Scientific and technological development is an inextricable part of the social project launched in Cuba in 1959. Current accomplishments are the reflection of a long process, and are based on a creative, participative strategy which produced concrete results from the beginning of the 1960s, especially in the field of education and health, as well as technological and industrial development.
LANDMARKS OF THE 60S
- 1961: The Ministry of Industries was created.
- 1962: As the country was already suffering the consequences of the U.S. blockade and witnessing the constant exodus of many of its most qualified technicians, Che created the magazine Nuestra Industria Tecnológica, in which he defined the stages of Cuban technological development. The nation’s Academy of Sciences was founded, with roots that dated back to the 19th century, and new, broader objectives; while the Victoria de Girón Institute of Basic and Preclinical Sciences was created.
- 1963: In guiding the fundamental work of the ministerial department of Technical Development, Che defined the objectives of a series of research institutes, including the Cuban Institute of Technological Research, the Cuban Sugar Cane Derivatives Institute, and the Cuban Institute for the Development of Machinery, which would focus on the development of replacement parts. The Ministry of Public Health’s 13 national scientific institutes were created.
- 1964: José Antonio Echeverría University was built.
In the 1960s, also emerging were centers to promote the development of agriculture: the Institute of Animal Science, the Center for Animal and Plant Health, the Institute of Agricultural Sciences, and the Indio Hatuey Forage and Pasture Station.
- Fidel promoted the National Botanical Garden in Havana, attached to the University of Havana’s Biology department.
- Work began on the new science of computing, through the Digital Research Center, where the first Cuban computer was built in 1969.
BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES: LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
At the beginning of the 1960s, under the personal direction of Fidel, work to establish a scientific institution of the highest level began, to conduct research in basic and applied sciences, and train specialists and researchers. Thus, in 1965, founded was the National Center for Scientific Research (Cenic), from which other biotechnology institutions emerged.
The study and development of biosciences, their contributions and rapid growth as a priority, fundamental branch of science and technology in the country, received strong support in 1980s, with the decisive leadership of Cenic.
In 1981, Fidel created the “Biological Front” to strengthen and coordinate the work and research of different institutions in biotechnology. That same year, a first group of six doctors was formed to develop technology for the production of Interferon - a novel scientific discovery made in Finland - an objective that was achieved within just 42 days. Subsequently, the Center for Biological Research was created.
In 1986, the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology was inaugurated, with state-of-the-art facilities and equipment and - of fundamental importance - a group of young, highly motivated and trained scientists.
From the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, the field of biotechnology, genetic engineering, and the pharmaceutical and medical equipment industry in Cuba experienced rapid growth, reflecting both the evolution of world science and the preexisting base that had been established, as well as the country’s long tradition in medical, biological, and chemical science.
In addition to our highly qualified human potential for research and development, an environment existed in which these technologies could be applied, given the expansion of health services and the advanced technical level of agriculture, livestock ranching, and the food industry.
The impact on Cuba’s public health system of the development, production, and application of research in the field of biotechnology and genetic engineering can be summarized as follows:
- Availability of vaccines: vaccines are produced in Cuba via recombinant processes, which ensure full coverage for the entire population. Other vaccines are imported, to complete the vaccination program against 13 diseases.
- Prenatal and neonatal diagnostic programs, which include the early detection of neural tube defects, Down syndrome, and hereditary metabolic diseases.
- Availability of new medicines.
In a short period of time, Cuba has developed more than 50 biotechnological products to meet a large portion of the nation’s needs in diagnostics, analysis, vaccines, and high-tech products, while representing great economic potential given their value added.
STRATEGIC DIRECTIVES FROM THE COUNTRY’S HIGHEST LEADERSHIP
- The highest priority is given to the development of science, advanced technology, and research, to obtain new medicines, vaccines, and industrial products, and create a technological and productive base with advanced quality control systems.
- Integration of institutions is promoted.
- Complete cycle systems are to be developed, integrating research, production, and marketing.
- Political and technical selection of personnel and dedication to work is supported.
- Impacts on health are prioritized.
- Impacts on food production are prioritized.
- Direct export management is facilitated, with enterprises focused on generating financial resources to cover their own expenses and make a greater contribution to the economy.
UNIVERSITY-SCIENTIFIC POLE: AN INDISPENSABLE ALLIANCE
Links with universities are at the very core of Scientific Poles – where centers are connected and strengthened within the research-production context, according to the conception expressed by Fidel in 1990, that they should become “instruments of cooperation and mutual support” and part of a strategy designed for the training of human resources.
Poles bring together a heterogeneous group of scientific institutions affiliated with different state agencies. They have in common precisely their scientific character, that is, they are institutions dedicated to the production of new knowledge; to the development and application of new technologies; and to the elaboration of novel products under rigorous production conditions and quality control.
Their work in directed toward meeting national needs and generating exports to countries in which they compete with large transnational corporations that, unlike enterprises in underdeveloped countries, are in a position to devote significant resources to scientific research, production, and marketing.
In several Cuban provinces, universities are at the center of scientific activity and direct the main research centers. This is clearly seen in the case of biotechnology, in Ciego de Ávila, Santiago de Cuba, and especially Villa Clara, with two important institutions: the Center for Plant Biotechnology and the Center for Chemical Bioactives.
Camagüey also has an important educational institution linked to the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology in the capital, facilitating constant interaction with the university.
- Cuba has carried out policies prioritizing investment in education, science, and technology, as well as the application of scientific research in the productive process, and in education itself.
- Options for the training of conscious, professionally prepared citizens have been expanded.
- The country currently invests 10% of its GDP in education, and more than 1% in research and development.
- Cuba has more than 40 institutions of higher learning and more than 200 scientific research centers across the island.
- The promotion of scientific and technological development is related not only to economic needs, but also to defending national independence and sovereignty, and serves to enhance cultural identity and the humanistic principles we value.
SOURCE: Fidel y la ciencia: la historia de la biotecnología en Cuba, courtesy of Doctors José Miyar Barruecos & Eulogio Pimentel