Miriam is a Cuban scientist who has lived in London for several years and is one of the few Latin American women to stand out in this field in the UK. She has always combined her professional background with her battles for political causes. Her ideals have strong roots in her education and the teachings of the Cuban Revolution.
Juanjo Andrés Cuervo
After studying at the University of Havana, Miriam Palacios arrived in the United Kingdom as a researcher to study biomedicine and she focused on the discovery of new medicines.
She started working at Wellcome Research Laboratories in Beckenham in the 80s which, as well as being a scientific research space, was the scene of multicultural cooperation in which people from all over the world exchanged ideas. “There was a scientific and altruistic atmosphere,” Miriam explains. However, after the research centre was acquired by a US pharmaceutical company, GlaxoSmithKline, Miriam left to work at University College London (UCL), because GlaxoSmithKline’s policies were enormously far removed from Miriam’s principles.
To this end, she unequivocally states: “Convictions are not for sale.” It is no surprise that she was known in her new job as the Cuban woman who supports the Cuban Revolution, as Miriam has always been involved in the political struggle.
She has been an active member of many organisations, including the Union of Communist Youth, the Communist Party of Cuba, Cubanos en UK, Cuba Solidarity Campaign, Plataforma 12 de Octubre and the Marti-Maceo Association.
She has also taken part in demonstrations with Extinction Rebellion, and in the protests to free Julian Assange. She herself recognises that, being retired, she has more time available to dedicate to activism. This is why she has got involved in solidarity campaigns with Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Palestine and the Saharan people.
She has joined her socialist convictions with international cooperation through science, as “the exchange of scientists on a global scale” is a fundamental aspect of developing this. In this sense, and defining herself as “a Cuban scientist committed to the Cuban Revolution”, her spirit of international solidarity made her work with people from Cuba, China, the Soviet Republic and other Eastern European countries.
In a friendly and extensive chat, Miriam Palacios spoke with The Prisma, allowing us to get to the bottom of what she has done and thinks about different topics. In this first part, the King’s College London researcher explains the role of the Cuban Revolution, the social and cultural hegemony set up on the island to help the poorest sectors of society and the importance of international solidarity for Cuban professionals.
Cuba and global support
Considering the context of 2022, where climate change and the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic are two pressing problems, using scientific advances to help our fellow humans and protect the planet seems crucially important.
In this situation of global cooperation, Cuba is taking centre stage again, just as it did during the cholera epidemics in Haiti and the spread of Ebola in western Africa. On this occasion, the Latin American country sent medical personnel to almost 40 countries across the 5 continents, including Togo, Peru, Italy and Andorra.
These are examples that show the ideals embodied by the Revolution and, Miriam highlights, “Cuba has always sent doctors when there are natural disasters. For example, in the 2010 earthquake in Haiti and in other regions of the world”.
People are aware of the fundamental role of Cuban scientists, “When I walk through the market in London near my home and I speak with people who come from Pakistan, Afghanistan and numerous regions of Africa, they always remember how Fidel Castro sent doctors to their countries. It is recognition from the citizen who met a Cuban doctor and their willingness to help.”
Revolution, science and socialism
Miriam highlights that medicine in Cuba is about “developing an altruistic and humanist vocation”. In this way, Cubans abandon their country to help people in other parts of the world.
“It is a fundamental teaching embodied in a socialist education, which taught that effort and ability must be offered in service of society”, she says.
For Miriam, this solidary predisposition is part of the Cuban Revolution’s legacy. Since she was involved in the movement as a child, her activism and scientific intellectuality have been the two driving forces that have guided her social and professional life.
Because the overthrowing of Batista’s dictatorship and the arrival of the government headed by Fidel Castro changed the paradigm of Cuba economically and created a socialist basis and a hegemony of solidarity that were the key to the future actions of the Latin American country.
A cooperation programme led by the young people was put in place, which went to rural areas to teach reading and writing, and to help the poor.
“Following the fall of Batista, the 600,000 people who participated in the literacy process went from the cities to the countryside”,she says
This process of direct action that young people from the age of 14 were responsible for, created deep empathy in society, “Upon moving to rural areas, they experienced a sense of independence and personal empowerment, realising that they could help other people to improve their living conditions.” Miriam states that this action, “generated a symbiosis that remained for the rest of the Cubans’ lives,” and, in this way, Cuba became the first country in Latin America to be free of illiteracy.
She remembers that her grandfather took disabled people to Havana, “who had never used shoes” and that this taught her that helping her fellow humans does not require epic deeds. It is rather about “a humanist intention on each person’s behalf.”
All that generated a “process of bonding between people of different economic and social backgrounds, through which people with more resources went to live in poor people’s homes in the countryside to teach them and help them.”
Education and health: universal rights
The ideals of cooperation were part of the socialist education that Miriam Palacios received, and her dedication to science is due to the need to help people.
Having participated in the socialist movement in Cuba since she was 8 years old, the scientist points to the foundations which sustained the revolutionary process: access to university and healthcare. For Miriam, it is obvious that “health and education are universal rights.”
However, achieving those ideals was not easy. Many professionals abandoned the island after the end of the regime. “In 1959, Cuba had 6000 doctors for 6 million inhabitants. After the fall of Batista’s dictatorship, 3000 of them left for the United States.”
For the country to progress, it needed professionals qualified in healthcare, which is why it gave free access to university. There the process of literacy and scientific progress converged in the Latin American country.
This is why Miriam emphasises the role of “a second revolution: the university revolution.”
The skills acquired have been used for global wellbeing. Science and socialism are united in the Cuban process.
Miriam says: “All this movement of social awareness has brought about that, when Cuban doctors go to other countries, they are aware of the analogy established by the actions of their parents and grandparents who taught the less fortunate people in Cuba to read and write. It is a moral and humanistic act of international solidarity.”
(Translated by Donna Davison – Email: email@example.com) – (Photos provided by Miriam Palacios and authorised by her for free publication)
Miriam Palacios: “The change will come from the awareness of the population”