Dr Jeovany Jimenez Vega: “There Will Not Be A Wave Of Physicians Returning To Cuba”
By Reinaldo Escobar
Translating Cuba / 14ymedio
September 8, 2015
Late last year, Dr. Jeovany Jimenez Vega decided to go to work in Ecuador on a private contract. From Guayaquil, where he works with his wife, he has read in the official Cuban press the new relaxations that allow healthcare workers who have emigrated to return to the Public Health System in Cuba.
The doctor, author of the blog Citizen Zero, was separated from his profession in 2006 in retaliation for a protest over low wages in the health care sector. He subsequently staged a hunger strike as a result of which he managed to be restored to his previous job at the hospital in Guanajay. This time, he responded by email to several questions for readers of 14ymedio on the new measures, and the expectations and doubts they generate.
Reinaldo Escobar. To what do you attribute the adoption of these relaxations relating to Cuban doctors living abroad?
Dr. Jeovany Jimenez. It is obvious that this is a reaction to counter the massive exodus of professionals. The Cuban authorities had plenty of time, decades in fact, to do everything that they are promising today. But it is only now, when a stampede is underway, that they decide to implement a much fairer policy. The healthcare workers who generate between eight billion and ten billion dollars annually with our work abroad, we deserve this.
So far, healthcare workers had only received sticks, despotic treatment and the capitalist exploitation of their work – in the strictest sense of the phrase – when we see that on an official mission of work abroad the healthcare worker receives only 20% of the salary that is agreed to between the two countries. Not a single word has been said about this situation and this is at the center of the desertions.
Escobar. Do you think that many of these doctors living abroad are planning to return to the Island?
Jimenez. Those doctors who deserted from missions or who left to work on individual contracts are not demanding to return to Cuba. They made their firm decision after giving it a lot of thought. What is the most evident reality for millions of Cubans is the profound, lamentable and systematic deterioration of medical care at all levels throughout the country. We have been witnesses for decades to the progressive structural deterioration of doctors’ offices, polyclinics, dental clinics and hospitals. Meanwhile the Cuban government continues to divert resources to polish its repressive apparatus and our neo-bourgeoisie spend big on luxury hotels and wandering around Turkey*.
Escobar. So you did not see it as an opening?
Jimenez. I greatly doubt that we are facing a genuine change towards more opening from the regime. We are facing a government that in the rest of its actions has changed nothing; it is still conducting its internal dynamics as an authentic dictatorship. It still systematically represses, with the greatest impunity, dissent in ideas and other basic human rights. It has not shown the slightest sign, in the rest of its facets, that would give us reason to believe that these measures can engage a change of mentality leading to real openings.
We are simply looking at a pragmatic shift to adapt itself to the new circumstances.
Escobar. What has been the reaction among physicians you know?
Jimenez. Oscillating between joy, disdain and skepticism.
Escobar. Is it possible to reverse the exodus of health professionals with these relaxations?
Jimenez. The damage is done. Everything that happens today could largely have been avoided if the Ministry of Public Health and the Cuban government had listened seriously to the demands of our workers. They should have been attentive to our needs and followed a fair and reciprocal policy towards a sector that over the past three decades has generated more than 50% of Cuba’s GDP, without this having resulted in improvements to the status of our personal lives.
Every Cuban doctor who decided to leave the island to work abroad, did it as a result of negative personal experiences and in search of different, more promising horizons. In most cases they left behind on the island extremely poor working conditions: an absurd monthly salary that runs out in a week, disrespect, the frequent arrogance and even the despotism of the authorities of their ministry and their government. That professional experienced a high degree of frustration at having devoted the best part of his or her life to a labor without being justly rewarded.
That physician felt defrauded, if not betrayed. So these frustrations and mistreatments are evoked when weighing a decision to return to Cuba.
Escobar. Will there be a wave of physicians returning to Cuban hospitals?
Jimenez. It is very doubtful that a massive return will happen, but it is not entirely ruled out that some will choose to return after working for a time abroad, especially if the authorities, this time, keep their word and implement what they have promised. We know that with the Cuban Government there will always be some distance between words and actions.
I doubt very much that this return will happen in the form of a wave, not immediately. There is too much mistrust generated by decades of broken promises to make it likely that now, by grace of an article in the newspaper Granma, someone will make the most important decision of his or her life, and return without further ado.
Escobar. Do you think that this could open a gap so that more doctors leave Cuba once the punishments have been removed?
Jimenez. The time when punishments were feared is in the past. Perhaps some, right now, perceive the long-expected starting gun, although there are still many professionals who never left the country because they didn’t find a way to finance the enterprise. Those of us who have chosen to work outside Cuba, we did it with loans from family or friends, or with the money accumulated on some official medical mission abroad.
Escobar. Besides the resources to travel, what other obstacles are there on the road?
Jimenez. In recent months they have implemented the practice, undoubtedly deliberately, of delaying all the legal validation of documents in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the rest of the ministries, with the obvious purpose of putting obstacles before any possible departure from the country by doctors and professionals from other sectors. This hindrance can only be explained as a policy of deterrent to discourage future flights.
Escobar. In the announcement that appeared in Granma the only ones included among those who can return are those who left under the new Immigration Act, which came into force in January 2013, but there is nothing said about those who left before. What do you think about that?
Jimenez. If this is so, we would be facing the perpetuation a grave injustice. To prevent any Cuban citizen from freely entering his or her own country is a grave violation of human rights practiced by the Cuban government for half a century. Anyone who still doubts that this is a rancid dictatorship can take this example: a doctor precluded by a group of officials from meeting with his children for eight years (!) for something as simple as having terminated a labor contract, for nothing more than his having “deserted” a mission.
Such a decision would oppose the central objective of the new policy, that seeks nothing more than discouraging departures and encouraging the return of a greater number of professionals among those who once left.
*Translator’s note: A reference to recent photographs published in the international press showing Fidel Castro’s son Antonoio Castro Soto Del Valle enjoying a luxury vacation in Turkey.