BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazil has failed to replace nearly one third of the thousands of Cuban doctors who exited the country after a diplomatic spat, as many new recruits failed to turn up for work, the Health Ministry said on Wednesday.

Brazil’s President-elect Jair Bolsonaro had criticized Cuba’s involvement in a government healthcare program, saying that Cuban doctors were being used as “slave labor” because Havana took 75 percent of their salaries.

Cuba’s government in response pulled out of the cooperation agreement, which provided medical care for millions of Brazilians in poor and remote areas, leaving more than 8,000 doctor positions vacant.

While Brazil said last month it had filled more than 90 percent of the vacancies, 2,439 out of 8,411 new recruits had failed to report to their work locations by a Tuesday deadline, a Health Ministry spokeswoman said. The positions will be opened up for new applications on Dec. 20 and 21, she said.

The information was earlier reported by news portal G1.

Cuba generates major export earnings by dispatching more than 50,000 health workers to more than 60 countries. The money the doctors earned in Brazil under the program was considered good by Cuban standards, even after the government took its portion.

Bolsonaro, who takes office on Jan. 1, has positioned himself as a fervent anti-communist and plans to align Brazil more closely with the United States. On Tuesday, he said that he would take all action “within the rule of law and democracy” to oppose the governments of Venezuela and Cuba.

(Reporting by Jake Spring; Editing by Alistair Bell)