Beyond establishing January 15 as the date on which to commemorate Cuban Science Day in 1990, what was expressed by Fidel this same day in 1960 continues to be significant because it is a bold strategic projection on the role of science and technology in the development of the country.
Speaking that day during the act to mark the twentieth anniversary of Cuba's Speleological Society, held in the auditorium of today’s Academy of Sciences, the leader of the nascent Revolution emphatically stated: “The future of our homeland must necessarily be a future of men and women of science, of thinkers, because this is precisely what we are sowing, what we are sowing are opportunities for intelligence.”
The prophetic statement was made when the island still had an illiteracy rate of over 20%, when there were few research centers, the exodus of professionals was beginning, and the number of professors and teachers was far from able to support this aim, which many considered unachievable. Simultaneously, the hostile policy of the United States government intensified.
Only a man with the vision of Fidel, determined to view the future as something immediate, endowed with unlimited confidence in the possibilities of human beings, and fully convinced that without mastering science it was impossible to aspire to economic and social progress, could position this sector among the priorities of the revolutionary government, in such an unfavorable context.
Under his constant attention, new research centers were created with an emphasis on the study of natural resources, and the provision of important services. The multiplication of institutions and mass training of specialists in the most diverse branches of knowledge marked the beginning of the colossal project that today is Cuban science, an essential part of our cultural heritage.
Virtually no discipline was absent from the efforts of the Comandante en Jefe. Little has been said, for example, regarding the fact that he was the promoter of the application of meteorology in agriculture and the creation of a rain gauge network capable of covering the entire archipelago, to precisely record the spatial and seasonal distribution of rainfall, using this data to benefit the new agricultural plans underway.
Concerns regarding the environmental problems of the planet have been a recurrent theme in many of Fidel’s speeches and writings. We need only mention his famous speech at the 1992 Earth Summit in Río, when he warned that an important biological species was at risk of disappearing due to the progressive destruction of its natural habitat: humankind.
The leading advocate of the creation of the National Center for Scientific Research (CNIC), founded July 1, 1965, Fidel envisaged it as the starting point from which other leading institutions would later emerge. This was the case with training personnel there, who would later work at the National Center for Agricultural and Livestock Health, the National Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, the Immunoassay Research Center ,and the Cuban Neurosciences Center, to name a few.
During the toughest years of the special period he emphasized more than once the fundamental concept that the survival of the Revolution and socialism, the preservation of independence, primarily depended on science and technology.
With absolute conviction, he would also assert in 1993, “Science and the products of science, must one day occupy first place in the national economy, given the scarce resources, especially energy resources, we have in our country. We must develop intelligent products, and that is our place in the world, there will be no other…”
This underpinned the decision to promote the development of biotechnology and prioritize this promising industry, precisely when the country was suffering the most severe impacts of the loss of the Soviet Union and the socialist Eastern Bloc and the strengthening of the U.S. blockade.
According to Dr. Agustín Lage, on visiting the small laboratory at the National Institute of Oncology and Radiobiology in September 1989, where a small group of researchers had obtained the first monoclonal antibodies produced in the country, the leader of the Revolution inquired as to the leading global company in this sector and how much it produced.
On hearing the relevant response, his second question was: And do you not intend to compete with them?
This has always been the imprint of Fidel on scientific development in Cuba. With his proverbial optimism he taught our researchers to overcome major obstacles and never give up on realizing even the most utopian of dreams.