HAVANA (AP) — For two years the Trump administration has been trying to stamp out one of Cuba’s signature programs —— state-employed medical workers treating patients around the globe in a show of soft power that also earns billions in badly needed hard currency.
Labeling the doctors and nurses as both exploited workers and agents of communist indoctrination, the U.S. has notched a series of victories as Brazil, Ecuador and Bolivia sent home thousands after leftist governments allied with Havana were replaced with ones friendlier to Washington.
The Coronavirus pandemic has brought a reversal of fortune for Cuban medical diplomacy, as doctors have flown off on new missions to battle COVID-19 in at least 14 countries including Italy and the tiny principality of Andorra on the Spanish-French border, burnishing the island’s international image in the middle of a global crisis.
“I am aware of the position of the United States, but we are a sovereign country and we can choose the partners with which we are going to have cooperation,” Andorran Foreign Minister María Ubach said.
The Trump administration has sought to cut off income to Havana as part of a long-term tightening of sanctions. And it continues to discourage countries from contracting Cuban medical workers despite the pandemic, arguing that their pay and conditions fall short of industry standards.
Cuba currently has about 37,000 medical workers in 67 countries, most in longstanding missions. Some doctors have been sent as part of free aid missions, but many countries pay the government directly for their services. In some other cases international health bodies have paid.