Entries in Cuba (10)
Children playing baseball in the shadow of the Capitolio Nacional, the Whitehouse imitation built for the Cuban Congress and turned into the Cuban Academy of Sciences after the revolution. Professional sport was shut down in 1959, but far from being detrimental to participation, amateur sport thrives among all ages and Cuba punches above its weight at the Olympics.
Our hosts took us on a tour of the Centre for Molecular Immunology in Havana. Of course, a lab is lab where-ever you go, with old furniture and decades old solutions with faded labels sitting next to a multi-million dollar piece of machinery. The difference in Cuba is just that everything is more difficult and expensive thanks to the embargo. They can work around it, but even ordering an antibody takes six months, and if they manage to pick up the equipment they need none of the companies will allow a service contract, so if it breaks they have to fix it themselves. The stand out was the monoclonal antibody production unit, which goes through a million litres of media a year and has just been upgraded to have the capacity to produce 50kg of monoclonal antibodies every year. The Cuban health care system is justifiably world famous, with the highest doctor-to-population ratio in the world and health outcomes better than the United States. I knew that Cuba annually sends thousands of doctors to more than 40 developing nations around the world, and trains thousands more on developing world scholarship programs, but I had not realised that Cuba also supplied massive amounts of medicine to the developing world. The medical export industry, including the facility for producing monoclonal antibodies for cancer treatment, is the second largest in Cuba, and is a vital source of vaccines and therapeutics across Africa and Latin America.
Waves roll in from the Straits of Florida and crash against the Malecon. From my hotel I can hear the breakers all night, and a walk along the ocean front with the fishermen gives unexpected sprays over the wall.
The flags of the Plaza Tribuna Anti-Imperialista obscure the view of the US Interests Office. The US embargo of Cuba, which has to be one of the most pointless acts of economic vandalism in the world, does not allow the US to have an embassy in Cuba, so of course they renamed the embassy a “Special Interests Office”. Perhaps someone working in that building can explain exactly what the purpose of continuing the 50+ year embargo is. Surely after the first 20 or so years they must have realised it wouldn’t bring down Fidel Castro? Besides from which, it is hard to work out what exactly they have against Castro. The most grievous human rights violations in Cuba are taking place in Guantanamo Bay, and the largest hardships in the lives of most Cubans are caused by the US embargo itself. Cuba is hardly perfect, and has problems beyond the embargo, but of all the countries around the world why does the US feel the need to pick on Cuba so much? Why is Saudi Arabia a valid trading partner and Pakistan a major recipient of US aid, but Cuba a forbidden zone? Has there been any rationale since the collapse of the USSR for the antagonism towards this plucky Caribbean island?
How did a Latin American socialist revolutionary who died more than 40 years ago in Bolivia come to have one of the most instantly recognisable faces in the world? With only a few crude lines, the mural on the Ministerio del Interior at the Plaza de la Revolucion paints a picture of Che Guevara that must be found on posters and shirts on university campuses across the world. What makes Che such an attractive figure? Is it just that he was a revolutionary who died young, fighting the established system? Or is it because he was a revolutionary of the mind, an academic idealist without military training or aptitude who nevertheless picked up a gun to defend his cause? Perhaps Che is attractive to rebellious youth because he demonstrates that an asthmatic intellectual can become an action hero able to defeat trained soldiers due to the purity of his motives.