cuban government agreed
to increase the wages of workers in the sector (to $61 US per month).
However, this increase, which came after the dismissal of 109,000
workers, has not raised the pay of Cuban doctors to the average pay for
doctors internationally.

Rodriguez arrived in Venezuela from her hometown of Holguin, where she
worked in the Máximo Gómez Báez polyclinic after earning a degree in
Clinical Laboratory. The desire to economically improve the lives of her
13-year-old daughter led her to choose to travel outside the country in
one of the coveted medical missions abroad.

Cuba maintains a "contingent" in Venezuela composed of 28,811 health
collaborators, a priority for the government which, since the late Hugo
Chavez came to power in 1999, has invested over 250 billion in the
industry, according to statements by President Nicolas Maduro .

The scheme of paying for medical services with oil has been denounced on
numerous occasions by analysts critical of the Caracas government, who
accuse it of being a cover for subsidies to Havana, which eventually
resells some of the oil on the international market.

Rodriguez has no family in the United States, where she has lived since
filing for a visa through the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program,
offered by the US embassy, and has combined several jobs to raise the
money and buy a plane ticket for her daughter. However, when the family
took the child to the offices of Cuba's Interior Ministry to request a
passport, she was denied that right, based on the claim that her mother
"is serving a mission in Venezuela."

"I can not understand how in Cuba I can be considered as a doctor on
mission, if for more than one year I have been in the United States.
Someone has to be collecting the money that the Venezuelan government is
paying for me," says Rodriguez.

According the US Citizenship and Immigration Service, in the last fiscal
year it received 2,552 petitions for the Cuban Medical Professional
Parole Program, an initiative established under Republican president
George W. Bush, which allows a "medical professional currently
conscripted to study or work in a third country under the direction of
the Government of Cuba" to enter the United States with a visa. Since
taking effect in 2006, more than 8,000 professionals have benefited from
the program.

Solidarity Without Borders, an non-profit located in the United States,
told 14ymedio that in recent years there has been an increase in doctors
and healthcare workers taking advantage of the US government program,
although not all are accepted, as demonstrated by the 367 applications
denied in the last year.

Rodriguez said that upon reaching Venezuela she was assigned to the
state of Falcon, along with other Cubans. "Everything in Venezuela is a
lie. They forced us to throw out the reagent CKMB, a product in short
supply in the nation, but we had to throw it out for the record in the
statistics used so we can import more. This was the case with alcohol,
bandages, medicines… Everything was produced in Cuba and the Venezuelan
government paid," she denounces.

"We made up lists of people treated and they forced us to live with the
minimum, while Cuba took all the money," she explained. In the time
Rodriguez worked as a specialist, Havana allocated to each staffer
around 3,000 Bolivars (about $300 US), a figure that has escalated
substantially since the beginning of the inflationary crisis in
Venezuela and the relentless devaluation of the currency. "Sometimes, I
had to have my little 'under the counter' job to support myself. Thanks
to God, many Venezuelans sympathize with the Cubans and help us," she

"Perhaps what happened with me is when I decided to escape, I went to
the mayor and told him about the whole disaster created by the CDI
(Integral Diagnostic Center) and now they want revenge because I
denounced it," she says.

Reinaldo is a Cuban doctor who worked in Anzoategui state, but does not
want to give his last name for fear of being punished. "We started out
earning 3,000 Bolivars and now we're at 15,000 Bolivars (about 15
dollars on the black market). The odd things is that it doesn't mean
anything to multiply the wages if they aren't worth anything in real
life," he laments.

"The conditions we work in are the worst, we are the wage slaves of
Cuba. They keep us in groups. Since I arrived, I've lived with three
doctors from different regions of the island, I have to share my room
with someone I don't know and at six in the evening every day I have
check in, like I'm at home."

The authorities of the Cuban medical mission in Venezuela justify the
daily check on aid workers and maintain that it is to protect them due
to the high levels of violence in the neighborhoods they serve. The
doctors, for their part, consider that it is a practice to keep them
under surveillance.

"There are a lot of Cuban State Security agents. The role of these
people is to ensure we don't escape from the mission. On arriving in
Venezuela they ask us if we have family abroad, especially in the United
States. We all say no, even if we do, because otherwise the surveillance
is worse," says the physician.

The economic situation in the country has become so precarious, he says,
that in his last vacation on the island he had to buy cleaning and bath
soaps and toothpaste to bring the Venezuela. "When we got here, it was a
paradise, they had everything we didn't have in Cuba. Today it's the
exact opposite. We come thinking about helping our families and it turns
out that they are the one who are helping us. If it weren't for my
brother who lives in Miami and sends me remittances, I don't know what I
would do."

According to several doctors consulted by this newspaper, cases of
violence in which Cuban healthcare workers have been involved are kept
secret, even if the person dies.

"It is impossible that we wouldn't be assaulted here, because here
everyone is assaulted. A stray bullet, a thug who doesn't like you,
we're exposed to all this," says a Cuban doctor who prefers not to give
her name. "One day two children assaulted me, they couldn't have been
more than 12. I had to give them all the money I had, because the guns
they were playing with were real," she says.

The relations of the Cuban medical personnel are also regulated. "They
warn you that things can go badly for you if you deal with
the squalid (a word used in Venezuela for regime opponents similar to
the use of "scum" and "worm" in Cuba)." The doctor says that the
intimacy between Venezuelans and Cubans is formally forbidden, "although
people manage."

In the 13 years that Cuban medical missions have been operating in
Venezuela, more than 124,000 specialists have passed through that
nation. Thousands have fled to the United States and other countries in
search of better living conditions. In 2015, Cuba assured "health
professionals who have left the country that under the current
immigration policy," if they returned to the island, they would be
guaranteed "a work location similar to what they had
previously." However, they put a limitation on it: the returnees will
again be under the obligation to request special permission to travel
outside the country.

Source: The Crisis Hits Cuban Doctors In Venezuela / 14ymedio, Mario
Penton – Translating Cuba -

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