Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Secret 2009 document: Cuban doctors fleeing Venezuela

This cable says many Cuban doctors want out of Venezuela.

VZCZCXRO0951
PP RUEHAG RUEHROV
DE RUEHCV #0442/01 0962149
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
P 062149Z APR 09
FM AMEMBASSY CARACAS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 2870
INFO RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHWH/WESTERN HEMISPHERIC AFFAIRS DIPL POSTS PRIORITY
RUEHBO/AMEMBASSY BOGOTA PRIORITY 7971
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEHUB/USINT HAVANA PRIORITY 1045
RUMIAAA/HQ USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL PRIORITY

S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 CARACAS 000442

SIPDIS

HQSOUTHCOM ALSO FOR POLAD
EMBASSY BOGOTA FOR REF CORD (SHIGGINS)
DEPARTMENT PASS TO AID/OTI (RPORTER)
DEPARTMENT PASS TO G/TIP (BFLECK)

E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/03/2034
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PREL KTIP VE CU
SUBJECT: CUBAN MEDICAL PERSONNEL FLEE VENEZUELA

CARACAS 00000442 001.2 OF 003

Classified By: Political Counselor Francisco Fernandez,
Reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

¶1. (C) Summary: Embassy Caracas notes a significant number
of Cuban medical personnel applying to be paroled into the
United States under the Significant Public Benefit Parole
(SPBP) for Cuban Medical Professionals outside of Cuba
(CMPP). During Consular Section interviews in March, Cuban
Medical personnel affiliated with Chavez's Barrio Adentro
program complained of poor working conditions, inadequate
medical supplies, and of constantly being watched and
monitored by coworkers. As result of the Government of the
Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (GBRV) clamp down on Cubans
attempting to flee the island through Venezuela, recent
asylum seekers have complained of having difficulty in
exiting Venezuela and being forced to pay exorbitant bribes
to GBRV officials when attempting to leave the country
en-route to Miami. End Summary.

-----------------------------
CUBANS DOCTORS FLEE VENEZUELA
-----------------------------

¶2. (S) The Consular Section at US Embassy Caracas began
accepting applications for SPBP on August 18, 2006. To date,
the Embassy has received paperwork and forwarded to the
Department of Homeland Security (DHS) applications for 739
Cuban asylum seekers, of which 69% or 510 were approved, 91
were denied and 138 are pending. Since February of 2009, DHS
has notified Post that 73 Cuban Medical Personnel Program
(CMPP) applicants have been approved for parole through the
CMPP.

¶3. (S) In 2006 and 2007 Embassy Caracas facilitated travel
to Miami for program applicants through the issuance of
transportation letters authorizing Cubans to board US bound
aircraft. By October 2007, Venezuelan immigration officials
began refusing to board defecting Cubans on onward flights to
Miami in an unpredictable and ad-hoc manner. To enhance
fraud protection due to insecurity of the travel letter, (one
letter was used by an imposture), Post sought and received CA
approval to issue YY visa foils instead of transportation
letters. Having a visa foil in their passports has
facilitated the departure of most parolees. The Consular
Section began issuing YY visa foils in February 2009 to
approved Cuban Medical Parolees. Of the 73 approved CMPP
applicants in 2009, 43 have been issued YY visa foils, 39
have successfully passed through immigration and boarded
their flight to Miami, and two have confirmed plans to travel
in the near future. Thirty approved applicants have not yet
confirmed travel plans because they currently are unable to
travel, do not have the financial resources to leave
Venezuela, or have been forced to return to Cuba. Two
applicants were unsuccessful in their attempt to leave
Venezuela from the Barcelona (Venezuela) airport. Note: Most
CMPP applicants departing from the Caracas airport have been
successful in boarding their flight to Miami. Following the
approval of parole by DHS, CMPP applicants must enter the US
within 60 days. End Note.

-------------------------------
CUBAN MEDICS CLAIM MISTREATMENT
-------------------------------

¶4. (C) The majority of the CMPP applicants interviewed by
Post were originally conscripted to work in social programs
such as Mission Barrio Adentro, a GBRV sponsored program that
provides health care to city slums and rural communities, or
similar GBRV poverty reduction programs in medicine, sports,
and the arts. In its annual 2008 report, the Caracas based
human rights NGO PROVEA estimated that 14,345 Cuban medical
professionals were originally assigned to work in Venezuela
following the inauguration of Barrio Adentro in December
¶2003. Currently only about 8,500 Cubans are estimated to be
employed in social programs across the country. While some
CMPP applicants told Consular officials they volunteered to
come to Venezuela, many others have complained of being
forced (or directed) by Cuban authorities to work in
Venezuela under President Chavez's social mission programs
for a period of 1-3 years.

¶5. (C) Many CMPP applicants have reported that upon arrival
in Venezuela, Barrio Adentro Mission officials have
confiscated the passports of program participants to prevent
their fleeing the mission. According to one applicant who
was interviewed on January 27, 2009, the coordinator of the
Cuban medical mission (Barrio Adentro 2, Aragua state) had
been holding his and his other colleagues' passports since
April 2008, when another Cuban had abandoned the mission, as
a "means of preventing other desertions." The applicant did
not receive his passport back until he went on a scheduled
vacation in September 2008 to Cuba. Upon his return to
Venezuela in October 2008 he was not required by mission
authorities to turn over his passport a second time. The
CMPP applicant received Significant Public Benefit Parole on
March 2, 2009, was issued a YY visa foil, successfully fled
Venezuela, and arrived in Miami on March 16, 2009.

¶6. (C) During Consular section interviews in March, Cuban
medical personnel affiliated with Chavez's Barrio Adentro
program complained of extremely poor working conditions, low
pay, limited medical supplies, and of constantly being
watched and monitored by co-workers. According to one doctor
who successfully fled on March 10, "All the effort I put into
my work is not recognized by anyone... I am not well paid and
only make 715 BsF (332 USD) a month in Venezuela, I want to
change my life." The doctor told Consular Officers that he
is forced to attend to 250-300 patients a week and "can only
use obsolete and inferior Cuban medicine". A rehabilitation
therapist who successfully fled on March 16 opined, "I feel
politically manipulated. The system is closing my chances
and I want to be a better professional. I have a lack of
equipment and medicine in my job. I want to be a free man.
I want to be a surgeon specialist." On March 30 one CMPP
applicant, who managed to escape his mission for several
hours and was clearly anxious to return before his supervisor
realized he was gone, told Poloff "They are always watching
us, checking in with us at random times, asking what we are
doing and calling us on our cell phones." While noting that
he has not received any physical threats so far during his
time in Venezuela, he commented "It is a psychological battle
that we must endure every day."

----------------------------------------
CORRUPTION, DESPERATION, GBRV CLAMP DOWN
----------------------------------------

¶7. (S) The Government of the Bolivarian Republic of
Venezuela (GBRV) began clamping down on Cubans attempting to
flee the island via Venezuela in 2007. While many applicants
have successfully fled Cuba through Venezuela, others have
been detained upon attempting to depart and presumably
deported to Cuba. Recent asylum seekers have complained of
having to pay exorbitant bribes (usually around 1,000 USD) to
Venezuelan customs officials when attempting to exit the
country en-route to Miami.

¶8. (S) As recently as March 24 a Cuban couple attempted to
board a flight from Barcelona (Venezuela) to Miami after the
US Embassy issued YY visa foils for their onward travel. The
couple paid over 4,600 USD to "a contact" to assist them in
clearing GBRV immigration. After their flight was delayed and
a shift change occurred at the airport, the couple was
questioned by Venezuelan immigration authorities who turned
them over to the National Guard. The military later
contacted Cuban officials. The couple was eventually moved
to a hotel by Cuban "security" and told they would be
deported to Cuba. The CMPP applicants later escaped their
captors and fled to the US Embassy, where a local contact
picked them up and reportedly took them into hiding. The
traumatized couple told US Consular officers the Cuban
"police" who detained them were also "Barrio Adentro Mission
officials". According to the female CMPP applicant, the
"Cuban police" threatened to rape her and beat up her
boyfriend. Note: Recent CMPP applicants have reported to
Consular Officers that after leaving Barrio Adentro,
occasionally some Venezuelans are willing to help Cubans who
are in hiding. Little is known about the individuals who
assist Cuban medical personnel once they abandon Chavez's
"missions." End Note.

¶9. (S) Comment: Due to the risk CMPP applicants have of
being stopped by GBRV authorities prior to boarding Miami
bound aircraft, some Cuban parolees have considered (or are
considering) undertaking a cross border overland trip to
Bogota. While Post does not advise parolees on which route
(if any) is less risky, the issuance of YY visa foils by Post
has reduced the probability of GBRV immigration officials
detecting a parolee prior to his or her departure. Post
believes, however, that it is only a matter of time before
GBRV immigration officials become alert to the YY visa foils
and are able to further tighten the GBRV's clamp down on
Cubans planning to abandon the social missions and flee the
country. With the February approval of 73 applicants by DHS,
(over 25 applicants have been issued YY visa foils in the
past two weeks alone), and more cases pending approval, Post
continues to meet the demand of Cuban medical personnel
hoping to flee Venezuela rather than face the prospect of
returning to Cuba. End Comment.

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