Dr. Luarca gets a job

Luis Luarca, the Cuban refugee doctor who staged a three-week hunger strike earlier this year, began working with McAlpine Ltd. on Monday after several months of trying to get work with the Health Services Authority as a security guard.

‘I’ve worked with them before and I’m very pleased to work with them again,’ Mr. Luarca said Tuesday, adding that from his point of view, the job was as a long-term position.

Mr. Luarca said was hired as a labourer and a store man, which he described as someone who looked after tools and other building materials.

In late January, Mr. Luarca started a hunger strike on the lawn of the Glass House government administration building to protest what he called was lack of respect for human rights in the Cayman Islands and Cuba.

Eventually, Cayman’s fledgling Human Rights Committee was engaged by an official complaint by Mr. Luarca of violations to the United Nation’s Convention on the Status of Refugees.

The Human Rights Committee issued its report on the matter last month. Mr. Luarca called the findings of the report unacceptable and ‘not in agreement with the truth’ and commenced another hunger strike at his home that lasted a little more than a week.

Mr. Luarca’s complaint to the Human Rights Committee primarily stemmed from allegations of breaches to two of the Articles of the Convention. The alleged breaches arose from Mr. Luarca’s inability to attain a position he applied for as a security guard with the Health Services Authority and his inability to practice medicine in the Cayman Islands.

With regard to the security guard job, Mr. Luarca alleged he was unsuccessful in his application for the position because the HSA gave preference to a young and inexperienced Caymanian, which would in fact have been a breach of Article 17 of the Convention if it were true.

Article 17 asserts that refugees must not only be given preferential treatment over non-Caymanians, but that they must also be treated in the same matter as Caymanians, as long as they meet certain criteria. Mr. Luarca has met that criteria through his continued residency here

The HSA denied it gave preferential treatment to a less qualified Caymanian over Dr. Luarca, who continued through late May to attempt to get a security guard job at the George Town Hospital.

‘His comments about how he was dealt with by the HSA were totally erroneous,’ said HSA CEO Craig Brown in a recent interview.

Mr. Brown said Mr. Luarca did not make the short list of applicants for the three available positions because he did not have the background the HSA was looking for.

Regardless, the HSA was asked by the Government to interview Mr. Luarca, who by that time had begun his first hunger strike.

Mr. Brown said Mr. Luarca was interviewed ‘just as a courtesy.’

Judy Miller, the HSA’s human resources advisor, said Mr. Luarca’s interview did not go well.

‘He didn’t listen to questions and kept interrupting,’ she said.

Moreover, Mrs. Miller said Mr. Luarca did not have the necessary skills and background to do the job.

Because of the shooting incident at the George Town Hospital in March 2005, the HSA is now looking for people with longer security experience and a background in police work, Mrs. Miller said.

‘We needed to have [security guards] that have the skills to be able to assess and diffuse possible problems,’ she said, noting that the same skill sets are typical in many other jurisdictions.

These additional required skills account for the HSA paying its security guards more than other security guards in the public and private sector, which the HRC suggested in its report might explain why Mr. Luarca was adamant he only wanted a security guard job with the government.

Mrs. Miller said at the end of the fair process, the three most qualified individuals – one Caymanian and two Jamaicans – got the positions.

Mr. Luarca’s also contended that the Convention on the Status of Refugees obligated the Cayman Islands Government to facilitate his supplemental training so that he could practice medicine here.

The HRC report noted medical qualifications in Cuba do not allow a doctor to practice medicine in the Cayman Islands under this countries Health Practice Registration Regulations.

Moreover, while Article 22(2) of the Convention aspires to have countries provide as favourable treatment as possible to refugees, it does not provide any clear imposition on the receiving country, other than they should seek to live up to the spirit of the Convention.

HRC member Vaughan Carter said the Cayman Islands met the minimum requirements with regard to its treatment of Mr. Luarca with respect to Article 22.

Mr. Carter said the Cayman Islands has subsequently ‘raised the bar’ with regard to its policies in relation to offering retraining of refugee.

More importantly, Mr. Carter said Mr. Luarca currently has the ability to avail himself of the raised policy. However, Mr. Luarca has indicated he is no longer interested in pursuing a career in medicine.

Mr. Luarca disagrees with the findings of the report and intends to pursue the alleged breaches of Articles 17 and 22 through the civil courts.

Legal aid was granted to Mr. Luarca in May, and he said he has retained attorney Steve McField to pursue the cause.

‘It’s in the hands of the lawyer now,’ Mr. Luarca said.

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