Cuba is sending more than just ‘doctors’ to Mexico

Mary Anastasia O’Grady exposes how Cuba’s socialist dictatorship uses its “medical brigades” to influence foreign countries and set up spy networks.

Via The Wall Street Journal:

Cuban Medical Brigades to Mexico

Havana has a history of using its doctors to propagandize and build intel networks.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has been known to take great umbrage at the suggestion that he is similar to the late Hugo Chávez, who after being elected democratically in Venezuela turned his country into a dictatorship. Yet parallels between the two men are not imagined. Like Chávez, AMLO—as the president is known by his initials—is fond of demagoguery and of fomenting hatred for entrepreneurs. 

Now a decision to import hundreds of Cuban medics in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic is further stoking fears that the president has a hidden antidemocratic agenda. 

One reason Cuban medical “brigades” are raising Mexican eyebrows is that Cuba has a reputation for sending medical personnel abroad to do work for which they are not trained. At the same time, Havana also has a record of using teaching, social work and medical care as cover to spread Castroism and build intelligence networks in democratic countries. 

Another objection is the lack of transparency. Havana has for decades profited off its exported workers while paying them a pittance. Whether that’s what’s happening here isn’t known because the terms of the agreement between Mexico and Cuba haven’t been made public. 

The Cuban independent news outlet Diario de Cuba reported on June 8 that it had “obtained details of a contract” signed by Cuba, Mexico’s Institute of Health for Well-Being and the Mexico City government. Under its terms, Cuban doctors and nurses are working in various hospitals in the federal district. The paper said the contract covers 585 workers with a price tag of around $6.23 million. Separately, on May 21, El Financiero reported that more than 100 Cuban medical personnel arrived that day in Veracruz.

In an interview with Oliva López Arellano, Mexico City’s health secretary, Diario de Cuba requested a copy of the Mexico City contract. The secretary acknowledged that it had not been “uploaded” but added that “like all agreements, it can be known.” Days later the paper said it still hadn’t received a copy and as of Friday the agreement had not been made public.

Among the contractual unknowns are the duration of the agreement and the salaries the workers will be paid during their Mexico assignments. Is Mexico paying the workers directly, or is the money being sent to Havana? 

The latter would be consistent with the medical-export missions that Cuba has been running for many years all over Latin America. By controlling the payroll, Havana has been able to shortchange workers and keep most of the income for itself. I reported in January on four Cuban doctors who had escaped the program in Brazil and are now suing the Pan American Health Organization for helping to keep them in effective slavery. 

Ms. López Arellano told Diario de Cuba that doctors who participate in the mission do so voluntarily. Yet the doctors who fled from Brazil say that Cubans have little choice when the regime asks them to go abroad. Refusal signals the end of a career. The doctors allege that their salaries, set by Cuba, kept them in poverty and their Cuban minders denied them the right to mix with locals and come and go as they pleased. Their forced servitude was a violation of Brazilian law and international human-rights law. They were also instructed to share regime propaganda with their patients.

Yet even if Cuba compensates these workers in Mexico fairly—which would be a first—there are a host of unanswered questions about why Mr. López Obrador has enlisted them. 

In a column in Mexico’s El Universal, Mexican journalist Carlos Loret de Molareported his interviews with Mexican doctors working with the Cuban medics. The Mexicans, he wrote, complained that the Cubans “arrive without adequate preparation” and are “unaware of basic nursing procedures and even refusing to cooperate” with established record-keeping procedures. 

The Mexican doctors also told Mr. Loret de Mola that the Cubans enjoyed privileges—including more food and lighter work loads—not enjoyed by the Mexicans. 

The Mexicans allege that the Cuban doctors are being paid more than the locals. But if that conclusion is derived by simple division, using the contract total to figure the cost per doctor of the program, it may be misleading. Brazil was paying as much as $10,000 per doctor per month, but the doctors themselves received less than 10% of that and found it difficult to get by. 

Diario de Cuba reported on June 7 that a doctor from the Cuban city of Mayarí who arrived at the mission in late April had already defected from the program and that her whereabouts were unknown. The source said approximately 15 others had also fled.

Many Mexicans took AMLO’s word for it when he said he was a democrat. His failure to come clean on his deal with Cuba undermines that claim. 

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