Note from BW of Brazil: The controversy surrounding the arrival of Cuban and other foreign doctors to Brazil to address the doctor shortage triggered various reactions and continues to be a hot topic on the internet. Various journalists have made comparisons with slavery to describe what they see as exploitation of Cuban doctors who will work in remote areas of the country where medical facilities and doctors are lacking. With Brazil’s 350 year history of slavery as well a long history of slavery in Brazil, was it really necessary to make a reference to slavery to denounce a program meant to address a serious program when Brazilian doctors themselves were not willing to heed the call? Below are two articles that address these references as well as one of the articles where a journalist used the reference. Please check out the analysis and the argument made by the journalist and you decide if the terminology (slavery, slaves, slave ship) are justifiable or a bad choice of words.
For Eliane, Cubans come to the country in a slave plane
A Folha (newspaper) columnist reinforces in a not so subtle way that the Cuban doctors who are coming to work in remote areas (of the country) are slaves. “You try to hire someone in exchange for housing, food and, in some cases, transportation, but without paying direct salary and do not even knowing how much the person will receive at the end of the month. At the minimum, a denouncement of slave labor would come tumbling down on your back,” says the journalist.
The journalist Eliane Cantanhêde, of Folha, took the view that the Brazilian government is hiring Cuban slaves to work as doctors in remote regions of the country. The title of her Sunday column, “Avião negreiro (slave plane),” says it all. By her logic, the Brazilian government would be acting like a plantation owner and the Minister of Health, Alexandre Padilha, is a type of slave trafficker.
However, the first Cubans who arrived in Brazil on August 24th seemed happy and willing to collaborate. Asking only for respect and saying that money is not the central point of their work. A member of the Núcleo de Estudos Cubanos of the Universidade de Brasília (Center for Cuban Studies at the University of Brasilia), the journalist Helium Doyle explains that, being a socialist country, Cuba works differently and there is a concern with maintaining low levels of inequality – which explains the payment of wages, and the agreements already made with dozens of countries, with the Cuban government.
Eliane Cantanhêde thinks differently. For her, it is slavery – period. “You try to hire someone in exchange for housing, food and, in some cases, transportation, but without paying direct salary and not even knowing how much the person will receive at the end of the month. At the minimum, a denouncement of slave labor would come tumbling down on your back,” she says.
Below is her column:
Avião negreiro (slave plane)
by Eliane Cantanhêde
No one can be against a program that brings doctors, even foreigners, to populations who do not have doctors. But the legal environment is abuzz with the arrival of 4,000 Cubans in weird conditions and subjected to a barrage of court cases.
Outsourcing in public service is in the spotlight, and the coming of the Cuban doctors is seen as state outsourcing – and with triangulation. The Brazilian government pays to OPAS (Organização Pan-Americana da Saúde or PAHO, the Pan American Health Organization), which transfers the money to the Cuban government, which distributes among physicians quite like giving it to them at their whim.
The R$10,000 of Brazilians, Portuguese and Argentines do not apply to those who come from the island of Fidel and Raul Castro. Following the average of Cuban doctors in other countries, they only pocket 25% to 40% to which they are entitled, or R$2,500 to R$4,000. The rest goes to the coffers of Havana.
Can one doctor earning R$10,000, and another, only R$2,500 for the same work, the same hours and the same contractor? There are legal controversies. And there are glaring moral injustices, with the aggravating factor that the others can bring families, but the Cubans, no. In order to keep them under the reins of the regime?
And what if ten, hundred or thousand Cuban doctors apply for asylum? Brazil will return them quickly to Havana in a Venezuelan plane, as it did with the two boxers? Look at the scandal!
The Planalto (1) and the Ministry of Health claim that Cubans will only provide service and that Cuba maintains that program with dozens of countries, but so what? Is this on the basis of “everyone does it”? To trade people for oil matches up for Venezuela, not for Brazil. It would be classified as exploitation of man power.
You try you hire someone in exchange for housing, food and, in some cases, transportation, but without paying direct salary and not even knowing how much the person will receive at the end of the month. At the minimum, a denouncement of slave labor would come tumbling down on your back.
WHO IS REALLY THE SLAVE?
The Cuban doctor Natasha Romero Sanchez, who said her salary is enough, or columnist Eliane Cantanhêde, which states that professionals like her came to Brazil on a “slave plane”? Who left chained by the shackles of ideology: a black doctor who says she works for the vocation of saving lives or journalists who see her as a slave and oblige themselves to throw stones at any Dilma government initiative, either by political or economic interests of their bosses?
Natasha Romero Sanchez, 44, a black woman, is a Cuban doctor. She was trained by a public university and, on August 24th, landed in Brazil. Already on August 26th, she was to undergo training in Portuguese, before being sent to one of the 701 municipalities that did not attract the interest of any Brazilian physician and will house foreigners in this first phase of the “More Doctors” program. Asked by journalists about the fact that part of her payment R$10,000 will be appropriated by the Cuban government, she did not complain. “My salary is enough,” she said, further stating that she works out of love and for the vocation of saving lives.
In the eyes of journalist Eliane Cantanhêde, Dr. Natasha is a slave. She came to Brazil not on a commercial flight, but on a “slave plane”. Like Cantanhêde, several other journalists wrote articles and posted messages on Twitter about the “slavery” of Cubans. It was the case, for example, by Reinaldo Azevedo, of Veja.com (magazine website), Ricardo Noblat, of Globo, and Sandro Vaia, former director of the newsroom of the Estado de S. Paulo newspaper – besides the unbelievable Augusto Nunes, who defined the Minister Alexandre Padilha as a Princess Isabel (2) in reverse.
It is possible that these columnists really believe that Cuban doctors were enslaved by the Castro brothers. And that Brazil, in the clutches of the PT (Partido das Trabalhoras or Workers’ Party), turning into a brutal tyranny that trafficked persons – an argument that is weakened by the fact that dozens of countries have already signed similar agreements for the import of doctors with the Cuban government.
Evidently, Dr. Natasha is not a slave, just like the other Cuban doctors who arrived in Brazil on Saturday, August 24th. What they all requested on arrival was only for respect so that they can perform their duties well.
But will it be that Eliane Cantanhêde and her colleagues are really free people? Eliane, for example, is forced to criticize any initiative linked to the Workers Party and even to invent nonexistent crises. She was, for example, who earlier this year announced an impending blackout – which has still not happened. She has also been at the forefront of the “tomato lobby”, pointing to an out of control inflation, which did not materialize.
Her colleagues, often, also seem trapped and chained by ideological shackles. They operate in a binary system, which excludes the reflection – if something is connected to the PT, it can only be wrong. It happens that often they just vocalize economic, political or business interests, not theirs – but their bosses; media barons, in a still concentrated system like the Brazilian, distorting the flow of information. Suffice it to say that among the ten richest men in the country, four are linked to major media groups.
It is possible that Dr. Natasha doesn’t enjoy all of the freedom that she would like to have. But one cannot rule out that she is a freer woman than Eliane and her colleagues who see her as a slave.
1. The Palácio do Planalto is the official workplace of the President of Brazil. It is located in the national capital of Brasília. The building was designed by architect Oscar Niemeyer and inaugurated on April 21, 1960. Source
2. Princess Isabel ended 350 years of slavery in Brazil by signing the Golden Law on May 13, 1888. Dona Isabel;[a] 29 July 1846 – 14 November 1921), nicknamed “the Redemptress”, was the heiress presumptive to the throne of the Empire of Brazil, bearing the title of Princess Imperial. She also served as the Empire’s regent on three separate occasions. Isabel was born in Rio de Janeiro, the eldest daughter of Emperor Dom Pedro II and Empress Dona Teresa Cristina and thus a member of the Brazilian branch of the House of Braganza (Portuguese: Bragança). After the deaths of her two brothers in infancy, she was recognized as her father’s heiress presumptive. She married a French prince, Gaston, Count of Eu, in an arranged marriage and they had three sons. During her father’s absences abroad, Isabel acted as regent. In her third and final regency, she actively promoted and ultimately signed a law, named Lei Áurea or the Golden Law, emancipating all slaves in Brazil. Source