Dumping medicine, faking patients: Cuban doctors describe a system that breeds fraud

The Miami Herald

Since 2003, Cuba has been sending battalions of doctors to Venezuela in exchange for cash and crude.

The program, known as Barrio Adentro, offers free medical care to some of the nation’s poorest. It’s been credited with saving more than a million lives and is one of the pillars of the socialist revolution.

But according to health workers who have defected from the program, Barrio Adentro has been hollowed out by fraud. And they say they were under such intense pressure to hit quotas that they’ve been faking statistics for years.

As a dentist in the program, Thaymi Rodríguez said she was required to see 18 patients a day, but often only a handful would make their way to her clinic. Medical workers who didn’t hit their daily quota were threatened with having their pay docked, being transferred or, in extreme cases, being sent back to Cuba.

To make up for the patient shortfall, Rodríguez said she and her colleagues would routinely fake paperwork and reinforce the fiction by throwing out anesthesia, dental molds and other supplies.

“I worked for three and a half years as a dentist in Venezuela and it was horrible dealing with the statistics,” said Rodríguez, who defected from the program late last year and is in Colombia awaiting a U.S. visa. “I might see five patients a day but I had to say I’d seen 18, and then throw all that medicine away, because we simply had to.”

Trashing medicine in a country where it’s desperately needed was painful, doctors said. But if they were caught giving it away — or even worse, selling it — they would be kicked out of the mission and sent back to Cuba. And regular audits of their supplies meant they needed them to match their patient count.

Read More: Venezuelans, desperate for medicine, pour into Colombia

The claims are difficult to verify, and calls to Venezuela’s Ministry of Health seeking comment went unanswered. But the Miami Herald spoke to three different groups of health workers who had abandoned the program, and all told similar stories.

Continue reading Dumping medicine, faking patients: Cuban doctors describe a system that breeds fraud

Artist Pulls Her Work From Bronx Museum of the Arts Cuba Exhibition

The New York Times

A long-planned exchange of works between the Bronx Museum of the Arts and the Cuban national collection, recently scrambled by the complexities of international relations, has hit another snag.

Tania Bruguera, a prominent Cuban-born performance artist and activist who has clashed in recent years with the Cuban authorities, is demanding that her work not be included in the second half of the two-country show, “Wild Noise/Ruido Salvaje,” and the museum has agreed to her request.

The Bronx Museum’s director, Holly Block, announced this week that the exhibition’s second half, which was to have been a selection of works lent to the Bronx from the National Museum of Fine Arts in Cuba, would not take place as expected, after Cuban officials declined to allow works to travel to the United States. In the summer of 2015, the Bronx museum had lent more than 80 works from its permanent collection to the National Museum to initiate the exchange. But Cuban museum officials have demurred on continuing to cooperate, possibly because of questions about whether state-owned art works from Cuba could be in danger of being seized while in the United States to satisfy legal claims by Americans whose property was confiscated in Cuba after Fidel Castro took power in 1959.

The Bronx Museum decided to replace this half of the show with another exhibition, scheduled to open Feb. 17, made up of some 60 pieces drawn from public and private collections outside Cuba, representing many of the artists whose works would have come from the national collection.

But Ms. Bruguera, one of the marquee artists in the new lineup, said in an interview Thursday that she did not want her work to be included in the show because she felt that Ms. Block’s exchange initiative relied too closely on the Cuban government, which she opposes. (She has been detained and questioned several times in Cuba during art performances and other activities, most recently this month.) She added that she was prevented by Cuban authorities, in 2015, from entering the national museum in Havana to attend the exhibition for the first half of the exchange and that Ms. Block did not intercede to help her.

“We asked her but she never signed anything protesting what was happening to me or any of the artists in Cuba at the time who were being oppressed,” Ms. Bruguera said. Her 1996 video performance, “Cabeza Abajo/Head Down,” which is in the Bronx museum’s permanent collection, was scheduled to be featured in the Bronx show.

Ms. Block, in an interview, said that she had interceded, unsuccessfully, with National Museum officials in 2015 to try to help Ms. Bruguera gain entry, though Ms. Block said that Ms. Bruguera had been seeking to attend a different exhibition at the time, not “Wild Noise/Ruido Salvaje.”

In a statement, Ms. Block said that the museum continued to support Ms. Bruguera, but would honor her request. “The Museum has long recognized and admired Tania Bruguera’s work,” the statement said. “We have exhibited her artwork, presented programs with her and have been instrumental in recommending her for awards.”

Governor Scott wants funds cut for South Florida ports that ink Cuba deals

The Miami Herald

Florida Gov. Rick Scott threatened Wednesday to strip state funds from two South Florida seaports ready to sign business deals with the Cuban government.

Over three posts on Twitter, the governor said he would ask state lawmakers to restrict dollars for ports that “enter into any agreement with [the] Cuban dictatorship” — as Port Everglades and the Port of Palm Beach plan to do Thursday and Friday, respectively.

“We cannot condone Raul Castro’s oppressive behavior,” Scott tweeted in English and Spanish, using the preferred social media platform of his friend, President Donald Trump. “Serious security/human rights concerns.”

Scott’s position came a day after the first legal cargo from Cuba in more than half a century — artisanal charcoal — arrived Tuesday in Fort Lauderdale’s Port Everglades. The Port of Palm Beach is located in Riviera Beach.

Jackie Schutz, a Scott spokeswoman, said the governor takes issue with the ports inking memorandums of understanding with the Cuban government because he “firmly” believes the U.S. should not do business with Cuba “until there is freedom and democracy.”

“What I don’t believe is in our ports doing business with a ruthless dictator,” Scott told reporters in Fort Lauderdale on Wednesday.

The governor will make his request to the Legislature, which ultimately sets the state budget and can ignore Scott if it wishes. The Florida Department of Transportation’s budget shows more than $37 million budgeted for Port Everglades projects over the next five years — including $23 million for a dredging the port has sought for three decades — and $920,000 for the Port of Palm Beach.

Manuel Almira, the Port of Palm Beach’s executive director, told the Miami Herald in an email Wednesday that the port has reached out to Scott’s office following his tweets.

“The Governor’s position was surprising, to say the least,” Almira said.

Port Everglades did not respond to requests for comment — not even to discuss the Cuban delegation’s schedule Thursday.

Jim Pyburn, Port Everglades’ director of business development, told the Miami Herald on Tuesday, before Scott revealed his position, that the port’s deal with the National Port Administration of Cuba — in the works since early 2016 and ready to sign since May — could lead to joint marketing studies and training.

“We would like to see U.S. exports to Cuba increase,” he said. “Imports are good, too.”

A Cuban delegation plans to visit a number of ports over the coming week, including Port Tampa Bay, which does not have an imminent deal with the country in the works.

“Our port has taken a very cautious approach to Cuba,” said Ed Miyagishima, Port Tampa Bay’s vice president for communications and external affairs, who once worked for Scott. “The port itself is Cuba-ready, in the sense that we’re ready to work with all the entities once the embargo is lifted, but we’re taking a very conservative approach. We are not signing an MOU with the Cuban government, just because there’s so much ambiguity in Cuba policy right now.”

The delegation has no plans to drop in on PortMiami.

“We were never approached by any Cuban port delegation — never got a phone call, nothing at all,” said Andria Muñiz-Amador, a port spokeswoman.

Last May, Carnival Corp.’s Fathom Line launched an every-other-week cruise from PortMiami to Cuba that circumnavigates the island. The cruise is being discontinued this spring, but Carnival hopes to add Cuban ports of call on its other Caribbean cruises.

Executive orders issued by former President Barack Obama over the past two years eased some Cuba-related trade restrictions, making shipping agreements possible. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked Tuesday if Trump planned quick Cuba action of his own, perhaps to reverse some of Obama’s work, as Trump said he would do absent a more favorable arrangement for the U.S.

“We’ve got nothing that we’re ready to announce,” Spicer said.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/politics-government/article128713509.html#storylink=cpy
Florida Gov. Rick Scott threatened Wednesday to strip state funds from two South Florida seaports ready to sign business deals with the Cuban government.

Over three posts on Twitter, the governor said he would ask state lawmakers to restrict dollars for ports that “enter into any agreement with [the] Cuban dictatorship” — as Port Everglades and the Port of Palm Beach plan to do Thursday and Friday, respectively.

“We cannot condone Raul Castro’s oppressive behavior,” Scott tweeted in English and Spanish, using the preferred social media platform of his friend, President Donald Trump. “Serious security/human rights concerns.”

Scott’s position came a day after the first legal cargo from Cuba in more than half a century — artisanal charcoal — arrived Tuesday in Fort Lauderdale’s Port Everglades. The Port of Palm Beach is located in Riviera Beach.

Changes to immigration policy will not stem the Cuban exodus, those on the island say

The Miami Herald

When Washington put an end to a preferential immigration policy for Cuban migrants nearly two weeks ago, the official reasoning behind the move was to stem the flow of an increasing exodus and prompt democratic changes on the island.

Many in the exile community considered the new measure a “gift” for the Cuban government.

But looming questions remain: Will Cubans stay in their homeland or continue to flee? And is the Cuban government the real winner with this agreement?

Part of the debate was generated by the way the policy shift came about — announced through a joint statement from both governments and without warning to avoid a migratory crisis, according to Ben Rhodes, Obama’s adviser on Cuba.

Antonio Rodiles, a Cuban government opponent and one of the coordinators of the Forum for Rights and Freedoms, told el Nuevo Herald that the policy revision was “necessary” but criticized the “abrupt” way in which it was carried out. He also took issue with the fact that the announcement was made jointly with the Cuban government, with the release of a “shameful” document in which “the Cuban regime spoke of the defense of human rights and other issues in which it has been the principal violator.”

Rodiles said that the policy “had been distorted” by the Raúl Castro government itself, which constructed a narrative in which the emigres “fled for economic and not political reasons.” Many repeated that statement upon arrival in the United States to avoid conflicts with the government and to be able to return to the island, where many left behind their closest relatives.

These kinds of public declarations, along with high-profile crimes committed by some newly arrived immigrants, elicited negative opinions among the public, including Cuban exiles who arrived in earlier migration waves. Two Cuban American congressmen, Carlos Curbelo and Marco Rubio, even filed a bill to restrict Cuban immigrants’ access to federal benefits and grant them only to those who had left the island for political reasons.

Continue reading Changes to immigration policy will not stem the Cuban exodus, those on the island say

Cuban Dissident Artist ‘El Sexto’ Released from Maximum Security Prison

ArtnetNews

He had been held for two months without charge.

Cuban dissident artist Danilo Maldonado Machado, aka El Sexto, was released over the weekend from the maximum security prison outside Havana, where he had been held for nearly two months.

The artist and activist had been held at El Combinado del Este, a maximum security prison used for hardened criminals as well as Cubans whose political views oppose the state. This was his third arrest since December 2014, first in relation to an artwork likening Raul and Fidel Castro to pigs, and again on the eve of a visit by former President Barack Obama to Cuba.

On November 26, 2016, El Sexto was violently taken from his home in Havana by police, who gave no reason for his arrest. He was scheduled to leave Cuba for Art Basel in Miami, where he had planned exhibitions and performances.

Cuban authorities did not give a reason for his release on Saturday, January 21, either; however, Pollock Fine Art London, a gallery that represents El Sexto, noted in a statement that it coincided with a recent communication sent to the Cuban government from the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, regarding their reviewing of a petition to declare the artist’s incarceration illegal according to international law.

More than 13,700 people signed an online petition on Change.org demanding El Sexto’s immediate release. “Short-term arbitrary arrests remain a common tactic to restrict freedom of expression in Cuba,” read the petition’s explanatory text.

Amnesty International also called for urgent action, calling the artist a “prisoner of conscience.”

After his release, El Sexto thanked the petitioners and Amnesty International, as well as other human rights organizations, activists, artists, and writers who supported him. He also expressed his gratitude to the international attorneys who fought for him: Centa B. Rek Chatjtur of the Human Rights Foundation, and Kimberley Motley, who was arrested in Havana on December 16 for attempting to publicize the artist’s unwarranted arrest and incarceration. He is currently at home with his family in Havana.

Mexico deports Cubans awaiting travel documents to try to reach the U.S

The Miami Herald

A group of 91 Cubans who were stranded in Mexico following an end to migration policy that would have allowed them entry to the United States was deported to the island Friday, the Mexican authorities announce
“In compliance with the provisions of the Migration Law, 91 Cuban nationals were sent to their country this morning from the airport in Tapachula Chiapas, after Cuban authorities issued a recognition of their nationality,” according to a statement issued by the Mexican National Institute of Migration (INM).

The group included 20 women and 71 men who, according to the INM, were waiting to obtain transit documents to continue their their journey to the U.S. border.

Yadel González Sagre, who had been in Tapachula for 19 days, was among those returned to the island. He said he and others were taken from the Siglo XXI Migrant Station early Friday.

“Suddenly they told us that they were going to deport us and they got us all out of there. It was terrible, they beat us and threatened us. Then they pushed us into buses and from there they took us directly to the airport and they have been sending us in small groups,” González said via text messages.

González said he feared returning to a life he described as “hell” in his native Havana.

“We live in a country without rights,” he said.

In its statement, the INM pointed out that Mexico’s Migration Law provides undocumented foreigners the ability to obtain transit documents that allow them to legally travel through Mexico for up to 20 days so that they can legalize their migration status to leave the country.

In the case of 91 Cubans, the Consulate General of Cuba formally recognized and agreed to take back its citizens, allowing Mexican authorities to carry out deportations, INM said.

Since the Jan. 12 end to U.S. immigration policy known as wet foot, dry foot, hundreds of Cubans have been stranded in Mexico and elsewhere in their attempt to reach the United States.

Cuba’s ‘deserting’ doctors fear losing the American Dream amid policy shift

The Miami Herald

Bogotá, Colombia –

In a tiny house in a sprawling suburb of this capital city, a group of Cubans — all of them doctors, dentists and medical professionals — huddled around a television Friday watching Donald Trump’s inauguration speech, hoping he might shed some light on their future.

He didn’t.

“I can’t say we were surprised he didn’t say anything about Cuba. He has to defend U.S. interests first,” said Jorge Carlos Rodríguez, a 26-year-old ophthalmologist. “But we are hoping he does say something about us soon.”

When the Obama administration ended its controversial immigration policy for Cubans on Jan. 12, it left thousands stranded in South and Central America with no guarantee they’d be able to enter the United States. Among the elite group of would-be immigrants now in limbo: Cuba’s medical workers.

For a decade, the Cuban Medical Professional Parole (CMPP) program has given the island’s internacionalistas — doctors working abroad on behalf of the communist government — the right to apply for expedited U.S. visas. As a result, thousands of Cubans have deserted their “medical missions” in places like Venezuela and Brazil.

Cuba said the program was tantamount to stealing: robbing professionals that the cash-strapped island had educated.

But medical workers say the policy offered one of the few ways out of a system they described as indentured servitude — and they’re hoping that the incoming Trump administration will revive it.

Barrio Adentro

Rodríguez arrived in Venezuela on Nov. 2 to work in “Barrio Adentro,” the government’s signature program that uses Cuban doctors to provide free healthcare. His team, however, was immediately confronted with Venezuela’s economic chaos and paranoia.

“For the first 10 days that I was there, the only food I was given was boiled macaroni,” he said. “There was nothing else for us to eat even though we were all medical professionals.”

By the time he was sent to his “mission” in Lara state, he said officials had branded him a flight risk because he has a brother in the United States. Rodríguez said he feared he was going to be punished and sent back to Cuba so he decided to run, crossing the border into Colombia in mid-November to apply for the parole program.
Continue reading Cuba’s ‘deserting’ doctors fear losing the American Dream amid policy shift

A “counterterrorism agreement” to protect terrorists

\The “counterterrorism” agreement signed by Obama and Raul Castro on January 16, 2017, doesn’t include the return of U.S. fugitives and terrorists that Cuba has harbored, including Joanne Chesimard, also known as Assata Shakur, convicted of murder for the shooting death of New Jersey state trooper Werner Foerster in 1973, she escaped prison in 1979 and took refuge in Cuba and Puerto Rican terrorist William Morales, wanted for the 1975 Fraunces Tavern bombing in New York City that killed four and wounded 50, can also remain safely in Cuba since Obama didn’t request his extradition as part of the agreement.

Typical Obama agreement: Give up the store and ask nothing in return.

Obama sends an aide to sign a “counternarcotics, counterterrorism” agreement with a narco-terrorist regime

The Washington Times
With five days remaining in office, President Obama dispatched a top adviser to Cuba Monday for the signing of an agreement governing law enforcement issues such as counternarcotics operations between the two countries.

Deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes is meeting with Cuban officials about cultural engagements and establishing a legal framework for “counternarcotics, counterterrorism, legal cooperation, and money laundering, including technical exchanges that contribute to a strong U.S.-Cuba law enforcement relationship,” the White House said

Mr. Rhodes’ trip to Cuba follows last week’s announcement that the administration is ending the so-called “wet-foot/dry foot” policy that accepted any Cubans who made it ashore in the U.S. after fleeing the Communist country.

The White House said Mr. Obama’s goal is “to help the Cuban people achieve a better future for themselves and to advance the interests of the United States.”

When Obama dropped the ‘wet foot, dry foot’ policy, he also snuffed out another program few Americans knew about

Los Angeles Times

When President Obama killed the 22-year-old policy giving preferential, fast-track citizenship to Cubans who could make it to the U.S., his administration nixed another program, too. Not well known to most Americans, it sought to undermine the Cuban government through a form of brain drain.

The Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program, created in 2006 under then-President George W. Bush, aimed to lure away some of the tens of thousands of doctors, nurses and other medical workers the island nation dispatched around the world, in what the Castro government touted as Cuban Medical Internationalism.

The U.S. strategy was an appendix to the “wet foot, dry foot” policy created in the 1990s. Under “wet foot, dry foot,” Cubans who reached American soil on their own could stay in the U.S. But the medical parole program offered a path to American citizenship through any U.S. embassy and consulate abroad, according to a 2009 U.S. Department of State fact sheet.

“If you were a Cuban doctor and bumped into some guy from the U.S. Embassy in Johannesburg, South Africa, and told him you wanted to take advantage of the medical parole program, then you’d be taken to the embassy and eventually be flown to the U.S., get residency — citizenship — and a job,” said Al Fox, founder of the Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy Foundation, which has advocated for the normalization of American-Cuban relations.

Fox, speaking Sunday from Tampa, said the medical parole program was pushed by hard-liner anti-Castro Cubans in Miami. He also said the program was a smear campaign meant to discredit any actual good Cuba’s medical community was doing abroad.

Since the 1959 revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power, Cuba has sent medical workers to countries across the globe, mostly in Latin America and Africa, to gain allies and heighten its humanitarian profile. Those efforts, some subsidized by the United Nations’ World Health Organization, also became lucrative, according to Sebastian A. Arcos, associate director for the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University’s campus in Miami.

He said Cuba’s exportation of skilled medical workers has become one of the most important sources of revenue for the communist government, bringing in billions of dollars over time. Critics have denounced Cuba’s export of doctors, nurses and other medical professional as conscription.

“The Castro regime keeps 95% of the doctors’ salaries that are paid for, even by the WHO,” Arcos said. “Then these doctors and nurses work essentially under slave-labor wage conditions. In countries like Brazil and Venezuela, which have very friendly relations with Cuba, those countries pay Cuba directly, sometimes in oil, and often times medical staff working in those countries get nothing.”

When Cuban medical professionals arrive in another country, Arcos said, the Cuban embassy typically confiscates their passports in hopes of preventing them from fleeing.

Arcos’ sister, a doctor, was sent to Eritrea, a deeply isolated nation in the Horn of Africa run by a former-rebel-leader-turned dictator named Isaias Afwerki, accused of human rights abuses domestically and state-sponsored terrorism in the region.

Arcos’ sister fled Eritrea and entered the medical parole program in what he described as a highly coordinated and secretive plan. He did not wish to release details because it could put other medical workers around the world at risk, but said her escape was aided by people in Eritrea.

Obama scrapped the medical parole program and “wet foot, dry foot” policy Thursday, the latest step to normalize relations between the U.S. and its old Cold War adversary. The moves sent shock waves through many anti-Castro Cuban communities in Florida and beyond.

“He shouldn’t have gotten rid of that,” said Omar Lopez, human rights director with the Cuban American National Foundation in Miami. “It served as something comparable to America’s own Underground Railroad and now the doors are closed to doctors around the world working under those conditions. It’s a paradox. I could say it’s a criminal paradox.… That’s been a main priority of the Cuban government for years with the U.S. because Cuba needs to keep selling its doctors abroad.”

Arcos was critical of Obama, too.

“All this brouhaha over wet foot, dry foot is a smoke screen to hide the fact he eliminated the medical parole program — he didn’t have to do that,” Arcos said. “Now Obama has slammed the door shut for the entire Cuban medical community from escaping the Castro regime. The only reason President Obama eliminated the medical parole program was to appease Raul Castro.”

Lopez added, “It was a last-minute decision by the president, obviously, but we have to wait and see what happens.”

Why?

“Because President-elect Trump may erase President Obama’s decision,” Lopez said.