Around 500 Cuban doctors have defected to the United States while serving on aid missions in Venezuela, according to members of Cuban exile groups in Miami. The latest case occurred this week when seven Cuban physicians managed to leave Caracas’ Maiquetia International Airport, after being held there for several hours and after paying hundreds of dollars each to officials.
“The Venezuelan and Cuban officials at Maiquetia systematically subject the doctors who want to leave to psychological pressure until finally they pay bribes,” Cuban doctor Keiler Moreno, who left Caracas five months ago, according to a report from the Spanish news agency Efe.
The bribes can range from 300 to as much as 2,000 US dollars.
Moreno helped several of his colleagues who left Caracas and he waited for them at the Miami airport while they went through legal procedures with U.S. immigration authorities.
“We’re from the same class that graduated in medicine in 2007 and we help each other out,” he added.
Several Catholic associations and the Miami-based organization Solidaridad Sin Fronteras (Solidarity Without Borders) will also provide assistance to the four Cuban men and three women who arrived this week.
Sources with Miami’s massive Cuban exile community say that around 2,000 physicians and other health care personnel have defected since 2006 and requested visas to come to the United States.
Of that number, 500 came through Venezuela and just in the last year, about 200 arrived in Miami.
“I was in Venezuela for eight months and five months ago I arrived in Miami. To be able to leave you have to request an entry visa to the United States at the U.S. Embassy in Caracas. The problem is that the Venezuelan officials don’t give permission to leave. Finally, everything gets resolved with a bribe,” Moreno said.
The 27-year-old physician emphasized that the Cuban and Venezuelan officials put the doctors who want to leave through “psychological torture that can cause panic crises.”
“They’re seeking, specifically, repentance, but if one resists a bit, the bribe does the rest,” he said.
About 45,000 Cuban doctors and other health care workers are participating in Venezuela in the “Barrio Adentro” public health program designed to try and make up for the lack of such personnel in Venezuela.
Although the Cuban doctors who arrive in the United States cannot practice medicine until they get the proper licenses, Dr. Moreno said that they prefer to confront that situation rather than remain in a system plagued by corruption.
The seven Cuban physicians who arrived this week in Miami will remain for several days in the custody of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement until they receive their permits to stay in the country, which will allow them to go through the procedure to acquire residence.