Referring to foreign physicians as “slaves”, do Brazilian doctors reject arriving doctors because they are Cuban, because many are black or political posturing?

The first Cuban doctors participating in the "More Doctors" program arrive in Recife, Pernambuco, in Brazil's northeast
The first Cuban doctors participating in the “More Doctors” program arrive in Recife, Pernambuco, in Brazil’s northeast

Note from BW of Brazil: In the past few days, BW of Brazil featured two posts dealing with Brazil opening its doors to foreign doctors to address a pressing problem in which there are 700 Brazilian cities in which there is not a single doctor to serve the population. The government’s announcement and implementation of the “Programa Mais Médicos (More Doctors Program)” was introduced to remedy this problem by making an international call for the attraction and importation of foreign doctors willing to work in Brazil and in these regions of the country. What sounded like a good idea for many has sparked the latest wave of protests throughout the country, this time from the country’s doctors who reject the program. The protests and hostility became a topic of national discussion and outrage when a photo and video of Cuban doctors being booed in the northeastern city of Fortaleza hit the web. Below are a number of reactions to what has been called the “Shame of Brazil.”

To start, although Cuban doctors are the majority of foreign doctors who have answered the call for more doctors, in his piece entitled “Chamados de ‘escravos’ por médicos brasileiros, cubanos ganham amplo apoio da mídia e da população (Called ‘slaves’ by Brazilian doctors, Cubans gain wide support from the media and the population), Benedito Teixeira points out…

….seven Spaniards, three Portuguese, a Honduran, a Ukrainian, an Italian and a Mexican arrived in Fortaleza, plus eight Brazilians who enrolled in the program. The Ministério da Saúde (Ministry of Health) itself repudiated the attitude (of the protesting doctors) in these terms. “We understand that this is a xenophobic, racist and prejudiced position, a violent and truculent attitude that does not characterize the Brazilian people. This type of reaction will not set us back,  but it will strengthen the Program,” said the Secretary of Strategic and Participative Management of the Ministry of Health, Odorico Monteiro in an interview.

The Deputy Minister of Health of Cuba, Marcia Cobas, said during the opening of a training course for foreign doctors in Brasilia that Cuban doctors who participate in international missions, as in Brazil, do it in solidarity and not for salaries. “Cuba provides free services to African countries and Haiti. We have over 700 professionals working in Haiti in a solidarity and internationalist manner,” he said.

There is criticism that also point to the lack of training of foreign doctors to deal with the Brazilian reality. A spokesperson for the Ministry of Health countered stating that professionals must pass a specialization in family health while in Brazil, not to mention that, at least among doctors who arrived in Fortaleza, all have over 16 years of experience in public health, most with master’s degrees and experience in international humanitarian missions.

Note from BW of Brazil: As many of the Cuban doctors have that have arrived in Brazil are black, Rosane de Oliveira in her piece “Doentes de preconceito (Illnesses of prejudice)” asked the question of the possibility of this reaction being…..

Cuban doctor Juan Delgado greeted by boos of Brazilian doctors in Fortaleza, Ceará
Cuban doctor Juan Delgado greeted by boos of Brazilian doctors in Fortaleza, Ceará

Explicit racism? Defenders of the girls in lab coats (and those that booed) ensure that they’re not: they are medical students and were there to boo foreign doctors, who were white, black or Asian. They are against the program “Mais Médicos (More Doctors)”. They are against the audacity of President Dilma Rousseff and Minister (of Health) Alexandre Padilha sending doctors to areas where the Brazilian (doctors) didn’t want to go with a paltry stipend of R$10,000, without basic labor rights.

Justice is done to future doctors of Ceará; they are not the only ones to suffer from the disease of prejudice. It is the soul of a good part of the Brazilian people, including those who don’t admit they are racist or unable to live with differences.

After taking a barrage of criticism, the journalist (Micheline Borges) has blocked her profile on Twitter and Facebook, but not before justifying her unfortunate comment:

Note from BW of Brazil: After saying that the arriving doctors looked like maids, Borges posted this comment….

“People, I think like this. Forgive me if you do not think like me. Patience. Kkkkkkkkk (laughs) … Appearance counts yes, if I go to a consultation and find a doctor with a tired face or in a law firm office a badly dressed attorney I’m leaving. The same happens in a restaurant. You eat with your eyes first and then eat with your mouth. The appearance of the plate is everything!”

People with this type of behavior may end up helping the government fight. With gestures like the students of Ceará and arguments like the journalist from Rio Grande do Norte, the “Mais Médicos” program wins supporters among those who until now watched silently the struggle between the doctors and the government.

Note from BW of Brazil: The following is how Matheus Pichonelli described the situation in his piece “Vergonha à brasileira” or “Brazilian shame”…..

The aggression against the Cuban doctors in Fortaleza is the business card of one who has learned to spit on the “slave” to manifest a dubious revulsion to slavery

From a Twitter user came user one of the best comments made so far about the screaming over the coming of foreign doctors (read: Cubans) to Brazil. “Foreign doctor is populism. There has to be a return to the policy of letting die.”

Populism, opportunism, slavery (?). While doctors, lawyers and Pharisees try to filter out the mosquitoes, a row of camels is swallowed up in the corners outside of the tourist trail in the country. In other words, people continue to die without meriting a frown from whoever seems willing to arm an Intifada against the Mais Médicos program.

According mapping of the government, there are now 701 cities in the country without a single doctor on post. You know how many Brazilians have shown in a recent call interest in working in these cities? Zero. In these places, there is a lack of the very basics, as shown by the reporter Gabriel Bonis in his visit to Sítio do Quinto, a city in the interior of Bahia where the population has nowhere to go in case of emergency (the symbolic case was death witnessed by a nurse tech and a watchman, of a man who was stabbed and could not be tended to because there was no doctor on duty). We’re not talking about highly complex surgery, but human deficiency, whose performance guarantees minimum treatment for minimal problems such as diarrhea, flu or minor injuries that this range of interests and services transforms into daily and disproportionate tragedies.

The episode shows that, even when it comes to saving human life, human life is caught up in the most devastating diseases: the ignorance of those who see the world between right and wrong and no longer from one point and another. Ignorance, in this case, seems to bare a vestige of inhumanity present in one of the last pockets of a pre-colonial elitism. An elitism that tolerates failure and oblivion, but kicks the slightest sign of disrepute, long distance, quite distant, from the halls that most need doctors; where the lab coat gets dirty from the dirt by the end of the workday.

But for many of the activists of the occasion, crossing their arms in the face of the supposed politicking, supposed populism, supposed opportunism and the supposed slavery is nobler than attacking the real problem.

Note from BW of Brazil: Images of a black Cuban doctor arriving Brazil to offer his medical services to the Brazilian people also sparked comparisons of an historic photo from 1950s United States…Renato Rovai pointed this out in his piece, “Little Rock é aqui: ódio social e racial (Little Rock is here: social and racial hate)”…

The image below can be considered the “meme” of today, suggested by Marcus Pessoa, on his Facebook profile. One shows black student Elizabeth Eckfort on her first day of class in a school in Little Rock in Arkansas, in the United States. White students protested against the presence of the nine blacks, the first to enter the college that was until then only white. Federal troops were needed to escort black students.

Little Rock é aqui - ódio social e racial

The second photo shows Cuban doctors, many of them black, being booed in Fortaleza. The attempt of humiliation against Cubans happened 56 years later, but it could have been done on the same date of Little Rock.

Activist Douglas Belchior and university professor Dennis de Oliveira analyzed the situation from an historic situation of Brazilian society’s historic view of the “places” of blacks and whites…Belchior’s piece was entitled “Quem tem medo de mulheres negras de jaleco branco”, or “Who’s afraid of black women in white coats?”, in reference to the fact that many of the doctors arriving in Brazil were black female doctors….

Cuban doctor Natasha Romero Sanches who arrived in northeastern Brazil to offer her servces
Cuban doctor Natasha Romero Sanches who arrived in northeastern Brazil to offer her servces

In his text on the controversy of Cuban doctors in Brazil and the reaction of a journalist who shocked social networks by saying that Cuban doctors looked like “maids”, and that needed to have “the posture of a doctor”, which didn’t happen with the Cuban professionals, Professor Dennis de Oliveira synthesized:

“(…) She expressed clearly what a significant part of the dominant social and middle segments of Brazil thinks: for them, black men and women are tolerated as long as they are in subordinate services. This is the Brazilian racial tolerance.”

This racist mentality that has always assumes the place of blacks in our society and contaminated thousands of young students in recent generations. This coupled with the neglect of public education makes it so that, in their majority, young black and/or poor don’t even dream of universities or professions “different” from those in which their peers perceive.

Another fact of interest that the photos and video of black Cuban doctors arriving in Brazil highlighted was the vast under-representation of black Brazilian doctors in the medical field….

Behind this and other expressions of insensitivity with respect to the needs of public health, one can find interesting information to understand the angry reaction of Brazilian medical authorities against the importation of professionals trained in other countries. O Globo, for example, searched data from the IBGE the statistical grounds for a cause for concern: “Medicine is still an ongoing elitist profile in Brazil,” says the title of the report.

It is an analysis that shows how, although the Brazilian population is comprised of 50.7% of citizens who declare themselves preto (black) or pardo (brown), only 1.5% of physicians consider themselves preto and 13.4% classified themselves as pardo (1).

Researchers cited by the Rio de Janeiro newspaper speculated that the boos with which a group of Brazilian physicians received the Cuban professionals in Fortaleza, and the manifestation of a journalist from Rio Grande do Norte, which compared the doctors of the country to maids resulted from this elitist detachment.

Although social programs such as the quota system for university places have eased this ethnic difference in medical schools, this is a sector of the academic field which remains reserved to young people of the wealthier classes, and therefore, predominantly white.

Source: Adital, Zero Hora, Carta Capital, Revista Forum, Negro Belchior Carta Capital, Revista Forum (2)


1. Afro-Brazilian (preto or pardo) doctors continued to be vastly under-represented in Brazilian university medical programs as seen here.

About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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