News World The bitter oblivion of Cuban doctors in Brazil

The bitter oblivion of Cuban doctors in Brazil

The bitter oblivion of Cuban doctors in Brazil

Like many of his colleagues, Ivo Zuniga Martinez In 2018, he was faced with a choice: remain in Brazil, with an unknown but free future, or return to Cuba, submitting to the difficulties of a dictatorship that, as he now understood, had been exploiting him for years.

In 2018, this doctor, now 37, opted for the first alternative, and was labeled a deserter by the Castro regime. After having risked his life on the front lines of Cuban medical diplomacy and even having been exposed to Ebola during their cooperation missions, he risked everything to win freedom. He is paying a price. “If I go back now, I’ll go to jail,” he confesses with a somber expression.

Zúñiga is one of the 2,500 Cuban doctors who decided not to return to their country after the end of the More Doctors program created a decade ago by Dilma Rousseff to send doctors to regions of Brazil that lacked medical coverage. More than 20,000 Cuban doctors went to impoverished areas, forgotten villages and abandoned favelas. After a hiatus during the term of Jair Bolsonaro —who accused Cuba of human trafficking— now Lula da Silva has announced that she is recovering it.

Dr. Zúñiga’s is an impressive resume, he is a general practitioner; with a specialty in family medicine; knowledge of tropical ailments and even experience in orthopedics. During his career, he has worked in very difficult situations, being sent to the Sahara, to Haiti, and even to the epicenter of the African Ebola epidemic in Guinea in 2015.

infernal approval

Like the other comrades who remained in Brazil, Dr. Zúñiga has not had it easy. By not returning to the island, he has not been able to continue practicing the profession with which he has saved so many lives. The exam to be able to homologate the medical title here is hellishly difficult, and it seems, according to many of the Cubans with whom he has spoken to this newspaper, designed to cause setbacks. A wrong capitalization in the name of a bacterium can be grounds for failing.

Today, Zúñiga survives as a pharmacist in Santo Antônio do Jardim, a small coffee town of 6,000 inhabitants in the interior of São Paulo. He attends, talks, listens, reads the prescriptions written by other doctors, and, above all, helps as he can, advising on ills and ailments, knowing as the neighbors are that he has much more experience than their own GPs.

Ivo Zúñiga Martínez now works as a pharmacist

Mr. Alandete

Just four years ago, the world’s attention was focused on these Cuban doctors. At the height of the program, there were approximately 11,000 Cuban doctors working at one time in Brazil. Bolsonaro described them as “slaves.” Cuba ordered everyone to return immediately. The US denounced before the Organization of American States that they were victims of abuse, subjected to involuntary servitude. The secretary general of that organization, Luis Almagro, denounced in Washington what he described as human trafficking and violation of human rights, disguised as a cooperation program. Influential Democratic Senator Bob Menéndez said on Capitol Hill that “Cuba’s medical missions abroad are not humanitarian, but rather a calculated and coercive scheme to generate money by a regime that depends on indentured servitude to fill its coffers».

From 2013 to 2018, the years in which Cuba participated in the program, with the mediation of the Pan American Health Organization, a total of 20,000 Cuban doctors treated 113 million Brazilians, according to data from the dictatorship. The agreement generated, as announced at its launch, some 210 million euros per year for the Castro regime.

export labor

Havana exported skilled labor and charged a premium for it. For each envoy like Dr. Zúñiga, Brazil paid around 12,000 reais a month, of which the doctor had less than 3,000 left to live on. At the current exchange rate of 2,300 euros per month per person, the dictatorship pocketed more than 1,700, leaving the doctors 570 euros to live on. So meager was that payment, that the cities and states where they worked had to supplement their salary. It is true, however, that the average salary of a doctor in Cuba, barely 50 euros a month, pales in comparison.

“Stolen” is the word he uses Yaser Herrera Rodriguez, 34 years old. She feels like this from the first moment, when she came to Brazil from Cuba in 2019. They gave her 4,000 reais, about 750 euros, to settle. Over the years, he says that he found out that for this transfer he paid Brazil up to 27,000 reais to the dictatorship, and the regime pocketed the rest.

“In Cuba, when you were going to come here, they made you sign a document admitting what they were going to pay you, and if you didn’t sign it you couldn’t come on a mission or leave Cuba, so they forced you to do that,” he says. . Herrera receives ABC at his home, and serves a pineapple cake, decorated with a delicate pink cream. He has prepared it. Here in the west of the city of São Paulo, he earns a living with aesthetic treatments and earns some money with confectionery, which is his passion, and which he has learned from his mother.

Herrera is not officially a defector. He returned from Rio Grande do Sul, the Brazilian state where he practiced, to Cuba, at the end of the program. Before, he cried. «I felt very bad, very sad, because I lost my job and my patients. I remember crying hugging my patients, because I couldn’t take care of them anymore, “he says.

«I felt very bad, very sad, because I lost my job and my patients. I remember crying hugging my patients, because I could no longer attend to them»

Yaser Herrera

Cuban doctor

Having married in Brazil, he obtained the return permits. In this way, he avoided the prohibition that would have prevented him from seeing her mother for eight years, the term established by Cuban law for improper departures. After a month in Villa Clara, his place of origin, he returned to Brazil, but was unable to work for two years. During that time, he survived with the help of friends and began looking for ways to earn a living.

Yaser Herrera


Then the pandemic fell, and the Bolsonaro government allowed the rehiring of almost 1,800 Cuban doctors for a period of two years to help in the emergency response in a country, such as Brazil, where infections and deaths skyrocketed. Herrera returned to work as a doctor, this time in São Paulo, caring for patients with chronic illnesses, but last year he found himself unemployed again.

He plans to validate his medical degree and continue working. To do this, you must pass the dreaded exam that you have already failed once. “It’s designed to exclude,” he says.

He comments that one of the reasons why he decided to stay in Brazil was the development and opportunities that the country offers compared to his native Cuba. According to him, they are really basic things. «Cuba does not work well, there are always problems with transportation, there are problems with food. Is not easy. Even we doctors face difficulties because there are no medicines”, he explained.

Spies of the dictatorship

When he reintroduced this medical program in March, President Lula denounced the misinformation that, according to him, harmed these professionals. If outside of Brazil they were seen as slaves, there was no shortage of Brazilian doctors who distrusted them, considered them intruders and denounced that they were spies for the dictatorship.

Elia Peralta Ortiz, 55, a veteran of the Cuban medical missions, laments all of this. Like many of his colleagues, he arrived in Brazil after having faced very serious crises around the world, such as caring for patients in Eritrea during the war with Ethiopia in 2001. After a stay in Venezuela, he arrived in Brazil in 2014. care for patients in São Paulo, where he spent four years. She fell in love, married and, in the process, converted to Adventism, a Christian denomination that emphasizes the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

Elia Peralta Ortiz is a veteran of the medical missions


His life changed and he doesn’t hold resentments. She believes that all these doctors knew what they were coming for and how much they were going to be paid. At the end of the contract, he returned to Cuba to request the exit permit and it was granted. He occasionally visits the island. He recounts all this from his home, a spotless house next to a church, in Hortolândia, north of São Paulo.

“I worked 31 years as a doctor, I always did my best, we went where no one wanted to go, and they pay us by calling us slaves, spies”

Elia Peralta

Cuban doctor

Peralta says that when she heard those politicians in Washington calling her a slave, she would get mad. “They even called us spies, a lot of absurd things,” she says. “I worked 31 years as a doctor, I always gave my best, I helped others, we did a good job, we went where no one wanted to go, and they pay us by calling us slaves, spies,” she laments. Of course, at the end of the program she lost her license and she cannot practice. She plans to take the validation exam for the second time, but she knows that passing it is very difficult. “But not impossible,” she says, “you have to try.”



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