Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the author(s) do not represent the official position of Barbados TODAY.
by D. Fitzroy Gordon
Recently four Cuban doctors filed a class-action lawsuit in the USA against the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) alleging that they were forced labour under a 2013-2018 contract between Brazil and Cuba as facilitated by PAHO.
It is well known the Cuban Government has for many years, been providing trained healthcare professionals to work primarily in developing countries who are challenged in providing access to affordable basic healthcare to manyof their citizens.
For this seemingly ultruristic act, the receiving state usually pays a sum of money to the Cuban Government.
The Cuban authority would in turn provide a small wage of about $300 per month to these workers with a promise of additional funds once they return to Cuba at the end of their assignments.
A 2019 US Dept of State Report indicated that Cuba sent 500,000 healthcare workers abroad that year, for which the Cuban Government received millions of dollars in hard currency for their labour.
It is alleged that many of these workers are coerced into going abroad and they run the risk of imprisonment
or danger to their families back in Cuba if they return late or fail to return.
The specific charge in this case is that Brazil entered into contract with Cuba to provide healthcare workers, including these four doctors, between 2013-2018. PAHO served as the facilitator of the contract by, among other services, the receipt of money from Brazil and disbursement of said funds. According to the suit, the Cuban Government received 85 per cent of the contract fee, the Cuban doctors got 10 per cent or less and PAHO received the remaining 5 per cent.
The matter was first heard in the Federal Lower Court in Washington DC last November, where PAHO argued that under the International Immunity Act it was protected from lawsuits since it was a subsidiary of the UN/WHO. Judge James Boasberg ruled against PAHO and found that it did not have absolute immunity when allegations involved commercial activity in the USA. Last month, March 2022, the Appellate Court agreed with the lower Court hence paving the way for this lawsuit to proceed.
This case should be of great interest to Barbados and Caribbean states as they too have benefited and continue to benefit from similar assistance from the Cuban Government with the assistance of PAHO. One may quickly reflect on the public joy expressed by PM Mottley when the Cuban nurses and other healthcare workers arrived here to assist witht the Covid-19 challenges or even further back to assist with eye-care challenges. Note that the Eastern Caribbean PAHO sub-regional office is located in Barbados.
Of political importance is the fact that only two Caribbean nationals have headed PAHO in its entire existence, Barbadian Sir George Alleyne and its present Director Dr. Carissa Etienne, a Dominican national. Barbados has served as a member of the Board of PAHO for several years and is very active within the premier health insitution.
Barbados’ voice in the international arena condemning forced labour and other human rights violations is well noted and perhaps will be sought as this matter unfolds.
Meanwhile, the plaintiffs have specifically charged that PAHO provided, or knowingly benefitted from others having provided their forced labour and they now seek damages under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organisations Act of the USA.