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Miami Cuban exile honored by State Department for exposing regime's human trafficking

Cuban-American human rights activist Maria Werlau (front, far left) with nine other TIP Heroes honorees at the Department of State on Monday, June 24, 2024, with Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken (back, center).
Mark Stewart
/
State Department
Cuban-American human rights activist Maria Werlau (front, far left) with nine other TIP Heroes honorees at the Department of State on Monday, June 24, 2024, with Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken (back, center).

On Monday, the State Department honored what it calls heroes in the fight against human trafficking — and one of the honorees confronts what many call forced labor from Cuba.

At the Washington D.C. ceremony, Secretary of State Antony Blinken released the department's annual Trafficking In Persons, or TIP report, while recognizing those who combat human trafficking.

Among them was Maria Werlau, a Cuban-American from Miami who heads the Cuban human rights nonprofit Cuba Archive. It raises awareness about Cuba’s labor export program and the controversial medical brigades that tens of thousands doctors must serve in abroad, often in remote areas of developing nations.

“This involves trafficking in persons, forced labor," Werlau told WLRN from Washington. "These professionals, these workers, are subjected to all sort of abuses, arbitrary regulations and especially the separation from their families.”

READ MORE: Brazil Brawl: More Cuban doctors may bolt to Florida as Bolsonaro and Havana feud

Cuban doctors sent to Brazil as part of a medical brigade mission working at a clinic in Brazilia in 2013.
Eraldo Peres
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AP
Cuban doctors sent to Brazil as part of a medical brigade mission working at a clinic in Brazilia in 2013.

Cuba’s communist regime claims those doctors and other workers — most if not almost all of whose pay goes to the Cuban government — are part of a humanitarian mission. But Werlau insists it’s economic exploitation.

“Until 2010 it was a state secret that Cuba was getting paid for these missions," she said. "Service exports are the primary source of revenues" for the Cuban regime, she added.

The medical brigades have included as many as 50,000 Cuban doctors in years past. Over the past decade, many have defected from the missions and made their way to the U.S.

Monday marked the 20th anniversary of the State Department's TIP Heroes program.

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Tim Padgett is the Americas Editor for WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida. Contact Tim at tpadgett@wlrnnews.org
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