Brazil in talks to contract Cuban doctors, fund airport projects

CUBA STANDARD — Brazil’s foreign minister announced his country could deploy 6,000 Cuban doctors in underserved areas of the South American country. Simultaneously, a Brazilian ministry announced it will provide funding for renovation and expansion of Cuban airports.

Foreign Minister Antonio de Aguiar Patriota announced during a visit of his Cuban peer, Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, to Brasilia on May 6 that negotiations about a health agreement were under way, under the auspices of the Washington-based Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), to allow Cuban doctors to practice in Brazil.

“I believe we are talking about more or less 6,000 doctors,” Patriota said at a press conference. “We’re still finalizing the agreement so they can practice their profession in Brazil, to attend underserved communities.”

Although no details about the negotiations were released, this could be a major breakthrough for Cuba’s ambitions to turn service exports into hard-currency generators. A Brazilian agreement would be Cuba’s second-largest for-pay contract for deployment of medical personnel abroad; under a decade-old oil-for-services agreement, more than 20,000 Cuban healthcare workers are deployed in Venezuela. On a smaller scale, Cuba is providing for-pay medical services in Portugal, Qatar, Algeria and elsewhere. Also, Norway and Brazil have funded medical relief efforts involving Cuban doctors in Haiti.

Already, a Brazilian physicians’ association expressed concern over Cuban doctors’ level of qualification.

Simultaneously to Rodríguez’ visit in Brasilia, Brazilian Development, Industries and Foreign Trade Minister Fernando Pimentel held talks with President Raúl Castro in Havana and signed a memorandum of understanding with Cuban Foreign Trade Minister Rodrigo Malmierca to provide $176 million for five airport modernization projects in Cuba.

The funds will go directly from Brazilian development bank BNDES to Brazilian companies that will export goods and services for the expansion and modernization of airports in Havana, Santa Clara, Holguín, Cayo Coco and Cayo Largo. Brazilian construction giant Grupo Odebrecht, lead contractor in the $900 million expansion of the Port of Mariel, is expected to be the major beneficiary of the airport program.

“The funds will not be transferred to the Cuban government,” a press release by the Brazilian development and trade ministry said. “They will be paid by the Brazilian government to Brazilian suppliers of goods and services.”

Patriota also said he talked with Rodríguez about joint pharmaceutical production of Cuban drugs in Brazil, without getting into detail. Under a 2011 agreement, Brazilian-Cuban joint ventures would not only produce and distribute Cuban drugs in Brazil, but export them to other countries.

Brazilian companies have recently invested in the expansion of the Port of Mariel, biofuel production, and food safety programs. Trade between the two nations increased seven-fold since 2003. From 2010 to 2012, Brazilian exports to Cuba grew 36.9 percent. Last year, bilateral trade reached a historic high of $661.6 million.

In August, Brazil signed a memorandum of understanding for a $200 million loan from Brazil to fund Mais Alimentos Cuba, a food safety program on the island. The loan allows some of the more than 170,000 private farmers in Cuba to buy Brazilian-made tractors and other equipment, and help them benefit from Brazilian training and technology transfer. In addition, Brazil is providing Cuba a rotating credit facility of $400 million for food purchases in the South American country.

Last year, Companhia de Obras e Infraestrutura (COI), a Grupo Odebrecht subsidiary formed a 10-year joint production agreement with state company Azcuba to operate a sugar mill in the province of Cienfuegos.

Rodríguez, Patriota during a press conference in Brasilia
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