Cuban doctors fighting virus around world

Havana has deployed 593 doctors to at least 14 countries to fight COVID-19 despite U.S. opposition

Labelling the doctors and nurses as both exploited workers and agents of communist indoctrination, the U.S. has notched a series of victories as Brazil, Ecuador and Bolivia sent home thousands after leftist governments allied with Havana were replaced with ones friendlier to Washington.

The coronavirus pandemic has brought a reversal of fortune for Cuban medical diplomacy, as doctors have flown off on new missions to battle coronavirus (COVID-19) in at least 14 countries, including Italy and the tiny principality of Andorra on the Spanish-French border, burnishing the island’s international image in the middle of a global crisis.

“I am aware of the position of the United States, but we are a sovereign country and we can choose the partners with which we are going to have cooperation,” Andorran Foreign Minister Marţa Ubach said.

In the city of Crema in the hard-hit Lombardy region of northern Italy, 52 Cuban doctors and nurses set up a field hospital with 32 beds equipped with oxygen and three ICU beds.

Symbolic moment

“This is a strongly symbolic moment because the Crema hospital has been going through an extremely complicated situation from the start,” Lombardy’s top social welfare official, Giulio Gallera, said at the inauguration last week. “The number of patients who have filled and continue to fill the emergency room and departments has truly put the medical personnel to a hard test.”

The U.S. has sought to cut off income to Cuba as part of a tightening of sanctions. And it continues to discourage countries from contracting Cuban medical workers despite the pandemic.

“The government of Cuba keeps most of the salary its doctors and nurses earn while serving in its international medical missions while exposing them to egregious labour conditions,” the State Department said on Twitter last week. “Host countries seeking Cuba’s help for COVID-19 should scrutinize agreements and end labour abuses.”

Cuba currently has about 37,000 medical workers in 67 countries, most in longstanding missions.

The most recent deployments of at least 593 doctors have also been to Suriname, Jamaica, Dominica, Belize, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Kitts and Nevis, Venezuela and Nicaragua, some of them reinforcing existing medical missions.

All have been billed as tied to the coronavirus epidemic, even though some of the countries have few confirmed cases so far. None of the agreements or financial terms have been made public.

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