By MARK LORENZANA
The arrival of Cuban doctors in Mexico will continue as long as there is a demand for specialists, said Zoé Robledo, director of Mexico’s Social Security Institute (IMSS), as more Cuban physicians were deployed in the country on Tuesday, Aug. 19 — this time in the Mexican states of Guerrero and Campeche.
Around 50 Cuban doctors arrived in the country on July 23 and were deployed in Tepic, the capital and largest city of the western Mexican state of Nayarit.
Robledo announced that the agreement the Mexican government signed with Cuba is for 600 specialists, and that after Guerrero and Campeche, Cuban physicians will next be deployed in the central Mexican state of San Luis Potosí.
Opinion columnist F. Bartolome of Mexican daily newspaper Reforma, however, in an article on Thursday, Aug. 25, wrote that “while the Mexican government continues the hiring of Cuban doctors, the Human Rights Foundation (HRF), based in New York, denounced that the doctors are working under a program of human trafficking operated by the government of Cuba.”
The HRF — which was founded in 2005 by Thor Halvorssen Mendoza, a human rights advocate, and currently chaired by Russian chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov — released a report on Monday detailing “Cuba’s state-sponsored human trafficking scheme, run through a decades-long program of international medical missions.”
According to the HRF report, since the 1960s, “the Cuban regime has sent healthcare personnel to more than 150 countries in what has often been referred to as ‘medical diplomacy’ or ‘humanitarian aid’” that “runs on the exploitation of healthcare professionals, and serves as a major tool of international propaganda and an important source of revenue for Cuba’s repressive communist regime.”
“Cuba’s totalitarian regime has used its power over medical professionals to exploit and abuse healthcare workers through family separation and forced exile to movement restrictions and wage theft,” the report read. “Once in the (humanitarian aid) program, Cuban healthcare personnel face violations of their rights to freedom of association, freedom of movement and freedom of speech. The Cuban government’s exploitative trafficking scheme has funded Havana’s authoritarian regime by providing billions of dollars in revenue from the sale of medical services.”
In May of 2020, at least 500 health workers from Cuba arrived in Mexico City, to help tackle the then-raging covid-19 pandemic in the capital. It was the largest medical contingent that Cuba had deployed globally as part of its response to the pandemic.
The U.S. State Department at that time called the Cuban medical-aid program “abusive,” and argued that the health workers that Cuba sent abroad were not paid. The Cuban government countered that all the doctors in the program volunteered and were paid adequately.
As early as 2019, however, U.S. officials have already criticized Cuba’s medical missions, saying that Cuba “refused to pay its medical staff and held them against their will.”
Likewise, in 2018, Cuba’s medical missions in Brazil came under criticism when President Jair Bolsonaro called Cuban doctors “slave labor,” which prompted Cuba to recall its 8,300 medical workers stationed there.