Monday, January 16, 2017

When Obama dropped the ‘wet foot, dry foot’ policy, he also snuffed out another program few Americans knew about

When Obama dropped the 'wet foot, dry foot' policy, he also snuffed out
another program few Americans knew about

When President Obama killed the 22-year-old policy giving preferential,
fast-track citizenship to Cubans who could make it to the U.S., his
administration nixed another program, too. Not well known to most
Americans, it sought to undermine the Cuban government through a form of
brain drain.

The Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program, created in 2006 under
then-President George W. Bush, aimed to lure away some of the tens of
thousands of doctors, nurses and other medical workers the island nation
dispatched around the world, in what the Castro government touted as
Cuban Medical Internationalism.

The U.S. strategy was an appendix to the "wet foot, dry foot" policy
created in the 1990s. Under "wet foot, dry foot," Cubans who
reached American soil on their own could stay in the U.S. But the
medical parole program offered a path to American citizenship through
any U.S. embassy and consulate abroad, according to a 2009 U.S.
Department of State fact sheet.

"If you were a Cuban doctor and bumped into some guy from the U.S.
Embassy in Johannesburg, South Africa, and told him you wanted to take
advantage of the medical parole program, then you'd be taken to the
embassy and eventually be flown to the U.S., get residency — citizenship
— and a job," said Al Fox, founder of the Alliance for Responsible Cuba
Policy Foundation, which has advocated for the normalization of
American-Cuban relations.

Fox, speaking Sunday from Tampa, said the medical parole program was
pushed by hard-liner anti-Castro Cubans in Miami. He also said the
program was a smear campaign meant to discredit any actual good Cuba's
medical community was doing abroad.

Since the 1959 revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power, Cuba has
sent medical workers to countries across the globe, mostly in Latin
America and Africa, to gain allies and heighten its humanitarian
profile. Those efforts, some subsidized by the United Nations' World
Health Organization, also became lucrative, according to Sebastian A.
Arcos, associate director for the Cuban Research Institute at Florida
International University's campus in Miami.

He said Cuba's exportation of skilled medical workers has become one of
the most important sources of revenue for the communist government,
bringing in billions of dollars over time. Critics have denounced
Cuba's export of doctors, nurses and other medical professional as

"The Castro regime keeps 95% of the doctors' salaries that are paid for,
even by the WHO," Arcos said. "Then these doctors and nurses work
essentially under slave-labor wage conditions. In countries like Brazil
and Venezuela, which have very friendly relations with Cuba, those
countries pay Cuba directly, sometimes in oil, and often times medical
staff working in those countries get nothing."

When Cuban medical professionals arrive in another country, Arcos said,
the Cuban embassy typically confiscates their passports in hopes of
preventing them from fleeing.

Arcos' sister, a doctor, was sent to Eritrea, a deeply isolated nation
in the Horn of Africa run by a former-rebel-leader-turned dictator named
Isaias Afwerki, accused of human rights abuses domestically and
state-sponsored terrorism in the region.

Arcos' sister fled Eritrea and entered the medical parole program in
what he described as a highly coordinated and secretive plan. He did not
wish to release details because it could put other medical workers
around the world at risk, but said her escape was aided by people in

Obama scrapped the medical parole program and "wet foot, dry foot"
policy Thursday, the latest step to normalize relations between the U.S.
and its old Cold War adversary. The moves sent shock waves through many
anti-Castro Cuban communities in Florida and beyond.

"He shouldn't have gotten rid of that," said Omar Lopez, human rights
director with the Cuban American National Foundation in Miami. "It
served as something comparable to America's own Underground Railroad and
now the doors are closed to doctors around the world working under those
conditions. It's a paradox. I could say it's a criminal paradox.… That's
been a main priority of the Cuban government for years with the U.S.
because Cuba needs to keep selling its doctors abroad."

Arcos was critical of Obama, too.

"All this brouhaha over wet foot, dry foot is a smoke screen to hide the
fact he eliminated the medical parole program — he didn't have to do
that," Arcos said. "Now Obama has slammed the door shut for the entire
Cuban medical community from escaping the Castro regime. The only reason
President Obama eliminated the medical parole program was to appease
Raul Castro."

Lopez added, "It was a last-minute decision by the president, obviously,
but we have to wait and see what happens."


"Because President-elect Trump may erase President Obama's decision,"
Lopez said.

Source: When Obama dropped the 'wet foot, dry foot' policy, he also
snuffed out another program few Americans knew about - LA Times -

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