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‘Bigging-Up’ Cuba!

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The Centre for State Control of Medicines, Equipment and Medical Devices said recently that Cuba’s Abdala vaccine is 92% effective after 3 doses.

Near 20 percent of its population has already received at least one dose of the vaccine and it is hoped that by the end of the year the whole population will be vaccinated. That country has also begun vaccinating children as young as 2 in an effort to have a smooth re-opening of schools. There are also other Covid-19 vaccines in the pipeline, including the Soberana 02. The Cuban vaccines, moreover, do not require extreme refrigeration. Of importance is that the process of having its vaccine authorised by the WHO has already begun. Cuba’s bio-tech sector is well respected and has over the years had success with its vaccine production. While other developing countries have been seeking vaccines from the developed world, Cuba had decided to produce its own vaccines in an environment where the distribution of vaccines has to some extent become politicised as Barbadian PM, Mia Mottley hinted at her recent address to the UN General Assembly.

I am applauding Cuba’s successes despite the criminal, despicable and archaic US economic blockade of that country, depriving it of foreign exchange earnings, shortages of food, medicine, medical equipment, and basic goods. For 21 consecutive years, forgetting 2020 when the pandemic prevented it, the UN General Assembly had annually been passing resolutions demanding an end to the US economic blockade. In June 184 countries supported the resolution, with only the US and Israel voting against. The US position is that sanctions are important in seeking to advance democracy and human rights. What strange bedfellows! Israel has for long been depriving the Palestinians of their human rights and have been occupying their lands despite many UN resolutions that have condemned them. Does the US not see those violations? In fact, even in the US democracy is under threat as a number of states with Republican governors are instituting efforts to limit the rights of minorities to vote.

Cuba, of course, has its problems as was seen in July when some of the biggest demonstrations ever, took place. I refuse to publicly condemn Cuba until that dastardly economic boycott is removed. From the very beginning the main aim was to stifle the economy and create a situation where the people would overthrow the Communist government and thus achieve regime change. That has been taking place for 60 years without achieving the results intended. In fact, what it might have done was to provide the government with a scapegoat,  blaming all its woes, economic and otherwise on the embargo. Remove the boycott. This will then become a test for the Cuban government. Let us then make judgements in that different context.

Obama realised that the boycott was archaic and ineffective and thus officially restored diplomatic relations in 2015, with embassies being reopened in each capital. A meeting  between both countries to begin discussion of easing travel and trade restrictions was held at the time of a meeting of the UN General Assembly. The big problem was that only Congress had the power to remove the embargo. Trump who succeeded Obama erased all of the efforts made to restore a sense of normalcy. Biden, despite having been Obama’s VP, has so far failed to undo some of Trump’s reversals. Admittedly Biden’s presidency is still relatively new and had been focused on getting the pandemic under control. But there is obviously more to it for the President hopes to make in -roads in Florida where the Cuban exiles hold court. 

 The pandemic, with its effects, has sparked protests in the Caribbean and other parts of the world. Among those hardest hit are countries that depend on tourism. One could well imagine the effects on a country that also faces an economic embargo. Cuba has for long provided assistance to our health sector. There might thus be more trust of its vaccine! Clearly Bill Gates is not behind it!

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian

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