VOC Spurs Uruguay’s Elimination of Cuban Medical Brigades Program
The Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation (VOC), along with our partners and allies, are making a lot of progress in Uruguay fighting the Cuban regime’s human trafficking and forced labor schemes. We have been advocating for and taking legal action in favor of the Cuban citizens exploited in the country under the façade of medical brigades. As a result, Uruguay’s Ministry of Social Development (MIDES) chose not to renew the contract it had with the Cuban government and investigations are currently underway that might lead to criminal prosecutions.
From 2005 to present, there were two medical brigades from Cuba operating in Uruguay: one working on ophthalmological health and the other on prostheses. We are delighted to inform you that Uruguay terminated the prosthesis contract last week. It was the smaller contract comprising of five Cubans. We estimate there are about 20 remaining Cubans in the “Hospital de Ojos,” and we are seeking the termination of that contract, too.
In 2019, Cuba Archive, Global Liberty Alliance (GLA), and VOC started to discuss where to focus our limited resources and efforts to seek the termination of abusive contracts between Latin American countries and the Cuban regime. We decided to prioritize countries where we could have the most impact supporting the human rights of Cuban citizens exploited under the human trafficking and forced labor schemes of Cuba’s communist medical brigades. Uruguay was selected because there is a rule of law, the executive is not allied to the Cuban regime, and we have good contacts across both civil society and elected officials.
VOC requested that Cuba Archive produce a report about the Cuban medical brigades in Uruguay to assess the situation. This report is available here. We found that Cuba’s communist medical brigades in Uruguay have been penetrating Uruguay since 2005, which was facilitated by the rise to power of the center-left coalition “Frente Amplio.” Formal agreements have been in place since 2008, and they were renewed in 2018.
These medical brigades in Uruguay follow the same business model implemented in other Latin American countries: they serve propaganda purposes, support local political and communist allies, and are used to spy on the targeted countries while making a profit violating the doctors’ human and labor rights. Additionally, in Uruguay, they were used to justify the cancelation of Cuba’s $50 million USD debt with Uruguay.
In April 2020, a GLA local lawyer recruited by VOC filed a request under Uruguayan legislation, the Right to Access Public Information law, which produced useful records about the contracts between Cuba and Uruguay’s Ministry of Social Development (MIDES). We obtained government communications and nearly 100 pages of documents related to the contracts (see here). In July 2020, this GLA lawyer used the collected information to build a case and filed a complaint (see here) with Uruguay’s National Institute of Human Rights and Ombudsman Office, which is an independent legal entity dedicated to protect human rights.
However, the case stalled, because no Cuban doctor serving in the brigades have come forward to testify. VOC continued to reach out to Cuban victims and has organized — in collaboration with local partners — sessions providing in-person and online trainings in Montevideo, Uruguay. Both the online and in-person legal assistance provided the Cuban doctors with information on how to obtain or renew a legal residence in Uruguay, how to legally practice medicine once their legal status was achieved, and more importantly, information about rights, labor rights, and mechanisms to protect and remedy human rights violations. Finally, the GLA local legal team offered them pro-bono representation in case they decide to step forward to join a lawsuit against perpetrators of human rights violations.
Unfortunately, none of the victims have decided to step forward yet. Some victims informed the local team that they are afraid that if they speak up, they will face retaliation, including not being able to ever return to Cuba, and reprisals against their families. Without victims willing to denounce the human rights violations in Uruguay, the only alternative was to submit an administrative petition to the Presidency of Uruguay. Thus, in November 2020, the GLA local team submitted a legal complaint to the Presidency of Uruguay. This complaint detailed the alleged human rights violations under Uruguayan law.
VOC’s advocacy consultant and a GLA local lawyer have been meeting with Uruguayan legislators to inform them about these issues. As a result, some legislators officially requested information about the Cuba’s communist medical brigade from the government agencies involved. In parallel, VOC engaged with the U.S. Ambassador to the OAS, Carlos Trujillo, and activist Rosa María Payá to further this advocacy efforts through their contacts with Uruguayan authorities and civil society.
In October 2020, the Uruguayan government announced that they would closely monitor the cash transfers related to the Cuba’s communist medical brigades. Whereas before the Banco de Previsión Social was transferring $250,000 USD annually to the Cuban regime without an audit, the government assigned the responsibility to a new bank with the mandate to ensure accountability. The new bank will demand all receipts, and although the Cuban regime might be able to keep most of the funds and submit fake receipts, this safeguard could force direct payments to the Cuban doctors (see here).
In July 2021, the GLA lawyer filed a complaint with the Attorney General’s office in Uruguay regarding Uruguay’s continued exploitation of forced labor via Cuban medical brigades (see here).
In July 2021, MIDES’ Minister, Martín Lema, presented a claim to the Cuban embassy in Uruguay for alleged contract breaches (see here). In August 2021, MIDES informed the media that the prosthesis contract was terminated. This is a big success, because although it was the smallest contract, it is symbolic and opens the door for termination of the bigger contract, the ophthalmological brigade, at the “Hospital de Ojos.”
VOC is exploring all possible options to advocate for ending the Cuban regime’s medical brigades in Uruguay. More importantly, VOC is working to ensure that the Cuban victims’ rights are protected. VOC is advocating for Uruguay to terminate the larger contract and offer protection to the exploited Cuban medical personnel, allowing them to legally stay and work in Uruguay. Additionally, they should be able to bring their families to Uruguay if they so choose.
29,500 Eliecer Avila: https://youtu.be/LOMqckROtyw