Yulia Vladimirova interviews political scientist Mincho Hristov
Originally appeared at A-specto, translated by Borislav exclusively for SouthFront
What does Obama’s visit to Cuba mean? In what way will this change the country?
For over 50 years the United States leads an undeclared war against Cuba, part of which is the trade embargo. US companies are prohibited from trading with Cuba. But not only that. If a ship stops at the Cuban port, this ship by US law has no right to dock in US ports for six months. This is an absurd extraterritorial law against which are many countries in the EU, as well as other countries. The most unfortunate is that America prohibited the selling of medicines to Cuba, including life saving ones. For this reason, Cuba often buys such drugs from third countries, making them extremely expensive. Meanwhile, in America there are powerful economic interests, that now want to remove the embargo, as many big American companies pose the question of why are they deprived of the Cuban market, the ability to trade and earn. So Obama’s visit is connected with these processes. Cubans are very advanced in medicine for example, and have a lot to offer. It is known that they have reached outstanding results, like the vaccine against lung cancer.
Which Americans want to buy.
They want to buy a lot of other things such as technologies, particularly in the pharmaceutical industry. Cuba created a substance called Vidatoks, which is based on the “Blue Scorpion”. It is used extensively in cancer treatment as it strengthens the body’s defenses, its used against influenza epidemics and many diseases related to a weakened immune system. So the visit of Obama and US attempts to open up to Cuba are related to interests. Cubans also have an interest in convergence because they would benefit in the economic sphere.
With Obama’s visit, there is a lot of emphasis on the need for modernization in Cuba. Despite that, you say their medicine is world class.
If modernization means mass consumption of GMOs, meat crammed with hormones, and the fracking of shale gas, I sincerely wish the Cuban people to remain “non-modern”. In Cuba there is a very strong tendency towards the development of homeopathy. I think this is the future of medicine as the pharmaceutical mafia is probably one of the industries that earn more than drug trafficking. The profit margin is astronomical. Drugs that cost $ 1 to make, are sold for around 200-300 dollars. In a discussion which I attended, the President of Ecuador Rafael Correa, gave as an example a pill against hepatitis. This mafia is interested to manufacture more products, but not to cure the patient, keeping him instead in a chronic dependency. The goal is to make people buy drugs for a lifetime.
As for modernization, I am the last person who would deny that in Cuba there really are many problems. Hospitals sometimes lack medicines and consumables, there are problems with transport and supply of products. Despite everything, however, Cuban medicine is absolutely free and is undoubtedly light years away from ours. The politicians in Bulgaria, who turned health into a commodity and healthcare into a business, are for me a handful of criminals that should face court. The lives of sick children are left to the charity of citizens or wealthy businessmen. The political party oligarchy in this country has long abdicated from caring for Bulgarian children, but that did not prevent them from taking the highest party subsidy in the world – over 14 000 leva per month for each elected MP. Lately, the doctors from emergency care, turn patients away because they have no money to pay. In many areas there is a paid private ambulance. This is unprecedented and I wonder where is the Bulgarian government. I guess these questions do not concern them because the parliament and the government are treated in the Government Hospital in a completely separate line from normal citizens. This must change. Bulgarian politicians should be sent to a standard doctor, to wait in queues, to wait for directions, to see what they have created. This will not happen while there is a Government Hospital that serves the political oligarchy,
How does Cuba manage to have its own independent pharmaceutical industry and to not be part of the big pharmaceutical mafia?
The US embargo probably contributed to the Cubans developing their own pharmaceutical industry. I often travel through the deep Cuban province, I have many friends there. In these areas there are herbal pharmacies where you can buy drugs for various diseases at a symbolic price. These herbal pharmacies are available to every Cuban. I would say that this method of treatment is much more effective and safe, than the drugs in developed countries, including Bulgaria. Medicine in Bulgaria is made so that even if one is not sick, in the hospitals they will invent a false diagnosis. And I say this quite responsibly, because there are already examples where a serious illness is diagnosed, and then it turns out that its nothing. But the patient is operated on, respectively money from the health fund are taken, and money is also taken from the patient. As the Americans say – nothing personal, just business. The former Cuban ambassador gave me an example of a boy from Kazakhstan, who was diagnosed to need a kidney transplant. She managed to arrange for him a free transplant in Cuba. Once there, it turned out that the boy was completely healthy. Apparently someone with money needed a healthy kidney. This is the sphere of the organ trade. Such are the results, when health becomes a commodity.
You mentioned that you have many friends in small towns in Cuba. What happens there in the heart of the Cuban people?
The greatest wealth of Cuba are not the buildings or the climate. Its the people who live in somewhat uneasy conditions. The wages are low, but in contrast, they can appreciate the intangible resources that are actually the true riches in life. Unfortunately, seeing the trends in Bulgaria, we are headed in exactly the opposite direction. Actually, true wealth and happiness has nothing to do with money and the Cubans understand this very well. The people in Cuba live a poor, but dignified lives. In the country there is still the coupon system, which was introduced after the revolution. The monthly ration hardly cost more than two dollars. That is a few kilos of rice, several kilograms of sugar, oil, milk for the children. It is not enough for the whole month, but it is a minimum that the state still provide to Cubans. I think that if such a system was introduced in Bulgaria, many people today would be delighted. We see the opposite picture: full shops, glossy displays, but fewer and fewer people who can afford to buy these goods.
Do you expect Cuba to change once the embargo is lifted?
I sincerely hope that the Cubans do not go on our, Bulgarian path – the theft of public wealth and government assets from a handful of criminals, the destruction of industry and the appeasement of foreign importers.
Will the Cuban cafe be replaced by a Starbucks and a McDonalds?
I very much hope not, because the Cuban cafes are quite welcoming. I sincerely hope Cuba will maintain its cafes, which are not shiny and luxurious, but have a spirit that the upstart luxury restaurants do not. Today, everyone who visits “Bodeguita del Medio” – Hemingway’s favorite pub, will understand what I mean. I believe this spirit will be kept, for as long as the Cuban people continue to behave with dignity and to appreciate the real things in life.
In your opinion, what is the attitude of Raul Castro to US President Barack Obama. There is one interesting video from their meeting, in which Castro does not allow to be tapped on the shoulder by Obama. This is not accidental, but a sign of what?
A bit later, Fidel Castro said directly, that Cuba does not need gifts from the USA. This illustrates that Cuba still has a lot of unresolved issues with the United States. For example, the US base in Guantanamo. This is an area of over 100 square kilometers, which was occupied at the beginning of last century. This is an American military base, which has also become a prison. Incidentally, one of the election promises of Obama was to abolish the prison. The US Congress still has not adopted that decision. It will be interesting to see what happens in the future. Another unresolved problem is emigration. Few people know this, but for around fifteen years, the Cubans are free to travel the world. The big problem now is that the United States and European Union countries do not give visas to Cubans which they think would remain. So the lack of democracy in terms of travel is not by the Cuban government, but because of Western democracies. Moreover, in the US there is a law that gives the right to every Cuban who sets foot on US soil to obtain a green card and stay there. As the United States refuses en masse visas to Cubans who want to travel to their families, many Cubans are forced to go the other way, for example with boats. This leads to incidents and casualties in bad weather. And this area is teeming with sharks. More honorable of the American government, would be to give visas in a regular manner to people traveling.
To what extend will the base in Guantanamo remain a future point of conflict between Cuba and the United States?
Cuba has always considered that this base must be returned, because it is an old Cuban territory. It is as if tomorrow the Americans said, that the four bases in Bulgaria are theirs and that they will never leave. Under international law the US should move out. The question is why they do not.
In Havana, Obama called for freedom of speech and respect for human rights. Castro defended the way Cuba attends to the social, political and economic rights of its citizens.
US presidents love to talk about freedom of speech and human rights. That was the argument for US involvement in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria. We all know what is happening there now. But why did Obama not see similar problems in Saudi Arabia? Are we to believe that there is freedom of speech and human rights there? I’ll give you an example. Years ago, five Cubans were arrested and imprisoned with long sentences, because they thwarted terrorist attacks against Cuba. Information on these Cubans reached the US government as Cubans in a sign of goodwill had given information to the US government informing them of terrorist acts. The five Cubans were arrested and charged with espionage. And all they have done is thwarting terrorist actions against Cuba by anti-Cuban organizations. If the US really are against terrorism, they should reward those people instead of throwing them in jail.
About fifteen years ago, the American historian James Bamford published the book “Body of secrets.” In it, he brings to light a document that really is unprecedented for American history. In it, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Lyman Lemnitzer, in the early 60s offered President John F. Kennedy to carry out a series of attacks against US sites in Cuba, in the territorial waters of Cuba, or in cities in Florida. The idea was to blame the Cubans and cause a military invasion of Cuba. This is a document signed by the highest military official in the United States in the early 60s, and was declassified by the Pentagon. I say this in relation to what is happening around us, what is happening in the Middle East, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Syria and in Brussels.