Exported to Venezuela, miserable Cuban doctors clamor to get into U.S.
By CHRIS KRAUL
– At the current rate, more than 1,500 Cuban healthcare workers will be
admitted to the U.S. this year
– Cuba keeps 10,000 healthcare providers in Venezuela in part to pay for oil
– One Cuban doctor in Venezuela describes workload as ‘crushing’
Worsening conditions in Venezuela are causing increasing numbers of
Cuban medical personnel working there to immigrate to the United States
under a special program that expedites their applications, according to
Colombian officials who help process many of the refugees.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in
Washington said the number of Cuban doctors, nurses, optometrists and
medical technicians applying for U.S. visas under the Cuban Medical
Professional Parole Program is running as much as 50% ahead of last
year’s pace, which was nearly double that of the year before.
At the current rate, more than 1,500 Cuban healthcare workers will be
admitted to the United States this year.
For geographical reasons, neighboring Colombia is a favored trampoline
for Cubans fleeing Venezuela, whose leftist government has struggled to
rein in runaway inflation, shortages of goods and services and rising
Cuba, which prides itself on a comprehensive healthcare system and has
long exported doctors and nurses to friendly countries, maintains an
estimated 10,000 healthcare providers in Venezuela. The medical outreach
program is intended as partial payment for 100,000 barrels of oil that
President Nicolas Maduro’s government ships to the Castro administration
Nelia, a 29-year-old general practitioner from Santiago de Cuba, arrived
in Bogota last month after what she said was a nightmarish year working
in Venezuela’s Barrio Adentro program in the city of Valencia. She
declined to disclose her last name for fear of reprisal back home.
Nelia said her disillusionment started on her arrival in Caracas’
Maiquetia airport in mid-2013. She and several colleagues waited there
for two days, sometimes sleeping in chairs, before authorities assigned
her to a clinic in Valencia, she said.
“It was all a trick. They tell you how great it’s going to be, how you
will able to buy things and how grateful Venezuelans are to have you.
Then comes the shock of the reality,” Nelia said. Her clinic in Valencia
had no air conditioning and much of the ultrasound equipment she was
supposed to use to examine pregnant women was broken.
She described the workload as “crushing.” Instead of the 15 to 18
procedures a day she performed in Cuba, she did as many as 90 in
Venezuela, she said. Crime is rampant, the pay is an abysmal $20 per
month and Cubans are caught in the middle of Venezuela’s civil unrest,
which pits followers of the late President Hugo Chavez — whose
handpicked successor is Maduro — against more conservative,
“The Chavistas want us there and the opposition does not. And there are
more opposition people than Chavistas,” said Nelia, who was interviewed
in a Colombian immigration office in Bogota.
A 32-year-old Cuban optometrist who identified himself as Manuel and who
also fled Venezuela to apply for U.S. residency said that at his clinic
in Merida he was prescribing and grinding up to 120 pairs of eyeglasses
a day, triple his pace in Cuba.
“As a professional you want to be paid for what your work is worth. What
we were getting, $20 a month, was not enough to pay even for food and
transportation, much less a telephone call to Cuba now and then,” Manuel
said. “That’s the main reason I want to go to Miami, to earn what I’m
Cubans have long had favored status as U.S. immigrants. Virtually any
Cuban is guaranteed automatic residency and a path to citizenship simply
by setting foot on U.S. territory, legally or not. The Cuban Medical
Professional Parole Program gives medical personnel a leg up by allowing
them to apply for residency at U.S. embassies.
Though some Cubans apply at the U.S. Embassy in Caracas, the Venezuelan
capital, others say they fear being seen there. Also, airfare to the
United States from Colombia is much cheaper than from Venezuela.
The increasing flow of Cuban doctors is only part of a rising tide of
Cubans seeking to reach the United States, many through Colombia.
Lacking the special status of medical personnel, many U.S.-bound Cubans
first land in Ecuador, where the government requires no visas. They then
typically pass through Colombia to Panama with the help of coyotes, or
human traffickers. However, many are detained in Colombia.
Of 1,006 illegal immigrants detained in Colombia from January through
July of this year for failing to have proper visas, 42% were Cuban,
according to Colombia’s immigration agency director, Sergio Bueno
Aguirre. The flow of Cubans had more than doubled from the year before.
One Colombian Foreign Ministry official who spoke on condition of
anonymity because of the political sensitivity said the U.S. policy of
allowing Cubans immigrant status simply by arriving in the United States
has fed organized crime in Colombia and in other transit countries.
“Coyotes helping the Cubans transit through Colombia often use the
migrants to carry drugs or submit to prostitution,” the official said.
“Or the coyotes will just abandon them at a border, creating a big
headache for the Colombian government, which has to take care of them or
send them back home.”
Kraul is a special correspondent.
Source: Exported to Venezuela, miserable Cuban doctors clamor to get
into U.S. – LA Times –