WASHINGTON—A bipartisan trio of U.S. senators is urging Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “take greater action” regarding Cuba’s use of its country’s doctors and other medical personnel for overseas assignments that amount to human trafficking in forced labor.
“As of 2015, the Cuban regime had deployed more than 50,000 medical personnel for foreign medical missions in 67 countries—in essence, a global network of human trafficking that generated billions of dollars in revenue for the regime,” wrote Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, both Florida Republicans, and Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) in the letter.
Citing recent media reports, the senators told Pompeo that “while it has long been understood that the Cuban regime profits from these deployments, this new investigation exposes the way in which Cuban and Venezuelan officials compelled Cuban doctors to provide services and medicines only to supporters of Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro.
“Such repugnant politicization of medical treatment forced Cuban doctors to deny essential care to sick and aging Venezuelans if they were deemed insufficiently loyal to the Maduro regime.”
The political use of health care services by the Maduro regime prior to the 2018 Venezuelan presidential election was succeeded by exploding inflation, chronic shortages of basic necessities, including food and fuel for transportation, and a breakdown of public utility services such as electricity and water.
Venezuela now appears to be on the verge of a genuine civil war. In addition to the doctors, the Cuban regime has dispatched 20,000 or more troops to Venezuela, according to White House national security adviser John Bolton. Cuban officials deny having any troops in Venezuela.
The senators also pointed to Cuba’s recent “Mais Medicos” deal with the former government of Brazil in which “the financial arrangement between the former government of Brazil, Pan American Health Organization, and the Cuban regime allowed the regime to withhold approximately 75 percent of the Cuban doctors’ wages.
“Under this arrangement, Cuban doctors were the only medical professionals participating in the Mais Medícos program to have a substantial part of their salaries retained by their government.”
The doctors were also forced to give their passports to the Cuban government as a means to prevent them from defecting to a neighboring country, and they were barred from bringing their families with them, the senators told Pompeo.
The Mais Medicos program was canceled earlier this year by Brazil’s newly elected president, Jair Bolsonaro. Even so, the senators said, “the Cuban regime continues to pursue opportunities around the world to profit off of the medical services provided by its doctors.”
The senators asked Pompeo, “[What] steps is the [Trump] administration taking to re-establish the Cuban Medical Professionals Parole (CMPP) program?”
The CMPP program was established in 2006 by President George W. Bush to help Cuban doctors defecting while on forced labor assignments in foreign countries. An estimated 8,000 such Cubans did so until President Barack Obama abolished the program as part of his efforts to reestablish normal diplomatic and economic relations with Cuba.
Rubio and Menendez have encouraged the restoration of the CMPP program since 2017.
The senators also told Pompeo that “given its state-sponsored forced labor regime, it is our full expectation that the State Department will downgrade Cuba to a Tier 3 country for human trafficking in the 2019 Trafficking In Persons (TIP) Report.”
The Cuban regime had been upgraded from Tier 3, the worst ranking in the TIP report, to Tier 2 in 2015, and then granted waivers in the next two years from being moved back to the lowest level.
Menendez told The Epoch Times on May 8 that “for decades, the regime in Havana has deployed Cuban doctors under conditions representing indentured servitude in order to turn a profit and, increasingly, to manipulate politics abroad.
“As more information comes out, the world cannot afford to ignore what Cuba’s foreign medical missions truly are—a global network of human trafficking.”
In a related development on May 8, Scott encouraged President Donald Trump to embargo Cuba fully and end free oil transfers from Venezuela to Cuba.
“Cuba is the most powerful force propping up the Maduro Regime in Venezuela,” Scott said in a statement. Venezuela pays for Cuban help with free oil, he said.
“It’s oil for repression. Cutting off the supply of oil to the Castro Regime would be the most effective action we can take to end the brutal regime of Nicolas Maduro,” Scott said.
Trump “needs to consider using naval assets to block the flow of oil between the two dictatorships. The president has floated the idea of a full embargo on Cuba.
“We need to take action now to capitalize on Maduro’s weakness and end his brutal regime. Cut off Cuba, and you cut off the political forces supporting genocide in Venezuela.”