Cuba’s Vaccine and the Trivialization of Progress

By Haroldo Dilla Alfonso

HAVANA TIMES – When a woman of Haitian origin, Michaelle Jean, became Governor General of Canada, her fellow compatriots were filled with a healthy dose of pride. Born in Puerto Principe, she went into exile in Quebec because of the repression in her country. Michaelle Jean led a successful term in office and made the most of multicultural interstices in Canadian society.   

This was a sign for Haitians of just how much Haitians can do. That they can get ahead to try and solve their country’s problems.

They were mistaken on two accounts. First of all, because Haitians don’t need Jean’s political success to be admired. They are a fighting, intelligent people, able to face the worst adversity without losing their ability to smile. Secondly, because Jean coming into office had nothing to do with Haiti, if we forget the former governor’s DNA.

On the contrary, it is a criticism of Haiti’s political system, of its discriminatory nature, of its authoritarian government. Likewise, the corruption and the many other evils that constitute the poorest country in the continent. In order to become Governor General, Jean had to flee Haiti in many regards.

Something similar takes place with the Soberana vaccine manufactured in Cuba to treat COVID-19. I have read articles and comments written by all types of Cubans. These include party-line cadres, surviving brown-noses and intelligent and critical people. People who have renounced the system’s graduate diplomas now jumping up and down with joy. They believe this vaccine to be one of Cuban society’s achievements. The most feverish even stretch back to the Commander in Chief’s own thoughts.

Other relegated pressing matters

I share their joy when it comes to Cuban researchers’ great work. They have worked hard, with a great deal of passion and very little compensation. Just “the satisfaction of doing their duty”, which is commendable. However, that’s as far as my positivity goes.

I believe this only has the DNA of Cuban society, nothing more, just like Haitians’ fallacy with Jean. The Soberana vaccine is the result of an unsystematic and arbitrary economy. This gave this activity priority to the detriment of other pressing matters.

The vaccine wasn’t manufactured in Cuba, but in a bubble of state-of-the-art technology. This ensured by an authoritarian political regime’s arbitrariness and lack of transparency. 

Let’s look at things for what they are. The reason we have a vaccine today is because ordinary Cubans don’t have decent homes and face a food crisis. This has the island’s society on a vulnerable level that isn’t enviable at all. Cuba only exports tourist pleasures and commodities. Internet access is highly limited, and every criticism of the regime is repressed in the name of a fake socialism. The last make-up of which was washed away with Soviet subsidies in the ‘80s.

It’s always a good thing to be featured in the lead of technological innovation. But being at the front of this sector without being able to ensure Cuban people’s basic wellbeing, opportunities for personal development and freedom is a lamentable contradiction. Such is why the island is becoming depopulated, which is the irrefutable reality.

Poverty as a virtue

In short, I congratulate the scientists and engineers who managed to create a vaccine. But I also ask everyone to think about the lies of a system that proclaims poverty and austerity as virtues. While its elite (and their offspring) are becoming the bourgeoisie with their benefits from political power.

I call upon people to leave the childish nationalism behind. I don’t usually go quoting Jose Marti much, to say what I want. When will we let him rest in peace? However, I can’t help but think about something said in his book Abdala. “Love, mother, for the homeland / isn’t that love nonsense for the Earth we walk upon / it’s the invincible hate of whom it oppresses.”

Read another article by Haroldo Dilla: When Stupidity and Disgrace Take Over Cuban Universities

3 thoughts on “Cuba’s Vaccine and the Trivialization of Progress

  • “The reason we have a vaccine today is because ordinary Cubans don’t have decent homes and face a food crisis.”

    This sentiment makes sense to me.

    We do not know whether a viable vaccine exists in Cuba today but for argument sake let’s suppose one is in progress or may exist.

    In his sentence, Haroldo Dilla Alfonso, may be suggesting there is a clear, evident, and justified juxtaposition of extreme poverty as demonstrated by decrepit, not decent, homes in Cuba today, tied together with the ever so present soul destroying food crisis brought about, no doubt, from government ineptness and gross mismanagement for years.

    It seems the author may be expressing a vision of present day Cuba – two extreme solitudes, juxtaposed. On one hand there are the ordinary day to day struggling Cuban people, who are the majority, trying to exist in extreme poverty versus the miniscule minority, more privileged Cubans who have access through no merit but by political privilege decent homes and ample food. He called them bourgeoisie, to borrow a capitalist term, and probably much to their chagrin.

    “The Soberana vaccine is the result of an unsystematic and arbitrary economy. This gave this activity priority to the detriment of other pressing matters.”

    Haroldo Dilla Alfonso in his opinion believes the reason for such a vaccine victory is that the totalitarian rulers, the government elites, put all available government resources into this national health activity, this health project to the detriment of other pressing matters.

    What in Cuba today, to name just two, are these pressing matters but a national food crisis and a crumbling economic infrastructure. The government cannot claim a visible victory in reconstructing homes for ordinary Cuban people or improving the food production and distribution system to allow ordinary Cubans to feed themselves and their families.

    These mundane economic activities do not make for news worthy propaganda. What makes for heady headlines and for the propaganda machine to work overtime, at full throttle, at maximum capacity and, more importantly, to change the channel on more pressing Cuban national problems is a sobering solution to a dire situation the entire world is grappling with: Be the first to have a viable vaccine for COVID-19.

    What better publicity for a communist country and the hopeful adulation from its citizens but to demonstrate how effective and efficient a socialist country truly operates when it declares a vaccine victory before any other capitalist country even knows how to spell COVID-19 vaccine.

    It is very clear to a reader reading between the lines that a propagandized Cuban vaccine victory vaults any lowly decent homes and a “minor” food crisis. The Cuban government, its elites, is simply following the totalitarian play book.

    I agree with Haroldo Dilla Alfonso in congratulating the scientists and engineers who are working to rid the virus, and commend his cautionary warning to the miniscule government elites – the bourgeoisie – to be more cognizant for the majority of their Cuban compatriots living in extreme, unnecessary, poverty and pain.

  • The writer makes some very interesting points.
    I chuckle at Haroldo’s suggesting that Jose Martí is over-quoted (all sides try to co-opt Martí to their cause) but then he can’t resist ending his article on a quote himself. That’s cool.
    But then this:
    ‘The reason we have a vaccine today is because ordinary Cubans don’t have decent homes and face a food crisis.’
    This is an odd sentence. Makes no sense.
    Maybe it’s a translation thing.
    I wasn’t aware that Cuba had produced a vaccine. At least not a verified one. But I wouldn’t be hugely surprised if they did. Cuba was the first country in the world in which, due to medical advancements, an HIV positive mother gave birth to an HIV negative child. A global first.
    Surely these types of achievements should be applauded regardless of one’s politics?

    Sometimes I get the feeling that those who constantly criticise the Cuban system are actually resentful of any kind of national achievement (to be fair, Haroldo seems to admit to a certain limited degree of pride).

    Cuba is a country of many paradoxes which seems to inspire yet further paradoxical thoughts and opinions in others.

  • When will Cuba’s vaccine pass all the necessary tests for validation?

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