U.S. Unjustified Campaign To Discredit Cuba’s Foreign Medical Mission Program 

Over the last several years, the U.S. has been waging a campaign seeking to discredit Cuba’s foreign medical mission program. This campaign includes the State Department’s annual reports on human trafficking that have alleged Cuba has been engaged in illegal forced labor of some of its medical professionals in these programs. Another part was the recent decision to deny U.S. visas to Cuban officials directing the medical mission program.[1] The most recent measure has been the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID’s) soliciting bids to conduct research and analysis of evidence regarding the forced labor allegation. Some Congressmen also have suggested reactivation of a U.S. program providing U.S. parole visas for such medical professionals to be admitted to the U.S.[2] Unsurprisingly Cuba denies these allegations and condemns these U.S. programs. (Emphases added.)

Here we will look at key parts of this trafficking in persons report, the recent USAID solicitation of bids for research and analysis, Cuba’s response to that solicitation and a demonstration why the U.S. allegations are specious.

U.S. 2019 Trafficking in Persons Report [3]

The most recent such report, which was issued on June 20, 2019, said the following, in part:

  • In November 2018, Cuban healthcare workers filed a class action in the U.S. District Court Southern District of Florida under the Trafficking Victims Protection and the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organization Acts alleging the Cuban government profited from the export of healthcare professionals; the case remains pending.[4] In Brazil, the Cuban government collected revenue for each professional’s services and paid the worker a fraction of the revenue depositing a large percentage of the worker’s wages in an account in Cuba only accessible upon completion of the mission and return to Cuba. . . . Some participants in foreign medical missions as well as other sources allege Cuban officials force or coerce participation in the program; the government has stated the postings are voluntary, and some participants also have stated the postings are voluntary and well-paid compared to jobs within Cuba. Observers report the government does not inform participants of the terms of their contracts, making them more vulnerable to forced labor. The Cuban government acknowledges that it withholds passports of overseas medical personnel in Venezuela; the government provided identification cards to such personnel. Some Cuban medical personnel claim they work long hours without rest and face substandard working and living conditions in some countries, including a lack of hygienic conditions and privacy. Observers note Cuban authorities coerced some participants to remain in the program, including by withholding their passports, restricting their movement, using “minders” to conduct surveillance of participants outside of work, threatening to revoke their medical licenses, retaliate against their family members in Cuba if participants leave the program, or impose criminal penalties, exile, and family separation if participants do not return to Cuba as directed by government supervisors.” (Emphases added.)

USAID’s Solicitation of Research Bids [5]

On August 12, 2019, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) announced that it was offering up to $3 million to organizations that would “investigate, collect, and analyze information related to human rights violations – including forced labor – of Cuban medical personnel exported overseas.”

USAID purported to justify this effort by alleging, “The Cuban regime exploits its medical professionals, teachers and other workers, using them to buy international financial and political support and keep its struggling economy afloat, while pocketing the majority of these workers’ salaries and subjecting them to poor living conditions, constant surveillance, and threatening those who wish to leave their mission. At the same time, Cubans on the island struggle to find adequate healthcare and other basic services while the regime touts the false narrative that it has the best medical care in the world.” (Emphasis added.)

In addition, USAID said, “the information collected should also document the effects of these practices on Cubans on the island. The data collected would be used for advocacy within Cuba, in Latin America and with regional and international bodies, such as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in an effort to pressure the Cuban regime to improve the living conditions of doctors and other workers, and promote greater respect for labor and other basic human rights for all Cuban citizens.”

Cuba’s Response[6]

In an August 30 Declaration, the Cuba Foreign Ministry “energetically denounces and condemns the recent aggression of the government of the United States against Cuba via a USAID program designed to fund actions and information searches to discredit and sabotage the international cooperation being provided by Cuba in the health area in dozens of countries for the benefit of millions of persons.  This is an endeavor added to the crude pressures exercised against a number of governments in order to obstruct Cuban cooperation and to the earlier efforts for the same purpose such as the special ‘parole’ program designed to steal human resources trained in Cuba.”

“The heart of this immoral calumny consists of alleging, with no factual foundations whatsoever, that Cuba is involved in the traffic of persons or in the practice of slavery, and wishing to degrade the meritorious work that hundreds of thousands of Cuban health professionals and technicians are voluntarily undertaking, and have been undertaking, throughout history, in a number of countries, especially in the Third World.”

This is “an affront to the bilateral and intergovernmental cooperation programs, all lawfully set up between the Cuban Government and the governments of dozens of countries, which have been consistent with the [U.N.] guidelines referring to South–South cooperation and which have responded to the health requirements that those same governments have defined in a sovereign manner.”

“This is an attack against the efforts in solidarity which have received the acknowledgement of the international community and the specific praise from the most senior officials of the United Nations, the World Health Organization and the Pan-American Health Organization.”

“These lies reveal the low morality of the [U.S.] government and its politicians who devoted themselves to the business of aggression against Cuba.  The campaign has millions of dollars of funds and the complicity of a number of the mass media giants and, particularly, of unscrupulous reporters who have sacrificed their so-called impartiality and objectivity in the service of the political interests of the [U.S.] government.”

“For decades . . . in those nations having more unfavorable economic conditions, that cooperation has been provided, and is being provided, as a gesture of solidarity; its expenses are covered by Cuba practically in their entirety. Likewise, and following the [U.N.] conceptions on cooperation between developing countries, this is being offered in various nations on the basis of complementarity and partial compensation for services rendered.”

Cuba has provided “self-sacrificing and humanist professionals ready and willing to work of their own free will in the most difficult of conditions, and of the ideas of health coverage that years of successful experience has permitted us to build up.”

“The Cuban technicians and professionals participating in those programs do so in an absolutely free and voluntary manner.  While serving their missions, they continue to be paid their entire Cuban salaries and they also receive stipends from the destination countries, along with other forms of compensation.”

“In cases where Cuba receives compensation for the cooperation being provided, those . . . [countries] distinguish themselves by contributing a highly valued, fair and totally lawful amount for the funding, sustainability and development of the massive and free health system that is accessible to each and every Cuban, as well as for the cooperation programs that are carried into many parts of the world.”

“Access to health is a human right.  The United States is committing a crime when it wishes to deny that or to obstruct it for political reasons or as aggression.”

This Cuban criticism was echoed in an August 31 tweet by President Miguel Diaz-Canel, who said, “The carelessness, the lie, the perversity of the empire crumble before the moral height accumulated by the dignified history of the Cuban missions in health.”

The Specious U.S. Allegation of Illegal Forced Labor [7]

The contention that Cuban medical personnel in Cuba’s foreign medical mission program are engaged in illegal forced labor is meritless for at least the following reasons:

  • Medical education in Cuba is free and requiring medical graduates to pay the country back by such participation seems entirely appropriate and may indeed be a contractual or quasi-contractual obligation.
  • International medical aid has been a significant part of the Cuban people’s tradition of international solidarity, and some Cuban medical personnel have said that such service had a major positive impact on their lives and medical careers.
  • The relevant standard for evaluating the allegationthat Cuba’s international medical mission program violates international law is the International Labor Organization’s Forced Labour Convention, 1930.
  • That multilateral Convention or treaty provides that “for the purposes of this Convention, the term forced or compulsory labour shall not include . . . any work or service which forms part of the normal civic obligations of the citizens of a fully self-governing country.” (Art. 2(2)(b).) (Emphasis added.)
  • Although it is true that the Cuban government receives direct payment from other countries for the foreign medical mission program and that the Cuban government retains some of those payments before paying the Cuban medical professionals, it also is true that such payments to those professionals exceed what they would have earned for similar services in Cuba. In addition, some of the payments to the Cuban professionals are deposited in Cuban accounts only accessible upon their completion of service and return to Cuba. But such practices do not constitute proof of forced labor.
  • While it also is true that some Cuban medical professionals who have participated or are now participating in the foreign medical mission program allege that they were coerced into doing so, the report indicates that the Cuban government and other participants deny that allegation and that there has been no independent adjudication of that allegation. (Emphases added.)
  • Also relevant to this allegation is Cuban medical professionals’ undoubted awareness of the significantly higher compensation they potentially could obtain if they were able to relocate in the U.S. or certain other countries.
  • A detailed study by Indiana State University’s Emeritus Professor of International Politics and Latin America, Dr. H. Michael Erisman, has rejected this accusation of forced labor.

The latest report on Cuba also fails to mention that the U.S. and Cuba apparently had friendly bilateral discussions about other human trafficking issues during the Obama Administration (2015 through January 17, 2017) and the Trump Administration (2017-2018).

The hypocrisy of the State Department’s repeated assertion of this claim of forced labor without recognizing the ILO’s Forced Labour Convention is shown by Secretary of State Pompeo’s congratulating the ILO on its centennial anniversary only one day after the release of the 2019 Trafficking in Persons Report. The Secretary said:

  • “The dignitaries that convened in Paris in 1919 to end the Great War knew that any lasting peace needed to be rooted in the protection of individual rights, including the rights of workers and employers to associate freely and bargain collectively. “
  • The United States proudly hosted the first International Labor Conference in 1919 and the “war-time conference that enshrined the ILO’s enduring founding principles and aims in the Declaration of Philadelphia. As strong supporters of the ILO and its mission, we reflect on the important role played by Americans to create and sustain this organization, including David Morse, who served as ILO Director-General for 22 years, and under whose leadership the ILO won the Nobel Peace Prize.”
  • “As the ILO enters its second century pursuing objectives critical to economic prosperity and security around the world, the United States recommits itself to advancing the rights of workers globally.

Another rebuttal of the U.S. allegations about the medical mission program recently was provided by a U.S. citizen, Dr. Graham Sowa, who has a Cuban medical degree and who now is a resident in internal medicine in a Florida hospital. He did not participate in the Cuban medical mission program, but his Cuban friends who are now physicians have done so and who totally reject this allegation. Sowa said, ““Cuba says they want to provide humanity with medical care. It is their commitment toward international solidarity.”

Conclusion

No matter how many times the U.S. alleges that Cuba’s foreign medical mission program engages in illegal forced labor does not make it so. The U.S. has not even publicly submitted an attempted legal justification for these allegations.  The U.S. is wasting money on this specious claim.

==============================================

 

[1]  New U.S. Government Hostility Towards Cuba’s Medical Mission Program, dwkcommentaries.com (Aug. 14, 2019)

[2] Senators Rubio and Menendez Call for Restoring U.S. Parole Program for Cuban Doctors, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 11, 2019). See also posts listed n the “Cuban Medical Personnel & U.S.” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

[3] State Department Unjustly Downgrades Cuba in Annual Report on Human Trafficking, dwkcommentaries.com (June 22, 2019).

[4]  Pais, Health Organization Accused of Trafficking Doctors to Brazil, Courthouse News Service (Dec. 3, 2018)  The class action complaint, which was filed November 30, 2018, alleges that the Pan American Health Organization collected over $75 million since 2013 by enabling and managing the illegal trafficking of Cuban medical professionals in violation of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act and the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. Nothing of substance has happened so far in this case. The last docket entry was on July 2, 2019, for an order setting a hearing on July 18, 2019, for Pan American Health’s objections to and appeal from a magistrate judge’s order denying its motion to transfer the case to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. (Civil Docket, Rodriguez v. Pan American Health Org., Case #: 1:18-cv-24995-DPG (Aug. 30, 2019).

[5] Eaton, USAID plans to spend up to $3 million to investigate Cuban doctors, Cuba Solidarity Campaign (Aug. 12, 2019).

[6] Cuba Foreign Ministry, Statement: The Government of the United States Is Earmarking Millions of Dollars To Obstruct Cuban Medical Cooperation (Aug. 30, 2019); The regime blames the US for complaints about the exploitation of Cuban doctors, Diario de Cuba (Aug. 29, 2019); Diaz-Canel described the ‘attacks’ and the ‘attacks by the US on the slae of medical services, Diario de Cuba (Sept. 1, 2019).

[7] State Department Unjustly Downgrades Cuba in Annual Report on Human Trafficking, dwkcommentaries.com (June 22, 2019); Guzzo, Are Cuban physicians human trafficking victims? No way, says Brandon doctor with Havana degree, Tampa Bay Times (Aug. 29, 2019).

 

 

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dwkcommentaries

As a retired lawyer and adjunct law professor, Duane W. Krohnke has developed strong interests in U.S. and international law, politics and history. He also is a Christian and an active member of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. His blog draws from these and other interests. He delights in the writing freedom of blogging that does not follow a preordained logical structure. The ex post facto logical organization of the posts and comments is set forth in the continually being revised “List of Posts and Comments–Topical” in the Pages section on the right side of the blog.

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