A new investigation has revealed how Cuban doctors are used by the Venezuelan government in an extortion scheme to remain in power, revealing new forms of criminal collaboration between the regime of Nicolás Maduro and Havana.
Medical staff from Cuba are sent to dozens of countries around the world, mostly developing nations. But doctors in Venezuela explained how they threaten and blackmail patients, including those with chronic diseases, to vote for and support Maduro or risk not being given the medicine they need to stay alive.
The report interviewed 16 doctors who had fled Venezuela and were now refugees in different Latin American countries. They stated they had been told to use a range of tactics, from simple reminders to vote for the government to outwardly denying treatment to opposition supporters with deadly diseases.
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Yansnier Arias, one such doctors now living in Chile, said that his Cuban and Venezuelan superiors told him oxygen could be used "as a political weapon...not for medical emergencies...but to be doled out closer to the election."
These episodes took place before the presidential elections of May 2018, which have been described as fraudulent by more than 60 countries and which do not recognize Nicolás Maduro as the legitimate president of Venezuela.
InSight Crime Analysis
The actions described by the Cuban doctors are among the grimmest reminders to date of Cuba's influence in Venezuelan politics and the lengths it will go to to keep Nicolás Maduro in power.
In addition to such forms of direct control, this shows how Cuba's intelligence apparatus has developed a symbiotic relationship with Venezuelan security and intelligence bodies.
"There are Cubans in the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (Servicio Bolivariano de Inteligencia Nacional – SEBIN), there are Cubans in the Bolivarian National Armed Forces (Fuerza Armada Nacional Bolivariana –FANB). But they are not in the street, nor in operational tasks. They work in intelligence and surveillance," an official from the Ministry of the Interior, Justice and Peace told InSight Crime on condition of anonymity.
These Cuban connections have also been used by certain officials with the Maduro government to further their ties with organized crime groups.
A high-ranking official within Venezuela's prisons service, speaking to InSight Crime in Caracas, revealed how in some popular neighborhoods Cuban doctors were charged with prioritizing treatment to members of "megabandas" and "pranes" who were injured in shootings.
"There are small operating rooms inside huts and poor homes in neighborhoods that are attended by Cuban doctors. Those are reserved for the pranes and gang members (loyal to the government," said the official, also speaking without revealing his identity.
These revelations about Cuban doctors being roped into illicit activities show a heretofore unknown facet political purposes show an unknown facet of the Maduro government's use of criminal acts as an instrument of social control.