Last week, on an anniversary of the “Henry Reeve” Medical Brigades, the Minister of Public Health of Cuba, José Ángel Portal Miranda, praised on Facebook what he called the “noble work” of these contingents specialized in natural disasters and serious epidemics. The use of the adjective is not accidental because he immediately recalled the proposals to award the NOBEL Peace Prize to the brigades, stating that what drives these doctors is “their commitment to the most humane of vocations.”

That same week, two pieces of news were released that exposed the profit interest of the Cuban government with these international brigades, while on the island both the population and the doctors who take care of them continue to be unprotected against Covid-19.

Portal Miranda revealed that to date Cuba has dispatched 4,982 doctors and other health workers abroad, grouped in 57 brigades to help with the pandemic. Those doctors were needed first and foremost by their patients in Cuba as their colleagues on the island and the nation’s health system were heading toward collapse in the face of the outbreak. Instead, the oligarchs of the military corporate group GAESA kept them churning out dollars for their luxury hotels and private accounts in offshore tax havens.

With 585 members, the Cuban medical brigade sent to Mexico City in the summer of 2020 was one of the largest. An opposition Senator ─Julen Rementería, from the National Action Party─ perused for six months scores of official documents. Last week he confirmed that, for three months of work, the Health Secretariat of the Mexican capital, SEDESA, paid Cuba’s Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP) 255 million Mexican pesos, or $ 12.5 million.

“Each one cost us 437,390 pesos,” the legislator pointed out. That means Havana received about 145,000 pesos a month for each aid worker ─which by the way were paid in Euros. Rementería complained of such exorbitant payment, compared to an average of 17,000 pesos per month earned by Mexican doctors.

However, fact-findings revealed this week in a letter from US Senator Bob Menéndez to Secretary of State Anthony Blinken indicate that the doctors received $ 220 each month, or 4,400 Mexican pesos, thus confirming the pattern of wage plundering that Havana applies to these contingents, as it retained the remaining 140,600 pesos per month or 96.07 percent of what SEDESA paid for each Cuban collaborator.

WHERE DOES THE MONEY GO?

Cuba’s MINSAP officials use to say that the money snatched from the salaries of internationalist doctors goes to sustain the country’s health-care system. Well, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the island showed that the system had feet of clay: last July, Cuba reached the highest per capita contagion rate of the new coronavirus in the Americas (55 per 100,000), and one of the highest weekly mortality rates in the world.

 

This was the result of the lack of beds, antibiotics, PCR and antigen tests, oxygen, ambulances, face masks, long queues to buy food staples; and also, of the overwhelming workload to which the doctors who remained on the island were subjected. They barely slept a couple of hours and lacked the resources to save their patients or even protect themselves properly, while almost five thousand colleagues remained working abroad, earning hard currency. for the regime. Therefore, they were outraged by a statement in which Prime Minister Manuel Marrero blamed them for the crisis. Dozens of doctors from the province of Holguin took part in a strong response video that was posted on social networks.

Not only were they doing their job as well as they could, but, although the government has kept it a secret, 76 of them lost their lives in that asymmetric battle. This figure, including name, surname, specialty, and province of the deceased, was compiled and sent abroad by the Free Cuban Medical Association. Ironically enough, as public health personnel those who perished had been among the first to receive the so-called Cuban vaccine named Abdala, which obviously did not immunize them against the disease.

But these doctors also exposed their lives by working without the appropriate protocols and means of protection. This was reported in April by Dr. Aramis Martínez Hernández, a pulmonologist at Cárdenas Hospital, in the Matanzas province, right after he and three of his colleagues got infected with the virus.

“I spent 16 months in Saudi Arabia, eight months of which we spent treating positive Covid-19 patients, yet we never got infected, because protection, hygiene and security measures were thoroughly applied, there were infection control protocols, all staff members were given means of protection and required to use them. This does not exist in our hospital,” wrote Dr. Martínez Hernández on his Facebook wall. “The response of our supervisors? ‘Yes, we are going to resolve it,’” stated the post’s author.

So those 76 health-care workers fallen while fighting Covid-19 on the island became unnecessary martyrs of the government’s broken promises and the sequestration of the salaries of their colleagues working abroad, which ─officials still swear─ go to sustain Cuba’s health-care system.

By  Rolando Cartaya

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