El Bloqueo

Not sure which gets more comical—in a sick sense—with each passing year: The ever-mounting one-sidedness of the annual vote in the UN General Assembly urging those “States that have and continue to apply [measures against other States that affect the free flow of international trade] to take the necessary steps to repeal or invalidate them as soon as possible”? Or the near-invisibility with which this vote occurs—just as it has been occurring for the past 14 straight years?

After all, the principles affirmed are anything but a “complete exercise in irrelevancy,” here quoting the phrase used by the American Ambassador to the United Nations, dismissing the lot of them. Namely: The “sovereign equality of States, nonintervention and non-interference in their internal affairs and freedom of international trade and navigation….” Or what the Russian Foreign Ministry referred to as the “resort to unilateral exterritorial measures in international relations.” A practice which “contradicts the spirit of our time and the very nature of the contemporary international relations.” But a “left-over of the Cold War and of ideological confrontation.” One that “retards the formation of the new 21st century world order, based on the fundamental principles of the UN Charter and the international law.”

As best I can tell, the New York Times devoted 127 words to the grand event. (Though a few days later, New York’s Daily News did run a sensible commentary on the vote.) The Daily Telegraph (Sydney) a total of 30. The Calgary Sun a whopping 83. While the U.K. print media ran virtually nothing. (Excluding a bona fide outlier such as the Morning Star. Wherein I discovered 408.) The Economist (London) 40. And the Financial Times somewhere on the order of 20. (At the outset of a slightly-longer blurb about how the Governor of the State of Alabama was urging his 49 fellow governors to adopt a boycott of Aruba, “angry about Aruba’s alleged mishandling of an investigation into the disappearance of Natalee Holloway, an Alabama student, on the holiday island in May.” Doubtless one of the most heavily reported incidents on American cable television during 2005. Right up there with Hurricane Katrina. And the Michael Jackson trial.)

Of course I am referring to the General Assembly’s vote on a draft resolution bearing the mouthful of a title: Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba.

In case you missed it, the November 8 vote was 182 in favor of the resolution, 4 against (the United States—and Israel, the Marshall Islands, and Palau), 1 State abstaining (the Federates States of Micronesia), and 4 absent (El Salvador, Iraq, Morocco, and Nicaragua).

Just as in every one of the previous 13 years, the votes in favor or against these resolutions have been roughly the same—the one significant difference being in the number of states willing to vote in favor of the resolutions, rather than copping out and abstaining, as used to happen early on.

- 1992 (A/RES/47/19): 59 in favor; 3 against (the U.S., Israel, and Romania); and 79 abstained

- 1993 (A/RES/48/16): 88 to 4 (the U.S., Israel)

- 1994 (A/RES/49/9): 101 to 2

- 1995 (A/RES/50/10): 117 to 3

- 1996 (A/RES/51/17): 137 to 3

- 1997 (A/RES/52/10): 143 to 3

- 1998 (A/RES/53/4): 157 to 2

- 1999 (A/RES/54/21): 155 to 2

- 2000 (A/RES/55/20): 167 to 3

- 2001 (A/RES/56/9): 167 to 3

- 2002 (A/RES/57/11): 173 to 3

- 2003 (A/RES/58/7): 179 to 3

- 2004 (A/RES/59/11) 179 to 4

- 2005: (A/60/L.9): 182 to 4

At no time in the 14 consecutive years that the General Assembly has adopted these resolutions has the U.S. Government voted completely by itself. In fact, in each of the 14 years, the Israeli Government has joined it. As it did this past November 8.

As one Lester D. Mallory, then a Deputy Under-Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs in the Eisenhower Administration, expressed what would become the unrelenting U.S. policy toward Cuba for the next 45 years (April, 1960—and there were no so-called “Neoconservatives” in sight):

[T]he only foreseeable means to alienate internal support is by creating disillusionment and discouragement based on lack of satisfaction and economical difficulties….We should immediately use any possible measure to…cause hunger, desperation and the overthrow of the Government.

In other words, if somebody can build a house for themselves, U.S. policy is to tear it down. (All the while counting on the educated classes back in the States to lay the blame for the demolition at the feet of the very people who built it in the first place.)

In a State Department briefing the very day the resolution was adopted, Adam Ereli was asked whether he thought “there’s something to be said for the fact that the whole international community disagrees with your policy and thinks other things should….”

Even before the reporter could finish his question, Ereli’s response was as unequivocal as it was unceremonious: “No.”

American history really is no more complicated than this No.

Unless we say so.

Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba (Draft Resolution: A/60/L.9), UN General Assembly, October 24, 2005. [This same draft document was adopted by the General Assembly on November 8.]
General Assembly, for Fourteenth Straight Year, Adopts Text on Ending Decades-Old United States Embargo against Cuba” (GA/10417), November 8, 2005
General Assembly issues annual call for an end to US embargo against Cuba,” UN News Center, November 8, 2005

STOP Al Bloqueo (Homepage)
Report by Cuba on Resolution 59/11 of the United Nations General Assembly (English), Government of Cuba, August 15, 2005

Trip To Latin America,” White House Office of the Press Secretary, November 4, 2005
Fact Sheet: Accomplishments at the Fourth Summit of the Americas,” White House Office of the Press Secretary, November 5, 2005
President Bush Discusses Democracy in the Western Hemisphere,” White House Office of the Press Secretary, November 6, 2005
Daily Press Briefing,” Adam Ereli, U.S. Department of State, November 8, 2005

Ministerial segment of the 15th Ibero-American Summit ends today,” Nidia Diaz and Jorge Luis Gonzalez, Granma International, October 13, 2005
Cuba Regards Ibero-American Summit as Victory Over U.S.,” Patrick Goodenough, CNSNews.com, October 17, 2005
15th Ibero-American Summit supports Cuba,” W. T. Whitney Jr., People’s Weekly World, October 18, 2005
Ibero-American summit criticises US policy,” Paul Mitchell, World Socialist Website, October 29, 2005
Cubans more wary of Bush administration,” David Clarke, Reuters, November 4, 2005
Cuba obtains overwhelming support for resolution calling for an end to the blockade,” Granma International, November 8, 2005

Strange Logic, ZNet, November 2, 2004

Postscript (November 27): In defiance of the animating principle of El Bloqueo, the decades-old effort by El Norte—by the Americans, that is, in the bastardized, Washington-as-the-center-of-the-universe sense of the term—to “alienate internal support” for the Cuban Revolution and for Castroism by causing material difficulties for the people of Cuba, “creating disillusionment and discouragement” and “caus[ing] hunger, desperation and the overthrow of the Government,” in the formulaic expression of a Deputy Under-Secretary of State during the Eisenhower regime, the November/December issue of MEDICC Review (“Health and Medical News of Cuba”) is devoted to the “health equity puzzle” and how Cuba’s revolutionary ethos as well as its national system for delivering care have tried to solve it.

Towards Health Equity in Cuba, MEDICC Review, Volume VII – No. 9, November/December, 2005

In a pull-quote that accompanies an editorial, MEDICC (short for Medical Education Cooperation with Cuba) affirms proudly the fact that “Cuba’s experience challenges the conventional assumption that generating wealth is the fundamental precondition for improving health.” (“The Health Equity Puzzle: No Easy Pieces“)

How far from the reigning assumption among the Americans! Whose system for delivering health care not only guarantees grotesquely inequitable health outcomes. But also, and equally by design, leads the world in denying people access to the care they need.

Postscript (December 18):

* http://www.chicagotribune.com/features/health/chi-0512180243dec18,1,3190440.story

Chicago Tribune
December 18, 2005
Cuba cutting `world class’ trail in biotech research
Well-funded government labs enable Castro’s cash-starved nation to produce high-quality vaccines and medications for a global market
By Gary Marx

HAVANA — On the outskirts of Havana sits a cluster of drab buildings that are part of an effort to propel Cuba to the forefront of biotechnology even as its population struggles with blackouts, shortages and crumbling infrastructure.

Known as the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, or CIGB, the institute is one of 52 government facilities dedicated to human, animal and agricultural research that have recorded a string of successes.

Using more than $1 billion in state funding, Cuban scientists have produced a hepatitis B vaccine sold in more than 30 countries and streptokinase, a potent enzyme that dissolves blood clots and improves the survival rate of heart attack victims. The country also makes recombinant interferon that strengthens the immune system of cancer patients, and a meningitis B vaccine.

In the pipeline are products ranging from an injection that closes ulcers and improves circulation in diabetics to vaccines against cholera and hepatitis C, according to Cuban officials.

“We’ve been very impressed by the biotech industry in Cuba,” said Anne Walsh, vice president for communications at GlaxoSmithKline, one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies. “It’s world class.”

Despite Cuba’s success in the laboratory, some experts question whether a poor country should be spending scarce resources on research. The production of milk, beef and other foods has fallen even as its scientists embark on years-long efforts to produce genetically modified rice, corn and other crops that are disease resistant.

Criticism from Florida

“Thinking big in the context of widespread needs and shortages is irresponsible,” said Damian Fernandez, director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University.

There also is a question of whether Cuba is using its biotech industry to develop biological weapons. The U.S. State Department leveled the bioweapons charge against Cuba in 2002 but in August softened its stance and said the evidence was inconclusive.

But even the suggestion that Cuban scientists may be involved in a weapons program infuriates Carlos Borroto, CIGB’s deputy director.

“Our biotech [industry] is so public, so transparent,” he said. “The people who are working here, you could [threaten to] kill them and they would not produce a bioweapon.”

Borroto and other officials said the island’s biotechnology sector already has played an important role in improving health care in Cuba while also providing low-cost vaccines and other medicines to developing countries.

The industry is slowly becoming an important revenue source for this cash-starved nation, earning an estimated $300 million a year, officials say.

“We have some advantage because our products are the same quality as the rest of the world, and most of the time they are cheaper,” said Sergio Perez Talavera, sales manager in Asia for Herber Biotec SA, CIGB’s commercial branch.

Cuba’s biotechnology industry started from scratch more than two decades ago after visiting American scientists met with Cuban President Fidel Castro and told him about the potential benefits of interferon in cancer treatment.

The nation’s first biotechnology laboratory opened in 1981 with six researchers, and the government poured money into the sector even after Cuba’s economy took a nosedive following the collapse of the Soviet Union, then the island’s main benefactor.

Today, thousands of scientists work in what is known as the Polo Cientifico, a series of facilities that include the Finlay Institute, developer of the meningitis B vaccine, and the National Center for Bioreagents, a huge plant whose leading product is the hepatitis B vaccine.

Cuba’s crown jewel

The crown jewel of Cuba’s biotech industry is CIGB, a collection of manufacturing facilities, greenhouses and research laboratories.

This month CIGB played host to Havana’s annual biotechnology conference, drawing 250 experts from Germany, Mexico and three dozen other nations to discuss ways to improve agricultural production.

Among the Cuban scientists presenting their research at the conference was Rolando Moran, who has spent more than a decade trying to genetically modify the sweet potato to resist the weevil larva, a ravenous pest.

Moran said his work is still in the experimental stage but hopes it can someday increase crop yields. He praised the government for supporting his research but said funds are tight.

Jose de la Fuente, a former top CIGB scientist who is an Oklahoma State University professor, said the growth of Cuba’s biotech industry is threatened by another problem: the intrusion of politics into science.

He said many top Cuban researchers studied and worked in Europe, Japan and the United States but authorities are increasingly preventing Cuban researchers from traveling abroad if they do not support Castro’s one-party system.

“This does not create a good atmosphere for good science,” said de la Fuente, who left Cuba in 1999 after losing his job at CIGB.

Even under optimal conditions, it would be tough for impoverished Cuba to compete in the global arena against the pharmaceutical heavyweights.

Yet, while Western pharmaceutical companies focus mostly on producing drugs for North America, Europe and other wealthy regions, Cuba’s efforts have centered on developing vaccines and other products for internal use and for export to the Third World.

“The U.S. companies are not that interested in tackling diseases that are not blockbusters,” said Francois Arcand, director general of the Spanish company ERA Biotech. “Cuba is in a different world. They are doing a niche strategy. They are going where there is less resistance.”

Cuba’s biomedical industry also has formed partnerships in India, China and other nations, which like Cuba are developing medicines for far less than it would cost to purchase the same products abroad.

But Perez, the CIGB sales representative, said Cuba is looking increasingly toward breaking into Europe and other lucrative markets.

The effort will be costly and difficult, despite Cuba’s biomedical advances.

“A good patented product can surpass the sales of all our products combined, and this is our main target,” Perez said. “This is a very, very hard task.”

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