Cuban doctor defects in Brazil over pay, seeks asylum

Reuters, 2/5/2014

A Cuban doctor working in Brazil sought asylum on Wednesday complaining that Cuba’s communist government takes too big a slice of her pay, authorities said.

Ramona Rodriguez, 51, sought refuge on Tuesday in the office of Ronaldo Caiado, leader of the center-right Democratas party in the lower chamber of Brazil’s Congress, and slept the night on a sofa.

She is one of 7,378 Cubans who are in Brazil as part of a program that hires foreign doctors to tend the sick in slums and remote rural locations where there are no Brazilian physicians.

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Brazil forging economic ties with Cuba, while hiring its doctors

Simon Romero – The New York Times, 12/29/2013

The conditions around the public health clinic in the vast slum of Jacarezinho are precisely what most Brazilian doctors prefer to avoid: dealers of crack cocaine ply their trade along dilapidated train tracks, and the odor from a crematory for stray dogs overwhelms patients and medical workers.

“Of course I knew this mission wouldn’t be easy,” said Idarmis González, 45, one of the more than 4,500 Cuban doctors the Brazilian government is hiring to work in far-flung villages in the Amazon and slums in major cities. “We go where other doctors do not,” said Ms. González as she examined an infant suffering from dehydration and diarrhea.

Faced with a wave of street protests in 2013 over deplorable public services, President Dilma Rousseff has made the hiring of Cuban doctors a cornerstone of her response to the turmoil, overriding the resistance of doctors’ unions to sending the Cubans, trained in a Communist country that says it has a surplus of doctors, into neglected parts of Brazil’s public health system.

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Latin America’s doc deficit: Brazil, a continental giant, still needs to import Cuban medics

Tim Padgett – Time Magazine, 09/04/2013

A Brazilian prosecutor is investigating whether President Dilma Rousseff’s government violated federal labor laws by recruiting 4,000 Cuban physicians this month to work in remote areas like the Amazon. That’s just the latest wrinkle in Brazil’s acrimonious Cuban-doctors controversy, which has everyone from Brazilian physicians in Brasília to Cuban-American politicians in Washington, D.C., up in arms.

But there is a much larger problem involved here than Marxist medics — and it’s one that plagues not just Brazil but most of Latin America. Whether or not Brazilian judges eventually let the Cuban physicians stay or order them to leave, it won’t solve Brazil’s doctor shortage, especially in the medically deprived rural and favela (slum) zones the Cubans are headed to.

If you’re wondering why Brazil was the site of sometimes violent street protests this summer, this latest dustup offers one useful clue. Brazil is now the world’s sixth largest economy and considers itself on the doorstep of the developed world. Yet, as Brazilian demonstrators are all too aware, its education system is widely regarded as abysmal, especially science preparation. Brazilian physicians aren’t bad practitioners, though Rousseff has a point when she says many are too elitist to practice in the boonies. But while the medical community may share much of the blame, critics say Brazil’s notoriously corrupt and indifferent officialdom has done little to provide the infrastructure needed to create and support enough doctors to serve the nation’s 200 million people.