Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : August 23rd 2015 Contents RESHMA RAGOONATH
Cuban doctors and nurses
have established them-
selves as a respected
part of T&T s health sector, but
these men and women are yet
to receive the similar respect
from their government.
These health professionals, who
leave Cuba hoping to earn higher
wages, have limited control over their
earnings and there are also limita-
tions on their movements after 7
pm. Since the contracts only allow
the health professionals to go to
another country to work, their hus-
bands/wives/families are left behind
in Cuba as a form of guarantee they
will return at the end of their mis-
sions---usually two years.
To the outside world, what they
are forced to endure is tantamount
to modern-day slavery. But to them,
it is a way of life and the best option
for them even though half their earn-
ings are taxed.
Ironically, the very injustices Fidel
Castro fought against in the Cuban
revolution are the very fundamentals
his people are being forced to endure
through this "humanitarian" mission
that is spread around the world.
While members of the TT "Briga-
da Médica de Cuba" (Cuban Medical
Brigade-which started in 2003 and
is currently headed by Chief of the
Brigade Dr Rody Cervantes Silva)
earn the same salaries as local health
professionals, they do not enjoy the
same freedom with their earnings.
Sunday Guardian tried to speak
to Cuban mission staff about their
employment, however they said they
are not permitted to speak to the
media or they will be sent back to
One health professional, whose
identity and job title has been with-
held for his protection, confided in
the Sunday Guardian that Cuban
pharmacists are paid roughly $9,000
(TT) and some $2,000 (TT) is spent
He explained that the remaineder
of their salary---$7,000---is divided
in half and one portion repatriated
to the Cuban government. The other
portion is kept by the pharmacist.
Out of that money, the pharmacist
has to send money to his/her rel-
atives in Cuba and survive until pay-
day. At the end of the month, some
have $3,500 per month.
"The specialists receive between
$25,000 to $30,000 and half of that
is returned to Cuba. They say it is
to pay for the oncology centre, the
health system," he said.
The health professional said even
after the 50 per cent is deducted,
the Cubans still earn more than they
would have in Cuba.
Currently, Cuban doctors earn
between US$67 to US$80 per
month, and that was a recent
increase. Just a few months ago, they
were being paid US$40. The basic
minimum wage in Cuba is US$20.
"For me it is good. I earn more
than in Cuba," he said.
When asked why he stays in the
brigade, the health professional sim-
ply said, "I do not mind giving the
50 per cent because it is still better
than getting the $67 I get paid in
Cuba. Here (T&T) is very expensive,
but you can find everything."
Based on calculations using rough
estimates of the salaries and the
number of Cuban medical personnel
working here, some US$10,735, 800
is paid annually to the mission mem-
This means that an estimated
US$5,367, 900 is repatriated to Cuba
annually per TT mission.
Mission chief: It's humanitarian
help, Cuba needs money
Silva, in an interview with the
Sunday Guardian through an inter-
preter, denied that Cuban mission
members were being oppressed nor
were their earnings taxed.
"It is a humanitarian help," he
Silva contended that it is at the
request of the governments of dif-
ferent countries Cuba sends medical
"A brigade recently went to Nepal
and Chile after the earthquake, in
the three countries in Africa where
there was Ebola in Liberia, Guinea
in Conakry and Sierra Leone. There
were Cuban medical brigades that
helped to fight this disease to prevent
it from spreading throughout the
world. In the case of Trinidad, no,
Cuba receives nothing," he said.
However, Silva admitted that in
certain countries mission members
do have to send money back to Cuba.
"Remember that Cuba is a poor
country, from the third world, that
needs the aid of ourselves. The ones
that got out from Cuba with a signed
contract agrees to do certain things
and in those countries where it sends
money, it goes to social programmes
such as the fight against childhood
cancer, leukemia, to the health min-
istry itself. But this is not our case
(in T&T)," Silva said.
He explained that Cuba provides
humanitarian aid to 69 countries
with the aim of supporting and
improving the quality of life for res-
idents of these countries.
At this time, 207 Cubans including
doctors, pharmacists, nurses and
entomologists are working here.
Silva said another 307 Cubans are
expected to be brought to T&T soon.
He denied that doctors are sanc-
tioned for breaking any contract rules
nor are they prevented from working.
"No, we act in accordance to the
law of this country. Nothing different
from what happens here in this
country. They have 14 days a year
where they can stop going to work
and get paid. They continue to
receive their salary," he said.
He said the Cuban government
cannot interfere with contracts since
it is between T&T and that individ-
ual.Silva added that nothing prevents
a medical mission professional from
returning to T&T to work independ-
ently after his or her contract with
the mission is over.
"In fact, there over 80 who were
working in the brigade and then they
have returned to work in Trinidad.
If the Government gives them work,
there are no problems," he said.
He said the type of aid received
by the Government of Trinidad from
Cuba is called Compensated Tech-
nical Assistance which comes
through a government-to-govern-
ment contract arrangement.
Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan has
lauded the success of the programme
which he assured was not an enter-
prise, but a mission.
Behind the white coat
Contrary to what Silva said, Cuban
doctors based here in Trinidad
strongly refused not to speak about
their contracts or being part of the
programme. They expressed fear that
they would be sent back home for
breaching the rules and persecuted
Initially, they promised to speak
to the Sunday Guardian through the
help of Spanish interpreters, but at
the last minute they cancelled
because they said they were too
"If they know we are talking to
anyone we will be sent back," one
of the doctors said.
After much effort, the Sunday
Guardian managed to speak with
one of the local Cuban health pro-
fessionals using a guise because it
was the only way to get to the truth
about the programme.
The health professional explained
that their contract operates differ-
ently in T&T. Money for their fam-
ilies back home in Cuba is not
deducted from their salaries.
"If we want to send (to family in
Cuba), we have to send it ourselves,"
The Cuban brigade has a sole
administrator, referred to as the chief,
who controls the money and keeps
watch over the health professionals.
He is assisted by a Cuban woman
who is listed on the TT brigade s
blog as the "economic."
He said that when he was recruited
for the two-year programme, he was
provided a list of rules and informed
that he was to pay 50 per cent of
his salary to the Cuban government
each month to fund their health sys-
In Cuba, health care, medicines
and education are fully funded by
After graduation students have to
work for three years at an assigned
workplace and cannot quit or they
lose their title. Each Cuban male has
to join the army for two years by
The Cuban government, he
explained, cannot be challenged over
their demand of 50 per cent because
there is no evidence or written stip-
ulation that they have to pay it.
"There was no written rule. It was
told to you and if you did not pay,
they would pressure you or send you
back to Cuba," he said.
He said the health professionals
in T&T earn a lot of money and
many Cubans are happy to come to
here, especially because of the labour
The health professional explained
that brigade members are subjected
to restrictions and pressured if they
do not adhere to the rules.
Continues on Page A33
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SUNDAY, AUGUST 23, 2015
...Castro regime mandates 50 per cent repatriation of salaries from T&T
A man transports a refrigerator in the open trunk of a vintage American car outside Havana, Cuba. AP PHOTO
Cuba's control stretches
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