Saturday, November 12, 2005


The "Culture of Life" Strikes Again

Prize-Winning Cuban Scientist Denied Visa

A Cuban scientist who helped develop a low-cost synthetic vaccine that prevents meningitis and pneumonia in small children says he was offended the U.S. government denied his request to travel to the United States to receive an award. [...] Verez-Bencomo said the State Department denied him a visa because the visit would be "detrimental to the interests of the United States." [...] Verez-Bencomo led a team that developed a vaccine for Haemophilus influenza type B, also known as Hib, a bacteria that causes meningitis and pneumonia. The diseases kill up to 700,000 children worldwide each year. Before the development of a similar vaccine more than a decade ago, Hib was the biggest cause of meningitis among infants in the United States. That earlier vaccine has all but stamped out the disease in the western world, but mass immunizations are too expensive for many poor countries. The synthetic vaccine created by Verez-Bencomo's team can be produced at a relatively low cost because antigens don't have to be grown in a bacterial culture, making it an attractive alternative for poorer nations. So far more than 1 million doses have been administered to Cubans. Science Magazine last month said the vaccine "may someday save millions of lives."
Ahmed Chalabi is allowed in, but saving children's lives is "detrimental to the interests of the United States".
The big irony is, of course, that the doctor was able to develop the low-cost vaccine because, poor as Cuba is thanks to the embargo, they still manage to set aside money for research into needed drugs, not just drugs that will sell well. American drug research is mostly about finding new, profitable, and re-patentable variants of old drugs, so that the pharmaceutical companies can make money off of variants of the same thing long after the patents for the original drugs expire.
Yes. Most people don't know that despite being the second or third poorest nation in the hemisphere, Cuba has one of the best medical systems outside of the industrialized world.

The for-profit system of the US, however, serves an interesting function. Since the rest of the world refuses to pay the high prices Americans do, the costs of research for front line therapies have been effectively socialized. The American consumer pays to raise the standard of living of Europeans and especially of Japanese.

And there's the military factor. If a cure or effective vaccine for malaria appears, for example, it will likely be thanks to the Department of Defense and its desire to invade ever more buggy countries.

There are many ironies.
I don't think its the 'saving children's lives is "detrimental to the interests of the United States".' I think its the idea that someone in Cuba, with our embargo and everything we've done to keep them cut off from the rest of the world, could put together something like this. Its a tacit bit of proof that Cuba can thumb its nose at the US and still survive, if not prosper.
NonyNony, I'm sad to say that MEC is correct in diagnosing this.

If Cuba succeeds in any small way, the United States fears other countries will look to it as an example. And so the people in charge of our foreign policy very literally sees every child saved as a national security threat. While Bushco is worse than most regimes, this is a policy that originated in the Kennedy Administration.

There may be another factor as well. Some people believe that Castro may have had a hand in assassinating Kennedy. Yes, of course the evidence for this is nonexistent and yes, of course the US tried many times to assassinate Castro.

The irony is that Latin America has a much deeper understanding of the situation than our own foreign policy people. Their leaders, like ours, may see Castro as a problem. However, because of the behavior of the US toward Cuba, they see the US as a far larger problem. Those outside of the plutocracy see Castro as a hero who stands up to the country that recruits their fathers and their brothers for the lowest work in society, then lets them die in the desert.

And so even the plutocracy refuses to attack Castro directly. A few dictatorships have cut off relations with Cuba and many leaders are happy to make statements denouncing Castro for denying free speech even though they themselves have poor human rights records.

The attacks on Aristide and Chavez have simply cemented Latin American perceptions of the US as a foreign tyranny. The irony is that if Cuba, Haiti, and Venezuela were not under such threat, they would very likely abandon any tendencies toward socialism. As in this country, people will tend to put up with anything, so plutocracy generally gets its way. But by serving as a foreign threat, the United States has served to increase the degree of social cohesion in the countries under threat and allowed Castro and Chavez to do things they couldn't otherwise do.
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