The Cuban government has announced it will end a program where it sends thousands of doctors to work in rural areas of Brazil, paid for by the Brazilian government. The decision follows remarks by Brazil’s incoming right wing President-elect, who has described the program as “slave labour”. Cuba said such comments were “derogatory and threatening”.
CGTN’s Stephen Gibbs reports.
Since 2013, thousands of Cuban doctors have been working in Brazil.
They are often based in remote rural areas, where it has been hard to recruit Brazilian medical staff. They provide care to patients, some of whom previously had no access to a doctor.
But Brazil’s incoming right-wing president, Jair Bolsonaro, has been critical of the project, which he says is exploitative of the doctors.
Most of their monthly wage is retained by the Cuban government, and they are prohibited by Cuba from bringing their families with them.
“I would never make a deal with Cuba on those terms. This is slave labor. It is slave work. I could not be an accomplice to this. I am a democrat”, the President-elect said on Wednesday.
The Cuban government says such comments are unacceptable, and it will be ending the program next year.
That presents a logistical problem, as Brazil’s incoming Vice President Antônio Hamilton Mourão said in an interview with CGTN America in Brasilia.
“If they are going to go back to Cuba, it is going to be almost a military operation to take them back, he said. I know that these people are deployed inside Brazil, in the hinterland of Brazil, so we have to substitute them, because they play a good role in those small towns where they are deployed. So we have to make a new arrangement. It will be a good test for our government,” Mourão said.
The end of the program will have a social cost for Brazil, and a financial one for Cuba. One of its most significant exports is medical services.
The news is one signal of the change that is afoot as Brazil’s incoming government reviews all existing cooperation programs, particularly those with its leftist neighbors.