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Cuban doctors fleeing Venezuela protest slow response to US visa request

Cuban doctors fleeing Venezuela protest slow response to US visa request
Published August 22, 2015 Associated Press

BOGOTA, Colombia – About 100 Cuban doctors who deserted a medical
mission in Venezuela and have been stranded for months in Colombia
seeking entry into the U.S. staged a protest Saturday to draw attention
to their plight.

The health care workers say they fear the delays in processing their
visa requests under a 2006 program aimed at luring Cuba’s medical talent
could be a sign that President Barack Obama is seeking to end the
incentive as part of his campaign to normalize relations with the
communist island.

Wearing white doctor’s coats and brandishing their diplomas, the Cuban
medical workers gathered in a plaza in Kennedy, a working-class
neighborhood built in the 1960s with funds from John F. Kennedy’s
Alliance for Progress. Several described how widespread shortages and
mistreatment in Venezuela is leading many to sneak across the border
seeking a new start in the United States. While they say conditions in
Colombia are better, the cost of living is higher and many say they’ve
had to borrow money from strangers and surviving on a single meal a day.

Ailen Garcia, a 25-year-old dentist, said she fled to Colombia expecting
to get a visa to enter the U.S. in a matter of weeks. Instead, she and
her husband have been waiting more than six months for a response, all
the while renting a small room in a working-class neighborhood of Bogota
for $200 a month and preparing for the birth of their first child in two
months’ time.

“I’m worried about my baby. Where am I going to give birth and in what
conditions?” said Garcia. “We’re in a state of limbo: without work, with
little money and time running out.”

More than 50,000 Cuban health care professionals are working in some 66
nations as part of an international outreach program begun in the 1960s.
The bulk work in Venezuela, which sends Cuba some 92,000 barrels of oil
a day worth about $3.2 billion a year in exchange.

The 2006 U.S. program is designed to deprive President Raul Castro’s
communist government of an important source of foreign revenue. Cuba has
not made public how much it pays doctors on foreign missions, though it
is believed to be a small fraction of what it collects from the nations
where they serve.

U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services, which administers the program,
didn’t immediately respond to a telephone message about the program

State Department spokesman John Kirby said this week that while Cubans
regularly voice their concerns about the program it’s not part of
bilateral talks taking place between the two governments and there are
no plans to eliminate the program.

“It is not at all related to our new policy with respect to Cuba,” he
said. “There’s no tie, no connection.”

Colombia’s migration authority said that 117 doctors are currently in
the country processing visa requests with the U.S. A total of 720 have
arrived this year, though 603 have been deported because they exceeded
the 90-day safe-conduct granted by Colombian authorities so they could
solicit a U.S. visa.

___

AP Writer Alicia Caldwell contributed to this report from Washington

Source: Cuban doctors fleeing Venezuela protest slow response to US visa
request | Fox News –
http://www.foxnews.com/world/2015/08/22/cuban-doctors-fleeing-venezuela-protest-slow-response-to-us-visa-request/

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