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Jimmy Roque Martinez: I was born in Havana in 1979, and it seems that work has been my sign. Custodian, fish farmer, lens carver, welder, glass maker, optometrist, have been some of my trades. But none consumes as much of my time as caring for my family. For many years I’ve faced the least pretty face of this society, and I try to be happy while I transform it. I am too shy. I like silence, sleep, theater and movies. I hate injustice and arrogance, and I can hardly contain my anger when it happens in front of me.

Cuban Doctors Abroad: On Individual Responsibility

March 21, 2014 | Print Print |

Jimmy Roque Martínez

Cuban doctors in Venezuela. Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES – Having worked on a previous mission abroad (ideally in Venezuela) is one of the requirements that Cuban medical doctors in Brazil’s Mas Medicos (“More Doctors”) program must meet. As such, all Cuban doctors were perfectly aware of the “protective” restrictions that apply within such programs. Thus these physicians had already experienced such a working environment and decided to take part in a similar program in Brazil.

I am against all of these restrictions (the curfew, having to relinquish one’s passport, being required to inform authorities of any friendship or relationship with a local and others), but it is true they are not something new for these doctors.

With the experience they now have, they could have asked more from the Cuban State, and could have had the courage of doing it here, in Cuba – particularly when they knew they would be working under difficult conditions, in places as remote as the Amazon basin.

It’s true the contract with the Cuban State is non-negotiable and that anyone who complains runs the risk of losing their trip abroad. Still, everyone must assume their quota of responsibility.

These doctors are also responsible for not being paid their due. In Cuba, they agreed to act in “politically correct” ways, that is to say, to applaud, approve of things and go along with the flow, even though they did not concur with what was being dictated from above.

The sad fact is that, if they were able to participate in the program, it is probably because they had to play a part for a considerable stretch of their lives.

I could have traveled to Venezuela to take part in Mision Milagro (“Miracle Mission”) in 2006. However, I chose not to.

That money would have helped me and my family a lot (we are very poor), but I refused to pay the price, to pretend to be something I wasn’t. Today, though it’s difficult, I also assume the consequences of this, and I am still alive.

If doctors would only complain over working conditions while still in Cuba, things would be different. In the health sector, people take great care not to express their true political or any other kind of opinion. There are only a handful of isolated and honorable exceptions.

This attitude isn’t exclusively owed to the fear of losing the opportunity to travel abroad, for those who have no prospects of this act the same way. Nearly a hundred doctors attended the meeting I referred to in my last post, and not one of them complained about anything.

I would not refer to the case of Cuban medical doctors in Brazil as “slave labor”, but I do believe it is exploitative – something which is neither unique to Cuba nor to our day and age.

I agree Cuban workers are exploited – I have no doubt about it, in fact. But the ethically correct thing to do – what would benefit our society the most – is to make our demands here. This is my point. They didn’t find out how things were when arriving abroad, they always knew and accepted those conditions.

Of course, as one can appreciate in my previous post, I am not saying I am against the current protest. One of its positive results has been a 145-dollar raise and the monthly cash payment of the 600 dollars that were previously being deposited in an account in Cuba.

I hope those who are in Cuba and also work under terrible conditions, those who have had to shoulder the work of doctors working abroad (far from their families, true, but earning hard currency, at least), will see a similar improvement.

Incidentally, the wage raise for Cuba’s health professionals, announced by Raul Castro, has no direct relation to the scandal surrounding Cuban medical doctors in Brazil – it had been announced as early as December of last year.

It is in consideration of these medical doctors, who are responsible for our country’s health system, that I feel it is just that those who earn hard currency should work towards improving the conditions that prevail in Cuba’s Public Health sector as a whole.

It is not a question of doing this as an obligation and in the dark, but of supporting others out of conviction. It is a question of knowing what everyone contributes, defining this among everyone, and knowing the reason one does things. This issue remains to be debated.


What's your opinion?

  • CUBAQUS

    With an expected 8.2 billion dollars of revenues foretasted for 2014 for the services of these doctors Cuba should be able to run a great service for the people. It should be able to buy a lot more food as well.
    The money these doctors make goes to anything but food and health spending for the people. The gated complexes for housing the military go ahead though.