Communist Cuba Enslaves Physicians

Havana sends them abroad, steals their wages, and forces them to act as spies.

What do you call a system that combines slavery with espionage? In Communist Cuba, you call it humanitarian aid. For decades Havana has sent tens of thousands of doctors abroad as a supposed sign of goodwill, only to steal their income and use some as unwilling spies. Fortunately, more nations are rejecting Cuba’s “help.”

After toppling socialist dictator Evo Morales in November, Bolivia expelled more than 700 Cuban doctors, accusing them of fomenting protests demanding Mr. Morales’s return to power. Ecuador moved to evict the 400 or so Cuban doctors within its borders a few days earlier. One doctor said she and her colleagues received only a third of their promised salaries, with Havana keeping the rest. She also said Cuban authorities forced them to “send messages of support to the revolution.”

In late 2018, incoming Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro demanded that Cuba allow the more than 8,500 doctors in his country to bring their families and collect their full salary, which was paid for by Brazilian taxpayers. Havana soon recalled the doctors. A year before, at least 150 Cuban doctors in Brazil filed lawsuits detailing their mistreatment. One said, “There comes a time when you get tired of being a slave.”

More than 60 nations still participate in Cuba’s doctor program, with official and unofficial estimates ranging from 29,000 to 50,000 “health professionals” across Africa, the Middle East, the Pacific and elsewhere.

It’s unknown how many doctors are tasked with espionage, but it is evident how much money they make Havana. Most host countries pay Cuba directly, giving the Communist nation some $11 billion annually. The regime takes an average of 75% of their promised salaries, rising to 90% or more in wealthier nations. In some cases, international bodies like the Pan-American Heath Organization abet this theft by brokering Cuba’s deals.

Not all countries pay Havana in cash; Venezuela pays with oil. Cuban doctors there reported being forced to withhold critical medical care until close to the 2018 presidential election, so that Nicolás Maduro’s regime could take credit. Others went to poor communities and warned that medicine would be cut off if Mr. Maduro or his allies lost.

The doctors are coerced into silence. Havana effectively treats their families as hostages. That so many are speaking out anyway shows how much they resent their inhumane and immoral treatment.

The Trump administration should persistently and loudly urge other nations to follow the example of Bolivia, Ecuador and Brazil and end their participation in the communist slave-trade spy ring. The U.S. should also re-establish the Cuban Medical Parole program, which President Obama ended as he left office. It allowed Cuban doctors who defect to obtain U.S. visas quickly, weakening the oppressive regime while giving doctors a fast track to freedom.

The dissident doctors’ bravery should inspire the rest of us to action. Cuba’s flagship humanitarian aid program is dangerous, dehumanizing and downright evil, and it demands to be stopped.

Mr. Smith is executive director of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.

Originally published in The Wall Street Journal.