U.S. State Department Report Singles Out Cuba Medical Missions

Originally from Havana, Cuba, Dr. Jorge I. Dominguez was a longtime Harvard University faculty member who held responsibilities as professor and as vice provost for international affairs. With a strong focus on the social and political aspects of the island nation, Dr. Jorge I. Dominguez is author of books such as “US-Cuba Relations in the 1990s.”

A July 2021 Miami Herald article drew attention to the Biden administration’s stance to Cuba and the release of the State Department’s “2021 Trafficking in Persons Report.” The report provides a critique of Cuban government-coordinated medical missions. This is surprising, given that the previous Democratic administration under President Obama had a positive outlook on these medical missions. In 2014, as part of re-engagement with the nation, Secretary of State John Kerry vocalized support of Cuba’s medical missions for their effectiveness in combating Africa’s Ebola pandemic.

The more recent report reflects a shift from this stance, with Cuba described as having “capitalized on the pandemic” through what appears to be forced labor. Cuba has placed as many as 50,000 physicians in 60 countries. The U.S. government considers it exploitative because the Cuban government retains the vast majority of the physicians’ salaries, with doctors receiving only 5 to 25 percent of what they earn. As the report alleges it, this makes these activities a lucrative form of human trafficking that earns the Cuban government $8 billion annually.

While the Biden administration has made promises to reestablish travel to Cuba and once more allow family remittances, this work is moving slowly. One major concern is arrests by the dictatorship of artists and independent journalists. Another is the still-unresolved brain injuries suffered by US diplomats who had been serving in Havana,, and whether the Cuban government bears any responsibility for them.

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