Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Secret cable: Venezuelans harass, strip search some Cuban medical workers

This cable discusses Venezuela's treatment of Cuban medical personnel.

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FM AMEMBASSY CARACAS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0463
INFO EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE
WESTERN HEMISPHERIC AFFAIRS DIPL POSTS
RHEHNSC/WHITE HOUSE NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC
RHMFISS/HQ USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 CARACAS 000187

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HQSOUTHCOM ALSO FOR POLAD
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AMEMBASSY BERLIN PASS TO AMCONSUL LEIPZIG
AMEMBASSY ATHENS PASS TO AMCONSUL THESSALONIKI
AMEMBASSY BRIDGETOWN PASS TO AMEMBASSY GRENADA
AMEMBASSY OTTAWA PASS TO AMCONSUL QUEBEC
AMEMBASSY BRASILIA PASS TO AMCONSUL RECIFE

E.O. 12958: DECL: 2020/02/12
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PREL KDEM CU VE
SUBJECT: Increased Harassment of Approved Cuban Medical Parolees

REF: 09 CARACAS 1374; 09 CARACAS 442

CLASSIFIED BY: Robin D. Meyer, Political Counselor, DOS, POL; REASON:
1.4(B), (D)

¶1. (C) Summary: Harassment of Cuban Medical parolees has
increased significantly since December 2009. Recent media
coverage has exacerbated difficulties experienced by parolees
attempting to exit Venezuela. These Cuban medical professionals
who staff President Chavez's flagship medical service program for
the poor, Barrio Adentro, report that they inflate their patient
numbers and are required to conduct political work. Cubans who
have abandoned their Barrio Adentro clinics find it difficult to
legalize their presence and benefit from basic services. Most
parolees do make it out of Venezuela, but some undergo a harrowing
ordeal before being able to exit. End Summary.

HARASSMENT OF CUBAN MEDICAL PAROLEES

¶2. (C) In the last two months, Cubans approved for humanitarian
parole through the Cuban Medical Professionals Program (CMPP) at
Embassy Caracas have experienced increased difficulty leaving
Venezuela through the MaiquetC-a (Caracas) airport. Almost all
experience some sort of harassment, ranging from passports being
confiscated to physical and verbal abuse. Many of those who are
allowed to board their flights to Miami are only able to do so
after paying sizeable bribes (generally $700-$1000) to Venezuelan
immigration officials or Cuban officials who are said to be working
at the airport. From 2009-2010, more than 20 parolees have been
detained for extensive questioning, which has reportedly included
verbal and physical abuse, confiscation of official and regular
passports, strip search, and threats of deportation. Most of those
Cubans detained are not allowed to proceed to their flights.
However, there have been no reports of these parolees actually
being deported to Cuba, and they have all been released after
several hours of detention. In fact, most parolees eventually make
it out on a subsequent attempt.

MEDIA COVERAGE MAKES IT WORSE

¶3. (C) The problem has been exacerbated by January 2010 news
coverage of the CMPP in U.S., Venezuelan, and Colombian media
outlets. Harassment has increased significantly since the first
article was published in the Miami Herald on January 7 and was
subsequently picked up by Globovision and other media outlets in
Venezuela. Some CMP parolees have chosen to transfer their cases
to Colombia rather than take the risk of leaving via Venezuela.
Others have simply traveled to Colombia and departed using the
travel documents issued in Caracas. Since 2009, 10 of those unable
to fly have crossed the border to Colombia and have flown to Miami
from BogotC!. There are no reports of harassment once parolees are
in Colombia.

FAKE STATISTICS AND POLITICAL WORK

¶4. (C) Post collected the following anecdotal evidence recounting
the difficulties applicants encounter during and after the mission.
While in the mission, applicants live off a very a meager stipend
(967 Bolivares Fuertes per month, approximately $372 USD at the
official exchange rate) and work six days a week. Doctors are
required to see 50-70 patients daily, a number unattainable for
most doctors who, in reality, average 10-20 patients. Almost all
applicants claim they are forced to doctor their statistics to meet
these requirements. Many applicants also describe mandatory
political work, especially around elections, when applicants are
instructed to read propaganda in clinics and gather potential
voters. In addition, they are often required to staff politically
charged health drives on Sundays. (Note: Some Venezuelans have
accused Barrio Adentro of being primarily a political program. See
Ref A for more details. End Note.)

CUBANS' PLIGHT AFTER ABANDONING THE MISSIONS

CARACAS 00000187 002 OF 002

¶5. (C) Applicants encounter severe difficulties once they abandon
the mission. At this point, the applicants are considered illegal
immigrants and are subject to deportation. Most find it difficult
to ever legalize their stay in Venezuela or benefit from basic
services. One applicant gave birth the day after her parole was
accepted but has been unable to get a Venezuelan passport for her
child. Officials told her that they are forbidden to give passports
to "deserters." Other Cubans have not been able to legally marry in
Venezuela. While there is no confirmed deportation of a parolee, an
applicant was recently sent back to Cuba as a precautionary measure
when his girlfriend abandoned the mission.

CMPP NUMBERS TO DATE

¶6. (C) From 2006 to 2007, 497 Cubans applied for parole through
the CMPP at Embassy Caracas. 407 of those applicants were approved,
70 were denied, and 8 cases are still pending. In 2008, there were
201 applicants, 154 approvals, 28 denials, and 8 cases are still
pending. In 2009, Embassy Caracas received 237 applications, 161
of which were approved, 36 denied, and 40 still pending. There have
not been any approvals or denials yet in 2010. Since Post began to
use YY foils instead of transportation letters in March 2009 (due
to fraud concerns), 277 of such foils have been issued. It
should be noted that the vast majority of our approved CMPP
applicants actually do successfully leave Venezuela. Most
successfully leave on their first attempt flying out of Venezuela
with a visa foil or travel letter. Those that are initially
detained have apparently often been able to bribe their way out on
a subsequent attempt. The rest, as noted above, have made the trek
to Colombia and been able to get on a flight to Miami.

¶7. (C) COMMENT: Post generally receives CMPP approvals in large
batches. Given the parole requirements of traveling within 21 days
of YY foil issuance, many parolees attempt to exit Venezuela during
the same time period. This creates a situation whereby these
applicants will travel in waves. Post is unaware whether
harassment is the result of deliberate Government of the Bolivarian
Republic of Venezuela (GBRV) guidance or based on the actions of
individual immigration officers. Certainly, the recent publicity
about Cuban doctors bribing Venezuelan and Cuban officials has put
an unwelcome spotlight on the program. Yet it does seem clear that
the GBRV does not yet systematically attempt to detain all
parolees. Finally, the information provided by the applicants
during the interview process appears to corroborate claims from
many Venezuelans that the Barrio Adentro program is as focused on
political propaganda as it is on improving health.
DUDDY

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