- Cuban doctors deployed in Venezuela claim they were forced to coerce patients into voting for Nicolás Maduro in his re-election campaign, according to the New York Times.
- The doctors said they had to enlist voters during medical visits, and they were forced to withhold supplies.
- Maduro won the 2018 re-election with 50.6% of the vote, but the result was widely rejected by Western nations.
Cuban doctors deployed in Venezuela claim they were forced to use their services as a political weapon to coerce patients into voting for socialist Nicolas Maduro in his re-election last year, according to a bombshell report from the New York Times.
The New York Times interviewed 16 Cuban doctors who described various tactics – from enlisting voters on their medical visits to withholding treatment to opposition supporters.
The interviewees were members of the medical mission to Venezuela, part of the Cuban tradition of outsourcing highly skilled doctors to allied countries. Venezuela’s health system is deteriorating rapidly as the crumbling economy has led to medicine shortages and skyrocketing drug prices.
But the doctors who talked to the New York Times said they were not deployed to alleviate this health crisis.
Dr. Yansnier Arias told the newspaper that Cuban and Venezuelan superiors made him withhold supplies from patients, only to flood hospitals with them shortly before the election in May 2018.
The strategy was allegedly employed to make it seem like Maduro had fixed the country’s chronic medicine shortages, in turn bolstering support for him right before Venezuelans headed to polls.
Dr. Arias, who left the program and defected to Chile, remembered one instance, in which he was not allowed to give oxygen to a 65-year-old patient with heart failure.
“There was oxygen, but they didn’t let me use it,” he told the NYT. “We had to leave it for the election.”
All 16 doctors recalled paying visits to patients’ houses, and enlisting them to vote for Maduro’s Socialist Party.
Dr. Carlos Ramírez, who defected to Ecuador, said the visits always started with the premise of handing over vitamins, blood pressure pills or other medicine.
“And when you started to gain their trust, you started the questions: ‘Do you know where your voting place is? Are you going to vote?'”, he told the NYT.
Another strategy was to threaten patients that they would lose their healthcare if Maduro did not win the re-election because the opposition would break ties with Cuba’s socialist government.
The alliance between the two states is strong: Cuba depends on Venezuela’s oil, and before the humanitarian crisis peaked,Cuban-run clinics were a signature program under Hugo Chavez, Maduro’s late predecessor.
Some doctors told the New York Times they were forced to remind their patients what would happen if they left the country.
“It became a form of blackmail: ‘You’re not going to have medicine. You’re not going to have free health care. You’re not going to have prenatal care if you’re a pregnant woman,’ ” said a doctor, who wanted to remain anonymous.
Maduro ended up winning re-election with 50.6% in a vote that the United States and most Western nations did not recognise.
The Venezuelan government refused any comment to the New York Times about the doctors’ involvement in this victory. The Cuban government denied any political coercion to the newspaper.
Now opposition leader Juan Guaidó is trying to oust the socialist leader. More than 50 countries have recognised Guaidó as Venezuela’s rightful president, but Cuba, Russia, and other government allies continue supporting Maduro.
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