Image of Cuban doctors posted abroad in Wall Street Journal article entitled: "Cuba's slave trade in doctors"

Rights of Cuban doctors hired by Portuguese State health service must be respected – Amnesty

Government “cannot be inadvertent accomplice and promoter of human trafficking/ forced labour”

Amnesty International Portugal (AI) has called on minister of health Manuel Pizarro to ensure that the hiring of Cuban doctors to work in the national health service (SNS) respects human rights and national sovereignty and legislation.

In a letter sent to Mr Pizarro yesterday, AI warns that “the government of Portugal cannot inadvertently be an accomplice and promoter of trafficking in human beings and / or forced labour of third parties”.

Pointing out that “the practice of sending Cuban doctors to missions abroad by the State of Cuba is not recent“, AI emphasised that this “has been done through laws and rules of repression against health professionals, rules that are unacceptable for a State governed by the Rule of Law“.

The Cuban State has been known to restrict the rights of health professionals sent to third countries, namely in terms of freedom of expression, association and/ or movement.

Pedro Neto, AI Portugal’s executive director, who signed the letter has told TSF Rádio how Cuban doctors are prohibited from having contact with people who could be “against the revolutionary spirit” of their government; how they have to transmit to Cuban authorities details of any relationships/ marriages they may enter. There are even reports that the Cuban government keeps half the salary of these doctors when they work overseas (mainly as a guarantee that the doctors will return to their home country when the contract terminates).

Says Lusa, the letter reminds Mr Pizarro of Portugal’s responsibility “to ensure that companies or States with which it enters into agreements for the provision of services or the supply of professional staff comply with human rights, with Portuguese legislation in force for professionals who will implement these agreements, and with the legislation in force in Portugal, where the provision of services is carried out”.

“Having understood the principle of territoriality, Portugal cannot accept the extraterritorial application of Cuban laws in our country and which, moreover, are contrary to Portuguese legislation,” the letter continues.

“In Portugal, Portuguese law must be complied with and it is exclusively up to the government, the public prosecutor’s office and other authorities and judicial bodies to monitor, within the scope of their powers, this compliance. 

“The Portuguese government cannot, itself, or even indirectly, promote the opposite”, defends AI Portugal.

The human rights organisation also asks for guarantees that the agreements established do not allow any repression of relatives in Cuba of doctors placed in Portugal.

“In addition to the Portuguese government being able to develop this solution in a dignified manner, it must also develop other solutions and efforts to guarantee the human right of access to healthcare in Portugal, through the training of more health professionals in our country, with more measures to retain health professionals, with the coordination and optimisation of all existing health services in the country so that access to healthcare is effectively guaranteed as a human right. All solutions to guarantee the human right that is access to health should not imply the violation of other human rights“, the letter concludes.

It has to be said that Manuel Pizarro himself appeared before a parliamentary committee yesterday, to “guarantee” the rights of all foreign doctors coming to this country to work as a result of agreements forged with the Portuguese State would be respected

Pedro Neto, however, told TSF that his organisation wasn’t fully convinced.

Mr Pizarro also emphasised that it won’t simply be Cuban doctors that Portugal hires to make up for the shortfall of national doctors in areas like Lisbon/ Vale do Tejo, the Algarve and Alentejo.

The health minister’s strategy is not a popular one, with the country’s Ordem dos Médicos (Order of Doctors) and the Council of Portuguese Medical Schools both saying it is misguided and potentially larded with risks.

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