Updated: May 4, 2020
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has criticised South Africa and Qatar for accepting doctors from Cuba to battle the coronavirus crisis, accusing the north Caribbean island of profiting from the pandemic.
"We've noticed how the regime in Havana has taken advantage of the Covid-19 pandemic to continue its exploitation of Cuban medical workers," Mr Pompeo is quoted as telling reporters on Wednesday. "We applaud leaders in Brazil, Ecuador and Bolivia and other countries which have refused to turn a blind eye to these abuses by the Cuban regime and ask all countries to do the same, including places like South Africa and Qatar." The team of Cuban medics arrived in the African nation on Sunday night. They include family physicians, epidemiologists, biotechnology experts and health-care technology engineers.
"Governments accepting Cuban doctors must pay them directly. Otherwise, when they pay the regime, they are helping the Cuban government turn a profit on human trafficking." South Africa, which like Qatar has friendly relations with the United States, on Monday announced that 217 Cuban doctors had arrived in the country, which has the highest number of coronavirus infections in Africa.
The country has recorded 5,350 cases of coronavirus, including 103 deaths. Cuba has sent doctors to more than 20 countries during the pandemic including Italy and Mexico. France has also authorised Cuban teams to help in its overseas territories.
They are to be deployed to different provinces by South Africa's Department of Health, according to Cuba's ambassador Rodolfo Benítez Verson. Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel reacted to Pompeo on Twitter, writing: "The United States is being deliberately deceitful by attacking Cuba's international medical cooperation with lies and slander." "Cuba's solidarity further isolates the aggressive policies of the United States," he said. Cuba has made health care a priority despite the poverty of the island, which has been subject to US sanctions for more than 60 years. Former president Barack Obama sought to reconcile with Cuba, calling the isolation policy a failure, and ended a program in which Washington encouraged Cuban doctors to defect and resettle in the United States.
Cuba says it earned $6.3 billion from its medical dispatches in 2018 and used the proceeds to finance its own universal health care coverage.