By Philippe Pouletty Become - Founder and Chairman, Abivax and Hartmut Ehrlich Become - Chief Executive Officer, ABIVAX
How we did business with the Castros and are developing new therapies for Hepatitis, Dengue, HIV & Ebola
Paris, France -- Breaking new ground is standard for scientists. Breaking a five-decade U.S. embargo against Cuba is certainly new ground for U.S. foreign policy. As the United States begins to look towards economic developments on this island 90 miles south of Miami, it's Europeans like ourselves, who have been at the forefront in one area of economic development in particular: Science and biotechnology. We have done so by development of strong human relationships and innovative therapies, and with the foresight of Fidel Castro's vision of healthcare development.
The NHS choices website is claiming that England is now the 'first country in the world to offer a national and publically funded Men B vaccination programme' This is a bareface lie. 25 years ago, Cuba introduced a vaccine appropriate for the local strain of the Meningitis B. The vaccine VA-MENGOC-BC administered in Cuba since 1989 has been shown to be a safe and effective vaccine for controlling epidemic outbreaks provoked by Neisseria meningitidis of serogroups B and C. This is corroborated by the more than 55 million doses administered and the licensing of the vaccine in 15 countries. The Meningitis B vaccine has since been part of a national vaccine programme for children.
News From Cuba : “We’re Not a Bit Afraid,” Declares Ulises, General Secretary of the Workers’ Central Union
Ulises Guilarte De Nacimiento, aged 50, started working in 1987 as a building engineer: a union activist, he became secretary of the Building branch, was then elected general secretary at the Union’s 20th congress in 2014. Parallel to this, he joined the Communist party’s Central Committee in 2011. Now First secretary of the Communist party in Artemisa, he is a member of the National assembly and of the State Council.
The following interview was published by l’Humanité Dimanche on June 11.
HD: Change is the motto in Cuba now. What’s the method? And what’s the ambition?
ULISES GUILARTE DE NACIMIENTO: When we passed the law on foreign investment last year, some of our friends were really concerned: are you going to liberalize the labour market? And sell off industrial sectors to foreign capital? Our objective is to update our socialist society, to ensure its prosperous and sustainable development. We remain in full control of our social project (health, education), of our defense (with the people’s army) and we alone define our needs.
For our economy is a planned economy: we alone set our priorities and encourage foreign investment within that cadre. No one can come and set up a chewing-gum factory. We have no need of this. Property does not change hands, as nothing is for sale in Cuba. The collective ownership of the main means of production holds good. State companies remain the foundation of our economy. But we encourage complementary forms of management: small private entrepreneurship (cuentapropistas) and shared-ownership companies with foreign investment. The diversification of the economy takes place in management.
HD: How does this private sector evolve?
ULISES GUILARTE DE NACIMIENTO: Since 2010 the number of workers employed in that sector has grown from 156,000 to 498,617, and the branches are more varied: bed and breakfast, table d’hôte, care, cold drinks and refreshment stalls, repairs of all kinds, watch-making, transport, retrieval and recycling. For one year we have been testing out the co-operative mode – which already existed in agriculture. We now have 452 co-operatives in trade, transport, gastronomy, accountancy… so that the State can focus on the key sectors. This contributes to solving the problem of overstaffing in the state sector, which is detrimental to its efficiency. Our problem in Cuba is not joblessness.
In his speech on the state of the Nation, President Obama declared that the first measures following the end of the blockade would concern the private sector: the aim here, clearly, is to destabilize our economy. The CTC is quite aware of its responsibility. In the global context, the private sector is home to the informal economy – workers have no legal protection, no right. In Cuba, the labour code and social security law - reformed and voted last year – were debated, altered, amended, and put to the vote in all firms. Their dispositions and guarantees protect all workers indiscriminately.
Our CTC organizes these independent workers in several branches (building, gastronomy etc.) so that 63.3% of them are already union members.
In the May 1st march, cuentapropistas were present with their slogans, their banners, their mottoes. We have already turned some of their claims into legal rights : the wage tax is not levied on small companies with a staff of fewer than 6, street vendors are now allowed to display their stands and chairs, tables d’hôte can take more guests. Their main claim is for the creation of a wholesale market. We have not solved this problem yet, but they can get electrical appliances for catering on the retail market, large cans of oil, detergents etc. In order to diversify the offer for tourists, the ministry is going to propose contracts with table d’hôte owners in order to improve their guests’ comfort (air-conditioning, new mattresses and bedclothes…)
HD: Which sectors are open to foreign investment?
ULISES GUILARTE DE NACIMIENTO: Mixed-ownership companies were first set up in the hotel industry. Today we need foreign investments to finance 240 specific projects: in the biotechnologies, in the oil industry, pharmaceutical industry, and product manufacturing industries. A number of such companies are to be found in the special area of the Mariel hub. For the time being they employ 40,000 workers. Foreign investments are exempted from the tax on profits for 8 years. Recruitment is through a state office, empleadora, that is the workers’ employer. When their contracts come to an end, they are entitled to retrieve their previous jobs. “There will be no maquiladoras in Cuba.” . So Cuba invites foreign investment in specific, high tech sectors for the highly qualified workers that our Cuban revolution prides itself on educating. They are employable by these companies but it is the State – as their employer – that negotiates their labour contracts and salaries.
HD: Any changes for the State companies?
ULISES GUILARTE DE NACIMIENTO: 95% of all state employees are union members and all the changes have been discussed in each and every service or company. They are to become more productive and enjoy greater autonomy. A state company is now allowed to give workers 50% of its profits. We have introduced performance bonuses, to each according to his work. Salaries are lowest in the state sector. They have been raised for health workers. But a general wage increase is impossible without a rise in productivity. We cannot distribute wealth that we do not produce. So we proceed carefully : 800,000 workers still get incitement bonuses but we must move out of the equalitarian, paternalistic approach that has prevailed so far.
HD: Your motto is: “unhurriedly, but ceaselessly”
ULISES GUILARTE DE NACIMIENTO: In the 2000’s we re-organized the sugar industry. A time bomb, some abroad called it. It took us two years: the change was discussed within each company with Fidel and ministers. Output / Power units were closed down, 40,000 workers reassigned. The industry benefited from a gain in productivity and in many units wages were raised. Nobody found himself or herself without a job. That is how we proceed, without leaving anyone by the wayside.
HD: What changes for the CTC?
ULISES GUILARTE DE NACIMIENTO: Change and experiments put a strain on the union. With 3,289,000 members, we are a mass organization, have struck deep roots in workplaces, represented in each organ of the State and we take on every challenge. One being to maintain the unity of workers in the face of the new private sector. In State companies, de-centralization and autonomy force trade-unionists to determine their own standards in the managing and productive processes.. They cannot merely relay or give added strength to an administrative discourse. Workers must feel that they are in control of and responsible for any decision that is made at any level or in any department.
At our 20th congress in 2014, all our junior and senior officers were renewed, especially in company branches : 41.5% of their delegates and officers are new, 56,9% of them are women, 17% are under 30.
So we are moving on. Worker participation does not consist merely in attendance at a purely formal meeting but taking part in a real discussion: about wages, training, conditions at work. Discussions on the plan and budget have taken place in 72,000 meetings. With the help of the National association of economists. We use no shock therapy. Changes cannot be decreed, they are first debated by all the workers, by the whole population. We are proud of being part and parcel of this people, of its capacity for resistance, of its creativity. We are aware of the issues at stake and we are confident. We, Cubans, are not a bit afraid!
The CTC was set up in 1939. It has 3,289,000 members, 2,192,749 in the State sector, 219,671 in the private and cooperative sector. It federates 17 national unions and their 82,1000 company, communal, or provincial sections, 1,418 of which in the private sector.
Published on 29 June 2015 by ACN
Cuba´s Etecsa Telecom Company has announced that the infrastructure for public WiFi connection to the Internet is ready in fourhotspots in Central Ciego de Avila province.
WiFi project coordinator Laudel Broche told local reporters that between 20 and 30 users in each four sites, located in the main city Ciego and in Moron, will be able to connect to the Internet during all 24 hours of the day.
The connection speed is one megabit and clients need to have a local Nauta navigation account in cell phones, laptops or tablets. To access the service, clients must purchase a code card whose cost is 2 pesos (similar to dollars) the hour.
Published on 1 July 2015 by ACN
Cuban News Agency reproduces the statement issued by the Revolutionary Government of the republic of Cuba regarding the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States of America,
After re-establishing diplomatic relations with the United States, the lifting of the blockade, among other aspects, will be indispensable for the normalization of relations.
On July 1st, 2015, the President of the Councils of State and of Ministers of the Republic of Cuba, Army General Raúl Castro Ruz, and the President of the United States of America, Barack Obama, exchanged letters through which they confirmed their decision to re-establish diplomatic relations between the two countries and open permanent diplomatic missions in the respective capitals as from July 20, 2015.
Published on 13 June 2015 by TeleSUR English
Despite claiming to be taking steps to normalize relations with Cuba, the U.S. has allocated funding for the NED. The US Committee on Appropriations approved on Friday US$30 million for “programs to promote democracy and strengthen civil society in Cuba, of which not less than US$8,000,000 shall be for NED,” as quoted from the committee report.
The NED is the National Endowment for Democracy, a fund used by the U.S. to undermine left-wing and socialist governments and support opposition groups by supposedly promoting “democracy.”
“The Committee directs that funds shall only be used for programs and activities pursuant to section 109(a) of the Cuban Liberty and Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act of 1996 and section 1705 of the Cuban Democracy Act (CDA) of 1992, and shall not be used for business promotion, economic reform, entrepreneurship or any other assistance that is not democracy-building,” the report states.
More than half a century ago, Fidel Castro and John F. Kennedy conducted secret negotiations aimed at normalizing relations between the United States and Cuba. Robert Kennedy Jr., nephew of the assassinated President, recounts these events and praises Obama’s policy of rapprochement, which is making his uncle’s “dream” a “reality”
1. After the October 1962 missile crisis, a conflict that almost led to a nuclear disaster, and its resolution that included the withdrawal of Soviet missiles from Cuba and US missiles from Turkey, President John F. Kennedy decided to undertake a process of normalization of relations with Cuba.
2. During his trip to the Soviet Union in 1962, Fidel Castro spoke at length with Nikita Khrushchev about Kennedy. According to the former president’s nephew, “Castro returned to Cuba determined to find a path to reconciliation” with the United States.
3. In 1962, Kennedy commissioned James Donovan, a New York lawyer, and John Dolan, an advisor to Attorney General Robert Kennedy, to negotiate the release of the 1500 Bay of Pigs invaders held in Cuba. During his meeting with the Washington emissaries, Fidel Castro made clear his desire to normalize relations with the United States and maintain links based on sovereign equality, reciprocity and non-interference in internal affairs. “My father Robert and JFK were intensely curious about Castro and demanded detailed, highly personal, descriptions of the Cuban leader from both Donovan and Nolan. The US press had repeatedly caricatured Fidel as drunken, filthy, mercurial, violent and undisciplined. However, Nolan told them: “Our impression would not square with the commonly accepted image. Castro was never irritable, never drunk, never dirty.” He and Donovan described the Cuban leader as worldly, witty, curious, well informed, impeccably groomed, and an engaging conversationalist.”
Published on 25 June 2015 by Granma
Robben island, South Africa - A sign in English and Afrikaans announces arrival on Robben Island, situated off the coast of Cape Town, a site which encompasses a painful history, thankfully now past for South Africans.
The island of dry sand and strong winds, surrounded by sharp reefs and the unique sound of the thousands of birds that fly overhead, is today a symbol of freedom.
To get there, you have to board a boat at the Nelson Mandela memorial located in the commercial and tourist district of Waterfront.
The journey is about 12 kilometers, a half hour boat ride, enough to reflect on the triumph of human spirit over adversity encompassed by this historical site.
Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González and René González, the Five Cuban anti-terrorists who themselves were greatly inspired by the spirit of resistance of Prisoner No.46664, Nelson Mandela, during their imprisonment in the U.S., traveled to the island as part of their tour of South Africa.
Published on 11 May 2015 by Wired
Cuba has for several years had a promising therapeutic vaccine against lung cancer. The 55-year trade embargo led by the US made sure that Cuba was mostly where it stayed. Until—maybe—now.
The Obama administration has, of course, been trying to normalize relations with the island nation. And last month, during New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s visit to Havana, Roswell Park Cancer Institute finalized an agreement with Cuba’s Center for Molecular Immunology to develop a lung cancer vaccine and begin clinical trials in the US. Essentially, US researchers will bring the Cimavax vaccine stateside and get on track for approval by the Food and Drug Administration.
“The chance to evaluate a vaccine like this is a very exciting prospect,” says Candace Johnson, CEO of Roswell Park. She’s excited, most likely, because research on the vaccine so far shows that it has low toxicity, and it’s relatively cheap to produce and store. The Center for Molecular Immunology will give Roswell Park all of the documentation (how it’s produced, toxicity data, results from past trials) for an FDA drug application; Johnson says she hopes to get approval for testing Cimavax within six to eight months, and to start clinical trials in a year.
How did Cuba end up with a cutting edge immuno-oncology drug? Though the country is justly famous for cigars, rum, and baseball, it also has some of the best and most inventive biotech and medical research in the world. That’s especially notable for a country where the average worker earns $20 a month. Cuba spends a fraction of the money the US does on healthcare per individual; yet the average Cuban has a life expectancy on par with the average American. “They’ve had to do more with less,” says Johnson, “so they’ve had to be even more innovative with how they approach things. For over 40 years, they have had a preeminent immunology community.”
Despite decades of economic sanctions, Fidel and Raul Castro made biotechnology and medical research, particularly preventative medicine, a priority. After the 1981 dengue fever outbreak struck nearly 350,000 Cubans, the government established the Biological Front, an effort to focus research efforts by various agencies toward specific goals. Its first major accomplishment was the successful (and unexpected) production of interferon, a protein that plays a role in human immune response. Since then, Cuban immunologists made several other vaccination breakthroughs, including their own vaccines for meningitis B and hepatitis B, and monoclonal antibodies for kidney transplants.