HAVANA -- A much-lauded overseas medical program has become the focus of accusations that it serves as cover for fomenting protests against governments opposed by Cuba.
Cuba said Friday that it’s pulling 700 members of its medical mission to Bolivia after the arrest of four members of the program, which began under now-exiled President Evo Morales. The four were accused of rallying against the government that took over from Morales, a Cuban ally.
Authorities did not say when or how the 700 people would be brought back to Cuba, but they demanded the release of the four people detained, which include a general practitioner and a specialist in intensive therapy.
The group was found with Bolivian currency worth $100,000 in a backpack, money that local officials allege was going to be used to finance protests, but Cuban authorities said was for salaries and housing costs related to the medical mission in La Paz.
Bolivian authorities said in recent days that they believe Venezuelans, Cubans and even former guerrilla fighters from Colombia have been participating in the violent protests. They said they are collecting information and would release details soon.
The end of Cuba’s 400-person medical mission to Ecuador was also announced this week, along with the accusation by Ecuador’s interior minister that Cuba misused official passports to bring in 250 Cubans during protests against President Lenín Moreno, whom Cuba also opposes.
Ernesto Soberón, Cuban’s Foreign Ministry’s director for consular affairs and Cubans resident abroad, dismissed the accusation via Twitter: “The insinuations are false.”
Meanwhile, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro ended his county’s Cuban medical program after taking office last year.
Currently, Cuba has 29,000 people working in 65 countries as part of medical missions that began in 1960, when there were 400,000 such professionals in 164 countries.