U.S. State Department Unjustly Continues To Allege That Cuba’s Foreign Medical Missions Engage in Forced Labor 

As noted in a prior post, the U.S. State Department on June 27, 2017, issued its annual report on human trafficking, and Its discussion of Cuba (pp. 143-45) included the allegation that Cuba had engaged in illegal forced labor with its foreign medical mission program.

This allegation has been present in previous annual reports, some of which have been discussed in other posts.[1]

Report Regarding Cuba’s Alleged Forced Labor in Its Foreign Medical Missions

The latest report observes, presumably correctly, that the Cuban penal code does not criminalize forced labor. Therefore, the report, also presumably correctly, states that Cuba “did not make efforts to identify or protect victims of forced labor” and  “did not report having procedures to identify victims of forced labor.”

In addition, the report says, presumably correctly, “The government is the primary employer in the Cuban economy, including in foreign medical missions that employ more than 84,000 workers in more than 67 countries, including Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, and Venezuela. These medical missions constitute a signficant source of Cuban government income.”

Implicitly conceding that there was conflicting evidence, this report said, “Some participants in foreign medical missions as well as other [unnamed] sources allege that Cuban officials force or coerce participation in the program; the [Cuban] 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.” (Emphases added.)

This report continued, “The Cuban government acknowledges that it withholds passports of overseas medical personnel in Venezuela due to security concerns; the government provided ID cards to such personnel in place of passports. There are also claims about substandard working and living conditions in some countries. In the past, there have been claims that Cuban authorities coerced participants to remain in the program, including by allegedly withholding their passports, restricting their movement, using “minders” to monitor participants outside of work, or threatening to revoke their medical licenses or retaliate against their family members in Cuba if participants leave the program.“ (Emphasis added.)

“In 2015, Cuba reinstituted restrictions on travel for specialized doctors and some medical personnel, requiring them to obtain an exit permit from their superiors before leaving the country. On September 9, 2015, the government agreed to reinstate medical personnel who had left their positions while abroad. As of April 1, 2016, the Cuban authorities claimed that 274 medical professionals who returned to Cuba and were rehired at the same salary and level of responsibility they had before leaving. More recent data was not available.”

This report, consistent with prior reports, alleges or assumes that Cuba is engaged in illegal forced labor of Cuban medical personnel in foreign medical missions and that Cuba does not recognize forced labor as a possible issue affecting its nationals in medical missions abroad.

Analysis of the Allegation

This U.S. allegation is flawed for at least the following seven reasons.

First, while previous reports admitted that “information on the scope of . . . forced labor in Cuba is limited,” the latest report admits there is conflicting evidence about whether medical personnel’s participation in the foreign mission program is coerced and that the Cuban government denies such illegal coercion.

Second, most of this report’s recitation of alleged facts about the foreign mission program do not relate to, or substantiate, the forced labor allegation.

Third, “Internationalist medical aid has been a longstanding part of the Cuban people’s tradition of solidarity, since the beginning of the Revolution. As early as 1960 a brigade was sent to Chile following an earthquake there, and to Algeria in 1963, to support the new country recently liberated from colonialism.” At least four Cuban doctors who have participated in such missions have recorded how they treasure the positive impact of those experiences on their professional and personal lives.[2]

Fourth, the accusation of forced labor for such participants has been rejected in a detailed study by Indiana State University’s Emeritus Professor of International Politics and Latin America, Dr. H. Michael Erisman.  He says, although there may be “some cases where . . . [Cuban medical professionals] are pressured into accepting overseas assignments, . . . most evidence indicates that the overwhelming majority are motivated by philosophical and/or pragmatic considerations. In the first instance, one needs to understand that the Cuban medical profession . . . is permeated by norms which stress self-sacrifice and service to the community, both at home and abroad. At the core of this ethos is the principle, which is firmly entrenched in the curriculum of the island’s medical schools and reinforced throughout one’s career, that health care should not be seen as a business driven by a profit motive, but rather as a human right that medical personnel have an unconditional duty to protect. Such convictions often underlie participation in the medical aid brigades. There are, however, also some pragmatic factors that can come into play. Overseas service could . . . help to further one’s professional aspirations and for some assignments the total remuneration involved is more generous than what is available back in Cuba. . . . [T]hese are the considerations which apply to the vast majority of people” in such programs, not involuntary servitude.[3]

Fifth, relevant to this issue, but not mentioned in the Report, is the fact that medical education in Cuba (at the Latin American School of Medicine) is free. As a result requiring medical graduates to pay the country back by such participation seems entirely appropriate and may indeed be a contractual or quasi-contractual obligation. The recent $67 monthly salary for Cuban physicians in Cuba compared with the $24 or $27 monthly income of other Cubans is a result of Cuba’s adoption of a “pyramid” compensation system whereby highly trained workers like physicians earn more than lower-skilled workers like busboys. This system, however, is being undermined by lower-skilled workers like gas-station attendants and waiters earning additional income from stealing and illegally selling gasoline and from earning tips in hard currency at restaurants and hotels serving foreign tourists. Indeed, Raúl Castro in his speech at the April 2016 Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba called this the “inverted pyramid” problem that had to be solved.[4]

Sixth, this Report and its predecessors do not cite to the relevant international legal definition of “forced labor” to assess this claim or set forth any legal analysis purportedly supporting the allegation. This is not surprising as international law does not support this allegation.

Most pertinent is the Forced Labour Convention, 1930, which Cuba and 177 other state members of the International Labour Organization have ratified (as of 2016). The U.S., however, has not so ratified, yet another reason why the U.S. charge is inapt.

This treaty’s  Article 2(1) preliminarily defines  “forced or compulsory labour” as “all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily,” But there are five exceptions to this definition set forth in the treaty’s Article 2(2). One such exception, in subsection (b), states  ”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.” (Emphases added.)[5]

Cuba clearly is a “fully self-governing country” and the participants in the foreign medical missions are Cuban “citizens,” and as previously stated, such participation is regarded as “part of the normal civic obligations” of such citizens with the appropriate medical qualifications. Thus, under the most relevant statement of international law, Cuba has not engaged in illegal forced labor with respect to the foreign medical missions.

Seventh, there has not been any fair adjudicative process that has determined that such illegal coercion exists.

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

[1] Relevant posts to dwkcommentaries.com: U.S. Upgrades Cuba in State Department’s Annual Report on Human Trafficking (Aug, 7, 2015); U.S. Reasserts Upgrade of Cuba in Annual Human Trafficking Report (July 2, 2016); U.S. Senate Hearing on on 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report (July 20, 2016).

[2]  Ledn, Cuban doctors share their experiences in internationalist missions, Granma (Nov. 26, 2015).

[3] Erisman, Brain Drain Politics: the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Programme, Int’l J. Cuban Studies  269, 286-87 (2012).

[4] Raul Castro Discusses Socio-Economic Issues in Report to Seventh Congress of Communist Party of Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (April 19, 2016).

[5] This and other parts of the definition of “forced or compulsory labour” were reaffirmed in Article 1(3) of the Protocol of 2014 to the Forced Labour Convention, 1930.

New Cuban Limits on Private Enterprises

On August 1, the Cuban government announced suspensions in the issuance of permits for a large number of private occupations and ventures, including restaurants, bed-and-breakfasts, teachers, street vendors of agricultural products, dressmakers and the relatively recent profession of real estate broker.[1]

The announcement said those already engaged in these private occupations and ventures could continue to operate, but it did not say when the suspensions would end.

In addition, there will be no additional authorizations for “wholesale agricultural product salesman, agricultural retailer, ambulant operator or seller of agricultural products, seller/buyer of discs and operator of equipment of recreation for the rustic equipment.”

This announcement had been preceded by the government’s seizing and closing some private restaurants.[2] In June, for example, the government’s Technical Department of Investigations raided El Litoral, a popular Havana paladar known for its high-end cuisine and customers, and removed all of its fixtures, and others speculated it allegedly was engaged in money-laundering, buying liquor from unlawful suppliers and paying some employees off the books. Two other Havana private restaurants suffered the same fate in June.

These governmental measures were mentioned  by President Raúl Castro in his July speech to Cuba’s National Assembly that was discussed in an earlier post.

He said that rules regarding private enterprises would be enforced and that Cubans would not be permitted to start mini-empires with multiple businesses. Thereafter the National Assembly said a “concentration of property and financial and material wealth would not be permitted.”

Raúl’s message essentially was repeated by Marta Elena Feitó Cabrera, the first deputy minister of Labor and Social Security, in discussing the new suspensions: the decision for suspensions “is part of a systematic process of review and improvement, aimed at correcting deficiencies, so that no action Is outside the legality. The most recent evaluation of the performance of this sector has shown . . . that raw materials, and equipment of illicit origin are used; non-compliance with tax obligations persists and income is under-declared; [there is] lack of confrontation and timely resolution of problems; there are uncertainties and inadequacies in control as well as deficiencies in economic contracting for the provision of services or supply of products between legal persons and natural persons.”

Nevertheless, Cuba is not closing down the private sector with 567,982 outstanding licenses for self-employed workers (12% of the total work force), 2,000 private restaurants and 22,000 rooms in casas particulares (private bed-and-breakfasts). As the CubaDebate article states, “the validity of this form of management as an employment option is unquestionable. Not only has it facilitated the labor reorganization process, it has also succeeded in increasing the supply of goods and services with acceptable levels of quality, as well as gradually lightening the state’s burden to allow it to concentrate on transcendental activities for Cuban economic development.”

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

[1] Puig,  Announce new measures for self-employment in Cuba, CubaDebate (Aug. 1, 2017); Assoc. Press, Cuba Stops Issuing New Permits for Some Private Enterprises, N.Y. Times (Aug. 1, 2017).

[2]  Whitefield, Cuba reins in entrepreneurs who take free enterprise too far, Miami Herald (July 31, 2017).

President Raúl Castro Discusses Cuba-U.S. Relations

On July 14, Raúl Castro Ruz, Army General, First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba Central Committee and President of the Councils of State and Ministers, addressed a session of Cuba’s legislature (the National Assembly of People’s Power).[1]

A previous post discussed his remarks about Cuba’s private sector. He also made the following comments about the history of Cuba-U.S. relations.[2]

Present Castro’s Comments

President Trump’s Policies Regarding Cuba

“This past June 16, the President of the [U.S.], Donald Trump, announced his administration’s policy toward Cuba, nothing novel for sure, since he retook a discourse and elements from the confrontational past, which showed their absolute failure for over 55 years.”

“It is evident that the U.S. President has not been well informed on the history of Cuba and its relations with the [U.S.], or on the patriotism and dignity of the Cuban people.”

Cuba-U.S. Relations, 1789-2014

“History cannot be forgotten, as they have at times suggested we do. For more than 200 years, the ties between Cuba and the [U.S.] have been marked, on the one hand, by the pretensions of the northern neighbor to dominate our country, and on the other, by the determination of Cubans to be free, independent, and sovereign.”

“Throughout the entire 19th century, invoking the doctrines and policies of Manifest Destiny, of Monroe, and the ‘ripe fruit,’ different U.S. administrations tried to take possession of Cuba, and despite the heroic struggle of the mambises,[3] they did so in 1898, with a deceitful intervention at the end of the war which for 30 years Cubans had waged for their independence, and which the U.S. troops entered as allies and then became occupiers. Negotiating with Spain behind Cuba’s back, they militarily occupied the country for four years, demobilizing the Liberation Army, dissolving the Revolutionary Cuban Party – organized, founded, and led by Martí – and imposed an appendix to the Constitution of the nascent republic, the Platt Amendment, which gave them the right to intervene in our internal affairs and establish, among others, the naval base in Guantánamo, which still today usurps part of the national territory, the return of which we will continue to demand.”

“Cuba’s neocolonial condition, which allowed the [U.S.] to exercise total control over the economic and political life of the island, frustrated, but did not annihilate, the Cuban people’s longing for freedom and independence. Exactly 60 years later, January 1, 1959, with the triumph of the Revolution led by Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro, we became definitively free and independent.”

“From that moment on, the strategic goal of U.S. policy toward Cuba has been to overthrow the Revolution. To do so, over more than five decades, they resorted to dissimilar methods: economic war, breaking diplomatic relations, armed invasion, attempts to assassinate our principal leaders, sabotage, a naval blockade, the creation and support of armed bands, state terrorism, internal subversion, the economic, commercial, financial blockade, and international isolation.”

Cuba-U.S. Relations, 2014-2017

“Ten administrations held office until President Barack Obama, in his statement of December 17, 2014, without renouncing the strategic goal, had the good sense to recognize that isolation had not worked, and that it was time for a new focus toward Cuba.”

“No one could deny that the [U.S.], in its attempts to isolate Cuba, in the end found itself profoundly isolated. The policy of hostility and blockade toward our country had become a serious obstacle to relations with Latin America and the Caribbean, and was rejected almost unanimously by the international community. Within U.S. society, growing majority opposition to this policy had developed, including among a good portion of the Cuban émigré community.”

“In the Sixth Summit of the Americas in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, in 2012, Ecuador refused to participate if Cuba was not permitted to attend, and all Latin American and Caribbean countries expressed their rejection of the blockade and Cuba’s exclusion from these events. Many countries warned that another meeting would not take place without Cuba. As such, we arrived in April 2015 – three years later – to the Seventh Summit in Panama, invited for the very first time.”

“Over the last two years, and working on the basis of respect and equality, diplomatic relations have been reestablished and progress made toward resolving pending bilateral matters, as well as cooperation on issues of mutual interest and benefit; limited modifications were made to the implementation of some aspects of the blockade. The two countries established the bases from which to work toward building a new type of relationship, demonstrating that civil coexistence is possible despite profound differences.”

“At the end of President Obama’s term in office, the blockade, the Naval Base in Guantánamo, and the regime change policy, remained in place.”

Cuba-U.S. Relations, 2017–

“The announcements made by the current U.S. President, last June 16, represent a step back in bilateral relations. This is the opinion of many people and organizations in the [U.S.] and around the world, who have overwhelmingly expressed their outright rejection of the announced changes. This sentiment was also expressed by our youth and student organizations, Cuban women, workers, campesinos, Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, intellectuals, and religious groups, on behalf of the vast majority of the nation’s citizens.”

“The U.S. government has decided to tighten the blockade by imposing new obstacles on its businesspeople to trade and invest in Cuba, and additional restrictions on its citizens to travel to the country – justifying these measures with out-dated rhetoric regarding the Cuban people’s exercise and enjoyment of human rights and democracy.”

“President Trump’s decision disregards the support of broad sectors of U.S. society, including the majority of Cuban émigrés, for lifting of the blockade and normalization of relations, and only satisfies the interests of an increasingly isolated, minority group of Cuban origin in South Florida, who insist on harming Cuba and its people for having chosen to defend, at any cost, their right to be free, independent, and sovereign.”

“Today, we reiterate the Revolutionary Government’s condemnation of measures to tighten the blockade, and reaffirm that any attempt to destroy the Revolution, whether through coercion and pressure, or the use of subtle methods, will fail.”

“We likewise reject manipulation of the issue of human rights against Cuba, which has many reasons to be proud of its achievements, and does not need to receive lessons from the [U.S.] or anyone else.”

“I wish to repeat, as I did so in the CELAC Summit held in the Dominican Republic in January of this year, that Cuba is willing to continue discussing pending bilateral issues with the [U.S.], on the basis of equality and respect for the sovereignty and independence of our country, and to continue respectful dialogue and cooperation in issues of common interest with the U.S. government.”

“Cuba and the [U.S.] can cooperate and coexist, respecting our differences and promoting everything that benefits both countries and peoples, but it should not be expected that, in order to do so, Cuba will make concessions essential to its sovereignty and independence. [N]or will it negotiate its principles or accept conditions of any kind, just as we have never done throughout the history of the Revolution.”

“Despite what the government of the [U.S.] does, or does not decide to do, we will continue advancing along the path sovereignly chosen by our people.”

Conclusion

Castro’s review of the history of these relations was succinct, fact-based, fair and necessary for the two countries’ moving forward in a positive direction.

Moreover, the two countries, as Castro said, should be “willing to continue discussing pending bilateral issues . . . on the basis of equality and respect for the sovereignty and independence of [each] country, and to continue respectful dialogue and cooperation in issues of common interest.” The two countries should be able to “cooperate and coexist, respecting our differences and promoting everything that benefits both countries and peoples.”

These principles should govern U.S. relations with Cuba and every other country in the world.

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

[1] Castro Ruz, We will continue to advance along the path freely chosen by our people, Granma (July 17, 2017).

[2] Various aspects of this history have been discussed in the posts identified in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries–Topical: CUBA.

[3]Mambises” refers to the guerrilla Cuban independence soldiers who fought against Spain in the Ten Years’ War (1868–78) and Cuban War of Independence (1895–98).

 

President Raúl Castro Affirms Importance of Cuba’s Private Sector       

President Raúl Castro

On July 14, Raúl Castro Ruz, Army General, First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba Central Committee and President of the Councils of State and Ministers, addressed a session of Cuba’s legislature (the National Assembly of People’s Power).[1]

He first noted that despite “difficult circumstances, encouraging, modest [economic] results have been achieved. The Gross Domestic Product grew by 1.1% in the first half of the year, which indicates a change in the economy’s direction as compared to last year. Contributing to this result were agriculture, tourism, and other exports of services, construction, sugar production, and the transportation and communications sectors.”

Castro then affirmed the importance of the private sector of the Cuban economy in these extensive remarks.

He reported that the Council of Ministers recently had authorized “the expansion of self-employment and the experiment with non-agricultural cooperatives . . . with the purpose of gradually freeing the state from responsibility for activities that are not strategic, creating jobs, supporting initiative, and contributing to the national economy’s efficiency in the interest of developing our socialism.”

This “past June, these forms of property management were recognized as among those operating within the Cuban economy, in an extraordinary session of Parliament dedicated to analyzing and approving programmatic documents for our Economic and Social Model.”

“We currently have more than half a million self-employed workers and more than 400 non-agricultural cooperatives, which confirms their validity as a source of employment, while contributing to an increase and greater variety of goods and services available, with an acceptable level of quality.”

On the other hand, there have been “violations of the legal regulations in effect, such as the utilization of raw materials and equipment of illicit origin, under-declaration of income to evade tax obligations, and insufficient state control at all levels.” To meet these problems, the Council of Ministers has adopted measures that soon will be announced.

The Council, however, has “not renounced the expansion and development of self-employment, or the continuation of the experiment with non-agricultural cooperatives. We are not going to draw back or stop, nor will we allow the non-state sector to be stigmatized or face prejudice, but it is imperative that laws be respected, progress consolidated, positive aspects – which are more than a few – generalized, and illegalities and other deviations from established policy resolutely confronted.”

The “pace and scope of the changes we need to make to our model must be conditioned by the capacity we have to do things well and rectify any misstep in a timely manner. This will only be possible if adequate prior preparation is ensured – which we haven’t done – training and comprehension of established regulations at every level, follow-up and guidance of the process – aspects marked by a fair dose of superficiality, and an excess of enthusiasm and desire to move more rapidly than we are truly capable of managing.”

“What is a state, especially a socialist state, doing administering a barbershop with one chair, or two or three, and with one administrator for a certain number of small barber shops – not many. I mention this example because it was one of the first steps we took.”

The errors of implementation of these changes are mainly “ours, we leaders who developed this policy. . . . This is the reality. Let’s not try to block the sun with a finger. Mistakes are mistakes. And they are our mistakes, and if we are going to consider hierarchies among us, in the first place, they are mine, because I was part of this decision. This is the reality.”

Conclusion

As has been noted in previous blog posts, the Cuban government and people have recognized that entrepreneurs in the private sector are playing increasingly important roles in the Cuban economy and society and that developing a mixed economy is not an easy project.[2]

This is why it is so important for the U.S. Congress to adopt bills confirming the freedom for Americans to travel to Cuba on individual person-to-person trips that are important customers for businesses owned by Cuban entrepreneurs.[3] 

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

[1] Castro Ruz, We will continue to advance along the path freely chosen by our people, Granma (July 17, 2017) (official English translation of the original Spanish).

[2] See posts listed in the “Cuban Economy” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

[3] See This Blogger’s Reactions to Trump Reversal of Some U.S.-Cuba Normalization Policies (June 23, 2017); Open Letter to U.S. Congress About U.S. Freedom To Travel to Cuba (July 16, 2017).