Cuban doctors hired to care for Brazil poor booed

Agence France-Presse
Foreign doctors were heckled and branded as 'slaves' and 'incompetent' by dozens of their Brazilian counterparts in the northeastern state of Ceara

BRASILIA, Brazil – Cuban doctors hired to treat the poor in Brazil were booed and insulted by their Brazilian colleagues in a racially tinged incident that set off a furor Wednesday, August 28, on social media networks.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff waded into the fray the morning after the Tuesday night incident (August 27), denouncing “the huge prejudice” shown toward the Cuban doctors, who had recently arrived as part of a government program to fill vacancies in Brazil’s public health system.

“It is important to say that foreign doctors, not just Cubans, are coming here to work in areas where Brazilian doctors do not want to work,” Rousseff said in an interview with radios from Minas Gerais state.

The incident occurred late Tuesday, when 96 foreign doctors, including 70 Cubans, showed up for a Portuguese language class and medical familiarization course.

As they arrived, they were heckled and branded as “slaves” and “incompetent” by dozens of their Brazilian counterparts in the northeastern state of Ceara.

A picture of a black Cuban doctor being verbally abused by white Brazilian colleagues went viral on social media networks, triggering widespread outrage, with many denouncing it as “shameful” and “racist.”

After massive street protests in June to demand better public health services, the government launched the “More Doctors” program to fill 15,000 new posts.

According to the health ministry, this country of 194 million people has a shortage of 54,000 doctors, particularly in poor urban and rural areas.

The new government program gives priority to Brazilian doctors for the three-year posts, but also relies on foreign physicians where necessary.

Some 4,000 Cuban doctors are being hired along with hundreds of Argentine, Venezuelan, Spanish and Portuguese physicians.

Their diplomas are being recognized in Brazil but they must go through a brief familiarization course, including Portuguese language if necessary.

Tuesday, the National Federation of Doctors called on the labor prosecutor’s office to investigate the working conditions being offered Cuban doctors in Brazil.

Each foreign doctor is being offered a monthly salary of $4,240 dollars during the three-year contract,

In the case of the Cubans, Brasilia is to send their wages to the Cuban government through the Pan American Health Organization.

The Cuban physicians are then paid by their government.

Fernando Menezes, a Brazilian health ministry official, said the Cuban doctors will end up pocketing between $1,060 and $1,700 a month.

Health Minister Alexandre Padilha, meanwhile, also slammed the “xenophobia” which the Cubans experienced in Ceara Tuesday.

“I deplore the stance of some health professionals, because I think they are an isolated group who incite prejudice and xenophobia,” he added.

“We were assaulted, but we will carry out our mission here in Brazil to care for the needy population,” one of the Cuban doctors, who asked not be named for fear of reprisals, told the daily Estado de Sao Paulo.

He said he worked in Haiti for four years before coming to Brazil.

Jose Maria Pontes, president of the Ceara Doctors’ Union which sponsored the protest, said it was meant to “denounce slave labor, the exploitation of professionals.”

“The term ‘slave’ was not used in a pejorative sense,” he told the daily Zero Hora.

Brazilian doctors’ associations have slammed the plan to lure foreign doctors, insisting the problem was not a shortage of doctors but rather poor management and a lack of resources in the public health sector. –

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