This week, the Cuban government announced the effectiveness of two of the country’s COVID-19 vaccines. ‘Soberana 2’ was declared to be 62% effective after two doses, with a third booster dose expected to increase this number further. Even more impressively, the ‘Abdala’ vaccine was announced as 92.28% effective after two doses, in last stage clinical trials. Cuba has reported a total of 169,365 COVID-19 cases and 1,170 deaths from COVID-19. It is expected that these homegrown vaccines, the first to emerge from Latin America, will greatly speed up the country’s vaccination programme which has so far seen approximately one million of the country’s 11 million citizens vaccinated.
Cuba intends for these vaccines to be used widely throughout the global south. President Miguel Díaz-Canel stated that Cuba’s vaccine accomplishments come from the certainty that “poor countries were not going to have access to vaccines within a short period of time, that the rich world was producing to prioritize the rich”. Further impetus for Cuba to create its own vaccines has also come from worries that the criminal US blockade on the small island nation would prevent them being able to import vaccines, as financial entities from third countries can be punished in US courts for trading with Cuba.
Cuba’s vaccine announcements have come in the same week that the United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly condemned the blockade for the 29th consecutive year. 184 countries voted against the blockade, with just the US and apartheid Israel voting in favour of it. Despite the crippling effects that the COVID-19 epidemic has had on Cuba’s economy and tourism industry in particular, President Biden has maintained the 243 measures that Donald Trump imposed to intensify the blockade. The blockade is believed to have caused losses to the Cuban economy of $9.1 billion from April 2019 to December 2020.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Cuba, Bruno Rodriguez denounced the blockade at the General Assembly and explained that “like the virus, the blockade suffocates and kills, and must stop!’. Rodriguez argued that the blockade constitutes an act of genocide pursuant to Article II c) of the Geneva Convention of 1948 as it purposefully impoverishes a civilian population and is often the deciding factor regarding whether people will live or die by causing lifesaving medicines and treatments to be unavailable. Rodriguez defended the right of the Cuban people to chart an independent course and not be a US semi-colony. He quoted a timely speech given by Fidel Castro at the United Nations in which the former President declared that “it is high time to strongly state that the principle of sovereignty cannot be sacrificed for the sake of an unjust and exploiting order in which an hegemonic superpower can decide everything on the basis of its power and strength”.
Alec Smith, is a member of the YCL West Yorkshire branch