Cuban sailors working on luxury cruises are being degraded to “‘slaves’, receiving only 20% of their wages, with the rest of their wages going to the Cuban government,” according to a report by human rights groups.
MSC Cruises, one of the world’s largest cruise lines, was named in the report released Wednesday by Prisoners Defenders and accused of storing Cuban sailors’ passports.
Both the shipping company and the Cuban government deny any wrongdoing.
Seafarers, along with doctors, engineers, architects and musicians, are among the approximately 100,000 Cuban professionals working under an international aid program launched by Cuba in the 1960s. The program aims to expand the influence of the communist government in the world and has become an important source of income for the Cuban regime in recent years.
Prisoners Defenders, a Spain-based human rights group linked to the Cuban opposition, Human Rights Watch and members of the European Parliament accuse the Cuban government of exploiting its own citizens by cutting 80% of their wages.
Doctors claim they have been sexually abused, transferred to dangerous places and face an eight-year ban from leaving Cuba if they decide to leave the civil service.
These international missions are a lucrative source of income for the Cuban government, bringing in Havana $8.5 billion each year, according to the prisoner defenders’ report, compared to tourism, which brings in $2.9 billion in annual revenue.
About 41 percent of Cubans working abroad say they have suffered sexual assault while on the job, the report said.
In a complaint to the International Criminal Court and the United Nations, human rights groups allege that Cuba is violating the fundamental rights of professionals who are part of Cuba’s international missions.
The Cuban government has defended its record on its foreign health workers.
The Cuban Embassy in Madrid did not respond to VOA requests for comment on the report.
A spokesman for MSC Cruises said in a statement that any cruise line employing Cuban personnel would have to deal with the state agency Selecmar in Havana, adding that centralized storage of crew members’ passports on board is standard practice.
However, Jordi Canas, an MEP from Spain’s centrist Civic Party and member of the European Parliament-affiliated Euro-Latin American Parliamentary Assembly, told a news conference on Wednesday: “Cuba is more like a slave plantation than a free country. Free Cuba treats its people like slaves to make money.”
Dayami Gonzalez, a Cuban doctor who has worked in Ecuador for eight years, said she received threats after saying she wanted to leave the Cuban government mission.
An estimated 30,000 Cuban doctors work in 60 countries around the world, mostly in Latin America and Africa, and Cuban authorities impose strict rules to prevent them from migrating abroad.
Medical workers and other Cubans who work abroad and refuse to continue working for the international mission can be barred from seeing their families back home for years under Cuban government laws.
Prisoners Defenders has solicited testimonies from 1,111 Cuban professionals who have worked abroad and say they have evidence of systematic human rights abuses.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday called for a federal task force to combat human trafficking in Cuba, North Korea and other countries.
“Our commitment to fighting #trafficking is backed by action and commitment from across the federal government,” he tweeted.
Cuban officials reacted angrily.
“The U.S. Secretary of State’s fraudulent allegations of linking Cuba to human trafficking seeks to tarnish the fraternal efforts of Cuba’s life-saving medical cooperation whose undeniable merits have garnered international recognition,” Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez tweeted.
In 2019, Prisoners Defenders published a report stating that Cuban doctors were ill-treated when posted abroad. Your most recent report has widened the scope of this complaint to include Cuban seafarers and other professionals.
The latest allegations came as Cuba dismissed allegations by rights groups and diplomats that its court system wrongly detained protesters following widespread protests on the island in July.
In the biggest protests in decades, thousands took to the streets to express anger at the lack of food, medicine and electricity as COVID-19 cases soared.
Cuban prosecutors said they charged 710 people with crimes including vandalism, assault and “grave public disturbance.”
Human rights groups, the US government and the European Union have condemned the trials of the protesters, saying they lacked transparency.
However, Cuban prosecutors said these allegations were “manipulations of public opinion” and that they had “verified compliance with rights and constitutional guarantees of due process” under Cuban law.
Some information for this report comes from Reuters.