Cuba announced on Wednesday it is withdrawing thousands of its doctors from Brazil after the South American nation’s right-wing President-elect Jair Bolsonaro questioned their contracts terms.
Bolsonaro, who was elected last month, has said the 11,420 Cuban doctors working in poor, rural parts of Brazil could only stay if they received 100% of their pay and their families were allowed to join them.
Under the terms of the agreement with Cuba, brokered via the Pan-American Health Organization, the doctors only receive a small part of their salaries with the bulk of their wages withheld by Cuba's communist government. Critics have called the contracts a form of labor exploitation while Cuba justifies them under its highly centralized socialist economy which offers free education and health care, among others forms of government welfare.
"The Ministry of Public Health of Cuba has decided to discontinue its participation in the program 'More Doctors,'" the government announced on state-run media. It added that the Pan-American Health Organization which coordiantd the program had been informed of the decison as well as "the political leaders of Brazil."
Cuba has agreements with a number of countries in Latin America and Africa to provide medical services. At its peak, the Cuban overseas medical program provided jobs for tens of thousands of Cuban doctors and nurses, though the number has shrunk in recent years due to political turmoil in places like Venezuela.
Cuba's Health Ministry said in a statement that it had participated in Brazil’s 'More Doctors' program together with Brazilian medical personnel since its inception in August of 2013 under the government of Dilma Rousseff.
Cuba said it was responding to "contemptuous and threatening comments against the presence of our doctors," by Bolsonaro. "He has questioned the qualification of our doctors and has conditioned their permanence in the program to a process of validation of their titles and established that contracts will only be signed on an individual basis," the Cuban Health Ministry said.
It said the new contract terms proposed by Bolsonaro were "unacceptable and fail to ensure the guarantees that had been previously agreed upon since the beginning of the program."