(CN) – A class action claims an international health organization conspired with the Cuban government to collect millions of dollars by unlawfully trafficking Cuban doctors to Brazil.
In a federal complaint filed in Miami, lead plaintiffs Ramona Matos Rodriguez, Tatiana Carballo Gomez, Fidel Cruz Rodriguez and Rusela Margarita Rivero Sarabia, claim that the Pan American Health Organization has collected over $75 million since 2013 by enabling and managing the illegal trafficking of Cuban medical professionals.
The organization is a specialized health agency headquartered in Washington, D.C. that works with countries in the Americas to improve and protect people’s health. It is affiliated with the World Health Organization, the Organization of American States and the United Nations.
PAHO’s income is limited to “annual contributions from member governments” such as the U.S., and extraordinary contributions for general expenses and specific purposes in addition to their annual quota from the same member governments, plaintiffs say.
Plaintiffs, who are Cuban physicians, claim that they were paid 10 percent or less of the fees that the Brazilian government paid the organization for their services, while the agency paid at least 85 percent to the Cuban government and retained a brokerage fee of 5 perfect.
According to the complaint, since 2013 PAHO has trafficked more than 10,000 Cuban doctors and medical health professionals to Brazil, and about 3,500 of such professionals received a humanitarian parole and now reside in the U.S.
The complaint says that Cuba makes about $8 billion every year from “medical missions” where they send doctors and other health care workers to foreign countries.
“Cuba recruits participants under threat of harsh social, economic, political, personal, reputational, and legal repercussions; separates the workers from their families; refuses to inform them where they will be sent and what work they will perform; restricts their freedom of movement; pays the workers a fraction of the total sums paid to the host country for their work; and in many cases withholds a portion of their wages until they return to Cuba,” the complaint says.
The complaint claims that PAHO established a Cuban doctors program in Brazil called “Mais Medicos” that violates international laws against forced labor and human trafficking, and that it made agreements with the “Sociedad Mercantil Comercializadora de Servicios Medicos Cubanos SA” to bring the Cuban doctors to work in Brazil.
Plaintiffs say that the Cuban government sent them on a “patriotic” medical mission to Brazil between 2013- 2017, but that they were never told to what areas they would be sent to or what type of medical services they would be providing.
They allege that they were constantly in surveillance by Cuban intelligence service members employed by PAHO.
The complaint claims that the Brazilian Court of Audit started an investigation about the legality of the organization’s payments to Cuba, but the health agency refused to provide any supporting documents.
“The Brazilian Court of Audit found that Brazil’s pay discrimination between the Cuban doctors such as plaintiffs and the non- Cuban Mais Medicos participants violates Article 5 of the Brazilian Constitution, and the World Health Organization Global Code of Practice for International Recruitment of health professionals,” the complaint says.
Several Cuban doctors also brought legal actions against the organization in Brazil for discrimination because they were paid less than non- Cuban doctors performing the same work. The effort died, however, after PAHO’s representatives pressured the Brazilian attorney general to reject the cases made by the Cuban doctors, the complaint claims.
“PAHO obstructed, attempted to obstruct and interfered with plaintiffs and other class members who attempted through legal means to escape or obtain relief in the Brazilian legal system …” the complaint says.
Plaintiffs allege that they had “no freedom of choice” regarding their participation in the medical missions that they were assigned to by the Cuban government, and that they had to agree to participate for fear of retaliation against them and their families.
Plaintiffs are seeking compensatory damages on claims of violation of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act and the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.
They are represented by Samuel Dubbin from Dubbin & Kravetz LLP in Coral Gables, Florida.
A representative of the Pan American Health Organization did not immediately respond to a request for comment.