US blockade frustrates Cuba's vaccine internationalism

January 21, 2022
Without outside assistance, Cuba has developed five COVID-19 vaccines. Two of them are 90% effective against the disease.

The global impact of COVID-19 has been grossly unequal.

While about 93% of Australians aged 16 and over are double vaccinated, only 9.5% of people in low-income nations have received a single dose of the vaccine.

One of the major reasons is that rich nations, in cahoots with Big Pharma, continue to block proposals and initiatives that aim to make vaccines available to all.

Without outside assistance, Cuba has developed five COVID-19 vaccines. Two of them are 90% effective against the disease.

The socialist nation has now vaccinated more than 90% of its population with at least one dose, even though the United States blockade against Cuba resulted in a shortage of syringes, which endangered vaccine development and hindered mass production.

Cuba is now offering its vaccine technology and vaccines to the world.

Progressive International (PI), which brings together left-wing activists from around the world, aims to facilitate Cuba’s anti-COVID-19 initiatives. To that end, the organisation launched a fundraising campaign this year as part of its Union for Vaccine Internationalism initiative.

The donations received by PI will finance a delegation to Havana to organise a special briefing on Cuba’s anti-COVID initiatives.

The briefing session is scheduled to take place on January 25. Cuban scientists and government representatives will address members of the scientific community and the international media, outlining Cuba’s anti-COVID vaccines and vaccine technology.

Regrettably, Cuba is now running into difficulties because of the extra-territorial effect of US sanctions.

ING Group, the Dutch multinational banking institution, has decided to block donations to PI in connection with its fundraising campaign.

In so doing, ING Group has bowed to unseemly, heavy-handed pressure from the US as respects dealings with Cuba.

This is not the first time ING Group has been targeted by the US for transacting with Cuba. In 2012, the bank agreed to pay US$619 million to settle US government allegations that in 2007 it violated US sanctions against Cuba, Iran and other countries. It was the biggest ever fine against a bank for US sanctions violations.

Several US public laws underpin the economic, financial and commercial embargo against Cuba. They include the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992 (the “Torricelli law”) and the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (Libertad) Act of 1996 (the “Helms-Burton law”).

The Torricelli law provides that all countries trading with Cuba should cease doing so and cancel all economic activity with Cuba. The law also gives power to the US president to apply economic sanctions against countries having trade relations with Cuba.

The Helms-Burton law applies maximum pressure on foreign companies, including banks and other financial institutions, to dissuade them from trading or otherwise doing business with, or investing in, Cuba. Any bank that facilitates foreign currency transactions in Cuba runs the very real risk of being fined by the US government.

The Torricelli and Helms-Burton laws purport to operate extra-territorially and offend against international law.

By any reasonable standards, the Torricelli and Helms-Burton laws are objectively unethical. Whether a nation or corporation chooses to trade with, invest in, or have other business relations with Cuba should be a matter for that nation or corporation.

The US laws aim to asphyxiate the Cuban economy and cause suffering to the Cuban people, and also hinder international solidarity. As such, the extra-territorial effect of the laws derogates from the sovereignty and independence of other nations.

Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel condemned the blocking of donations to PI on social media.

Despite the blocking of donations by ING Group, the special briefing session is still scheduled to take place in Havana.

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