The Cuban scientist and activist defends the role of international solidarity and science to combat climate change, poverty, and pandemics. She even wrote a letter to Joe Biden to eliminate the blockade and allow cooperation between Cuba and the United States.
Juanjo Andrés Cuervo
The combination of science and socialism has always been present in Miriam Palacios’ life. For her, these concepts represent the joint effort of nations to face the most pressing issues, such as climate change, poverty, and water shortages.
In her chat with The Prisma– in the first part she spoke about the importance of the Cuban Revolution and the ideals of solidarity which still echo today – Miriam explains that “socialism represents the fact that community is more important than the individual”. In a similar way, scientific work, she says, “is carried out through teamwork,” being the result of cooperation between people from many countries.
She states that, in recent years, there has been an increase in socialist values on a global scale. Proof of that is the demonstrations against capitalism and climate change that are taking place worldwide.
Despite the critical situation that the planet is experiencing, the scientist points out reasons to be optimistic. “There is a cultural exchange, a global brotherhood that allows us to see our differences to combine our qualities.”
And, in this battle against climate change, she thinks that the key lies in education as a fundamental part of understanding the global circumstances. In this way, she sends a targeted message: “Change has to come from the awareness of the population, and it is the people who have to make the decisions.”
Having grown up and participated in the Cuban Revolution, Miriam knows perfectly well what it means to be subjected to an external force. As Cuba’s history from the last 60 years cannot be understood without analysing the intervention of the United States and the blockade they imposed on the Latin American country.
Since its beginning, US leaders understood that the Cuban Revolution headed by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara posed a threat to the hegemony of the capitalist system.
“When the literacy campaign began in Cuba, it was obvious that it was choosing an alternative path, and this caused fear in the United States and in Latin America”, Miriam explains. Alongside Dani Acosta, president of Cubanos en UK (Cubans in the UK), they wrote a letter to Joe Biden, demanding an end to the blockade. All this concern over doing something, fighting for something, and keeping up her voice for others, is because as well as her role as a scientist at King’s College, London, Miriam practices an activism very tied to political causes. This is how she has frequently taken part in different protests and causes, such as the campaign to free Julian Assange and the Extinction Rebellion movements.
Since the Revolution, Cuba has defended socialism as a system of government. How does it combine science and socialism?
In Socialism the welfare of the community or society is at the core of decisions, solidarity and internationalism, where collective and cooperative work overcomes individualism. Likewise, science is promoted by multidisciplinary participation through teamwork with researchers from different parts of the world.
In fact, science professionals move between countries and speak a global language: it is about facing up to climate change, poverty, and water shortages. These problems affect the whole world and many nations are making common efforts to look for solutions. Capitalism promotes consumerism and individualism, especially in its Neoliberal stage, and in its obsession with extractivism to achieve the enrichment and well-being of a few minorities, destroys the planet, increases inequality and the people’ s impoverishment.
I went into science for social commitment. When scientists offer an altruistic vision and use science for the service of humanity, it creates opposition to the neoliberal system. All of these are socialist values, and contemporary demonstrations against capitalism and climate change are proof of this.
What has been the importance of science in Cuba since the Revolution?
Fidel Castro said in 1962 that Cuba had to be a country of science men and women, and they have developed vaccines and numerous advances in biotechnology over the decades. Everything starts with education, and in Cuba they created the Latin American School of Medicine, to provide the right to study a career in medicine for free to every person who does not have the financial means to pay the fees.
Everything starts with education as a universal right in Cuba. Free education includes university studies. In addition, and in Cuba they created the Latin American School of Medicine, to provide the right to study a career in medicine for free to every person who does not have the financial means to pay the fees, and to learn in this institution how to better serve society in his or her home country.
Unlike what I have experienced living in the UK, I see that the ordinary Cuban citizen admires his or her scientists, recognises their commitment to difficult work to help the country. In the UK the population has no such admiration and sometimes sees scientists – especially those working for the pharmaceutical industry – as their enemies (I would say ‘class enemies’). I think that is why some colleagues are surprised to see me at protests calling for social justice. The socialist revolution in Cuba creates scientists as part of the people, as part of the working class. I have always felt that I am part of the scientific sector, not the elite.
What do you think of Cuba’s management of the Covid-19 pandemic and the fight against climate change?
The government took its orders from science during the pandemic. For many years, Cuba has had a tradition of producing vaccines thanks to their work in scientific research. That means, it already had the material conditions and the human resources to produce vaccines.
Cuba’s vaccine production technology is not only accepted by the World Health Organisation, but also by many countries in the Global South where Cuba has carried out technological development projects in the production of vaccines for the treatment of infections that affect children in poor countries.
Regarding climate change, in Cuba we have spent many years establishing sustainable measures for the environment, for example protecting the ecology of coastal areas, coral reefs, etc.
Cuba founded the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment after the United Nations Summit for Development and Environment in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. There, Fidel Castro gave one of the most epic speeches, warning humanity about the dangers of consumerism for the planet and the need for the economic powers to assume their responsibility for this disastrous path.
Nevertheless, mass media has always tried to hide the model brought about by the Cuban Revolution. To keep the capitalist system alive, they cannot show the fact that it is possible to create a better world.
In 2021, COP26 took place to try to find solutions to climate change. Do you think that there is hope of reversing this disaster?
After participating in numerous protests, in support of Julian Assange, with Extinction Rebellion, and in other anticapitalism movements, you realise that there is social resistance and consciousness of issues of global justice. For example, in Latin America, the indigenous peoples’ awareness of the environment is incredible.
This is why I want to be optimistic. There is a cultural exchange, a global brotherhood that allows us to understand and value our differences to specifically combine our qualities strengths.
You mention the blockade imposed by the United States on Cuba, which has remained in place for 60 years. How has it evolved since then?
When the literacy campaign began in Cuba, it was understood that the country chose a different path to develop itself. Even organisations such as Uneso and the World Health Organisation (WHO), showed an interest in the campaign. Unesco wanted to instil this educational method in other countries.
This alternative path taken by Cuba caused fear in the United States and Latin American countries, and the blockade has sought to strangle the country. In a document from the US secretariat in the early years of the Revolution, it is shown that the blockade’s goal is to bring the Cuban people to extreme poverty that it would cause an uprising against the government. This goal has never changed, no matter who the president is and which party he represents.
International opposition to the US blockade of Cuba is not only expressed in the consecutive votes of the United Nations General Assembly since 1990. Economic sanctions (also commercial and financial) have been subject to analysis and condemnation among scientific communities, especially in medicine, who have demonstrated with data that economic sanctions are indiscriminate weapons and should be prohibited. This has been published in journals such as the British Medical Association, the American Journal of Public Health and in the Oxfam report “The right to live without a Blockade”. The SIDS Blockade is even more criminal and exacerbates the damage of Climate Change.
In the letter that we wrote to Joe Biden, we demanded an end to the blockade of Cuba and the elimination of patents. We explained that science is a universal business that belongs to everyone. Medicines cannot only be accessible to rich people, the right to life is universal.
As well as economic, the blockade also has an ideological component. The youngest generations, with no background of a capitalist and unjust past, nor experience of how the Revolution changed our society into a more dignified, sovereign and independent one, have been used by the multinational media empire in the United States to promote resistance movements in Cuba through social networks. They instilled in them that Cuba is a poor country because of socialism.
Another of the measures employed is including Cuba on the list of countries sponsoring terrorism. With this action, the US ensures the extraterritorial implementation of the blockade, even though in 20 meetings of the United Nations General Assembly, the blockade has been voted against by a large majority of the member countries. This unilateral measure interferes with all banking transactions that have something to do with Cuba.
The country cannot buy on the international market dominated by the US dollar. The blockade also affects Cuban communities abroad. Our organisation has been mistreated with impunity by banks and agencies that interfere with our aims to help Cuban families, to help our country in times of natural disasters with humanitarian aid.
They have stopped our donation money, boycotted fundraising campaigns, and almost persecuted us, just for wanting to help the country. This is happening here in the UK, in violation of a UK law that prohibits the extraterritorial application of the US embargo.
On a personal level, for example, this means that when I go to Cuba from the UK and take money out to go to my country on holiday, the bank asks me how and where I spend the money. They encroach on your freedom to choose accommodation, or if you want to buy a property.
(Translated by Donna Davison – Email: email@example.com) – (Photos provided by Miriam Palacios and authorised by her for free publication)