Troubled Brazil won't recruit Cuban doctors

July 10, 2013 at 3:28 PM
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BRASILIA, Brazil, July 10 (UPI) -- Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, facing unprecedented popular opposition, has dropped plans to import doctors from Cuba to meet shortfalls in the country's health services.

Government plans backing large-scale immigration from Cuba were controversial from the start and condemned by professional bodies, but mounting public anger over a host of other issues raised fears a large inflow of Cuban doctors could become another flashpoint.

Rousseff lavished aid and investment on Cuba soon after coming to power in January 2011, as part of a personal journey as a former revolutionary who sought inspiration from the Castro brothers, in particular elder brother Fidel.

Venezuela's extensive use of Cuban medical personnel also encouraged Brazil to try something similar to help Brazil's overstretched public health services.

Brazilian doctors, however, oppose the move. Critics of the government said Spanish-speaking Cuban medical personnel would have a language impediment -- Brazil is Portuguese-speaking -- and couldn't match the skills of the local personnel.

Revised government plans call for recruiting doctors in Portugal and Spain -- two economically hard-pressed EU members with high unemployment that have seen rising emigration to Latin America.

Before importing doctors, Brazilians want Rousseff to tackle pressing domestic issues, top of which they say is rampant corruption.

Brazil's commodities-fueled economic boom has injected liquidity in both public and private sectors. Critics say much of the money, instead of being invested into infrastructure, is being siphoned off by suspect officials in allegedly corrupt practices.

In a campaign aimed at cooling public temper, Rousseff pledged healthcare for all. "Every Brazilian must have access to a doctor," she vowed. But plans unveiled in May to hire up to 6,000 medical personnel in Cuba have been set aside, the Health Ministry said.

Neighboring Venezuela has more than 30,000 Cuban medical personnel serving its population, but the program in that country is also under fire as Venezuela struggles with recession.

Brazil says it will offer up to $4,400 a month to qualified doctors, a princely sum for most Cubans and certainly a timely escape from the dole queues for unemployed doctors in Portugal and Spain. Brazilian doctors still see problems with the plan. They argue the government should pay more to encourage local medical personnel to serve in remote areas of the country.

The Federal Association of Brazilian Doctors warned bringing foreign doctors to remote areas of the country would not solve the problem. It argues that foreign physicians will likely give up their hardship posts and move to cities, threatening jobs of established local medical personnel in urban areas.

Officials say they want to make sure that doesn't happen, but Brazilian doctors and their professional organizations are not reassured.

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