United States Efforts to Undermine Cuban Medical Aid Programs

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

When John Kirk and I were researching a book on Cuba’s medical aid programs (Cuban Medical Internationalism:  Origins, Evolution. And Goals (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), a U.S. government operation called the Cuban Medical Professional Parole (CMPP) program was mentioned in several sources. We did not delve into this topic in any detail since it fell outside the scope of our main interest. Later, however, I decided to do so, gathering tidbits of information from widely scattered sources since no one in the academic world or in the mainstream media seemed to have paid much attention to it. I also interviewed congressional and State Department people. The result was a journal article, “Brain Drain Politics: The Cuban Medical Professional Parole Programme.”

An Overview of Cuba’s Medical Aid Efforts:

Approximately 138-140,000 Cuban medical aid personnel have served overseas since 1963. There are currently about 38,000 serving overseas in 66 countries (mostly in LDCs, Less Developed Countries).

These efforts were initiated in 1963 and include among their accomplishments:

  • 130 million+ patients treated
  • 2.97 million+ surgeries performed 
  • 1.8 million+ persons sight saved/restored
  • 1.97 million lives saved

These Cuban medical aid brigades almost invariably operate where the most rudimentary medical services have long been essentially non-existent (and they do so at very little or no cost whatsoever to the host governments). In other words, they are dispatched to urban slums and to isolated rural areas that the local medical providers have avoided, often because there is little available to them there in terms of monetary rewards. Without Havana’s help, these people would have been in dire public health straits and in many cases (beyond the 1.7 million already listed as lives saved) would probably not have survived.

The U.S. Response:

As part of its larger policy of hostility and confrontation, Washington’s response to Havana’s globetrotting doctors has been the Cuban Medical Professional Parole (CMPP) program. The CMPP was launched during the Bush Administration on August 11, 2006, is designed to facilitate the defection and entry into the United States of personnel (especially doctors) serving in Cuban overseas medical aid contingents’ the program has been continued by the Obama Administration. The “godfather” of the CMPP was Cuban-born diplomat Emilio González, director of the U.S. Citizen & Immigration Services from 2006 to 2008. A former colonel in the U.S. Army, Mr. González is a staunchly anti-Castro exile. He has characterized Cuba’s policy of sending doctors and other health workers abroad as “state-sponsored human trafficking.”  So far, approximately 12,000 defectors have been processed through the program.

A Partial Checklist of the CMPP’s Negatives in Terms of:

Political Considerations–

  • It serves as an additional (and crassly unbecoming) impediment to better U.S./Cuban relations.
  • It has a negative impact on U.S. foreign relations (especially in Latin America where most Cuban medical aid personnel now operate), generating anti-American sentiment in both governmental circles and the larger population. As noted by Representative James McGovern (D-MA), “The idea that we’re going in to try to lure away Cuban doctors who are trying to administer to poor people in Latin America is cynical, and I think is counterproductive.”
  • The Obama Administration has tarnished its diplomatic reputation by refusing to abandon the program.

Moral/Ethical Considerations–

  • The U.S. willingness to try to obstruct Havana’s aid activities can be seen as ruthlessness and heartlessness in their most brutal forms.
  • It is gross hypocrisy on the Obama Administration’s part to trumpet its commitment health care in the United States while trying to deny it to the most marginalized people in Less Developed Countries.

The CMPP is a creature of and operates solely under the authority of the Executive Branch. This means quite simply that it is within the President’s discretion to discontinue the program—President Obama can take such action whenever he wishes. Hopefully, due to prodding by the Latin America Working Group and other progressive organizations, he will do so in the very near future.

For more information on this program, see “Brain Drain Politics: The Cuban Medical Professional Parole Programme.”


Michael Erisman is a professor of Political Science at Indiana State University in Terre Haute, Indiana.  His main fields of interest are U.S. policies toward Latin America, political economy in the Caribbean Basin, and Cuban foreign affairs. He has published eight books and numerous chapters/journal articles. He has visited Cuba approximately 20-25 times to conduct research, to present papers at conferences and special seminars, and to participate in academic exchanges with Cuban colleagues from the University of Havana and various research centers (e.g., Centro de Estudios sobre los Estados Unidos and Instituto Superior de Relaciones Internacionales).