Why Brazil Is Importing Cuban Doctors Amid Protests

Brazilian medical groups have two complaints against plans to bring in Cuban physicians. The first source of anger is connected to politics. Cuban doctors working outside the island must pay between a fourth to two-thirds of their salary – the figure is not clear -- to the Cuban régime, which will earn around $150 million a year if Brazil's government hires 4,000 physicians. For doctors in Brazil, this arrangement constitutes a severe form of exploitation, and is also seen as a way to give foreign aid to a regime with a questionable human rights record.

The second problem has to do with the Cubans' professional capabilities. According to some Brazilian doctors, the Cubans are not up to the task, and the government is only bringing them in order to mask its health policies' deficiencies.

"The government doesn't organize the health system, doesn't fund the system, and now they think that bringing the Cubans in to provide aspirin and hold a patient's hand is medicine," Jose Bonamigo, a doctor who belongs to the Brazilian Medical Association, told The Washington Post. "It is not medicine."

There does not seem to be very solid evidence for this second argument. Since the 1960s, Cuba's healthcare system has been recognized by the UN as one of the best in the world, and the island has already exported thousands of physicians to many other countries as part of economic, diplomatic, and cultural exchange initiatives.

Although Cuba's health system is far from perfect, the island does seem to perform well in preventing basic illnesses, which is what Brazil is looking for. Cuba has some of the lowest child and maternal mortality rates in the western hemisphere.

The government and some local doctors have also responded to those who are against doing business with Cuba's communist regime.

The money taken by the Cuban government from the doctors that will be sent to Brazil, can be seen as a form of tax, Maria Geisiane, a 32-year-old Brazilian doctor who is a part of the Mais Médicos program, told the O Globo newspaper.

"Each country has its problems. Some sell weapons, Cuba is sending doctors. Here in Brazil we pay taxes and we don't know where the money goes," Geisane said.

"We can't have an arrogant attitude," Brazilian Health Minister Alexandre Pradilla said. "We have to separate a critical ideological stance on Cuba, which is legitimate, from a program that provides an alternative for millions of Brazilians who currently have no access to any doctor."

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