CubaBrief: Castro’s medical missions in Mexico, a Trojan horse for Mexico’s democracy? and Montaner on “Why Cuba and Venezuela should matter to us”

Writer, journalist and scholar Carlos Alberto Montaner reviews Nestor Carbonell’s Why Cuba matters and provides context into the history of U.S. – Cuba relations during the Castro dictatorship that stretches over 12 U.S. presidents, beginning with Eisenhower, and continuing now with Trump. There have been hawks and doves, and different approaches to policy to reach and accommodation with the Castro regime and all have failed.

Montaner offers the most succinct explanation of why this has happened and it deals with a fundamental misunderstanding by Americans: “The problem, really, was that the Castros saw Cuba only as a base of operations to act in the international arena against Washington and against the hated ‘capitalism.’ That was their leitmotif. The Castros, and especially Fidel, did not see themselves as the leaders of a communist revolution carried out on a poor sugar-producer island in the Caribbean, but rather as leaders of a political empire under construction. Not for nothing Fidel, at 18, changed his middle name, Hipólito, for “Alejandro.” He had in mind the Greek king who conquered an empire starting from the insignificant Macedonia.”

The Castro regime has created havoc across Latin America and Africa with humanitarian disasters in NicaraguaVenezuela, and Ethiopia attributed to Cuban troops backing brutal dictators against their own people.

Mary Anastasis O’Grady in her June 14, 2020 column in The Wall Street Journal warns about “Cuban Medical Brigades to Mexico” and more specifically Havana’s “history of using its doctors to propagandize and build intel networks.”

She is not alone in her concerns about Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO). On May 27, 2020 CubaBrief published Venezuelan human rights defender and attorney Tamara Suju’s opinion piece “Mexico, the Venezuelan Déjà Vu” published in La Patilla that also raised concerns about AMLO. Ms Suju explained how ” MORENA, AMLO’s political party, has proposed that the Constitution be amended (Chavez’s best weapon for consolidating power) in order for the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI, its Spanish acronym) to review citizens’ estates and have access to their financial information, for the purpose of measuring the concentration of wealth in the country.”

O’Grady in her commentary highlights that “one reason Cuban medical “brigades” are raising Mexican eyebrows is that Cuba has a reputation for sending medical personnel abroad to do work for which they are not trained. At the same time, Havana also has a record of using teaching, social work and medical care as cover to spread Castroism and build intelligence networks in democratic countries.”

O’Grady and Suju are not alone in their concerns. Mexico’s former Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Jorge Castañeda Gutman, in Latinus Opinion on April 7, 2020 warned that “among the doctors there are Cuban security and intelligence personnel. Not all the doctors are spies, but many of the spies are doctors. This is something well known because Cuban medical missions abroad have a long history, going back to the mid 1970s in Angola.”

Cuban medical missions should be a symbol of peace and solidarity, but now through the lense of history, they appear to have more in common with the Trojan Horse.

Latin American Herald Tribune, June 12, 2020

Why Cuba and Venezuela should matter to us

By Carlos Alberto Montaner

Néstor T. Carbonell, former VP of Pepsi Cola for many years, has published an extraordinary book on the Island: Why Cuba Matters. In the book he reviews the stormy relationships between Fidel Castro and the twelve tenants who have been in the White House. From the first, Ike Eisenhower, to Donald Trump, through Barack Obama, who made all the concessions to Havana, without any gesture of democratic reciprocity, violating the only common strategy of Republicans and Democrats for more than 60 years.

In that long period of coincidences and disagreements, genuine “hawks” like Ronald Reagan and even soft “pigeons” like Jimmy Carter had been at the helm of the American power, but all were convinced that any transaction with the Castros should include a verifiable withdrawal of Cuba’s international role as a pro-communist and “anti-Yankee” beacon in Latin America and Africa, although notable incursions into the Middle East were not lacking, as was the case with a 22-tank brigade operated by Cubans during the Yom Kippur war, fought between 1973 and 1974.

The problem, really, was that the Castros saw Cuba only as a base of operations to act in the international arena against Washington and against the hated “capitalism.” That was their leitmotif. The Castros, and especially Fidel, did not see themselves as the leaders of a communist revolution carried out on a poor sugar-producer island in the Caribbean, but rather as leaders of a political empire under construction. Not for nothing Fidel, at 18, changed his middle name, Hipólito, for “Alejandro.” He had in mind the Greek king who conquered an empire starting from the insignificant Macedonia.

Thus, his first triumph in Latin America was Chile, and it did not occur according to Castro’s script, but as a consequence of the Chilean electoral peculiarity. Salvador Allende was elected in 1970 with just over a third of the votes, and the Chilean parliament, being able to choose one of the other two parties, selected this Marxist physician, after forcing him to sign a document in which he promised to safeguard freedoms, something he only partially did.

The thesis behind Carbonell’s book is that democracy and freedoms have a magnificent side (the type of societies they foster), but they have another disturbing feature: the tendency to belittle the economically and technically weak adversaries who oppose them. They did it with Cuba and today they do it with Venezuela, Cuba’s protégé, without realizing the danger that this means.

Cubazuela, as the two countries are called in the neighborhood’s political jargon, have turned to crime to sustain their precarious power. Cuba provides Venezuelans with intelligence, military control, and support networks built over the years, while Venezuela pays Cubans with its own or Iranian gasoline, and with the little money it can spare from drug trafficking or the sale of illegally obtained gold. Meanwhile, Maduro, born in Colombia, is neither Venezuelan nor Colombian. He is a Cuban who owes his position to the Castros. He has discovered ideological citizenship.

Cuba was already a danger, but not having eliminated that infectious focus allowed it to metastasize to other nations, such as Venezuela, and there’s a risk that it will continue to expand to Colombia, Ecuador and Bolivia, all countries of the Andean arc. To avoid this immense damage, opposition politician María Corina Machado proposes a “multifaceted peace operation.” Venezuelan professor Carlos Blanco, in an excellent article, adds that it could be “an operation led by the OAS, based on the TIAR.” TIAR is the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance.

This is all correct. But if it is to take place, the United States must lead the effort, and it is very difficult that it happens. So far, Washington has limited itself to imposing sanctions and showing its fangs, but Latin American countries have no foreign policy, except Cuba and Venezuela, and I don’t think they will change. I would start by recommending Americans to read Carbonell’s book. It is very good.

http://www.elblogdemontaner.com/why-cuba-and-venezuela-should-matter-to-us/

The Wall Street Journal, June 14, 2020 

Cuban Medical Brigades to Mexico

Havana has a history of using its doctors to propagandize and build intel networks.

By Mary Anastasis O’Grady

Mexican President AMLO speaks in Mexico City, June 10. Photo: Hector Vivas/Getty Images

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has been known to take great umbrage at the suggestion that he is similar to the late Hugo Chávez, who after being elected democratically in Venezuela turned his country into a dictatorship. Yet parallels between the two men are not imagined. Like Chávez, AMLO—as the president is known by his initials—is fond of demagoguery and of fomenting hatred for entrepreneurs.

Now a decision to import hundreds of Cuban medics in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic is further stoking fears that the president has a hidden antidemocratic agenda.

One reason Cuban medical “brigades” are raising Mexican eyebrows is that Cuba has a reputation for sending medical personnel abroad to do work for which they are not trained. At the same time, Havana also has a record of using teaching, social work and medical care as cover to spread Castroism and build intelligence networks in democratic countries.

Another objection is the lack of transparency. Havana has for decades profited off its exported workers while paying them a pittance. Whether that’s what’s happening here isn’t known because the terms of the agreement between Mexico and Cuba haven’t been made public.

The Cuban independent news outlet Diario de Cuba reported on June 8 that it had “obtained details of a contract” signed by Cuba, Mexico’s Institute of Health for Well-Being and the Mexico City government. Under its terms, Cuban doctors and nurses are working in various hospitals in the federal district. The paper said the contract covers 585 workers with a price tag of around $6.23 million. Separately, on May 21, El Financiero reported that more than 100 Cuban medical personnel arrived that day in Veracruz.

In an interview with Oliva López Arellano, Mexico City’s health secretary, Diario de Cuba requested a copy of the Mexico City contract. The secretary acknowledged that it had not been “uploaded” but added that “like all agreements, it can be known.” Days later the paper said it still hadn’t received a copy and as of Friday the agreement had not been made public.

Among the contractual unknowns are the duration of the agreement and the salaries the workers will be paid during their Mexico assignments. Is Mexico paying the workers directly, or is the money being sent to Havana?

The latter would be consistent with the medical-export missions that Cuba has been running for many years all over Latin America. By controlling the payroll, Havana has been able to shortchange workers and keep most of the income for itself. I reported in January on four Cuban doctors who had escaped the program in Brazil and are now suing the Pan American Health Organization for helping to keep them in effective slavery.

Ms. López Arellano told Diario de Cuba that doctors who participate in the mission do so voluntarily. Yet the doctors who fled from Brazil say that Cubans have little choice when the regime asks them to go abroad. Refusal signals the end of a career. The doctors allege that their salaries, set by Cuba, kept them in poverty and their Cuban minders denied them the right to mix with locals and come and go as they pleased. Their forced servitude was a violation of Brazilian law and international human-rights law. They were also instructed to share regime propaganda with their patients.

Yet even if Cuba compensates these workers in Mexico fairly—which would be a first—there are a host of unanswered questions about why Mr. López Obrador has enlisted them.

In a column in Mexico’s El Universal, Mexican journalist Carlos Loret de Mola reported his interviews with Mexican doctors working with the Cuban medics. The Mexicans, he wrote, complained that the Cubans “arrive without adequate preparation” and are “unaware of basic nursing procedures and even refusing to cooperate” with established record-keeping procedures.

The Mexican doctors also told Mr. Loret de Mola that the Cubans enjoyed privileges—including more food and lighter work loads—not enjoyed by the Mexicans.

The Mexicans allege that the Cuban doctors are being paid more than the locals. But if that conclusion is derived by simple division, using the contract total to figure the cost per doctor of the program, it may be misleading. Brazil was paying as much as $10,000 per doctor per month, but the doctors themselves received less than 10% of that and found it difficult to get by.

Diario de Cuba reported on June 7 that a doctor from the Cuban city of Mayarí who arrived at the mission in late April had already defected from the program and that her whereabouts were unknown. The source said approximately 15 others had also fled.

Many Mexicans took AMLO’s word for it when he said he was a democrat. His failure to come clean on his deal with Cuba undermines that claim.

Write to O’Grady@wsj.com.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/cuban-medical-brigades-to-mexico-11592164194?mod=searchresults&page=1&pos=1