Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The Cubans are coming! The Cubans are coming! Card Carrying Communists infiltrated into our heartland by Fidel and Dilma! They will care for and perhaps even cure the poor of Brazil! How dare they?
The Brazilian medical establishment are up in arms. Some cry “they don’t have work permits”. Others cry “they’re slave labor” because FiDilma won’t pay them a living wage. Others cry “they don’t speak Portuguese” and others ask “how do we know they’re competent just because they’ve been practicing medicine for ten or twenty years?”
The medical establishment knows better. They know that Cuba’s standard of living is superior to that of Brazil’s rural North and Northeast, at least with respect to medical care: poor rural Cubans lead far healthier lives than poor rural Brazilians. They also know that in Cuba, doctors have long had to face working conditions that are at least as challenging as those facing doctors in rural Brazil — high tech equipment is no more available there than here.
Language? The Cubans have long been exporting doctors to Portuguese speaking countries in Africa — Angola and Mozambique come instantly to mind — so lots of Cuban doctors have some familiarity with the Portuguese language. Even if they don’t, any moderately intelligent professional knowing Spanish will have no difficulty at all learning professional Portuguese.
Cuisine? Cuba is much closer to the poorer parts of Brazil than Curitiba or Cubatão. “Cuban food” in Miami is black beans, rice, yucca, a little pork and some plantains — sound familiar? Religion? African animist religions are widespread in both Cuba and Brazil. Changó is Xangó, Yemayá is Yemanjá, Santeria is Candomblé; millions of Cubans and Brazilians understand this language.
Labor rights? Are “enslaved” Cuban doctors forced to work abroad? Besides getting lodging and food paid for by the Brazilian government, these doctors will be paid a wage by the Cuban government that may be small, but is larger than what they earn working in Cuba.
The Curmudgeon was a Peace Corps Volunteer in rural Pernambuco, first in the sugar cane zone. He lived and worked with poor people, he sat in on Xangó sessions in the hillside slum he lived in, he ate rice and beans and pepper. He learned Portuguese and tried to help people cope with a feudal society, where they were serfs. He was paid the equivalent of US$50 per month in Brazilian currency by the U.S. Government, and another US$75 was put aside in the States awaiting his return. He was not enslaved.
The Brazilian government, from 1967 to 1989, had a similar program called “Projeto Rondon” where Brazilian university student volunteers from the wealthy southern states were sent to work for six months in public projects in the poor North and Northeast, including public health projects. They earned next to nothing, but had room and board paid for by the government. They were not enslaved.
The facts are: (1) Brazilian doctors will not work with the poor where they live; (2) Cuban doctors will; (3) Cuban doctors are better qualified to deal with Brazil’s rural poor than most Brazilian doctors.
The Brazilian medical establishment know all these facts, but are in denial. Their opposition to “Mais Médicos” is entirely unethical and, in the end, will prove unsuccessful.
Michael Royster, aka THE CURMUDGEON first saw Rio forty-plus years ago, fetched up on these shores exactly 36 years ago, still loves it, notwithstanding being a charter member of the most persecuted minority in (North) America today, the WASPs (google it!)(get over it!)