Hospital in Cuba

For almost 60 years, Cuba has attracted attention for sending medical brigades to crisis-stricken regions, such as the earthquake in Haiti in 2010 and the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014. Photo: Julia Spaton Goppers

Chronicle

Cuba's medical exports - socialist solidarity or modern slavery?

Many may associate Cuba with charming cars from the fifties, Che Guevara, cigar production and Hemingway's depictions of the sea and nature. The list can be made long, but at present Cuba's exports of medical personnel to the rest of the world are probably the most noticed. Normally works over 30 Cubans in 000 different countries, but since the coronavirus broke out, the number of healthcare workers abroad has increased. While the Cuban regime calls the phenomenon socialist solidarity, both the UN and the United States define it as a form of modern slavery.

Since the revolution in Cuba in 1959, the country has used so-called medical diplomacy. It was the longtime Cuban leader Fidel Castro who introduced this strategy in order to improve the country's international publicity and take advantage of the country's surplus of doctors and nurses. Medical exports amount to approx 6 percent of the country's GDP and is thus a crucial source of income for Cuba.

Despite the fact that Cuban health care workers have long been exported as labor, this has received extra media attention during the current crisis. Italy, which has received Cuban doctors, expresses great gratitude and other countries have also emphasized the value of the Cubans' skills and importance in the crisis-stricken regions. At the same time, other countries have begun to question this export system and compare it to trafficking as Cubans often work in substandard conditions with little power over its work situation, where the government confiscates the majority of the salary.

However, corona-affected regions need urgent help and Cuba is in need of money and resources as the lack of tourism leaves a big hole in the treasury. This creates a moral dilemma. Does Cuba's exports of lifesaving medical personnel outweigh the structural exploitation of deployed personnel - which ultimately benefits the dictatorship?

Hopefully, the ongoing media upswing can lead to the outside world taking a clearer stance against the exploitation of Cuban labor. The Cuban government needs to realize that it is no longer possible to hide behind romanticized terms such as solidarity in order to pursue a modern form of human trafficking.

This is a chronicle. The author is responsible for analysis and opinions in the text.

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