HAVANA – President Miguel Diaz-Canel ripped the United States on Wednesday, accusing Washington of being behind the complaint filed by a non-governmental organization (NGO) with the International Criminal Court (ICC) alleging that Cuban doctors on international missions were victims of “enslavement, persecution and other inhuman acts.”
“Once again, the imperialist lies seek to discredit Cuba’s health cooperation programs with other countries, calling them ‘modern slavey’ and even ‘human trafficking.’ The aid and example provided by Cuba bothers them,” Diaz-Canel said in a Twitter post.
The “United States wants to re-establish the program of stealing brains with the Cuban doctors,” the president tweeted, noting that “more than 600,000 Cubans have provided medical services in more than 160 countries in the past 55 years,” while 35,613 health professionals from 138 countries have been trained for free” on the island.
Cuban Prisoner Defenders said Tuesday it had filed a complaint with ICC prosecutors against six Cuban politicians, including Diaz-Canel and his predecessor, Raul Castro, for “enslavement, persecution and other inhuman acts.”
The NGO asked the ICC to investigate alleged abuses going back to 2002, contending that “close to one million” Cuban doctors and other professionals had been subjected to “crimes against humanity” by being forced to go on international missions.
On Jan. 12, 2017, just days before leaving office, former US President Barack Obama ended a policy that gave undocumented Cuban migrants who reached US soil the right to remain and become permanent residents.
The policy, known as “wet foot/dry foot,” was expanded in 2006 by offering visas to Cuban doctors who defected while on international missions.
Obama also ended the Cuban Medical Professional Parole (CMPP) visa program, which was created in 2006 by former President George W. Bush’s administration to assist Cuban health professionals who abandoned international missions in third countries by offering them “safe and legal” access to the United States.
Havana had long called for an end to wet foot/dry foot and the CMPP, arguing that the former provided an incentive for illegal immigration to the United States and the latter created a brain drain on the island.
Exports of professional services, mainly in the education and health-care areas, are one of the main sources of hard currency for Cuba, where university educations are free and thousands of doctors graduate each year, creating a pool of medical professionals available to practice domestically or abroad.
The programs, however, have been criticized by many, who argue that they do not benefit the professionals, who cannot take their families with them and must give up a large percentage of their salaries to the government.
Last November, the Cuban government withdrew more than 11,000 doctors who had been working in Brazil as part of the “Mais Medicos” (More Doctors) program, making the move after newly elected President Jair Bolsonaro questioned the physicians’ qualifications and demanded changes to their contracts.
The end of the program was a blow to Cuba’s fragile economy, which is experiencing the worst crisis in a decade due to the problems in Venezuela, which is Havana’s top trade partner and oil supplier, the inefficiency of the island’s centrally planned economy and a hardening of the US trade embargo, among other factors.