[News] Cuba’s Vaccine Shield and the Five Monopolies that Structure the World

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Thu Jul 1 10:55:52 EDT 2021

Cuba’s Vaccine Shield and the Five Monopolies that Structure the World: 
The Twenty-Sixth Newsletter (2021)
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*Cuba’s Vaccine Shield and the Five Monopolies that Structure the World: 
The Twenty-Sixth Newsletter (2021)*

Raúl Martínez (Cuba), Yo he visto (‘I Have Seen’), n.d.

Raúl Martínez (Cuba), /Yo he visto /(‘I Have Seen’), n.d.

Dear friends,

Greetings from the desk of the Tricontinental: Institute for Social 

In 1869, at the age of fifteen, José Martí and his young friends 
published a magazine in Cuba called /La Patria Libre/ (‘The Free 
Homeland’), which adopted a strong position against Spanish imperialism. 
The first and only issue of the magazine carried Martí’s poem, ‘Abdala’. 
The poem is about a young man, Abdala, who goes off to fight against all 
odds to free his native land, which Martí calls Nubia. ‘Neither laurels 
nor crowns are needed for those who breathe courage’, Martí wrote. ‘Let 
us run to the fight … to war, valiant ones’. And in the rousing address 
by Abdala, comes these lyrical words:

Let the warlike valour of our souls
Serve you, my homeland, as a shield.

Martí was arrested and sentenced to six years of hard labour. 
Eventually, the Spanish imperial government sent the young Cuban into 
exile in 1871. He spent this time – much of it in New York – writing 
patriotic poems, producing political essays and commentary, and 
organising the resistance to Spanish imperialism. He returned home in 
1895, only to be killed shortly afterwards in a skirmish, his legacy 
cemented in the war against the Spanish in 1898 and in the Cuban 
Revolution that began in 1959.

The lines from Martí about the ‘warlike valour’ serving as the country’s 
‘shield’ form the basis for the name of the new Cuban vaccine, /Abdala/. 
This vaccine, the fifth to be produced in Cuba, was developed by the 
Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB 
in Havana. In announcing the results of their trials, BioCubaFarma 
the country’s leading biotechnology and pharmaceutical institution, 
that it had an efficacy rate of 92.28%, almost as high as the efficacy 
of the vaccines by Pfizer (95%) and Moderna (94.1%). The vaccine is 
administered in three doses, each given with a two-week gap. The Cuban 
authorities plan to vaccinate three quarters of the population by 
September. Already, more than 2.23 million vaccines have 
to the 11 million Cubans on the island, 1.346 million people have been 
vaccinated with at least one dose, 770,390 with the second dose, and 
148,738 with the third dose.

Juan Roberto Diago Durruthy (Cuba), Tu lugar (‘Your Place’), 2006.

Juan Roberto Diago Durruthy (Cuba), /Tu lugar/ (‘Your Place’), 2006.

Cuba has already planned to export its vaccines to countries around the 
world and has now produced five different vaccine candidates, including 
Soberana 02 and the needle-free intranasal vaccine, Mambisa. The latter, 
which holds great promise 
for vaccine administration in low-resource countries, is named after 
guerrilla soldiers who fought in the Ten Year War (1868-1878) for 
independence from Spain.

Each of these vaccines has been developed under conditions of duress 
imposed by the illegal US blockade. Since 1992, the UN General Assembly 
has voted annually against the US blockade, except for 2020, when, due 
to the pandemic, there was no vote. On 23 June 2021, 184 member states 
of the United Nations again voted 
to end this blockade. In the context of the coronavirus pandemic, Cuba’s 
foreign minister, Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, said 
‘Like the virus, the blockade asphyxiates and kills. It must stop’. One 
of the casualties of the blockade has been Cuba’s inability to buy 
ventilators to treat critically ill patients, since the two Swiss 
companies (IMT Medical AG and Acutronic) who made them were purchased 
by a US company (Vyaire Medical, Inc.) in April 2020. Cuba has now 
developed its own ventilator in response.

At the same time, Cuba suffers from a shortage of syringes. Syringe 
manufacturers are entangled in one way or another with the US 
pharmaceutical industry. Terumo (Japan) and Nipro (Japan) have 
operations in the United States, while B. Braun Melsungen AG (Germany) 
is in a partnership with Concordance Healthcare Solutions (US). An 
Indian syringe firm, Hindustan Syringes & Medical Devices Ltd., is 
linked to Envigo (US), which brings US government scrutiny to the Indian 
firm. In an act of concrete solidarity, a campaign 
is underway to raise funds towards the purchase of syringes for Cuba.

Belkis Ayón (Cuba), La consagración III (‘The Consecration III’), 1991.

Belkis Ayón (Cuba), /La consagración III /(‘The Consecration III’), 1991.

The Our World in Data project calculates 
that, as of 29 June, just over 3 billion doses have been administered 
worldwide, which amount to less than 1 billion people out of the 7.7 
billion in the world who have been vaccinated. Just over 23% of the 
world population has had their first vaccine shot. But the data shows 
that vaccination drives have been predictably uneven. In low-income 
countries, only 0.9% of the population has received at least one dose of 
the vaccine. In April 2021, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Gheybreysus said 
‘There remains a shocking imbalance in the global distribution of 
vaccines. On average in high-income countries, almost one in four people 
has received a vaccine. In low-income countries, it’s one in more than 
500. Let me repeat that: one in four versus one in 500’. By May 2021, 
Ghebreyesus said 
that the world was in a situation of ‘vaccine apartheid’.

In February 2021, in one of our newsletters, Tricontinental: Institute 
of Social Research noted 
that we lived in a time of ‘three apartheids’. These apartheids include 
that of food, money, and medicine. At the heart of the medical apartheid 
is vaccine nationalism, vaccine hoarding, and, as Ghebreyesus put it, 
vaccine apartheid. Matters are quite grave. The COVAX vaccine alliance 
has seen vaccines move out of its reach both because of bilateral deals 
being made between the richer countries and the vaccine makers and 
because of the lack of financial support from the richer states to the 
poorer ones. The trends show that many countries will not see 
significant enough numbers of their population vaccinated before 2023, 
‘if it happens at all’, says 
the Economist Intelligence Unit.

Raúl Corrales Fornos (Cuba), La caballería (‘The Cavalry’), 1960.

Raúl Corrales Fornos (Cuba), /La caballería /(‘The Cavalry’), 1960.

What is the cause of these three apartheids? The control that a handful 
of companies exercise over the global economy, driven by five types of 
monopolies, as our friend, the late Samir Amin, laid out 

 1. The monopoly over science and technology
 2. The monopoly over financial systems
 3. The monopoly over access to resources
 4. The monopoly over weaponry
 5. The monopoly over communications

We are looking closely at this list and the relationship between each of 
these elements, analysing it to see if anything has been left out. Amin 
argued that it is not the lack of industrialisation alone that impacts 
the subordination of countries; what has kept the world in a situation 
of great inequality, he suggested, were these five monopolies. After 
all, many countries in the world have developed industries over the past 
fifty years but remain unable to advance the social agenda of their 

Central to the discussion about vaccine apartheid are at least two of 
these monopolies: the monopoly over finance and the monopoly over 
science and technology. A lack of finances in hand draws many of the 
world’s states to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), to various 
public investors (the Paris Club), or to commercial capital (the London 
Club). These financiers take their lead from the IMF, which has demanded 
that countries cut back on several crucial areas of human life – 
education and health care, for instance. Cutting funds for education 
drains countries’ potential to develop sufficient numbers of scientists 
as well as the scientific temper necessary to create essential 
technologies such as vaccine candidates. Cutting funds for health care 
systems and adopting intellectual property rules that block the transfer 
of technology leaves countries disarmed from being able to appropriately 
deal with the pandemic.

A lack of funds has driven many states to surrender the possibility that 
they could advance the well-being of their populations (as of April 
2020, sixty-four countries spend 
more to service their debt than on healthcare). It is not enough to 
demand the transfer of technology to states in the midst of a pandemic 
so that they can make the vaccine. Technology is yesterday’s science; 
science is tomorrow’s technology.

To use the social wealth of a population, to teach science, and to 
establish a basic norm of scientific literacy are essential lessons of 
the pandemic. These are lessons well-learnt by the Cubans. This is why 
Cuba has, against all odds, developed five different vaccines. Abdala 
and Cuba’s four other vaccines stand as a shield against COVID-19. These 
vaccines emerge out of the social productivity of socialist Cuba, which 
has not surrendered to the ugliness of the five monopolies.



Website <www.eltricontinental.org>




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