The Wall Street Journal
President Trump is unhappy with the response of the World Health Organization to Covid-19 and has promised to take a “good look” at its U.S. funding. Hallelujah. If the coronavirus prompts a Washington audit of the practices of the WHO, a devastating storm will have blown some good.
A review of the WHO’s Western Hemisphere subsidiary, the Pan American Health Organization, or PAHO, is also in order. Its record of supporting antidemocratic regimes seeking to destabilize legitimate governments weakens public health rather than strengthening it.
The U.S. once played a lead role at PAHO, and the organization achieved substantial gains against infectious diseases. In the 1950s and 1960s, dengue fever was eradicated in most of the region.
Yet while American taxpayer dollars still fund roughly half PAHO’s budget, serious medical influence at the organization has waned. In its place are ideologues who carry water for the Cuban military dictatorship and its medical export business.
Havana boasts about sending medical personnel abroad as if it runs a charity. But governments pay Havana for Cuban health-care workers, who then receive a miserly stipend from the regime, which leaves them in poverty. The dictatorship profits by keeping the lion’s share of the income.
This is human trafficking and it violates international law and the laws by which the WHO is governed. As I reported in January, Cuban medics who escaped the program are suing PAHO in U.S. federal court. They allege that when Brazilian law and congressional opposition got in the way of launching the scheme, PAHO stepped in as a financial intermediary to launder the illegal payments of a secret Cuba-Brazil agreement. On April 3 the venue for that suit was moved to Washington.
The deal was exposed when Brazilian journalists won the release of Brazilian documents connected with the Cuban medical missions. These include the minutes of a February 2017 meeting in Havana of Cuban, Brazilian and PAHO officials, which I have seen. PAHO told me in January that “it is false to state” that Brazil was engaged in human trafficking with Cuba and that PAHO “would never participate in any activity or program related to human trafficking.”
But the minutes outline how the three parties strategized a response to legal challenges filed in Brazil by Cuban workers demanding to receive their full pay as per Brazilian law. The Cuban vice minister of health expressed concern about the potential legal pitfalls for Havana’s moneymaking arrangement with Brazil and demanded that Brazil find a solution that would fulfill the commitment it had made to Cuba under the agreement.
According to the minutes, PAHO legal counsel Heidi Jiménez, acting “on behalf of PAHO,” committed to enforcing the commitments Brazil had made under the agreement. Ms. Jiménez further committed to preparing for the attorney general of Brazil “an official response . . . to the legal actions put forth by the [Cuban] doctors.” PAHO didn’t reply to requests for comment.
PAHO’s complicity in making chattel out of Cuban workers is appalling. But the more outrageous aspect of its partnership with Havana may turn out to be the health outcomes for the region.
Cuban doctors, who escaped from various assignments around Latin America, testified at a State Department event in 2019 in New York. One doctor said that when no patients visited the clinic in Bolivia where she worked, her boss in Havana instructed her to invent names and illnesses to provide “statistics.” Logically, this created an illusion that Cuban medicine was serving a great need abroad and curing the sick.
According to her testimony, doctors were also told to requisition medical supplies and pharmaceuticals for patients who didn’t exist. This would have allowed Farmacuba, a state-owned pharmaceutical company, to sell its products to host countries. Farmacuba also collects a fee as an intermediary between medical suppliers in China, India and Russia and its “clients” in Latin America. When products arrived, the doctor said, the Cuban medics were instructed to destroy them. Another doctor said spreading regime propaganda was part of his job.
A further public-health problem generated by Cuba is its “Latin American School of Medicine,” which educates Cubans and students from around the region. Yet when Cuba-trained doctors return to their home countries they often don’t pass muster. As far back as 2012, the University of Costa Rica found that most graduates of Cuban medicine were unqualified to practice in that country. In 2015 Chile’s El Mercurio reported that out of 787 Cuban-educated doctors in Chile more than half couldn’t pass local medical-board exams even on the fourth try.
Cuba’s medical scams aimed at earning hard currency and spreading communist propaganda have created a false sense of progress in the battle against infectious diseases in the region. Before PAHO gets another dime of U.S. funding, it ought to explain why it aids Havana’s phony health-care schemes.
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