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    Exported to Venezuela, miserable Cuban doctors clamor to get into U.S.

    Exported to Venezuela, miserable Cuban doctors clamor to get into U.S.
    By CHRIS KRAUL

    – At the current rate, more than 1,500 Cuban healthcare workers will be
    admitted to the U.S. this year
    – Cuba keeps 10,000 healthcare providers in Venezuela in part to pay for oil
    – One Cuban doctor in Venezuela describes workload as ‘crushing’

    Worsening conditions in Venezuela are causing increasing numbers of
    Cuban medical personnel working there to immigrate to the United States
    under a special program that expedites their applications, according to
    Colombian officials who help process many of the refugees.

    On Wednesday, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in
    Washington said the number of Cuban doctors, nurses, optometrists and
    medical technicians applying for U.S. visas under the Cuban Medical
    Professional Parole Program is running as much as 50% ahead of last
    year’s pace, which was nearly double that of the year before.

    At the current rate, more than 1,500 Cuban healthcare workers will be
    admitted to the United States this year.

    For geographical reasons, neighboring Colombia is a favored trampoline
    for Cubans fleeing Venezuela, whose leftist government has struggled to
    rein in runaway inflation, shortages of goods and services and rising
    social unrest.

    Cuba, which prides itself on a comprehensive healthcare system and has
    long exported doctors and nurses to friendly countries, maintains an
    estimated 10,000 healthcare providers in Venezuela. The medical outreach
    program is intended as partial payment for 100,000 barrels of oil that
    President Nicolas Maduro’s government ships to the Castro administration
    each day.

    Nelia, a 29-year-old general practitioner from Santiago de Cuba, arrived
    in Bogota last month after what she said was a nightmarish year working
    in Venezuela’s Barrio Adentro program in the city of Valencia. She
    declined to disclose her last name for fear of reprisal back home.

    Nelia said her disillusionment started on her arrival in Caracas’
    Maiquetia airport in mid-2013. She and several colleagues waited there
    for two days, sometimes sleeping in chairs, before authorities assigned
    her to a clinic in Valencia, she said.

    “It was all a trick. They tell you how great it’s going to be, how you
    will able to buy things and how grateful Venezuelans are to have you.
    Then comes the shock of the reality,” Nelia said. Her clinic in Valencia
    had no air conditioning and much of the ultrasound equipment she was
    supposed to use to examine pregnant women was broken.

    She described the workload as “crushing.” Instead of the 15 to 18
    procedures a day she performed in Cuba, she did as many as 90 in
    Venezuela, she said. Crime is rampant, the pay is an abysmal $20 per
    month and Cubans are caught in the middle of Venezuela’s civil unrest,
    which pits followers of the late President Hugo Chavez — whose
    handpicked successor is Maduro — against more conservative,
    market-oriented forces.

    “The Chavistas want us there and the opposition does not. And there are
    more opposition people than Chavistas,” said Nelia, who was interviewed
    in a Colombian immigration office in Bogota.

    A 32-year-old Cuban optometrist who identified himself as Manuel and who
    also fled Venezuela to apply for U.S. residency said that at his clinic
    in Merida he was prescribing and grinding up to 120 pairs of eyeglasses
    a day, triple his pace in Cuba.

    “As a professional you want to be paid for what your work is worth. What
    we were getting, $20 a month, was not enough to pay even for food and
    transportation, much less a telephone call to Cuba now and then,” Manuel
    said. “That’s the main reason I want to go to Miami, to earn what I’m
    worth.”

    Cubans have long had favored status as U.S. immigrants. Virtually any
    Cuban is guaranteed automatic residency and a path to citizenship simply
    by setting foot on U.S. territory, legally or not. The Cuban Medical
    Professional Parole Program gives medical personnel a leg up by allowing
    them to apply for residency at U.S. embassies.

    Though some Cubans apply at the U.S. Embassy in Caracas, the Venezuelan
    capital, others say they fear being seen there. Also, airfare to the
    United States from Colombia is much cheaper than from Venezuela.

    The increasing flow of Cuban doctors is only part of a rising tide of
    Cubans seeking to reach the United States, many through Colombia.
    Lacking the special status of medical personnel, many U.S.-bound Cubans
    first land in Ecuador, where the government requires no visas. They then
    typically pass through Colombia to Panama with the help of coyotes, or
    human traffickers. However, many are detained in Colombia.

    Of 1,006 illegal immigrants detained in Colombia from January through
    July of this year for failing to have proper visas, 42% were Cuban,
    according to Colombia’s immigration agency director, Sergio Bueno
    Aguirre. The flow of Cubans had more than doubled from the year before.

    One Colombian Foreign Ministry official who spoke on condition of
    anonymity because of the political sensitivity said the U.S. policy of
    allowing Cubans immigrant status simply by arriving in the United States
    has fed organized crime in Colombia and in other transit countries.

    “Coyotes helping the Cubans transit through Colombia often use the
    migrants to carry drugs or submit to prostitution,” the official said.
    “Or the coyotes will just abandon them at a border, creating a big
    headache for the Colombian government, which has to take care of them or
    send them back home.”

    Kraul is a special correspondent.

    Source: Exported to Venezuela, miserable Cuban doctors clamor to get
    into U.S. – LA Times –
    http://www.latimes.com/world/mexico-americas/la-fg-venezuela-cuba-doctors-20140911-story.html

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