Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has thanked his Cuban counterpart for sending about 1,000 health workers to help Mexico respond to the coronavirus pandemic.
Lopez Obrador spoke by phone on Tuesday with Miguel Diaz-Canel, who ascended to the position of first secretary of Cuba’s Communist Party last week.
“For this gesture of solidarity I will speak to the president of Cuba in a moment … to express our appreciation for their generosity,” the Mexican president said during his daily morning news conference before the call.
Diaz-Canel in turned thanked the Mexican leader on behalf of the Cuban medical personnel.
On Twitter, he said the two leaders also discussed pandemic response coordination.
“I expressed appreciation for his work for the integration of Our America,” Diaz-Canel tweeted, adding Cuba’s interest in expanding health collaboration.
Diaz-Canel also said two of Cuba’s five COVID-19 vaccine candidates are scheduled to conclude phase-3 trials over the next few weeks.
Cuba is leading the race to become the first country in Latin America to develop its own COVID-19 vaccine but the country is suffering acute shortages of basic medicines amid its worst economic crisis in years.
Cuba has for decades sent doctors and other healthcare professionals to countries across Latin America and around the world to help bolster their health systems and respond to natural disasters and more recently, the COVID-19 pandemic.
But despite generally strong relations between the two countries, Mexico has not in the past received Cuban doctors partly to avoid diplomatic frictions with its northern neighbour, the United States.
But Mexico has been one of the hardest-hit countries in the world by the pandemic, ranking third globally in the number of deaths. The country has also reported more than 2.3 million cases of COVID-19, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
The US State Department in a March report called Cuba’s medical aid programme “abusive” and “coersive”, arguing that the doctors Cuba sends abroad are not adequately paid and are forced to join and cannot leave the programme.
Havana says everyone in the programme takes part of their own volition and is paid.
The US-based rights group Human Rights Watch in a report last year said Cuba closely monitors and controls health workers it sends abroad and those who “abandon” their jobs may face criminal charges.