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Video: Cuban Doctors Defection Comes at a Price

Cuba has been sending doctors abroad to support friendly governments and earn cash. But what happens when they don't want to go back?


The Wall Street Journal's Joel Millman reports on Cuba's program of sending doctors abroad as missionaries—and the doctors' attempts to stay abroad for good:

Cuba has been sending medical "brigades" to foreign countries since 1973, helping it to win friends abroad, to back "revolutionary" regimes in places like Ethiopia, Angola, and Nicaragua, and perhaps most importantly, to earn hard currency. Communist Party newspaper Granma reported in June that Cuba had 37,041 doctors and other health workers in 77 countries. Estimates of what Cuba earns from its medical teams—revenue that Cuba's central bank counts as "exports of services"—vary widely, running to as much as $8 billion a year. Many Cubans complain that the brigades have undermined Cuba's ability to maintain a high standard of health care at home


And even though Cuba lets 20,000 people emigrate annually, doctors rarely get permission to leave. Still, almost 1,600 doctors have defected since 2006 as a result of:

The little-known Cuban Medical Professional Parole immigration program, which allows Cuban doctors and some other health workers who are serving their government overseas to enter the U.S. immediately as refugees. Data released to The Wall Street Journal under the Freedom of Information Act shows that, through Dec. 16, 1,574 CMPP visas have been issued by U.S. consulates in 65 countries.


The video tells the story of one Cuban doctor working in Gambia who took nine months to escape and now lives in Florida. His wife and child are still in Cuba and she lost her job at a hospital as a result of being blacklisted for five years because of his defection. Another downside is that, without their medical records and certifications (held by the Cuban government), Cuban doctors in the United States can only work as nurses or surgical assistants.

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