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Cuban medical missions: the story of Oswaldo Tamayo and how he managed to escape from the slavery of the dictatorship

The Cuban dictatorship suspected in 2012 that the specialist Oswaldo Tamayo was considering escaping if he returned to participate in a mission abroad, a colleague had betrayed him, but he denied everything before an agent of the regime. At that crossroads there was not much difference between being sent under conditions of “modern slavery” to another country or remaining on the island under the label of a traitor to the revolution.

The dictatorship had found a system to finance itself in the medical brigades, so it sent him to Algeria, a country where a possible defection would be difficult due to the language barrier and the geographical environment. Escaping from Africa seemed like a complicated mission, in addition to the fact that Oswaldo’s family would be under the surveillance of the networks of the Communist Party.

By turns of fate, three years later, this internist played a double game against the system of Cuban agents and managed to get on a plane and reach Quito, Ecuador, and thanks to an almost fleeting legal window, was able to homologate his title to be able to practice the profession.

Along the way, he lost the chance to revalidate his master’s degree, but in the end he managed to regularize his immigration status, so the next step was to undertake the arduous process to get his wife and his two girls off the island. . From that moment on, he decided to be brave, come out of anonymity and denounce to the world the conditions of slavery that the Cuban dictatorship imposes on the professionals who are part of the medical brigades.

To put an end to this system, which international organizations consider to be open human trafficking, some Cubans, such as doctor Oswaldo Tamayo, a specialist in internal medicine, have found it necessary to find an escape route and tell their story to the world.

Saying no to revolutionary ideals is an early sentence
With a daughter barely five months old and another six years old, it was almost impossible for Tamayo to refuse when he was selected for the first time, in 2003, to be a member of a health brigade to provide services in another country.

The scenario that opened before him was more than uncertain: he did not know to which country he would be sent and there was also no certainty when he would see his relatives again. In addition, the dictatorship would keep at least 80% of the salary obtained by that mission, this in the name of the Revolution. Of the remaining money, a percentage would be frozen until the doctor returned to Havana and he would only obtain what was necessary to buy the supplies in his mission.

In case of rejecting the proposal, he knew that the regime would automatically consider him a traitor to the country and in retaliation they would distance him from his family, even if he was on the same island.

So in 2003 he had no choice but to accept and the first order he received was to go to Havana to receive a course to reaffirm revolutionary values.

Days later, already at the José Martí International Airport in Havana, a few minutes after boarding the plane, some of his colleagues were forced to sign a contract that they did not even have the opportunity to read. In that process, he saw the regime agents discover that some of the travelers were trying to leave with their medical degree hidden among their belongings. “For them, everything ended right there,” said Tamayo himself this week in Mexico.

Upon arrival in the Haitian capital, the head of the mission took his passport from each of the members of the medical team. From that moment on, everyone would have to remain in that country for two years, without documents to prove their nationality.

Resigned, he let himself be carried along a rough road through tropical mountains and after eight hours of walking he finally reached a rural community of Santa Teresa, in Hinche.

For two years he lived in a house without electricity, without drinking water and receiving meager installments of his salary from time to time. The scarce money was used to buy groceries, just the basics. The solidarity of the priest allowed him access from time to time to a little drinking water.

The mission chief made constant supervision visits and sometimes had to attend group meetings, in which they had to reaffirm the values ​​of the Cuban Revolution.

In those 24 months, he spent the nights lying outside the precarious house in an attempt to alleviate the intense tropical heat. As the hours passed he became convinced of the need to strengthen his spirit, otherwise he would be broken by the stress of not seeing or knowing anything about his daughters.
Oswaldo Tamayo bitterly remembers the pressure exerted by the Cuban government despite the virtual abandonment to which he and his colleagues were condemned. From that hard experience in unknown lands for all of them, he proudly says that the professed humanism was carried out by the health personnel, in their commitment to provide attention and care to Haitians, using the scarce instruments and medicine available.

After this hard sacrifice, in 2005 he concluded the encomienda and was able to return to Cuba to reunite with his wife and daughters. However, the small percentage of salary that the dictatorship had granted him for those two years of work remained frozen, until Tamayo was able to verify his loyalty to the government of the Castro brothers and present himself for his new job assignment.

Cuban doctors most likely to defect are sent to other continents in order to prevent their escape.

In 2013 he was selected to embark on a new trip, but with previous experience, Dr. Tamayo contemplated the possibility of somehow escaping from this “modern slavery”, but he barely mentioned anything about this desire and the system of espionage within Cuba. alerted communist agents.

Tamayo knew the consequences of being considered a traitor, so he had no choice but to try to prove his fidelity to revolutionary values ​​and resignedly endured the two years of service in Algeria. This time he was even further away from his loved ones.

Upon his return, in 2015, the policy of the President of the United States, Barack Obama, allowed the lifting of some restrictions on the Castro regime, which in turn responded with some concessions to its citizens.

Tamayo took advantage of this situation to travel under false pretenses from his province to Havana, where he sneaked to the Ecuadorian embassy to request asylum.

Leaving the island meant a sacrifice for him, for his wife (who lost her nursing degree) and for his daughters, because although they had an opportunity for a freer life, they had to leave other family members behind.

Foreign governments pay the Cuban dictatorship for the services of the medical brigades.

Being a member of one of these brigades means being a silent victim of a contemporary system of slavery, in which the dictatorship markets the work of its own citizens, from whom it takes their salaries and in case of the slightest sign of protest, Anyone who dissents or violates the rules of the “mission” is automatically considered a “deserter”, to whom the 8-year Law applies.

The 8-year Law means that the dictatorship strips the deserter of his Cuban residency, so he cannot enter the country during that period. In many cases, “justice” condemns the offender to lose parental authority over his children, so that in addition to drifting abroad as stateless persons, they lose legal rights over their own descendants.

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José Martí
José Martí
Nacionalista cubano, poeta, filósofo, ensayista, periodista, traductor, profesor y editor.

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