Two dozen Cuban health professionals who deserted from medical missions abroad arrived in Miami Monday afternoon on a flight from Colombia.
The group is among professionals who were stranded in third countries following former President Barack Obama’s executive order that put an end to the Cuban Medical Professional Parole program, known by the acronym CMPP.
“This is a triumph for the entire Cuban-American community, our organization and the offices of Cuban-American congress members who have worked to get these folks treated correctly and their applications satisfactorily answered,” said Julio César Alfonso, president of the organization Solidaridad Sin Fronteras, which is calling for the restoration of the program.
The group allowed entry at Miami International Airport had managed to get their CMPP paperwork in prior to the Jan. 12 cutoff.
Yerenia Cedeño, a 28-year-old Cuban doctor, characterized the mission to which she was assigned in Venezuela as “horrible.” She deserted five months after arriving — citing insecurity and precarious living conditions as reasons for abandoning the post — and fled to Colombia.
“You constantly heard about someone being robbed of their phone or another person being attacked on the bus,” Cedeño said, adding that returning to Cuba was not an option because she would be treated as an outcast.
Cuba has long exported health services abroad, either charging a fee or in exchange for goods. Medical professionals receive a small stipend while most of the revenue, amounting to billions of dollars, goes into government coffers. Some 50,000 Cuban professionals are currently dispersed to more than 60 countries, the government has reported.
For a decade, the CMPP granted the right to apply for expedited U.S. visas to Cuban doctors who could prove their nationality and that they were working as part of a Cuban government mission in a third country.
Havana has complained that the program was draining the island of professionals they had educated.
Cedeño said she felt exploited in Venezuela, where she shared her work with her husband, also a doctor, who accompanied her on the trip to the United States, but declined to give any statements.
Cedeño said her mission now is to get her 3-year-old daughter out of Guantánamo to join her in the United States and resume an education so she can practice her profession.
“I want to work as a doctor here, or something similar,” she said. “It’s the beginning of a new life.”