HAVANA - Cuba announced Wednesday it will pull thousands of its doctors out of Brazil in response to President-elect Jair Bolsonaro’s “direct, contemptuous and threatening” remarks about its medical aid program.
The far-right leader repeatedly criticized the communist-run island’s “More Doctors” program — which sends thousands of Cuban doctors to work in deprived areas of Brazil — and said his government would introduce changes.
“In the light of this unfortunate reality, the Ministry of Public Health of Cuba has decided to discontinue its participation,” a statement released by the ministry said.
Bolsonaro has been scathing about Cuba’s program, saying the doctors received only a quarter of what Brazil was paying the Cuban government for their services. He said his government would individually hire doctors who wanted to remain in the country.
The Cuban health ministry said Bolsonaro had “questioned the qualification of our doctors and has conditioned their permanence in the program to a process of validation” of their qualifications.
The program has been underway since August 2013, and since then nearly 20,000 Cuban doctors have treated 113.5 million Brazilians, according to the ministry.
In the strongly worded statement, Cuba said the conditions being imposed by Bolsonaro — who takes office on Jan. 1 — were “unacceptable.”
It blasted Bolsonaro’s “decision to bring into question the dignity, professionalism and altruism of Cuban cooperation workers” who it said were currently serving in 67 countries.
The Brazilian people “recognized their virtues,” the health ministry said, and knew who should be “held responsible for our doctors not being able to continue offering their fraternal contribution in that country.”
Cuba’s “white-coat diplomacy” was begun under Fidel Castro after the 1959 revolution, and has grown to become the island’s main source of foreign earnings, estimated at about $11 billion a year.
Cuban media reported this week that Havana is sending 500 more doctors to crisis-wracked Venezuela.