80 Cuban doctors desert Venezuela, await US visas in Bogota
Some 180 Cuban doctors, up to now part of their island's medical mission in Venezuela, have deserted that country and are now waiting in Bogota in hopes the United States will provide them with visas.
Some 180 Cuban doctors, up to now part of their island's medical mission in Venezuela, have deserted that country and are now waiting in Bogota in hopes the United States will provide them with visas, their spokesman told EFE.
The doctors' problems multiplied last Jan. 12 when then-US President Barack Obama suspended the Cuban Medical Professional Parole (CMPP or Parole), a special program providing US visas to Cuban medical personnel who desert their missions abroad.
The Parole program was created in 2006 during the government of George W. Bush to rescue Cuban health professionals who ditched their international missions in third countries by offering them "safe and legal" access to the United States.
"Right now there are around 180 Cuban doctors here (in Bogota)...of whom 85 made their applications for a visa on time, but of those 180 there are 25 who couldn't apply for a Parole on time," Oscar Alonso, a doctor acting as spokesman for the Cuban group, told EFE.
The suspension came as a surprise to many of them, who learned of Obama's decision after they had already escaped their medical mission.
"It's a terrible situation, because in Cuba we're persecuted politically because we deserted a Cuban medical mission, which is also a political project," Alonso said.
To get into Colombia they had to find a "coyote" who would help them cross the border illegally for around $650, a fortune for many of them.
Here they headed straight for the United States Embassy, where they applied for a visa and received a safe-conduct that allows them to to remain temporarily in Colombia, though they may not work.
They say that on their journey they had to bribe military police of Venezuela's Bolivarian National Guard (GNB) who asked to see papers they didn't have, and also Colombian police who stopped them on the way to Bogota.
Here another odyssey begins, since they are allowed neither work nor wages.
According to Cuban pharmacist Maria del Carmen Torres, 44: "In Venezuela they didn't treat us well. At 6 pm you had to be at home practically under lock and key, so I decided to leave the mission because in Cuba what they pay you is miserable."
"I wanted to give my two kids ages 19 and 22 a better life," she told EFE.
All these Cuban medical personnel are waiting for answers and hope that either the United States or Colombia will come to their aid.