Cuban Doctors in Indentured Servant Limbo in Colombia

Jim Wyss has a shocking story in the Miami Herald  about the sprawling state-sponsored human trafficking ring known as Barrio Adentro, and the Cuban doctors now getting stranded in Bogota as they try to flee indentured servitude in Venezuela.

The stories the Cuban doctors tell tell read like the stories of Eritrean refugees trying to get themselves smuggled into Europe: people punished for sharing a meal with Venezuelan opposition members, women punished for getting pregnant without permission, doctors mercilessly preyed on as they try to make their way to Colombia.

Almost everyone interviewed had stories of being extorted by the police or robbed along the way.

A 27-year-old dentist, who did not want to be named, said Colombian guards stripped him naked and robbed him of 70,000 pesos, or about $38 — all the money he had.

“People are taking advantage of us every step of the way,” he said.

Pérez said that Cubans streaming across the border are so commonplace that people are waiting for them. “We’re being hunted,” he said.

While some of the health workers said they had planned to abandon their posts, others said they felt they had no choice.

Annie Rodriguez, a 29-year-old rehabilitation specialist, was sent to the Venezuelan town of Ospino, about 240 miles southwest of the capital. There, she shared a room with three other doctors. They put up a cardboard wall for privacy from their male roommates.

“The house had a dirt floor, there wasn’t a kitchen or a bathroom,” she said. “When it flooded we’d have to put our luggage on the bed.”

In April 2014, she discovered she was pregnant — a violation of her contract. It meant she would be sent back to the island and stripped of the salary that had been deposited for her there.

She borrowed money from her mother and finally made it to the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá seven months pregnant. On Dec. 9, however, her asylum request was rejected. She said the shock of the news sent her into labor.

“Ever since then I’ve stayed here in Colombia because I don’t have any options,” she said, as she held her 8-month-old daughter, Wilbelys Antonella. “I can’t go back to Venezuela or Cuba.”

She’s been relying on friends and family to help pay her monthly $180 rent.

Pérez, who had done tours of Venezuela in 2004 and 2011, said he was also “forced to abandon” his post.

Internacionalistas are given modest stipends but the bulk of their salary is held in Cuba. When they’re sent home early — as Pérez himself was being threatened with — they’re denied even those modest savings. Without that money, there was nothing to go home to, he said.

Why the U.S. government is dragging its feet on approving their visas to go stateside is not really properly explained. If official U.S. complicity with human trafficking is what the Obama Détente amounts to, though, it will hang like a shroud of shame over this president forever and a day.

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