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Stranded – A Cuban doctor ponders life stuck between policies and politics

Stranded: A Cuban doctor ponders life stuck between policies and politics
BY MARIO J. PENTÓN AND JIM WYSS
jwyss@miamiherald.com

BOGOTA, COLOMBIA
When Elisabet Casero, a 26-year-old Cuban dentist, decided to abandon
her assignment in Venezuela earlier this month, she knew the stakes. She
would have to cross a crime-infested border to get to Colombia, forfeit
her life savings in Cuba and be considered a pariah on the island.

But the risks seemed worth it. She planned to apply for a U.S. visa
under the Cuban Medical Professional Parole program, tailor-made for the
island’s health professionals.

But just hours after she was smuggled into Colombia on Jan. 12, on the
back of a motorcycle, she heard the news: the Obama administration had
canceled the parole program.

“I got so depressed,” Casero said. “But I have no choice but to move
forward. I can’t go back to Cuba and much less Venezuela.”

Now Casero finds herself in a precarious situation: unable to continue
to the United States, unable to work in Colombia and unwilling to return
home.

Hundreds of Cubans are stranded in the Americas after the Obama
administration ended the so-called “wet foot, dry foot” policy as well
as the parole program for medical professionals earlier this month.

The administration has said it will continue processing parole
applications submitted before the program was canceled, but it hasn’t
said what might happen to people like Casero. And while it’s not clear
how many people might be in her situation, Cuban doctors in Bogotá said
they knew of at least two more cases of people who had already abandoned
their jobs but hadn’t been able to apply for the program.

In Cuba, being chosen to work in an international medical mission is
considered prestigious. But the reality can be stark. Casero said she
was paid 27,000 bolivares a month — less than $10 — while she worked in
the northern Venezuelan state of Valencia. To pay for her escape, she
had to save as much as possible.

“I couldn’t even pay for the transportation to the office. Our Cuban
bosses also did not give us money for water and cooking gas,” she said.
“They told us we had to rely on the ‘solidarity’ of friends.”

She said her supervisors also encouraged the doctors to get their
Venezuelan patients to pay for a portion of the care, even though it’s
supposed to be free.

Her decision to join the Cuban government’s “medical mission” to
Venezuela was not free of pressure either, Casero said.

“We were told that we should go on the mission. If you refuse, you can
even lose your career because they brand you as a counterrevolutionary,”
the dentist said.

In Venezuela she says she was required to work long hours and was
closely monitored to make sure she met her quota of patients. (Venezuela
pays Cuba for the service with oil.)

Casero has been biding her time at a group house in Bogotá, hoping for a
miracle. Even though she’s barred from working in Colombia, she’s hoping
an offer might come in from somewhere. And she’s starting to explore the
idea of seeking asylum in other countries.

But going home isn’t an option, she said. Deserting a medical mission is
almost seen as an act of treason.

“My record is stained, they’ll take away my degree and you’re looked
down on by everyone,” she says. “You were once a dentist but now you’re
a nobody.”

Asked if she thought that the medical parole program might be revived
under the new Trump administration, she was pessimistic.

“I have no hope at all,” she said. “And I have no idea what to do next,
except to wait.”

FOLLOW JIM WYSS ON TWITTER: @JIMWYSS

Source: Cuban dentist is unable to head to U.S., unwilling return home |
Miami Herald –
www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article127778929.html

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