MARKING 60 YEARS SINCE THE CUBAN REVOLUTION
Ambassador Almeida discusses Cuba's trailblazing health care and biotechnology sectors, strong fundamentals including universal literacy, and 60 years of diplomatic relations with Thailand
Elite+ met with His Excellency Héctor Conde Almeida, ambassador of the Republic of Cuba to Thailand, at his residence off of Sukhumvit Road to discuss Cuba’s progressive advancement, scientific and technological sovereignty, and an illustrious 60 years of Thailand-Cuba diplomatic relations.
A former official at the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment in Cuba, Ambassador Almeida spent five years in China before moving to Bangkok and taking on the position of ambassador of the Republic of Cuba to Thailand almost two years ago. According to Ambassador Almeida, 2018 was a significant year as it marked 60 years of diplomatic relations between Thailand and Cuba, and on January 1, 2019, Cuba celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution that earned the country its independence and kick-started the series of ongoing development plans and campaigns that made Cuba what it is today.
“Apart from celebrating diplomatic relations between Thailand and Cuba, we are also honoured to be part of the effort to bring Latin America and the Caribbean closer to Thailand and Southeast Asia,” Ambassador Almeida said. “We are promoting the ties and links in all sectors. Trade has been improving with Latin American, and also with Cuba in the biopharmaceutical field and biotechnology, addedvalue trade. We cooperate in science, culture, sports – especially boxing, education and health care, which has become prominent.
“Last year in April, Cuba welcomed the minister of public health of Thailand, Professor Emeritus Piyasakol Sakolsatayadorn, to sign an MOU for cooperation in health care service between Thailand and Cuba. We have a parliamentarian friendship group between Thailand and Cuba with the National Legislative Assembly, and they visited Cuba in May to mark the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries. And we are doing many things with Thailand, as in ASEAN as a whole, to increase the visibility and the partnerships with Latin America as a region. We are happy to be such a long-time friend of Thailand.”
2019 is truly a year of celebration for Cuba. Besides the 60th year of independence, there is also the 500th anniversary of the foundation of Havana, the country’s alluring capital, and the 166th birthday of José Martí, Cuba’s most revered thinker and national hero, as well as an important figure in Latin American literature, whose revolutionary ideas are more relevant than ever in today's increasingly unequal world.
“If you have not been to Cuba, or if you’re planning a trip to Cuba, 2019 is a great time to visit,” Ambassador Almeida said. “There has been a huge increase in interest to visit Cuba. In 2018, we welcomed over 4.75 million visitors from all over the world, and we saw a significant increase in Thai visitors. Cuba is noted for its nature and history, and I’m very impressed by the level of knowledge that Thai people have about Cuba despite being so far away, especially about key figures in the Cuban Revolution like Ernesto 'Che' Guevara, Fidel Castro Ruz and José Martí; and also Ernest Hemingway, who had lived in Havana for a significant period of time.”
Cuba went through two phases of colonization in the past: 1492 to 1898 under Spanish occupation and 1898 to 1959 under the US – a neocolonial domination with governments that were orchestrated and controlled by the US administration.
“There was a lot of corruption in that period,” Ambassador Almeida said. “The Cuban Revolution, led by Fidel Castro, Raúl Castro and Che Guevara, overthrew in 1959 the cruel and despotic regime of Fulgencio Batista, who was a dictator, and real independence was achieved in Cuba. The Cuban Revolution put an end to centuries of economic, military and political oppression and paved the way to a more modernized and progressive Cuba today.”
In Cuba, lives are enhanced and fulfilled from the fundamentals. Pre-revolution, half of the Cuban population was illiterate or semi-literate and the infant mortality rate was over 40 per 1,000 newborns. Now, thanks to universal and free education and health care, Cuba has reached almost 100% literacy and the infant mortality rate has dropped to 4.0 per 1,000 in 2018 – lower than in many developed countries. Life expectancy has risen from 58 years in 1959 to 78.45 years for men and 80.45 years for women today. In 2019, 51% of the state budget in Cuba is dedicated to education, social assistance and health-care services.
“By establishing the first socialist country in the Western hemisphere, human rights were really protected and guaranteed in Cuba. We have some of the world’s best medical schools, which are recognized by the UN and giving knowledge and medical degrees to Cubans for free. Sports are a right for each and every Cuban to participate and be trained in for free, depending on the vocation of the person. Gender inequality was eradicated by the Cuban Revolution. Women’s rights are flourishing in Cuba. In Cuba’s National Assembly, 53.22% of MPs are women – the second highest number in the world; 48.4% of members of the State Council are women. Women represent 60.5% of all higher-education graduates in Cuba. Solidarity and internationalism are two key principles of the Cuban Revolution. Since 1998, 31,000 students from 103 countries have been trained by Cuba’s Latin America School of Medicine. Today, 50 000 Cuban medical doctors save lives in 67 countries around the world.”
Ambassador Almeida also said that Cuba is currently pursuing an independent, sovereign path based on innovation and a socialist political system, which will be ratified in the new constitution to be adopted in February 2019. He pointed out that Cuba is currently updating its economic and social development model and advancing the national implementation of the UN 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
“The new 2019 constitution will ratify the socialist character of the Cuban Revolution. It will guarantee the protection of human rights of the Cuban people. There is a lot of manipulation, a lot of foreign propaganda on the human rights field in Cuba, but when you see the real data and when you are able to filter the information, you see that only the Cuban Revolution was able to bring about these types of achievements in a developing country.”
What’s putting Cuba at the forefront when it comes to national progress is also health-care innovation and advancement. “Because of the illegal US economic, commercial and financial blockade against Cuba, imposed since 1962 with extraterritorial character and strengthened today, Cuba was forced to become self-reliant, producing 70% of the medication it needed, including vaccines for 21 diseases.”
According to the WHO, the Cuban biotechnology industry holds around 1,200 international patents and markets pharmaceutical products and vaccines in more than 50 countries. In 2015, Cuba, already heralded as a leading biotech hub, became the first country, followed by Thailand in 2016, to be validated by the World Health Organization (WHO) for having eliminated the transmission of acquired immunodeficiency virus (HIV-AIDS) and syphilis from mother to child.
“Cuba has been able to develop biotechnology at the level of developed countries. It was the political will of the historic leader of the Cuban revolution, Fidel Castro, in the first place and of the revolutionary government to develop science, technology, and pursue sustainable development based on scientific achievements. As early as January 15, 1960, Fidel Castro proclaimed, 'The future of our homeland has to be, necessarily, a future of men of science, of men of thought.' That date has been chosen to commemorate Cuban Science Day.
“Despite the fierce and illegal 60-year US blockade against the Caribbean Small Island Developing State, which is the main obstacle to our development as a country, Cuba strives to defend and build a sovereign, independent, socialist, democratic, prosperous and sustainable nation. Nothing will bend the Cuban people in that effort,” Ambassador Almeida pointed out.
South-South cooperation can bring countries to a qualitative new level of technological sovereignty, because it is important for developing countries to be economically independent, politically independent, but also technologically independent.
“The Cuban Revolution was a historic milestone not only in the political and economic fields but also in the scientific and innovation fields, which are key for our future as nations. And that is why health care is so strong in Cuba, because it’s based on science and human values; that is why biotechnology is so strong, education also, because you need a strong scientific community and a strong innovation-oriented country to be able to be sustainable.”
Cuba is pleased to contribute to the far-reaching Thailand 4.0 development strategy through strengthened cooperation in the biotechnological field aimed at developing, producing and commercializing worldclass biopharmaceuticals against cancer, diabetes and autoimmune diseases.
“The main purpose is to aid low-income patients to access biopharmaceuticals that otherwise are extremely expensive.” Ambassador Almeida said. “Many mass producers in other countries sell them at very high prices, monopoly prices. First, you are diagnosed with a bad disease, and on top of that you learn that you cannot afford the treatment. And this is a basic human right that we treasure in Cuba. We fight for the right of people to have meaningful health care, treatment, and we are happy to see progress in South-South cooperation with Thailand in this highly specialized field.
“Technological sovereignty is a key factor in the world today. You need to have your own scientific breakthroughs and your own scientific developments to be able to support your independence. Being economically and politically independent is crucial, and we are all happy that we have achieved that in our development path. Achieving technological independence and technological sovereignty is a tough challenge, but if you have the political will and a development strategy, it pays off.”