TWN Info Service on Health Issues (October 06/3)

11 October 2006

Cuba: US cuts its nose to spite its face

For 47 years the US has imposed an economic embargo on Cuba to strangle its social and economic development. Although this has brought hardship, Cuba’s success in meeting the needs of its people remains an inspiring example to others.

Beyond this, the US embargo has denied US citizens from gaining from Cuba’s medical progress and affected the US economy.

The news report below is reproduced with permission from the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) # 6114, 6 October 2006. 

With best wishes
Evelyne Hong

Cuba: Embargo's boomerang effect

By Patricia Grogg, IPS, Havana, 3 October 2006

Washington's embargo against Cuba also has an impact on the United States economy and prevents millions of US citizens from benefiting from Cuban medical progress, according to a report released by the Cuban foreign ministry.

The text of the report will be presented at the United Nations General Assembly, which on 8 November will be examining for the fifteenth consecutive year the need to end the embargo imposed by Washington on Havana more than four decades ago.

The document states that "because of the blockade regulations" it has been impossible to begin clinical trials in the US with TheraCIM, a Cuban pharmaceutical product for treating brain tumours in children. TheraCIM is produced by the Molecular Immunology Centre, which in 2004 made a deal with US company CancerVax to develop and produce therapeutic vaccines against cancer.

This medication is registered in Cuba and other countries for treating cancer of the head and neck, and has been proved to reduce tumour mass. It could benefit children in the United States and other countries with this type of cancer, the report points out.

It also adds that were it not for the embargo, millions of people in the United States suffering from diabetes could benefit from Citoprot P, a unique product and treatment method that accelerates healing of diabetic foot ulcers, reducing the risk of lower extremity amputations.

Citoprot P was developed by the Cuban Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology. According to the foreign ministry report, about 20.8 million people in the United States suffer from diabetes, a chronic incurable disease.

The restrictions that Cuba calls a blockade and the US embargo have cost this Caribbean country $86.1 billion in total damages throughout the period, including $4 billion in 2005 alone, the document says. Last year, the UN approved by 182 votes the Cuban motion in favour of lifting the embargo. The motion was first set before the UN General Assembly in 1992, when only 59 countries voted in favour of the resolution.

The report states that the ban on US tourism to Cuba causes tourist agents in the US losses of $565 million per million US tourists who are prevented from visiting the country. An estimated 1.8 million US tourists could have vacationed in this Caribbean island in 2005, but because of the ban, US tourist agencies lost potential income of $996 million, the report says.

In addition, the US imports about 148,000 tons of primary nickel and some 10,000 tons of cobalt annually "from distant markets." But "if the blockade did not exist," it could purchase these raw materials from Cuba, only 200 kilometres away, the report notes.

At present Cuba produces about 77,000 tons of nickel a year, and output is set to increase through an investment programme agreed with Canada in March 2005 for the expansion and modernisation of a joint venture company to exploit the mineral.

Cuba has proven nickel reserves of 800 million tons, and potential reserves are estimated at two billion tons. The country's cobalt reserves amount to approximately 26% of total world reserves, according to official sources.

Energy is another good business that Havana says US companies are missing out on, because they are forbidden to participate in prospecting for oil on Cuba's undersea platform in the Gulf of Mexico, only 137 kilometres from Florida.

The platform to the north of Cuba has an estimated potential of between one billion and 9.3 billion barrels of crude and between 1.9 trillion and 22 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. These estimates in the Cuban foreign ministry's report are attributed to the US Geological Survey (USGS), which said "the possibilities of success are of the order of 95%."