Cuba-Brazil: The Battle of the White Coats

Cuban doctors who stay in Brazil will be forbidden entry to the island for eight years. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 19 November 2018 – We saw the conflict coming. From the moment Jair Bolsonero won the elections in Brazil, Cuba’s official discourse increased in rhetoric against him and prepared public opinion for the rupture that was imminent.

The straw that broke the camel’s back for the Plaza of the Revolution was the statements by the president-elect in which he warned that he would change the conditions of the agreement under which more than 8,300 physicians from Cuba work in Brazil’s Mais Medicos (More Doctors) program.

Last Wednesday, tensions escalated to their highest point when the Cuban Minister of Public Health announced that he was cancelling the contract and removing his professionals from the South American country. The official notice, read out on all of the island’s the news programs, repeated that Bolsonaro’s threats would not be tolerated but deftly ignored some of his words. Particularly those where the rightist leader insisted that the Cuban doctors should receive their full salaries and be able to bring their families to stay with them while they were in the program.

The Cuban government has made medical missions a lucrative business. With professionals deployed in more than 60 countries, the money raised by this practice is Cuba’s largest source of foreign currency, estimated to exceed $11 billion annually.

In the case of Brazil, Havana pockets 75% of the 3,300 dollar salary Brazil pays for each doctor, while the health professionals only receive a quarter of the total. On the Island, in a bank account which they do not have access to, their “Cuban” monthly salary of about 60 dollars accumulates, which they can only collect if they return to the island.

Those who leave the Mais Medicos program under their own will are considered deserters and are banned from entering Cuba for eight years. During the time the Workers’ Party (PT) was at the head of the Brazilian government, the doctors who escaped from their contracts were pursued by the Brazilian police and could be returned to the Island if they were arrested. None were allowed to bring their family members to be with them during their missions, and they were often housed in overcrowded hostels shared with other doctors, nurses and hospital technicians.

Despite so many difficulties and the low earnings, the missions were very much desired by the doctors because they were able to buy goods that are not available in Cuban markets, and to make contacts that would later allow them to return to Brazil privately, with a contract to work in some clinic.

Beyond its ability to provide healthcare for many Brazilians in the poorest areas of the country, the Mais Medicos program hid a political operation to build support for the leftist Workers’ Party and guarantee it the votes of the lower classes. It was clear that Cuba’s interest in this outcome was not going to continue with Bolsonaro in charge, thus it was only a matter of time before Castroism removed its healthcare professionals from Brazil. It only remains now to ask how many of them will actually return to the island.

The president-elect of Brazil has announced that he will grant political asylum to all Cuban doctors who request it and it is expected that a considerable number will benefit from this offer. Those who do so will lose the right to return to their homeland for many long years, they will be called traitors and, most likely, their families on the island will be under pressure. The battle of the white coats has barely begun.


Note: This column was originally published in the Latin American edition of the Deutsche Welle chain.

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4 thoughts on “Cuba-Brazil: The Battle of the White Coats

  1. Ms Sanchez,
    It is interesting to know what the Cuban people are being told about the end of “Mais Médicos” program in Brazil. And even more interesting to know what they have not been told. And it is true that any doctor who decided to leave the program and ask the Brazilian government for asylum was immediately sent back to Cuba. To the surprise of many as of today 84% of the positions open by the cuban doctors ‘ leaving have already been filled in by Brazilian doctors. After Dec 7th all doctors either Brazilian or foreigners who graduated outside Brazil will be able to sign up for the program provided they take the “Revalida ” test to have the Brazilian register (CRM) . They will have a time to do so, after they start working. I’m thakful to the Cuban doctors but I don’t think it is fair for them to get just 25% of what the Brazilian government pays the Cuban government.

    Thank you for the article

  2. Ms. Yoani Sanchez can ask here friends at the Cuban American Foundation to take up the slack and bring in US Doctors at $800 a day which would be a low price considering what a US Doctor receives rather than $800 a month which the average Cuba receives per Doctor while Brazilian doctors receive $3,000 for the same work.

  3. The new Brazilian President to take office January 1st has obviously decided to engage in a unilateral hostile course. Calling Cuba a dictatorship, offering ‘political asylum’ to those who stay, demanding they take exams saying the Doctors are ‘slave labor’ has nothing to do with wages and families. This man wanted the end of the program when in the Brazilian Congress and now will get his wish despite the needs of the rural people of brazil who were made into an international football.

  4. Deep Cuba, interesting concept!
    Right now something else transformational is going on in the 2nd biggest LatAm economy with the 2nd largest population after Brazil, Mexico. However in the other direction: With AMLO what I predicted here in this comments section when the 43 students were disappeared seems to have come true. It didn’t make any sense to do that just because the 43 were heckling at a political rally. So something much bigger must be behind it.
    Discontent was and is still sky high in Mexico because of the perpetual insecurity the narco cartels cause. To say that the Mexican State has been rendered impotent is putting it too mildly. The cartels have done in Mexico what they couldn’t do in Colombia, create a narcoestado, narcoState.
    Cocaine is fuelling Communism in Latin America, and the FARC and others like them control a large part of the cocaine business, whiich of course permeates Mexico.
    I predicted a hard left. The Mexican people have been tricked into jumping from the fryimg pan into the fire…

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