An ongoing lawsuit served in the US District of Columbia might be useful to show the world what many Brazilians already knew about the Mais Médicos Program, which the government of Dilma Rousseff’s Workers’ Party (PT) used to finance the Cuban dictatorship under the well-intentioned guise of sending doctors to Brazilian regions devoid of medical professionals. Four Cuban doctors who participated in Mais Médicos and managed to flee to the United States are the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), regional branch of the World Health Organization (WHO). They are claiming the money that they were due, which ended up instead in the coffers of the communist regime then ruled by Raúl Castro, Fidel’s brother.
By the end of 2018, Ramona Matos Rodríguez, Tatiana Carballo Gómez, Fidel Cruz Hernández and Russella Margarita Rivero Sarabia sued PAHO and its top officers in a Florida court, for trafficking in persons and exploitation of forced labor. The lawsuit is being processed now in the capital city of the United States, and the defense lawyers’ requests for dismissing it have just been rejected by a Court of Appeals. All four doctors worked in Brazil: Ramona Matos, who worked in Pará, was the first to escape Cuban surveillance in early 2014, just five months after the arrival of the first Cubans in Brazil. She found sanctuary at the Democratic Party leadership office in the Lower House of the Brazilian Congress. She brought with her documents that showed how the financing of the Caribbean dictatorship with Brazilian money worked.
Foreigners working with Mais Médicos had a contract directly signed with the Brazilian government, they were paid their full salaries of 10,000 reais per month (about $4,000), they enjoyed freedom of movement and could bring their families to Brazil. Except for the Cubans, who came to make up 80% of the total number of professionals in the program. The Cubans were subject to a series of restrictions; to prevent defections their families were practically taken as hostages on the island. Only in the case of the Cubans, Brazil paid to PAHO, which only then transferred part of the money to the doctors (10%, according to Ramona; other data suggested 30%), retained a small part to cover administrative expenses, and sent the difference to Cuba, where another tiny sum was paid to the relatives of the professional. The rest was pocketed by the Cuban dictatorship. Documents shown by Ramona revealed the existence of another entity, Sociedad Mercantil Comercializadora de Servicios Médicos Cubanos (CSMC) All this was brought to light thanks to the courage of the escaped doctors and the tenacity of members of Brazil’s Public Ministry of Labor, even as the Dilma government made everything it could to hide the details from the Brazilian society.
Petismo however, had its reasons to protect the secret, because what was later discovered happened to be even more sordid. The true goal of Mais Médicos was, in fact, sending money to Cuba, not helping those Brazilians deprived of health care; they became only a useful excuse. In 2015, Band TV was able to listen to the audios of a meeting that took place before the Mais Médicos program was launched. At least six ministerial advisors took part. One participant is heard saying that that Mais Médicos was, in the end, a plot between Brazil and Cuba, and that must be hidden. She goes on to state the need to accept in the program a minority of professionals from other countries, then asserts that the use that Havana would give to the money was not of the Brazilian government’s business. At the end of 2018, the newspaper Folha de S.Paulo had access to telegrams from the embassy of Brazil in Cuba whose classified status had expired. They clearly showed that the idea of Mais Médicos came from Havana, with the Comercializadora de Servicios Médicos Cubanos arriving in Brazil in 2012 to map areas lacking medical professionals. In the end, the Cuban dictatorship itself proved that only the money mattered to them: with the victory of Jair Bolsonaro in the Brazilian 2018 presidential election, Havana immediately called back the Cuban doctors.
What is expected now is for US Justice to have the common sense that the Federal Supreme Court of Brazil (STF) lacked in 2017. Back then, the STF approved the triangulation between Brazil, PAHO and Cuba, thus supporting a breach of equity between the Cubans and the other foreign contributors, as it sustained that, technically speaking, Cubans were not being paid a salary, but given a stipend. Six judges stuck to formalism, thus ignoring that the format had been accurately designed to allow sending money to the vaults of the Castro dictatorship.
The lawsuit being carried out in the United States is of the class action type; the results would apply not only to the four plaintiffs, but to any other former participant in Mais Médicos currently living in the United States. If it prospers, it is very unlikely that Brazil will be required to pay the doctors anything; number one, because the defendants are PAHO and its top officers, not the Brazilian government; number two, because Brazil disbursed the right amounts, and it was PAHO who diverted them to the wrong destination. Yet the moral defeat of the government of the PT is guaranteed in this case. Even if PAHO finds some technical loophole and gets away unpunished, the facts that have been revealed and exposed about Mais Médicos are enough to show everyone the perverse nature of an agreement in which Dilma and the PT played an active role.
By Leonardo Coutinho
This editorial was originally published in Gazeta do Povo on April 21, 2022