RIO DE JANEIRO: As Cuban doctors in Brazil begin to head home amid a diplomatic spat between Havana and the South American country's far-right president-elect, Brazil's health ministry said nearly 84 percent of the resulting vacancies had already been filled.
The first of thousands of Cuban doctors left Brazil on Thursday after criticism by incoming President Jair Bolsonaro prompted Cuba's government to sever a cooperation agreement, leaving millions of Brazilians without medical care.
In a press release issued on Friday, the health ministry said it had managed in three days to procure 19,994 Brazilian doctors to take the Cubans' places, often in poor, rural areas.
"Of that total, 13,341 were enlisted, and 7,154 professionals have already been allocated to municipalities to start immediately," the statement said.
The health ministry said that a web portal to handle inscriptions, open until Dec. 7, had suffered cyber attacks, which had caused some problems, but the site was now stable.
Bolsonaro has said the Cuban doctors were being used as "slave labor" because Havana took 75 percent of their salaries. He said the program, which began in 2013, could continue only if they got full pay and were allowed to bring their families.
Bolsonaro, an admirer of U.S. President Donald Trump, was elected last month by Brazilians fed up with rising crime and rampant corruption that reached new highs during almost a decade-and-a-half of leftist governments with close ties to Cuba.
Cuba has a respected health service and generates major export earnings by sending more than 50,000 health workers to over 60 countries. Even though they received only a fraction of their salaries, the money was good for the doctors by Cuban standards.
(Reporting by Gabriel Stargardter; Editing by Dan Grebler)