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A worker finalizes details to start the production at the recently inaugurated CIGB Industrial Biotechnological Complex in Mariel, Cuba, on November 5, 2021.

A worker finalizes details to start the production at the recently inaugurated CIGB Industrial Biotechnological Complex in Mariel, Cuba, on November 5, 2021. (Photo: Yander Zamora/AFP via Getty Images)

Bank Blocks Donations Supporting Cuban Effort to Vaccinate World

"A European bank, established in the Netherlands, has decided to put the interests of the U.S. government above the lives of millions of people."

Kenny Stancil

Progressive International recently asked for contributions so they can send a delegation to Havana next week to promote Cuba's effort to vaccinate the world against Covid-19.

But in an apparent genuflection to the illegal U.S. embargo against the island, Dutch multinational bank ING has blocked all donations supporting the trip, the group said Tuesday.

"This is scandalous," said Progressive International (PI) general coordinator David Adler.

"The U.S. wields unparalleled power over our global financial system," Adler continued. "Yesterday, a message received by our supporter revealed the far-reaching consequences of the U.S. embargo on Cuba: a European bank, established in the Netherlands, has decided to put the interests of the U.S. government above the lives of millions of people."

He added that "the embargo seeks not only to suffocate Cuba, but also to stifle our solidarity with it."

In his message on Wednesday, Adler lamented that "it looks like others are following suit."

According to Pawel Wargan, coordinator of PI's Secretariat, PayPal has joined ING in blocking donations meant to help delegates travel to Havana. "We have a duty to end this genocidal embargo," said Wargan.

Anti-war activists at CodePink responded to the news by saying that "some of the most powerful people in the world would rather prolong a global pandemic than allow the Cuban people some relief from U.S. imperialism. What awful, deadly priorities."

As the coronavirus crisis enters its third year, new infections have reached record levels globally. Meanwhile, access to lifesaving vaccines remains starkly unequal. Several countries are administering booster shots—hundreds of millions of which are set to be thrown away in the coming weeks—before most of the world's poorest inhabitants have been given their first jab.

Nearly 9.8 billion Covid-19 vaccine doses have been administered globally to date. More than 70% of people in high-income nations have been fully inoculated, but just 9.6% of people in low-income countries have received at least one shot due to dose hoarding by wealthy governments and knowledge hoarding by pharmaceutical corporations, whose profit-driven refusal to share publicly funded vaccine formulas has generated artificial scarcity.

According to a recent analysis, billions of additional Covid-19 vaccine doses are required to end the pandemic—meaning that global vaccine manufacturing must be ramped up significantly.

As PI said Monday when sharing its plan to send representatives to Havana "for a special showcase of the Cuban vaccines":

President Joe Biden could easily help fill this shortfall by compelling U.S. pharmaceutical corporations to share their vaccine technology with poorer nations. But he has so far refused to do so. A new production hub in Africa—where only 3% of people are vaccinated—is now trying to replicate the Moderna vaccine. But without Moderna's help, or Joe Biden's executive action, production could take more than a year to begin.

By contrast, PI continued, "Cuba has emerged as a powerful engine of vaccine internationalism."

That's precisely why PI is sending a delegation to Havana: to draw attention to "the promise of the Cuban vaccine and the perils of the U.S. embargo against it," with the goal of forging "connections between Cuba's public biotech sector and manufacturers who might produce the vaccine and help the Cuban government recuperate the costs of its development."

Despite the added challenges created by a six decade-long U.S. blockade, Cuba's public biotech sector has developed two highly effective vaccines. And its universal healthcare system has fully inoculated more than 86% of its population, quickly surpassing many wealthier nations, including its northern neighbor.

Moreover, the island has already started exporting its homegrown doses and plans to share its recipes with impoverished nations abandoned by Big Pharma and wealthy countries.

"We are not a multinational where returns are the number one reason for existing," said Vicente Vérez Bencomo of the Finlay Vaccines Institute in Cuba. "For us, it's about achieving health."

Unlike the mRNA vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna, Cuba opted to develop protein-based vaccines, a move that experts say comes with multiple advantages.

First, Cuba's vaccines, Abdala and Soberana 02, can be stored at room temperature, making distribution easier, especially in developing countries and remote areas lacking electricity. And second, they have a proven track record of safety across age groups, whereas mRNA technology has not yet been used on children under five.

Arguably the most important aspect of Cuba's vaccines, proponents say, is that their development demonstrates the existence of an alternative model for scientific research that puts people over profits.

However, PI noted, "the U.S. and its allies continue to oppress and exclude Cuba from the global health system."

"The U.S. blockade forced a shortage of syringes on the island that endangered its vaccine development and hindered mass production," PI explained. As Jacobin's Branko Marcetic reported two months ago, "international solidarity efforts have been vital... groups from the United States alone sent 6 million syringes to Cuba, with the Mexican government sending 800,000 more, and more than 100,000 on top of that coming from Cubans in China."

PI added that "U.S. medical journals 'marginalize scientific results that come from poor countries,' according to Vérez Bencomo. Meanwhile, the WHO refuses to accredit the Cuban vaccines, despite approval from regulators in countries like Argentina and Mexico."

"The Progressive International is sending a delegation to Havana to combat misinformation, to defend Cuban sovereignty, and to help vaccinate the world," the group announced Monday, adding:

Bringing delegates from the Union for Vaccine Internationalism, founded in June 2021 to fight the emerging apartheid, the Progressive International will convene Cuban scientists and government representatives to address international press and members of the scientific community in a showcase of the Cuban vaccine on January 25.

In response to ING's decision to block donations supporting the delegation's efforts, Varsha Gandikota-Nellutla, coordinator of PI's Blueprint project, denounced Washington. The U.S. failed to deliver on its promise to "share its vaccines with the Global South," said Gandikota-Nellutla. "Neither will it let us make our own."

Adler, meanwhile, asked people to "help us fight back."

"We are undeterred in our mission to help vaccinate the world," he said. "On January 25, we will convene Cuban scientists and government representatives in Havana to address the international press and members of the scientific community in a showcase of the Cuban vaccine."

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