Brazilian prosecutor wants to check deal for 4,000 Cuban doctors

A Brazilian prosecutor said Friday he will investigate a government contract for 4,000 Cuban doctors and other medical personnel to work in poor and remote areas of the Latin American nation because of “visible irregularities” in the agreement.

The first 400 Cubans began arriving Friday under the Mais Medicos (More Doctors) program, which was made public on Wednesday and will cost the Brazilian government more than $200 million.

But the agreement will have to be reviewed for possible violations of Brazil’s labor laws and regulations, said José de Lima Ramos Pereira, chief prosecutor in the labor fraud section of the Office of the District Attorney.

“After we analyze the documentation, we will take the required steps … because already there are some visible irregularities,” he was quoted as saying in Brazilian news media reports.

One aspect of the agreement that raises “a very large legal uncertainty,” he said, is the use of the Pan American Health Organization, a Washington-based branch of the World Health Organization, as the financial middleman between the Brazilian and Cuba governments.

Prosecutors also will check whether the contract means the Cubans will be paid less than the minimum required by Brazilian law, and whether the no-bid contract was properly awarded, Ramos Pereira was quoted as saying.

Although one senior Health Ministry official has been quoted as saying the Cubans will get the same salary they receive on the island, where salaries are much lower, Health Minister Alexandre Padilha has said it will be up to the Cuban government to decide how much it will pay to its personnel.

Depending on the prosecutors’ findings, Ramos Pereira added, they can work with the government to fix any problems with the contract or can file a legal complaint that would force it to follow its own laws and constitution.

Fernando Menezes, in charge of labor issues at the Health Ministry, was quoted as saying that his office is convinced that it followed the correct procedures in the Cuba contract and it will discuss the issue with the prosecutors “with total ease.”

Brazil will pay $4,080 for each of the doctors and other health workers that will be assigned to more than 700 towns in the country’s poor North and northwest that lack proper public health facilities.

Cuba’s main source of hard currency is the estimated $6 billion it receives for the more than 40,000 medical personnel working under government-to-government contracts in 69 countries, from Venezuela, Haiti, Nicaragua and Colombia to as far away as Africa and Asia.

Harsh criticisms from Brazilian medical organizations in May forced the Brazilian government to call off negotiations to contract 6,000 Cuban medical personnel and start looking in other countries, such as Portugal and Spain.

The organizations complained that the Cubans are not qualified and that the conditions of their employment would violate Brazilian labor laws. They also demanded that the Cubans take the same exams that other foreigners must pass to work as doctors there, and prove that they speak Portuguese.

Government officials have repeatedly complained that Brazilian doctors only want to work in cities and not in remote areas of Latin America’s largest country. In 2009, the country had 15.1 physicians per 10,000 people, while Cuba had 66.3 and the United States had 26, according to PAHO.

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