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More medics join ICC 'slavery' case against Cuba

1 min 39Approximate reading time

Hundreds more Cuban medics have joined a case against Havana at the International Criminal Court, accusing the government of submitting its overseas medical corps to "slavery", an NGO said on Tuesday.

The medical corps, a flagship initiative started in the 1960s, is one of the Cuban government's most lucrative sources of income and employs thousands of professionals in dozens of countries.

But the lawsuit accuses former president Raul Castro and current leader Miguel Diaz-Canel of crimes against humanity for running a programme that acts as a form of modern slavery.

The Cuban Prisoners Defenders (CPD) advocacy group and a political group called the Cuban Patriotic Union filed the case in May 2019, initially including 110 testimonies by doctors.

But last month hundreds more joined the case, which now counts the testimonies of 622 doctors, the CPD said.

Speaking in Madrid, CPD president Dr Javier Larrondo said the doctors had given accounts that were "identical or very similar" showing they had suffered from "slavery".

Last year, Luis Almagro, secretary general of the Organization of American States, described the medical corps programme as "a system of modern slavery".

It involved "tens of thousands of people who are forced to live abroad without knowing where they are going next, whose passports are confiscated, who are controlled by intelligence agents and have most of their earnings confiscated by the Cuban government", he said.

Dr Manoreys Rojas, a trauma specialist, told reporters that since giving up his position in Ecuador in 2015, he had not been allowed back to see his family in Cuba and was even refused entry when his daughter attempted suicide in 2018.

"I have tried to see them in various different ways and I've not been able to," he said, fighting back tears.

The case, which has been shrugged off by Havana, centres on Cuba's decades-old tradition of "medical diplomacy" in which teams of medical professionals, mostly doctors, are sent to work abroad for three-year periods during which most of their salaries are paid directly to the Cuban government.

A cornerstone of Cuban foreign policy, the programme is the island's most important source of income bringing in $11 billion in revenue between 2011 and 2015 -- outstripping money earned from foreign remittance, tourism and nickel exports.

But that income has dropped in recent years largely because of the crisis in Venezuela, where more than 20,000 medics had been working, and Havana's decision to cancel the programme in Brazil following the rise of far-right president Jair Bolsonaro.

Created in 1963, the medical corps was one of the flagship initiatives of the revolution led by the late Fidel Castro. By the end of 2018, there were 34,000 professionals working in 66 countries under the scheme.

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