CARACAS, Venezuela—Seven Cuban doctors and a nurse have sued Cuba, Venezuela and PDVSA—Venezuela's main oil company—in a Federal Court in Miami for conspiring to force them to work in conditions of “modern slavery,” as part of a “social benefit” program to improve the quality of health in poor areas of Venezuela.
This week, both regimes, and PDVSA, will be notified by the U.S. federal court. Starting from the day they receive notification, they have 60 days to respond to the charges. If the accused decide not to respond, it will be considered contempt of court, and the federal court will rule in favor of the Cuban doctors.
The victims are asking for more than $50 million each as compensation, saying that during their stay in Venezuela, they were forced to do hard labor and to live in overcrowded conditions. “If the court rules for the Cuban doctors, the compensation money could triple, and PDVSA's goods in the United States could be embargoed,” said lawyer of the Cuban doctors, Leonardo Cantón, at a press conference according to the Miami Herald.
The doctors, Julio César Lubian, Ileana Mastrapa, Miguel Majfud, María del Carmen Milanés, Frank Vargas, John Doe, Julio César Dieguez, and nurse Osmani Rebeaux, had worked from 2004 to 2008, for the “Barrio Adentro" ("inside the slums") Mission, which is supposed to be a welfare program where Venezuelan and Cuban doctors provide medical attention for the poor.
Mr. Cantón said that the claimants were brought to Venezuela by means of “deception” and “threats.” They had to live in overcrowded conditions while being denied proper licenses to practice medicine and thus being forced to violate Venezuelan law. The doctors were not paid for their services, but the Cuban regime was paid instead, a practice called “debt bondage.”
The medical staff also had to work unlimited hours at the Mission's various locations, including wilderness areas like the border with Colombia, frequented by Colombian rebel forces (FARC), and in places with high level unrest, and where political and petty crimes are very common. According to the doctors claim, several of these health care professionals were murdered, and some female doctors were raped.
Venezuela and Cuba signed an agreement in 2000, modified and expanded in 2004. This agreement said that Cuba would send health care professionals to Venezuela in exchange for 100,000 barrels daily of oil supplied through PDVSA.
Both countries joined a historically unprecedented conspiracy in order to place free, innocent people in conditions of hard labor, captivity, slavery, and debt bondage—a “modern version of slavery,” according to Mr. Cantón's press conference account in the Herald.
“The agreement between Cuba and Venezuela constitutes a flagrant plot comparable to the slave trade in colonial America,” he added.
The Venezuelan regime persecutes, intimidates, captures and returns to Cuba all Cuban health care professionals who refuse to engage in hard labor and who try to obtain their freedom by fleeing the country, according to the doctors' claim.
The claimants were subject to strict surveillance, coercion, and intimidation, but ultimately managed to escape Venezuela to the United States, where they were given visas by the government and allowed to sue their aggressors.
This situation has surprised the international community, but the Venezuelan people are not surprised. The believe the Barrio Adentro Mission was a masquerade, used as a political tool by President Hugo Chavez in order to increase his popularity. Once the mission served its political purpose, it was completely forgotten. Nowadays, the buildings are almost deserted and the few people left there are still being forced to work in preposterous conditions. The Barrio Adentro Mission and its people, its workers, and patients, have gradually been left behind by the government.