It was big news three years ago when Castro more than doubled the monthly wage for doctors with two specialties, from … $26 to $67. Alas, nurses didn’t do quite as well percentage-wise. They went from $13 per month to $25. Imagine knowing you have an expertise in a profession that would let you live comfortably, if not lavishly, even in the richest country in the world and receiving a monthly wage whose equivalent value could be paid in literal peanuts without too much logistical trouble.
But that’s the thing. How many Cuban doctors know how badly they’re being shafted for their services? This fascinating NYT story zeroes in on doctors who have been dispatched to other countries, like Brazil, to work and been amazed at the freedom and comparative luxury other doctors enjoy there. That’s a risky proposition for Castro, as showing his medical industry how much higher their standard of living would be in a free country naturally means many won’t want to come back. The reason the regime agrees to it is because it needs the money and receives big bucks for its “export.” That’s where the Times piece comes in: Although Cuban doctors are making way, waaaaay more in Brazil than they’d make at home, they’re still getting royally screwed by the Cuban government, which receives three times as much per month from the Brazilian government as the doctors themselves do. “When you leave Cuba for the first time, you discover many things that you had been blind to,” said one doctor to the paper. It turns out communism is de facto slavery. Who knew?
And yes, it’s remarkable that this story is being published in the NYT knowing how Cuban health care is often mentioned by leftist rabble-rousers like Michael Moore as a model for America. The Times ate its Wheaties this morning:
Dr. Álvarez said that the stipend offered by the Cuban government to work for a few years in Brazil seemed appealing to her and her husband, Arnulfo Castanet Batista, also a doctor, when they signed up in 2013.
It meant leaving behind their two children in the care of relatives, but each of them would earn 2,900 Brazilian reais a month — then worth about $1,400, and now worth $908 — an amount that seemed enormous compared with the roughly $30 a month Cuban doctors earned at home…
“We began to see that the conditions for the other doctors [from other countries] were totally different,” she said. “They could be with their family, bring their kids. The salaries were much higher.”…
“You are trained in Cuba and our education is free, health care is free, but at what price?” [Dr. Yaili Jiménez Gutierrez] said. “You wind up paying for it your whole life.”
In Brazil, Alvarez marveled, “no one asks you where you’re going, or tells you what you have to do. In Cuba, your life is dictated by the government.” She and hundreds of other Cuban doctors have sued in Brazilian courts to be granted independent-contractor status, which would entitle them to the $3,600 monthly that Castro’s government receives instead of the $900 they’re currently pulling down. (Another way to think about that is that they’ve momentarily escaped from slave wages and are now being paid the American equivalent of minimum wage, hoping to win a lawsuit that would place them in the lower middle class in the United States. As doctors.) The awful punchline is that many of the doctors who’ve sued have lost their cases because Brazil needs doctors and complicity in Castro’s oppression will guarantee a steady supply. Cuba itself defends the arrangement on, er, free-market grounds, noting that the doctors signed a contract granting the government three-quarters of their monthly salary. Imagine defending an agreement signed by a slave granting his master nearly the full value of his labor on grounds that, hey, a deal’s a deal.
Why not bring some of these disaffected doctors who are stranded abroad to the United States, allowing them to make some bank and increasing our own supply of medical pros? We used to do that — but Obama ended the program as part of his detente with Castro. The humanitarian argument for ending it is that Cuba and other countries need doctors even more than America does; barring them from the U.S. ensures they’ll have to either stay in exile in Brazil or go back to the gulag and care for their countrymen at their $67 monthly wage. As a matter of pure bargaining power, though, knowing that the doctors might defect to America if they’re sent abroad puts pressure on Castro to grant them a larger share of the wage the regime receives from places like Brazil in order to keep them happy. Now that U.S.-Cuba relations are collapsing, maybe Trump will bring back the policy.