Castro Daughter Blames America After Jihadists Kidnap Cuban Doctors in Kenya

Mariela Castro Espin, daughter of Cuban President Raul Castro and director of the Cuban National Center for Sexual Education, gives a press conference, on May 5, 2014 in Havana, to launch the VII Cuban Symposium against Homophobia and Transphobia. AFP PHOTO/ADALBERTO ROQUE (Photo credit should read ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images)
ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty

Police in Kenya revealed the arrest Monday of a driver affiliated with the Somali jihadist group al-Shabaab in the case of the abduction of two Cuban slave doctors in a violent ambush on Friday.

Kenya’s The Standard cites police sources suspecting that doctors Assel Herrera Correa and Landy Rodríguez are currently in Somalia, possibly held for a ransom.

In the aftermath of the kidnapping, the Castro regime has vowed to work with Nairobi to bring the doctors safely home, while Kenya has expelled the Cubans working in the county where the incident occurred from the area. Mariela Castro, daughter of dictator Raúl Castro, used the opportunity to blame “imperialism” – a term typically used to mean the United States – for the abduction, claiming Washington created the Islamic State.

Al-Shabaab is an al-Qaeda affiliate, which in turn is a rival, not an ally of, the Islamic State.

Cuba has deployed doctors worldwide to treat patients in friendly countries, a diplomatic business generating up to $11.5 million a year for the communist regime and no pay for the working doctors. Instead, doctors receive a “stipend” that typically barely covers food and clothing, as well as shelter often provided by the host state. Doctors who have escaped the system call it “slavery” and a group of Cuban doctors in Brazil sued the state for a living age in 2017, a case that remains ongoing.

In addition to working in slave-like conditions, doctors are often sent to dangerous areas where few would willingly go. In addition to those working in jihadist-threatened areas in Kenya, Cuba has sent doctors to Ebola-stricken areas in Africa, Brazil’s remote Amazon regions, and Saudi Arabia’s border with war-stricken Yemen.

The Standard reported that unidentified gunmen killed a police officer tasked with protecting Herrera and Rodríguez and seized the two men on Friday as they made their way to work at the Mandera County Referral Hospital. Mandera, which borders Somalia, is considered so dangerous that Kenya provides police escorts to Cuban police working there on a regular basis. A reporter at Kenya’s Daily Nation revealed this weekend that, in an interview with the newspaper, Herrera had stated that he had worked in more dangerous places.

“We have security personnel around us all the time but despite that Mandera is safer than many other places I have worked including Brazil’s Amazonas area,” the newspaper quoted the kidnapped doctor as saying. Despite this claim, the newspaper claims that both doctors had complained to an unnamed “senior security officer” that they needed more security to feel comfortable.

Authorities ordered Cuban doctors to leave Garissa and Wajir counties near Mandera this weekend to prevent copycat abductions following the ambush last weekend. They have also reportedly deployed tribal elders to Somalia to find the gunmen responsible for the kidnapping and negotiate the doctors’ release. Nairobi has insisted it will not pay the terrorists a ransom.

“Concerted efforts are being made for their search and rescue by a multi agency security team,” Kenyan police spokesman Charles Owino told reporters on Sunday. “The Cabinet Secretary for Health Ms. Sicily Kariuki is in touch with her counterpart in Cuba, who is also receiving regular briefs on the ongoing efforts to locate and rescue the doctors.”

On Monday, police revealed the arrest of Isaack Ibren, a government employee tasked with driving the doctors to and from their jobs, on Friday shortly after the kidnapping ambush. Authorities stated that they had seized two mobile phones under Ibren’s name and that evidence so far had linked him to others suspected of plotting the kidnapping. They did not specify whether Ibren had ties to al-Shabaab nor confirm whether the reports identifying that terrorist group to the incident were accurate.

Cuban authorities have responded to the abduction with repeated assurances they will do what is necessary to return the doctors, a claim difficult to believe given the treatment of doctors typical under the Castro regime.

“Cuba is striving without rest for the safe return of Assel and Landy, our doctors kidnapped in Kenya,” Cuba’s second-in-command, President Miguel Díaz-Canel, said on Twitter. “We share with them and their loved ones the certainty that their humanitarian mission will be recognized and respected.”

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez also said on Twitter that he was in contact with his Kenyan counterpart and that they were working to resolve the “lamentable incident.”

Mariela Castro, the Cuban dictator’s daughter and the director of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education weighed in on the kidnapping on Twitter as well, despite the fact that her government position does not grant her any authority over medicine, foreign relations, or counterterrorism.

“I think this is another one of Imperialism’s schemes,” Castro wrote on Friday. “The Islamic State responds to them, but they have gotten into a swamp by kidnapping Cuban doctors.”

Cuban officials regularly refer to the United States as “the Empire” or “imperialism” generally, leaving clear who Castro believes are the culprits. The Islamic regime in Iran, an ally of the Cuban communist regime, regularly accuses the United States of having created the Islamic State to cause chaos in the Middle East and prevent development. Al-Shabaab is not an affiliate of the Islamic State, however, and although the Islamic State was once a branch of al-Qaeda (under the name “al-Qaeda in Iraq”), it is no longer tied to the group. Al-Shabaab, however, does maintain ties to al-Qaeda.

The Cuban slave doctor program has caused significant controversy in Kenya, where native doctors sued the federal government for refusing to hire them and opting for cheaper Cuban slaves instead. The doctors lost the suit to keep the Cubans from taking Kenyan jobs, and the Cubans traveled to the country in exchange for Havana promising to provide education for Kenyan doctors to become specialists in a field of their choosing.

The exchange program has also caused outrage in Kenya as the doctors who traveled to Havana revealed that they, too, have suffered abuse.

“Rooms have no hot water, bed sheets are changed once a week and the AC is turned on only from 10pm to 6am yet Cuba is a hot country. You can’t stay in the room,” an unnamed Kenyan doctor told The Standard in January. Another said the government did not provide them with enough money for items like tea.

In March, Dr. Ali Juma Hamisi, who was reportedly attempting to advance his studies in Cuba, was found hanged from his bed sheets in his room, an apparent suicide. Police stated that the circumstances surrounding his death were “unclear.”

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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