A lawsuit accusing the Pan American Health Organization of “enabling, managing and enforcing illegal human trafficking of Cuban medical professionals in Brazil” has been stalled since June.
A debate over jurisdiction has caused some delays. The PAHO wants the case transferred to Washington, D.C., where the organization is based. Lawyers for Cuban doctors who sued the PAHO want the dispute to be settled in Miami, a welcome venue for cases critical of Cuba’s socialist government.
In May, U.S. Magistrate Judge Alicia M. Otazo-Reyes in Miami denied a motion to transfer the case to the Washington. (See transcript of hearing). The PAHO appealed the ruling, explaining its reasons in a memorandum and another response filed June 27.
What’s odd is that the case has not moved ahead since then.
Wouldn’t it be something if the lawsuit’s main intent was publicity? It would be even crazier if the U.S. government financed the effort.
I certainly don’t have any evidence of such a claim. It’s a wild idea. Why sue if you don’t intend to follow through?
Then I remembered Gordon Sondland’s testimony about the Ukraine. He made clear that Donald Trump didn’t want an investigation of Joe Biden or his son, Hunter. He just wanted Ukraine officials to announce an investigation. They wanted the publicity.
In the case of the Cuban doctors, the lawyers suing the PAHO certainly got plenty of press. You can see it on a Wix site called Cuban Doctors: Human Rights Litigation.
The website also features a photo taken of the Cuban doctors and U.S. officials at a briefing accusing the PAHO of complicity in a “human trafficking” scheme.
No court documents have been filed since then. That’s not what PAHO lawyers expected. They say in court documents that they thought they would be served again after lawyers for the doctors filed amended complaint in the case. They wrote:
The time for PAHO to file an answer or otherwise respond to the Amended Complaint under Federal Rule 12 is not yet running, as plaintiffs — despite numerous warnings from PAHO’s counsel — have not yet made any attempt to serve PAHO in the manner required by 28 U.S.C. § 1330(b) and § 1608.
The court docket doesn’t make clear to me when to expect a resolution in the case. I may be jumping to conclusions because I don’t have an explanation for the delay.
What’s certain is that many Brazilians are going without medical care now that the Cuban doctors are gone.
Cuban physicians sent to Brazil took part in a program known as Mais Médicos. Since it began in 2013, “the Mais Médicos program provided medical care to more than 60 million people, often in isolated rural areas in Brazil where such care was not previously available,” PAHO said in a court document filed on June 6, 2019. The organization stated:
Given the shortage of doctors and other health professionals in Brazil’s most underserved regions, Brazil passed emergency national legislation and entered into treaties with other governments that enabled Brazil to obtain medical professionals from outside of Brazil who could provide medical services to its citizens, despite not being licensed to practice medicine in Brazil.
On Nov. 29, 2018, four Cuban doctors sued the PAHO, accusing it of helping the Cuban government exploit them, an accusation Cuban officials deny.
The doctors say the PAHO paid them about 10% of the fees that the Brazilian government collected from the organization while turning over at least 85% of the money to the Cuban government and keeping 5% for itself.
Their class-action lawsuit demands that the PAHO compensate Cuban doctors, paying them $1.3 billion in fees plus triple that amount in damages for alleged violations of the Racketeering and Corrupt Influenced Organizations Act, also known as RICO, and the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.
The doctors are Ramona Matos Rodriguez of Miami, Florida; Tatiana Carballo Gomez of Kentucky; and Fidel Cruz Rodriguez and his wife, Russela Margarita Rivero Sarabia, both of Texas.
Their class-action lawsuit contends that the Cuban government generates at least $8 billion per year in fees as part of its medical missions around the world. The lawsuit states:
“Foreign labor missions comprise the largest single element – over 50% – of the Cuban national budget.”
Their lawyers say one reason the case should be heard in Miami is that many Cuban doctors live in the area. According to one court document: “Matos Rodriguez submitted a declaration stating that at least 1,300 Cuban doctors who escaped from the Mais Médicos program came through the Miami International Airport and that she believes that most of them are still in the area.”
U.S. immigration officials have allowed more than 3,500 Cuban doctors to enter the United States as part of a program aimed at luring them to the U.S. and depriving the socialist government of their services.
The Washington Post reported on Tuesday that the Senate “has approved resolutions to consider reinstating a parole program that encouraged the doctors to defect.”
The PAHO said the case should be heard in Washington, if not dismissed outright because the health organization is immune from prosecution in such matters.
The Post said:
At least 18,000 Cuban doctors continue to work in more than 60 countries, including at least 15 in Latin America. John Kirk, the author of “Healthcare Without Borders: Understanding Cuban Medical Internationalism,” says the program has saved lives throughout the developing world.
Cuban doctors have been deployed to fight diseases such as Ebola in West Africa and to treat the victims of natural disasters – they were the first on the scene after the 2010 earthquake that flattened Haiti.
Kirk, a professor of Latin American studies at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, said Cuba is likely to find other countries to take the doctors who have been kicked out of or recalled from its Latin American neighbors.
“Cuba has more doctors working in the developing world than all of the G-7 countries combined,” Kirk said. “Those calling Cuban doctors to defect and countries to end cooperation miss the point, which is that thousands of poor people have greatly benefited from it and would be negatively impacted without it.”