More than a decade ago, Venezuela spun a Faustian compact with the Cuban government. It was the beginning of an opportunistic and somewhat brilliant agreement between the two. Cuba, which didn’t have much by way of natural resources to export, found something else it could use as trade fodder. Doctors. That’s right, doctors. The era of medical diplomacy was officially under way, or as it has come to be known universally, the “doctors-for-oil deal.”
The Cuban economy had been in a perpetual chokehold since the collapse of the Soviet Union. It was a chokehold that could only be undone by the generosity of a fool. Enter Hugo Chávez. The English proverb that states “a fool and his money are soon parted” must have been written with Chávez in mind.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in Washington reports that the number of Cuban doctors, nurses, optometrists and medical technicians applying for U.S. visas under the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program is running 50 percent ahead of last year's pace, which was nearly double that of the year before.
Back in 2003, Chávez began sending Cuba more than 100,000 barrels of oil a day. In exchange, Cuba has sent Venezuela more than 30,000 doctors and other medical professionals. You don’t have to be an MIT economist to figure out that what proved to be a great deal for Cuba was not exactly a boon to Venezuela.
Fast forward to 2014 and not only is Venezuela’s economy spinning out of control, but so is the plan for medical diplomacy. Cuban doctors are leaving Venezuela, abandoning their posts and arriving in Miami at a clip that will see more than 1,500 arrive in the United States this year.
Uncle Sam is opening his arms and welcoming the trained medical officials with a special program to expedite their applications to come here. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in Washington reports that the number of Cuban doctors, nurses, optometrists and medical technicians applying for U.S. visas under the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program is running 50 percent ahead of last year's pace, which was nearly double that of the year before.
Why are Cuban doctors leaving? The answers are plentiful. First off, the pay is miserable – $20 dollars a month. That’s right, a doctor makes $20 dollars a month. Then there’s the crime in Caracas, which is rampant in most neighborhoods including those where the Cuban doctors with their meager earnings are forced to live.
Doctors also complain about the workload. Whereas in Cuba they would do 20 procedures a day, in Venezuela they are forced to do as many as 90 to 100. Add to that the fact that Venezuela is now a divided country plagued by civil unrest, and what you have is a recipe for dissatisfaction, even among the most ardent Marxist revolutionary believers who are seen as interlopers by those who oppose the Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro.
Venezuela’s social experiment is failing in large measure because of foolhardy economic decisions, one of which was the doctors-for-oil pact. The irony is that now the Cuban doctors are paying the price. But like water from a leaky roof and like the hundreds of thousands of Cuban immigrants who left before them, these doctors will find their way into the home created by other Castro cast-offs.
That’s right. Cuba’s doctors will soon end up, by way of Venezuela and the Bolivarian revolution, right smack in the middle of Miami, USA.