Sergio Rodríguez Gelfenstein
Cuba is the only country in Latin America and the Caribbean that is successfully developing its own vaccines against covid. Those who do not know the island of Martí and Fidel cannot understand how a small nation, attacked, vilified, attacked and blockaded by the most powerful empire in the history of mankind, has been capable of such a feat. They should know that the roots of this feat go back to the very origins of the revolution when, in the trial of Fidel and his comrades after the assault on the Moncada Barracks in July 1953, the young lawyer, in his defense argument before the court -which later became known as “History will absolve me”- clearly pointed out the right of Cubans to the endogenous development of industry and technology.
After the triumph of the revolution, Fidel turned to making the “Moncada Program” a reality. As early as January 1960, he pointed out that the future of Cuba had to be necessarily a future of men of science and thought because that is what the revolution would sow: “opportunities for intelligence”. Likewise, thinking of the future, he assured that now scientists and researchers would have every opportunity to serve their people and their homeland, because in the coming years scientific institutions would grow and he hoped that many Cubans would join them, not only to increase their knowledge but, most importantly, that this knowledge should be put at the service of justice and the homeland.
In this way, with an outstanding vision, he proposed a strategic task for young people, urging them to research, thought and knowledge, since Cuba was living in times “in which the role of thought is exceptional, because only thought can guide the people in times of great transformations and in times when great enterprises such as this one are undertaken”.
As in all the actions crystallized by Fidel, the speech was always accompanied by deeds. Thus, in 1962 the Cuban Academy of Sciences was created, research centers were organized in different institutions linked to the economy and services and in July 1965, with his decisive guidance, the National Center for Scientific Research (CNIC) was inaugurated, formally initiating the creation of institutions that would constitute the backbone of the Cuban scientific system.
Years later, on March 13, 1969, during a speech at the University of Havana, he established the need to link universities and research. In this regard, he said:
“The university should be linked to research, and universities should be research centers of all kinds (…) we mean that professors should participate in research and research centers should participate in the training of future technicians”, thus proposing a leap in the process by formulating the need to massify research efforts even more. Likewise, he established a practice that from then on should be assumed by Cuban leaders, when he stated that it was “the obligation of any man of public responsibility to try to have the minimum of knowledge to be able to evaluate what scientists, technicians, specialists, may state in one way or another”.
Along with this, he projected for scientists, the sentiment and the imperative of the Cuban revolution to serve society and internationalism:
“In order to have access to modern production and master advanced technologies, it is essential to instruct the men and women who will handle them, train them for the greatest knowledge of their specialties and endow them with a social, patriotic and internationalist conscience that will allow them to carry out both their own economic and social projects and contribute to the development of that part of humanity that is most urgent and suffers to the worst degree the consequences of the colonial past.”
Under his wise guidance, Cuba, a small country of scarce resources, incessantly attacked by the United States, developed a scientific community of the 1st world. Thus, in 1976 the Cuban Academy of Sciences and the State Committee of Science and Technology were created. In 1981, the so-called “Biological Front” was founded, in which the work of all scientists and institutions related to the subject was combined on the basis of cooperation, integration and generalization of processes.
In 1982, the Center for Biological Studies (CIB) began to operate and four years later the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB) was born, a first level institution and emblematic center of biotechnology in Cuba with the objective of becoming an institution that would link research and production, characterized by the continuity of all the activities and specialized scientific topics that had begun in the CIB. Likewise, new research centers emerged and a special impulse was given to biotechnology. Examples of all this were the National Center of Biopreparations; the Institute of Tropical Medicine (IPK); the National Library of Science and Technology; the “Carlos J. Finlay” Institute for the development of vaccines; the Center of Molecular Immunology (CIM) specialized in obtaining monoclonal antibodies; the Center of Molecular Chemistry (CQM), dedicated to the development of synthetic antigens; and the Center of Immunoassays (CIE) among other research institutions of which there are branches in several provinces. In each of these centers, the personal imprint imposed by the Commander in Chief was present.
In 1984, the CNIC conceived the MEDICID-03, the first automated electroencephalograph with continuity in the NEUROCID-M, to record electrical activity in skeletal muscles. This was followed in 1990 by the AUDIX, an electro audiometer (first in the world) and the SUMA, Ultramicro-analytical system.
Years later, at the rostrum of the 1st Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, Fidel made a premonitory call in order to avoid the disaster he saw coming: “Let all the necessary science be used for a sustained development without contamination”, he said in a message that still resounds in the ears of humanity.
“…only thought can guide peoples in moments of great transformation.”
The disappearance of the socialist camp in 1990 meant a hard blow for Cuba and its economy. Scientific development was no stranger to the difficult imprint imposed by the radical change in the political structure of the planet. In order to adapt to the new situation, the “West Havana Scientific Pole” was created in 1992 with the intention of producing a leap forward from the structural point of view that would allow a positive response to the difficult working conditions that had arisen.
Since then, the development of Cuban science and technology has had to adapt to the dizzying changes that have been unleashed in the last thirty years. It must be said, however, that work never stopped, not even during the thorny moments of the Special Period that Cuba suffered during the last decade of the last century when the fundamental basis of its international sustenance crumbled, at the same time that imperialist aggressiveness increased, assuming that the island would not resist the onslaught of this cataclysm. Thus, finally, more recently, Cuba has adopted the inclusive concept of Science and Technological Innovation System (SCIT).
In particular, the Science and Technological Innovation System for Health (SCITS) organized in 37 science and innovation entities: 16 research centers, 3 scientific-technological services and 18 development and innovation units became the new structure that has modernly assumed the now powerful Cuban science and technology system.
In 2012, BioCubaFarma was created as a top business management organization, which integrated the research, development and production centers of biotechnology, the pharmaceutical industry and high-tech medical equipment. BioCubaFarma, with its 32 companies, 70 production facilities, 10 research centers, 11 research and development units and a scientific technological services center, is also part of SCITS. BioCubaFarma’s products and technologies are part of the Basic List of Medicines and other applications of the Ministry of Health.
Today, it can be said that over the course of 50 years, more than 30 thousand specialists have passed through the CNIC alone, who have excelled in its departments and laboratories, 389 of them obtained their Doctor of Science degree, many became scientific leaders and it is common to find in the remaining centers, managers trained in this emblematic institution, mother of Cuban scientific development.
Every process has its times. There were times when the Cuban revolution was led by combatants, guerrillas and social fighters who stood up to opprobrium. The leaders went to the Moncada, to jail, to exile, they returned to the homeland to climb the mountains and achieve the end of the dictatorship. Fidel and Raul for 60 years faced and defeated the colossus of the north, but the struggle continues with new challenges. Today, resistance also manifests itself in other areas and Miguel Díaz-Canel has assumed it with the same responsibility that Cuban leaders have always had. That is why today his Moncada, his Sierra Maestra and his Playa Girón take place in other trenches.
As a continuator of Fidel’s work and thinking and in order to follow up in the most effective way the Commander-in-Chief’s deeds, the Cuban president successfully defended his thesis “Government Management System based on Science and Innovation for sustainable development in Cuba” in order to qualify for the degree of Doctor of Science at the Central University of Las Villas. Díaz-Canel was born three months after that January 1960 when Fidel, referring to the revolution that was beginning, pointed out with his extraordinary vision of the future that: “…only thought can guide the people in the moments of great transformations and in the moments when great enterprises such as this one are undertaken”.
The Cuban vaccines are called “Soberana”, vindicating a disposition and a decision, “Abdala” so that the apostle never dies and his memory never dies out as Fidel said in the Moncada Trial, and “Mambísa” as a tribute to the man of the land, worker and patriot who conquered the first independence by the hand of Máximo Gómez and Antonio Maceo.
Because he himself wanted it to be so, none of the Cuban vaccines will bear Fidel’s name, but all of them will bear his humanitarian spirit and his vocation to make a revolution for the excluded of the earth, for those who have no right to anything, not even a vaccine against the pandemic.
When all Cubans and millions of men and women in different parts of the planet are immunized with Cuban vaccines, they should know that this has been possible because that maker of revolutions, that one who overcame death because “to die for the homeland is to live”, the one who made a small Caribbean island become a giant exporter of life and health, dreamed it, thought it and did it.
NOTE: I am grateful for the invaluable contribution of my dear friend Luis Rojas Núñez without whose help it would have been impossible to carry out this work.