Cuba’s Overlooked Development in Science

July 3, 2012 | Print Print |

Elio Delgado Legon*

Heberprot has benefitted over 60,000 people around the globe.

HAVANA TIMES — As you may recall, the old Bush Plan for Democracy in Cuba (i.e. the destruction of the revolution), promised to close all scientific research centers in our country because they were not — according to them — engaged in activities that were “appropriate” for developing countries.

Even today, no word is mentioned about the development of science in Cuba – not by the information transnationals or the muckrakers in Miami, not by the bloggers inside and outside the country, nor by the wannabe journalists who criticize the Cuban Revolution through any means within their reach.

Science in Cuba is entirely the work of the revolution, because prior to 1959 the country didn’t have a single research center. It can be said that this activity began when the Cuban Academy of Sciences was established on January 15, 1960.

At that time Fidel Castro said, “Cuba’s future must necessarily be a future of people of science.” What had existed previously in our country was illiteracy, with 24 percent of the population suffering from that condition and thousands of people not having progressed beyond the third grade.

Currently there exists an entire network of over 230 research, development and innovation institutions, whose discoveries constitute one of our most important commodities for export. In fact, Cuba has won seven medals from the World Intellectual Property Organization.

More than 94,000 workers are employed in all of this scientific activity in the country, with nearly 34,000 of them based in schools and 75 percent of those scientists working at advanced educational levels. This is something the detractors don’t talk about either.

Cuban biotechnology’s capacity to generate products has had a significant impact on the country’s health system. This has provided unique products to the nation and the world, ones such as a vaccine against Hepatitis B and Heberprot P (which guards against diabetic foot ulcers to prevent amputations).

The Center for Immunity Testing, for example, has 325 laboratories operating throughout Cuba in addition to 469 laboratories in Latin America and 11 others in China. Its range of activities has included the study of more than three million newborns for congenital hypothyroidism.

This scientific center also contributes many products that the country never could have acquired abroad due to their high costs and the US blockade.

Scientific activity also has had a positive impact on the country’s economy, constituting the second line of exported products.

Recently, the US scientific journal Nature stated in an article that Cuba’s biotechnology industry is the best in the world among underdeveloped countries.

In the UNESCO report on science in 2010, it was explained that knowledge in Cuba isn’t in private hands – a situation that is almost unique in the world. It added that while 96.5 percent of patents are awarded to developed countries, only 4.5 percent come from underdeveloped countries and only 0.2 percent from Latin America

Science is one the most important achievements of the revolution and has had a vital impact on health care – not just in Cuba, but also in many countries with which Cuba has collaboration agreements.

Given this and the economic impact science has had on the island, it’s understandable that the opponents of Cuban socialism remain silent on the matter.

Otherwise they would have to admit — reluctantly — to the high level of development that science has experienced in Cuba under the revolutionary government.
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(*) I am a Cuban who has lived for 75 years, therefore I know full well how life was before the revolution, having experienced it directly and indirectly. As a result, it hurts me to read so many aspersions cast upon a government that fights tooth and nail to provide us a better life. If it hasn’t fully been able to do so, this is because of the many obstacles that have been put in its way.


What's your opinion?

  • Moses

    Elio, you have misinterpreted both the role of free and private media and its response to Cuban advances in science. Typically, free media does not function as a government cheerleader as the Cuban media functions. On the contrary, judgements aside, free media usually reports on what went wrong, and not on what went right. For this reason, the private media relations industry exists to promote such things as scientic advances. The media as it exists today is in constant competition for readership/viewership. The more readers/viewers you have (or listeners in the case radio) the more advertisers will pay to advertise with you. Cuban scientic advances, however exciting and prideworthy as it may be to you as a Cuban, is not widely seen as news the rest of the world is interested in. Especially something having to do with science (big yawn). It simply does not sell advertising space. There is no organized blackout on Cuban advancements. Outside of Miami, there is no market for Cuban news. No one cares. Fidel, rightfully, has convinced you that you are important to the world. He should be commended for bolstering the self-esteem of Cuban serfs. But ask yourself this, and be honest, which headline will sell more newspapers “Lady Gaga Marries Poodle….” or “Cuba introduces Foot Medicine”? Do the math…

  • rob

    For all her problems, which there are many, science and biotech are one area where cuba really does thrive, and which cubans can be proud.
    And the fact that this industry is not in private hands i think is quite amazing, but there still remains the issue of democratization. The cuban public should have some say in what happens to all this research.
    On another note, the irrationality of the embargo is magnified by the fact that u.s. scientists cannot cooperate with cubans in the same field to help tackle some of our species problems. I think with the amazing resources that our science and biotech industrys posses, combined with some outstanding knowledge that cuban scientists posses, alot of work for the better of humanity could be undertaken.
    Which is why the embargo should be ended, for the simple standard of the free flow of ideas.

    • Moses

      Rob, Cuba’s accomplishments are noteworthy but as we say in da’ hood. Keep it real. Cuba, when compared among the world’s leading biotech countries, is not even a blip on the radar. According to Scientic American who annually ranks leading biotech countries “The USA ranks first in number of biotech firms, PCT patent applications and biomedical treatment approvals, with Japan coming second, according to the 2009 OECD report on biotechnology statistics. According to the 2010 OECD report on science and technology, however, it appears the industry picture has looked better in later years for several non-OECD countries, including Singapore, Brazil, China, India and South Africa (OECD, 2010). Although Japan is ranked second for a number of criteria by OECD, it doesn’t rank in the top 5 at all according to other sources and criteria. In August 2010, Scientific Amercian ranked the top 5 biotech countries in a “Worldview Scorecard” as being USA, Singapore, Canada, Sweden and Denmark, using the following criteria: IP and ability to protect it, intensity, being defined as spending on R&D, availability of venture capital and support, availability of expert manpower and the overall country’s ranking in terms of entrepreneurship and other foundations. Countries doing well are those with strong incentives for technology development, and a range of options for obtaining research funding.” Cuba’s contributions are significant for a poor latin american country with only a population roughly the size of southern California but these accomplishments do not rise to the level as to merit a change in current US policy towards the totalitarian regime.

  • http://www.cubaverdad.net Cubaverdad

    Total turnover: 250-350 million dollars.
    Lots of products “in doubt”:

    Anti-malaria products from Cuba meet some resistance in Africa
    Cuba has sold millions of dollars in anti-malaria medications in Africa but some malaria experts on the continent have begun to question the effectiveness of the Cuban products.
    http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/07/02/v-fullstory/2879071/anti-malaria-products-from-cuba.html

    Lots of smaller countries do better than “snake venom” or “biobrujeria”.

  • rob

    moses i am well aware that cuba is not even a “blip” on the radar..but what they have done as a poor latin country is still quite impressive.

  • Lynne

    Another brilliant article Elio. Moses this isn’t a competition, the Cuban people can be proud of their achievements during the last 53 years despite the difficulties that they have faced.