Doctors who defected from the Cuban regime’s medical slave labor program told journalists Thursday the regime forced them to falsify the number of patients they treated and “prescribe” medicine to those non-existent patients to make the program appear more productive than it was.
To cover up the fraud, the doctors were forced to burn, bury, or in any way possible “destroy” the medication prescribed, wasting valuable humanitarian aid.
The doctors – Tatiana Carballo, Ramona Matos, Russela Rivero, and Fidel Cruz – spoke at the U.S. State Department’s Foreign Press Center in New York, currently home to the U.N. General Assembly’s annual general debate. Opening the debate this year, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro accused the United Nations of participating in “slave labor” for helping Cuba sign contracts with foreign governments for medical services, paid for by taxpayers and paid to the Cuban regime, with very little trickling down to the doctors actually doing the work.
“It is truly tantamount to slave labor. … supported by human rights organizations in Brazil and United Nations organizations,” Bolsonaro said, urging the world to reject the communist regime.
The doctors speaking in New York Thursday accused the Castro regime of stealing the vast majority of their salaries, using them as political agents to promote communism and socialism in their host countries, stealing their identification documents to facilitate a cover-up if they died or disappeared in conflict zones, and hurting their families’ livelihoods for their choice to speak out against the regime.
The doctors are part of a class-action lawsuit against the government of Brazil and the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), a U.N. subsidiary that acted as an intermediary between Cuba and Brazil to establish the socialist “Mais Médicos” (“more doctors”) program.
The American government is aiding the doctors with political asylum and a platform in which to denounce the abuses against them. The State Department urged the many developing nations with contracts for medical aid from Cuba to cancel the contracts or make them contingent upon the doctors receiving fair payments for their work.
In Brazil, conservative President Bolsonaro demanded Brazil be allowed to pay the doctors directly without Havana as an intermediary. In response, Cuba canceled the program and forced the doctors on the first available flights back to the island. Many stayed, for which they face a ban on returning to Cuba and seeing their family for at least eight years.
In Venezuela, the doctors said they were forced to pressure their patients to vote for dictators Hugo Chávez or Nicolás Maduro and threaten to withdraw their healthcare services if the patients did not obey them. Cuban state security agents allegedly forced them to keep a tally of which of their patients were socialists and how many participated in the regime’s many fraudulent elections.
In Bolivia, the doctors who served there said they were largely kept from seeing patients at all. Instead, they invented names and health conditions and wrote up fake prescriptions for people who did not exist, then destroyed the medications.
“They tell us often in Cuba that education is free, therefore we are their property,” Tatiana Carballo, who served in Belize, Venezuela, and Brazil, said on Thursday. “From the moment we graduate, we receive very, very low salaries, then begin medical missions abroad.”
Carballo described Venezuela as the “graduate school” of the Cuban slave doctor program – the first stop before the doctors were allowed to operate in freer countries. She noted that was repeatedly told her service was “voluntary.”
“Under no circumstances – in Venezuela, Brazil, or Belize – was this ‘voluntary’ or ‘humanitarian’ service,” she emphasized.
The mission in Venezuela was agonizing, Carballo recalled.
“From the moment we arrived in Venezuela, we were under a military regime where we were forbidden from leaving the country or having any interactions wtih Venezuelans,” she noted. “The mission was very hard.”
Cuban regime agents “had us under constant harassment and stress,” she added, stating that “the thing that bothers me the most is that they made us falsify statistics and … to influence the population politically – in other words, to force Venezuelans, against their will, to vote for Maduro or Chávez.”
Fidel Cruz, who served as a doctor in Venezuela from 2011-2014, corroborated her accusation of pressure to harass Venezuelans to become socialists.
“We had to tell patients about the positive things the Maduro regime was doing and influence the vote,” he said. “I had to go door-to-door to incentivize people to vote for Maduro during the last election.”
The last election occurred in May 2018 and is considered widely fraudulent; over 50 nations around the world, most in Latin America, no longer recognize Maduro as the legitimate president of Venezuela because he rigged the election.
Cruz confirmed that he had to blackmail patients with threatening statements like, “I am here tending to you because of Maduro or Chávez, without them we wouldn’t be here, you wouldn’t have healthcare.”
“All of us doctors in Venezuela had to give our bosses in state security a report over how many patients we took personally to vote and if they voted for Chávez or Maduro,” he added.
The doctors’ testimony corroborates Bolsonaro’s accusation that the doctors in Brazil were there “to form guerrilla cells” of socialists – a claim he said did not reflect badly on the doctors, but only on the Cuban regime.
Ramona Matos, who served in Bolivia before coming to Brazil, said she personally witnessed the death of “many doctors” who were not warned of the high altitudes in the Andean country and were given no protective equipment or knowledge on how to maintain healthy oxygen levels in mountainous terrain. Given the dangers of operating there, Matos said, the regime ensured that no doctors had any form of identification on them at any point during their service, making them easy to erase from medical program files.
“When we arrived in Bolivia, as we were doing immigration, there was a state security agent there to take away our passports,” she said. “We were working in bolivia undocumented; we had no document with our name on it, no passport, no piece of paper with our name on it.”
“If something happened to us, if someone abducted us, if we died, nobody would know who the person was who died or disappeared,” she concluded.
Matos described widespread fraud in Bolivia’s medical program intended to make the Cuban slave doctor program appear effective.
“On a daily basis, you had to write on a piece of paper fake names, fake dates of birth, fake medical conditions, for patients we never saw,” she said. “These were statistics the agents following and controlling us forced us to write. If we didn’t write that down, we had to go back to Cuba without our salary and we’d lose the money frozen in our accounts.”
“Since we weren’t seeing any real patients, medication wise, we had to correlate the medication prescriptions to these patients who didn’t exist, so we had to destroy medicine to keep up,” she added. Responding later to a question clarifying what she meant by “destroy,” Matos said, “you had to burn them, disappear them, however you could get rid of it [the medicine].”
The destruction of medical humanitarian aid is particularly egregious in an impoverished nation like Bolivia, and given that Cuba claims to be an ally of Venezuela, currently suffering a severe shortage of nearly every medicine on the World Health Organization’s (WHO) list of those necessary to run a functional healthcare system.
Cuba keeps the doctors from having control over their children and actively punishes their families if they defect, the doctors said.
Carballo described how the regime sent her to Cuba, then forced her to send her son back to Cuba every three months to keep him from experiencing life in a free society as a minor.
“This was mposible because the flights from Cuba to Brazil are very expensive and we had to pay them out of pocket … I hid my child from state security – I got tired of the slavery, I got tired of the harassment, I got tired of the abuse,” Carballo said. In retaliation, the Cuban government cancelled her passport. She has since applied for political asylum in Brazil.
Russela Rivero’s two sons are doctors, she explained, and both have suffered professionally because she has spoken out. The younger son, she explained, recently graduated and cannot find work despite the outsized demand for functional healthcare. The older son is being forced to work as an exterminator by the state or face legal sanction.