Statement from Chargé d’Affaires Mara Tekach The Truth about Cuban Medical Missions

As someone who has lived on the island and watched how the Cuban Communist regime portrays its medical missions program for several years, I regularly read articles about Cuba sending doctors and nurses overseas to fight COVID-19 with interest.  I am compelled to comment because many articles present a case that skirts significant facts while making a political and social argument that is strikingly aligned with that of the regime.

While the regime’s voice is clear in these articles, a missing voice is those of the Cuban medical practitioners who have presented legitimate concerns about the program.  In 2017, Dr. Yaili Jimenez Gutierrez, one of the brave victims to speak out, said “There comes a time when you get tired of being a slave.”  In 2018, Dr. Ramona Matos said at a press conference, “We are a monetary instrument for the government to fill its coffers of money and we continue to be slaves to them.”  Such testimonies number in the dozens, but these voices are absent from a great many news reports.  Some critics don’t like the term “slavery,” considering it a political term.  But it doesn’t take much effort to see that the concern over modern slavery did not originate with politicians but rather from the doctors themselves.

Former participants of Cuban medical missions programs have filed a lawsuit against the Pan American Health Organization over its participation in this program in Brazil.  By reading these articles, you would think the lawsuit doesn’t even exist.  In fact, the allegations with respect to the program in Brazil are consistent with those seen in these programs around the world:

  • Compensation not commensurate with their work;
  • Withheld wages;
  • Separation from families;
  • Confiscation of travel documents;
  • Restriction of movement;
  • Imposition of harsh social, economic, political, personal, reputational and legal repercussions for disobedience to the regime, including retaliation against family members.

One reads comments that make light of the Cuban Communist regime’s unpredictable, non-transparent pricing contracts for these medical missions.  The regime negotiates and decides whether to charge for a medical mission or whether to make it free.  There is little publicly available information about arrangements made for COVID-19 missions.  The secrecy has raised real questions.

Fortunately, the world has a free press – even though Cuba does not.  Free international media have been investigating and exposing a myriad of facts about Cuban medical missions.  Details are coming to light: the concerns expressed by doctors who have legitimate complaints against the program, and the national medical associations around the world that have raised credible concerns about the Cuban medical missions being sent to their countries.  There is more.

Some descriptions of the closure of Cuban medical missions in Brazil, Ecuador and Bolivia loosely tie disconnected elements to draw ideology-based, political conclusions.  Let’s talk facts.

Cuban medical practitioners are admirable, altruistic individuals prepared to make sacrifices for the greater good. Should they be denied fair and consistent pay and treatment that is established by international norms, not to mention human civility?  Absolutely not, not now, not ever.

The United States asks that all countries who employ Cuban medical missions ensure the good people are directly paid fair and direct compensation, commensurate with international labor standards.   For their service, they should not be denied those rights enjoyed by any individual whose rights are protected: the ability to receive fair compensation, to keep travel documents, and to enjoy freedom from the Cuban Communist regime’s harsh punishment for disobeying orders. It’s the right thing to do.