Over 600 Cuban doctors, escaped from the communist nation’s medical slavery system, joined a global complaint before the International Criminal Court (ICC) this week against Havana, detailing the human rights abuses they endured and the damage the program forced them to inflict on their host countries.
Cuban Prisoners Defenders, an NGO that advocates for the victims of the Communist Party of Cuba, initially presented a complaint against Cuba over its slave doctor system citing 110 defecting health workers before the ICC and the United Nations. On Tuesday, the organization revealed that 622 doctors — escaped from the slave doctor system and with experience serving in over 29 countries — had added their voices and personal experiences to the complaint.
Among the allegations from the former slave doctors is the claim that Cuban officials forced them to destroy medicine rather than give it to patients to falsify the true number of people the system was treating. This allegedly occurred in countries like Venezuela, where pharmacies have been running on a deficit of over 85 percent of the drugs needed to maintain a functional healthcare system for at least five years. Cuba is also facing a significant medicine shortage domestically, calling into question why the regime would not simply provide the destroyed medication to its citizens.
Other escaped Cuban doctors who worked elsewhere in the world have similarly said that the government forced them to destroy live-saving medicine to inflate its productivity levels.
The ICC has global jurisdiction over charges of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Unlike its sister court, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), it can hold trials for individuals — parties to a case do not have to be sovereign states.
Cuban Prisoners Defenders is compiling an official case before the court that the Communist Party’s treatment of thousands of doctors and other health workers is tantamount to crimes against humanity. The workers testified that Havana sent them to work around the world, often in dangerous locations in developing countries, with minimal information. Once there, they had to falsify data by “treating” nonexistent patients and destroying the drugs they “prescribed;” were forced to pressure the real patients they treated to support the socialist and communist regimes that hired them; and regularly received threats and intimidation to keep them from leaving the program.
The doctors did not receive a living wage. In arrangements from state to state, the host country agrees to purchase the medical labor directly from the Communist Party. Cuba, the doctors universally stated, pockets the doctors’ salaries and gives them only a meager living stipend, which barely allows for buying food.
In a nearly 400-page report, Cuban Prisoners Defenders published the provisions of some of the contracts the doctors testifying signed with the Cuban government, which show that they did not directly receive payment from their host countries. Doctors who defect are branded “traitors to the fatherland” and officially sentenced to eight years in prison; as most do not return, they are instead exiled from the country for eight years, banned from having contact with their families.
Some contracts showed unreasonable personal demands on the doctors such as banning them from marrying someone from the country they are working in or forcing them to return to Cuba if they are pregnant to give birth, ensuring they do not have a legal reason to stay in the host country.
Also implicated in the report is the World Health Organization (W.H.O.), already reeling from global condemnation of its poor handling of the Chinese coronavirus crisis. The W.H.O.’s regional subsidiary, the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), helped broker a deal between Cuba and Brazil for the purchase of hundreds of doctors as part of the socialist Mais Médicos (“more doctors”), launched under convicted thief and former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Dozens of doctors who defected in Brazil sued PAHO in 2018 for aiding slave labor, and reports have surfaced indicating that PAHO’s role in the deal allowed Brazil to evade sanctions on Cuba.
Incumbent conservative President Jair Bolsonaro ended Brazil’s deal with Cuba and has denounced the United Nations, the parent organization of the W.H.O., for aiding slave labor at the U.N. General Assembly.
The Cuban Prisoners Defenders report included the testimonies of some of the doctors joining the complaint, offered anonymously given their status as fugitives to the Castro regime.
“I was forced to falsify patient histories and population statistics which, in order to comply with instructions, exceeded the real population of the place. Medicines were discarded and thrown for that: they were not used and expired because the population did not go to the doctor’s office given the remote location where it was located,” one doctor, who worked in Bolivia under socialist strongman Evo Morales, told the human rights group.
“It was very hard for me (in order to falsify statistics) to be forced to discard medicines that are needed in Cuba for the population,” another doctor, who worked in Venezuela in 2014, said. “Everything that was missing in Cuba was in excess in Venezuela, including products that I only saw at the university because they were not available in the clinics in Cuba.”
“Since they forced you to inflate the statistics to comply with the numbers that the Cuban government imposed, you had to play with the inventory and I could not stop ordering materials, because I was supposed to consume them because of the number of fake patients that I had to report as attended,” the doctor continued. “and the people in Cuba without an ampoule of anesthesia and me having to throw away 50 to 150 [doses] a week. That was one of the things that affected me the most from my stay there.”
Most of the 622 doctors speaking to Cuban Prisoners Defenders said they did not volunteer for medical missions, or did so under duress. Most described situations of abject poverty during their missions and a sense of ignorance about the provisions of their contract, which the communist regime never explained sufficiently to them.
“We were lied to about the actual payment of money in Brazil. We were never informed that 70%/75% of the money from the mission in Brazil was returned to Cuba,” one doctor said. “We were never informed that PAHO was paid 5% of each doctor’s salary. We were forbidden to revalidate a medical degree under penalty of sanction and dismissal.”
According to the NGO report, “more than 50,000 professionals each year suffer from these conditions, for which the government confiscates 85% of their salaries abroad, with annual profits of $8.5 billion.” The report notes that Cuban makes more money out of enslaving its doctors than any other foreign revenue item.
The president of Cuban Prisoners Defenders, Javier Larrondo, told the press in a statement on the report, “we must eradicate slavery in these missions, and demand that Cuba allow 40,000 people, who were banned from re-entering Cuba … enter to visit the island and then leave, on a regular basis, as tourists who will also generate income on the island, contributing to the common sustenance.”
The NGO published the report from Madrid shortly before Cuba’s President Miguel Díaz-Canel, an underling of dictator Raúl Castro, boasted of the alleged achievements of Cuba’s slave doctor program before the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday. Díaz-Canel also explicitly condemned the United States for questioning the legality of the “Mais Médicos” program.
“We condemn the gangster blackmailing by the U.S. to pressure the Pan-American Health Organization so as to make that regional agency a tool for its morbid aggression against our country,” Díaz-Canel said. “As usual, the force of truth shall do away with lies, and facts and protagonists shall go down in history as they should. Cuba’s example shall prevail.”
Sens. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) introduced a bill this week that, if passed, would require an official U.S. investigation into PAHO’s role in the Brazilian slave doctor program.