Brazil: Bolsonaro Offers Political Asylum to Cuban Slave Doctors

Brazil's President-elect Jair Bolsonaro attends a joint statement with Brazil's president, after a meeting at the Presidential Palace, in Brasilia, Brazil, Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)
AP/Eraldo Peres

Brazil’s President-elect Jair Bolsonaro announced Wednesday that his administration will grant political asylum to Cuban doctors forced to work in the country for the dictatorship’s profit, reversing the policy his socialist predecessor imposed on them.

Cuba sends thousands of doctors to work around the world in exchange for payment directly to Havana. While the Communist Party benefits to the tune of millions, the doctors themselves typically receive a small food stipend but no recognizable salary. Over one hundred Cuban doctors participating in Brazil’s “Mais Médicos” (“More Doctors”) program sued Brasilia last year demanding salaries comparable to that of Brazilian doctors.

On Tuesday, Bolsonaro issued a statement notifying the Cuban communist regime that, should they wish to continue operating in Brazil, their doctors must receive reasonable salaries, have access to their families, and pass proficiency tests to ensure they can operate at the same level as a Brazilian doctor.

In addition to years of accusations of running a slavery operation, countries participating in the Cuban doctor exchanges have lamented the insufficient training the doctors receive at Cuban medical schools.

“The doctors must pass a proficiency test; their salaries would be entirely to the individuals and not to the Cuban government; and … they could bring their families along if hired,” Bolsonaro demanded.

The Castro regime responded to the demands by withdrawing entirely from the Mais Médicos program and accusing Bolsonaro of “threatening” the communist dictatorship.

“The president-elect of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, with direct, contemptuous, and threatening references to the presence of our doctors, has declared and reiterated that he will modify the terms and conditions of the Mais Médicos program,” the Cuban Ministry of Health said in a statement. “The announced modifications impose unacceptable conditions to the guarantees agreed upon since the launch of the program … these inadmissible conditions make it impossible to maintain the presence of Cuban doctors in the program.”

“It is unacceptable to have the dignity, professionalism, and altruism of the Cuban collaborators questioned,” the statement concluded.

The move will withdraw an estimated 11,00 doctors from the country.

Bolsonaro replied by reiterating that the Cuban regime does not pay its doctors and condemning Havana for abruptly leaving Brazil with thousands of fewer doctors, particularly in rural areas.

Bolsonaro also issued remarks assuring doctors currently in Brazil who do not wish to return to the dictatorship that Brazil will welcome them.

“If I am president and one of these doctors requests asylum, they will have it,” Bolsonaro told reporters Wednesday. He noted that, under socialist predecessor Dilma Rousseff, doctors seeking political asylum because they were unpaid and banned from seeing their families in Cuba did not receive political asylum and instead were threatened with being flown back to Cuba.

“We cannot allow that,” Bolsonaro said of the socialist policy. “We cannot threaten them like the PT [Workers’ Party] governments did. We can offer asylum.”

Bolsonaro added that it was “inhuman” to ban the doctors from seeing their families as the previous Brazilian governments had allowed the Cuban regime to do.

The president-elect noted also that Brazilian patients had reported years of Cuban doctor malpractice, enabled by the fact that previous governments took the Cuban regime at face value that the doctors sent were qualified.

“We have no confirmation that these Cubans are doctors and trained to provide service,” he noted. “What I want is humanitarian treatment for both the Cubans who are here and the patients they serve. We have heard of Cuban doctors committing barbarities. These people cannot remain in Brazil.”

According to the Miami Herald, up to 8,500 doctors could benefit from political asylum in Brazil. If most stay, they will likely help offset the doctor shortage the cancelation of Mais Médicos will produce.

Brazil’s Health Ministry has already begun planning to replace most of the doctors, however. According to Brazil’s O Globo, the ministry will soon launch a campaign to hire as many Brazilian doctors as possible and is considering student loan programs to make it easier for those wishing to enter the medical field to do so.

The latest estimates show that the Cuban regime made $11.5 million on its doctor slave trade globally in 2016. It profited to the tune of nearly $8 million in 2013, suggesting that the profits in 2017 and 2018 also increased. The doctors themselves only receive a modest food and shelter stipend but no official salary.

In 2017, 150 Cuban doctors sued the government of Brazil for equal pay comparable to Brazilian doctors. The class action suit demanded Brazil pay the doctors reasonable salaries and allow them to remain in Brazil. In response, the government blocked the doctors from practicing medicine as long as their suits were ongoing and prevented them from staying in the country.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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