CubaBrief: Dissidents under house arrest on Human Rights Day, unqualified Cuban doctors performed surgery in Uruguay, and Bible readings threatened in Cuba

Yesterday, CubaBrief took a look back at the Cuba Republic’s human rights legacy through the present. Today we take a look back at the events of yesterday, International Human Rights Day. The secret police stopped human rights defenders, independent journalists and pro-democracy activists from leaving their homes on December 10th. Luz Escobar, a reporter for the alternative news website 14ymedio, on Twitter. “‘Go back up to your flat because today you cannot go out’ said a state security official guarding the entrance of my building.”

On December 8th 14ymedio reported that “the Cuban medical mission in Uruguay is at the center of an intense controversy over its professional abilities. Six of nine ophthalmologists on the Island who participated in the Miracle Mission failed to revalidate their titles in the South American country, according to an extensive report published this Sunday by the local newspaper El País.” This is another example of why health care experts should be more skeptical about the claims made about Cuba’s health care system.

Religious repression continues to be an issue in Cuba with open expressions of religious belief being targets of repression with a report today by Evangelical Focus.

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Reuters, December 10, 2019

Dissidents say Cuba put them under house arrest on Human Rights Day

HAVANA (Reuters) – Opposition activists and independent journalists in Communist-run Cuba said state security and police stopped them from leaving their homes on Tuesday to prevent them marking or reporting on international Human Rights Day.

Some activists had planned to observe the day by calling publicly for the liberation of one of the top opposition leaders in the one-party country, Jose Daniel Ferrer, whom Cuba calls a U.S.-financed counterrevolutionary.

Cuban authorities arrested Ferrer, 49, more than two months ago. While dissidents complain they are frequently subjected to short-term detentions to intimidate them, his is the first long-term arrest of a high profile government critic in years.

Human rights activists say it reflects a broader increase in repression as the country deals with an awakening of civil awareness thanks to expanded access to the internet and a hike in U.S. sanctions.

International rights organizations like Amnesty International, the Trump administration and the European Parliament have called for Ferrer’s release.

“‘Go back up to your flat because today you cannot go out’ said a state security official guarding the entrance of my building,” wrote Luz Escobar, a reporter for the alternative news website 14ymedio, on Twitter.

The Cuban government, which says its critics on human rights overlook Cuba’s guaranteed healthcare and education, did not reply to request for comment.

Cuba says the United States is using Ferrer – with its top diplomat in Havana even abetting his illegal activities – to undermine the government as part of its broader attempt to overthrow socialism in Latin America.

Activists from Ferrer’s Patriotic Union of Cuba called this week for his release and that of other UNPACU members in a campaign on social media.

“There is a continued vigilance as is usual on this day … as part of a broader police operation to stop actions in favor of Ferrer,” said UNPACU spokesman Carlos Amel Oliva.

The Day of Human Rights coincides with the implementation on Tuesday of a new U.S. ban on all U.S. scheduled flights to Cuban destinations except Havana. Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said on Twitter this would hurt Cuban families living on either side of the Florida Straits and violated their rights.

Reporting by Nelson Acosta; Writing by Sarah Marsh; Editing by Dan Grebler

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

14ymedio, December 8, 2019

Cuba’s Doctors of the Miracle Mission are Simple “Catarologists,” Reveals Uruguay Newspaper

14ymedio, Havana, 8 December 2019 — The Cuban medical mission in Uruguay is at the center of an intense controversy over its professional abilities. Six of nine ophthalmologists on the Island who participated in the Miracle Mission failed to revalidate their titles in the South American country, according to an extensive report published this Sunday by the local newspaper El País.

The Uruguayan ophthalmology chair reproached a group of Cuban doctors who had previously performed operations at the Hospital de Ojos (Eye Hospital). “Despite the fact that the Uruguayan teachers concluded that they [the Cuban doctors] did not know enough, they had practiced for two years,” the article details.

Cuban doctors arrived in that country starting in 2007 with Operation Miracle, through which 90,000 Uruguayans were operated on for cataracts and other ophthalmological conditions. Before the arrival of that mission, patients had to pay between 1,500 and 2,000 dollars to undergo one of those procedures, but the agreement between Havana and Montevideo contributed to “democratize these surgeries,” the text details.

The Miracle Mission began in 2004, led by Cuba and Venezuela, at a time of close relationship between Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro. The doctors working on this initiative have been deployed in 31 countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia.

For years, Uruguay has been a posting very desired by Cuban doctors to serve on official mission, due to its social stability. The selection of professionals traveling to that country has been made within the Island and the brigades rotate every two years.

To practice in that country, Cuban professionals only have to revalidate their title as a general practitioner, a procedure that they perform in the Faculty of Medicine. “They just have to present the certificate and at no time do they take a test to confirm that they have the necessary knowledge.”

“It is an agreement in which so many doctors, so many nurses and so many opticians come. We did not know the training of the brigade, we never knew it. The only thing we knew was that surgeons came to operate on cataracts, but we did not know who was part of the team. We thought they knew what to do,” says an ex-director of the Eye Hospital who gave statements to El País.

In these 12 years, 60 Cuban doctors passed through the Eye Hospital, according to data published on the digital site of this health center. “The majority served for two years, but there were nine who defected from the Castro regime and wanted to stay,” the note adds. In their new situation “they had to revalidate their ophthalmologist degrees. Their general medicine license had already been validated upon arrival, but they had to prove that they had done the postgraduate course. Therefore, all these professionals went to the Graduate School of the Faculty of Medicine, which is responsible for authorizing the titles issued outside.”

However, six of the nine Cuban doctors did not pass the test, according to the records of the Graduate School accessed by El País. “All of them, although the ophthalmology chair considered that they do not know enough, had previously worked for two years at the Eye Hospital.”

In addition to those six doctors who could not validate their studies, three other Cuban professionals appeared in the last two years before the Graduate School. The ophthalmology chair has not yet ruled in these cases, so it is not possible to know if they passed the final test or not.

Every two years, and also before changes of the Government, a representative of the Cuban regime arrives at the Eye Hospital. That person is in charge of talking with the health center management and is the one who designates the doctors who will travel months later to Uruguay. “We only send them the best,” the representative is said to promise.

In the health center they explain that the training of Cuban doctors is different from that of Uruguayans. There are differences in the programs and the reason why they would have failed the tests given to them by the Chair of the Clinical Hospital. They say they learn “more specific knowledge and not as general” as local specialists.

That is why they usually call them, in a derogatory way, “catarologists.” The majority would have studied the procedure which they would later perform in their work, ignoring the rest of the knowledge related to ophthalmology.

The poor results on the tests have put the Uruguayan Association of Ophthalmology on alert. Andrea Merrone, its president, emphasizes that they do not oppose the arrival of foreign doctors to the country, although they would like to know if the professionals “have sufficient suitability” to practice.

Although criticisms about the level of the doctors of the Island had accumulated in Uruguay, the trigger for publication in the press has been the recent complaint made by the provisional Government of Jeanine Áñez in Bolivia. In that country, just 205 of the 702 Cuban doctors who were deployed had a degree. The remainder were technicians or drivers, doctors making up just a small number of the total.

Evangelical Focus, December 11, 2019

Latin America

Traditional public Bible reading threatened in Cuba

Activists insult participants of the Bible reading in social media. “We live the greatest repressive wave against Christians since the sixties”, Christian Cuban journalist and professor says.

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For more than 10 years, Cuban Christians gather gather for annual Bible reading at ‘Malecón’ the first Sunday of December. / GNA

The Evangelical League of Cuba (LEC in Spanish) organizes a public reading of the Bible, which takes place every year in the ‘Malecón’ in Havana, on the first Sunday of December. This year, pro-Communist regime activist Elaine Salaregui attacked this initiative on her Facebook account, saying that Christianity “express itself again in public space, this time giving visibility to the Bible they use as a club, showing up as a crowd, or even worse, as the Cuban Church”.


Salaregui leads the Church of the Metropolitan Community, with about 100 members and presence in several cities of the island. It receives support from the Cuban government, thanks to her proximity to Mariela Castro, the niece of the late dictator Fidel Castro. Also known as “the gay church”, the Metropolitan Community is not registered, however it has never received the hostile treatment other Christian communities suffer.


In addition to Salaregui’s post, journalist Francisco Rodríguez Cruz, proposed “to go there that day to read the Constitution”, a provocation that several people seconded. Rodriguez was known months ago for comparing evangelical believers with staphylococci, in a Facebook post. “Read your Bible in its proper places and behave yourself. Don’t cry in jail for breaking the law”, pro-Castro writer and poet, Jesús García, threatened the participants. Activist Roberto Ramos Mori, who has recently signed contracts with the government through the Ministry of Culture and the Havana Film Festival, and is known for using the hashtag #TheChurchWhichLightsUpMostIsTheChurchThatBurns, also supported Saralegui’s post. Meanwhile, the audiovisual director for the Cuban state TV, Leandro de La Rosa, said: “On the Malecon? Oh, my mother, they will need a megaphone to read there. That amplified reading will be beautiful, will it be something like public Tantrism? What nonsense of idea”.


The Cuban government represses any concentration of people in public spaces, however this evangelical gathering has survived a decade, thanks to its discretion. After the attacks on the activity on the Malecon, the LEC eliminated the public invitation, to avoid further confrontation. “Although we have gathered more than 500 people with open Bibles in one of the most important avenues in the country, there has never been any disturbance”, said a participant from previous editions, who prefers to remain anonymous because she fears retaliation at work . However, “with the threats on Facebook, we fear that they will provoke us while we read, that they will bring the same hostile attitude they have in social media to an activity where the elderly and minors participate”, she added.


“The biblical reading is not carried out out loud for the participants or the passers-by; it has never been done like that before”, stressed another regular participant of the reading. “People are very uninformed, and when they give their opinion at those virtual forums, they speak exclusively from prejudice”. “


Cuban journalist and professor, Leonides Pentón, said in an article for Latin American news website, Evangelico Digital, that “today in Cuba, we are starting to see the greatest repressive and discriminatory wave against the Christian community since the sixties, when the Communist Revolution began”. Last month, seven Cuban Christian intellectuals wrote a public letter to the government, calling them to “respect, guarantee and protect freedom of thought, conscience and expression, and recognize freedom of the press”. They also demanded “the lifting of those measures which violate individual liberties on all Cuban citizens, and the non-criminalization of journalism and social activism outside the aegis of the State”