COMMENTARY: Caribbean among countries unfairly targeted by US Senators over Cuba
Three US Senators, who have done little to advance the interests of
the Caribbean and with whom requests for meetings by many Caribbean
Ambassadors are usually shunted to their staff, are now proposing US
government punishment for Caribbean countries that request assistance
from Cuba for medical personnel.
The three Senators are all members of the Republican Party. Two of
them represent Florida – Marco Rubio and Rick Scott – and the other,
Ted Cruz, is a Senator from Texas. Senators Rubio and Cruz have strong
Cuban heritage and are known to be virulently opposed to the Cuban
government. Senator Scott is a former Governor of Florida and has been
a senatorial representative of the State since 2019, having run a
campaign wooing the significant Cuban-American population.
On June 17, the three Senators introduced in the US Senate, the “Cut
Profits to the Cuban Regime Act”, which, if it is adopted, will
penalise any government, worldwide, that contracts with the Cuban
government for the provision of medical personnel. Since many
Caribbean governments have such contracts with Cuba, they all stand to
Among the measures that the Bill, sponsored by the three Senators,
seeks to impose are “a requirement that the Department of State
publishes the list of countries that contract with the Government of
Cuba for their medical missions program”, and that the contracts be
considered “as a factor in considering that country’s ranking for
Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report”.
In other words, these three US Senators are seeking to disregard the
sovereign right of other countries to enter arrangements with Cuba. In
any event, a principle of international law and norms is being
casually disdained, as if the rights of States do not matter.
The Senators also show a remarkable indifference to the critical
public health emergency confronted by all Caribbean countries,
particularly now in the seemingly endless era of the COVID-19 pandemic
and its disastrous effects.
Had the three Senators considered a discussion with Caribbean
representatives before they introduced their Bill, they would have
learned that, for many countries of the Caribbean, the presence of
Cuban medical personnel has made a huge and beneficial difference to
their capacity to manage COVID-19 and its spread. It is no
exaggeration to say that, without the Cuban medical personnel, the
medical system of several Caribbean countries would have collapsed.
The Senators would also have been reminded that the United States,
despite all its great resources, found it difficult – and are still
finding it difficult – to respond to the demands that the pandemic
has placed on its public health system. If the US cannot cope, how
would any objective person believe that the Caribbean can do so
Further, the Senators might have considered what assistance the US
provided to the region in terms of the medical personnel that they
urgently needed and continue to need.
Senator Scott is reported to have said that “Any country that requests
medical assistance from Cuba is aiding their human trafficking
efforts”, because, in his view, Cuban medical personnel sent abroad
are “forced labour”. Caribbean countries have had no experience that
substantiates this opinion. Indeed, Cuban medical personnel have
conducted themselves with professionalism, integrating well with local
medical teams and passing-on their knowledge and experience. Caribbean
countries have no basis for believing that the medical personnel are
“forced labour”. But, if the government of any country believes this
claim to be true, there are international bodies to which it can be
taken, and evidence proffered in support of a decision to uphold the
allegation. Caribbean representatives would have encouraged the
Senators to pursue such a definitive course of action, which all
governments would have respected. One attempt to internationalise this
claim by a private European-funded group came to nothing.
Had they had the chance to do so, Caribbean representatives would have
reminded the three Senators that COVID-19, in addition to being a
public health emergency, is wrecking the economies of Caribbean
countries, some more severely than others but all without exception.
They are now confronted with their greatest economic challenge.
Government revenues have dropped drastically, expenditures have
increased extraordinarily, and employment and poverty are expanding
rapidly. In all this, there has been a poor response from richer
countries that could have helped.
The Caribbean needed to get COVID-19 under control not only to save
lives in their communities, but also to salvage their economic
prospects, now and in the future.
Cuba has provided Caribbean countries with medical assistance for over
30 years; the present contingent of Cuban personnel is not a new
development. These arrangements have been formally negotiated and set
out in contracts. Further, Caribbean governments have knowledge of the
circumstances of Cuban medical personnel because for three decades,
Caribbean doctors have trained in Cuba on scholarships that richer
neighbouring states have not offered.
Until and unless other Governments step up to help, Caribbean
governments will be constrained to get assistance from where they can,
The Senators would also have been advised that most Caribbean
countries have worked closely and well with the US government to curb
human trafficking. An attempt to mar this cooperative work by
introducing a political dimension to it – particularly a very narrow
one – would be tragic. A conversation with the Senators would be
The hemisphere – like the rest of the world – needs cooperation in
improving the human condition; what it does not need is coercion for