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The World Needs More of Them

Cuba’s Biological Weapons

by RICHARD LEVINS

Every once in a while, stories appear about “Castro’s” biological weapons, as in “Castro Weaponizes West Nile Virus”(by Martin Arostegui, Insightmag posted September 16, 2002. The term “Castro” is used in this literature interchangeably with “Cuba”. It is apparently the indigenous name for the largest of the Antilles, and like “Borinquen” for “Puerto Rico” or “Quisqueya” for “Hispaniola”, it seems to have great sentimental value especially for the exile community.

The stories usually originate in publications linked to the right wing of Miami exiles. They quote each other, and sometimes they make it to Washington, where they are eventually qualified by a cooler head or are allowed to fade away.

But all these tales miss the point. Cuba’s real biological weapons programs are hidden in the way the Purloined Letter was hidden, right in the open where everyone can see it and no one recognizes it for what it is.

It seems that while a student in the Jesuit Seminary of his youth, Fidel read Edgar Allen Poe’s famous mystery story and remembered it for the rest of his life. Or maybe he didn’t. Or it is possible that on some dark and stormy night in the Sierra Maestra, when Batista’s soldiers were all tucked in their beds and there was nobody to ambush, and when he was finally bored with thinking up new ways of tormenting the Cuban people, Fidel borrowed the book from Che. In any case we suspect that he was familiar with Poe’s story and that he used the stratagem made famous by that American author to confound the world. Anyway, everyone is free to make things up about Fidel.

The fact of the case is, I am now able to confess (without guarantee of book or movie rights) that for more than 35 years I have been an active participant and observer of three of Cuba’s major biological weapons programs and can testify to their deceptive locations and advanced status of development.

The three major programs are: Universal, free, and quality health care; Ecological agriculture; Preservation of sustainable biodiversity.

Cuba’s health program is now recognized as one of the most effective in the world. Infant mortality, at 6.5/1000 live births, is tied with Canada for the best record in the western hemisphere. Life expectancy is up among the industrialized high income countries. Cuba has the highest number of physicians per capita in the world, the most complete coverage of infant immunizations, the most equitable access to medical care. Cuban health education includes an active pushing of increased vegetable use, while urban gardens provide 3 million tons of fresh produce per year for 11 million people. An outbreak of dengue fever, now a major scourge in the world tropics, was contained by mass mobilizations to eliminate breeding sites for mosquitoes.

Cuban vaccines such as the one against meningitis are widely used in Latin America. Cuba has been able to send public health teams abroad, to Central America and Africa, and receives patients from all over the world in their specialized hospitals and clinics including some 11,000 Ukrainian children injured by the Chernobyl meltdown.

After a period of trying out high-tech industrialized approaches to agriculture, Cuba is rapidly advancing toward ecologically sound organic production. Chemical fertilizers are being replaced by the use of nitrogen-fixing bacteria, fungi that mobilize soil minerals, earthworms, compost, animal manure and recycling the residues from processing of the harvests. Pesticides are being replaced by polyculture (the mixed plantings that confuse or obstruct herbivores), natural enemies (predatory ants, mites, ladybugs, lacewings and others), parasites of insect pests (mostly wasps and flies), fungus infections of the pests, and the application of natural products such as neem or mineral oil. In increasingly diversified farms, goats and horses contribute to weed control.

Almost all the urban vegetable and about half the total food production is organic.

Cuba leads the world in active compliance with the environmental agendas of Rio and Kyoto. Freon is being replaced in Cuban refrigerators by a Cuban coolant derived from sugar cane in order to protect the ozone layer. Special programs aim at the protection of the fragile mangroves along the coast, resistance to desertification, and integrated development of the mountains. Forests covered some 14% of Cuba’s land at the time of the revolution. It has now increased to some 21% and the target is around 27%. The press often reports the completion of local reforestation and clean-up programs.

These three programs are the cores of Cuba’s biological weapons program. The policy question is, how can the international community respond? The United States, on its own, as the one world super-power, can warn Cuba that if they persist with their public health strategy the US will provide universal health care for all residents and offer women 11 prenatal clinic visits free. If they do not dismantle their national parks and reserves we will forbid oil drilling in the Alaskan Wildlife Refuge. If they continue to push organic agriculture we will progressively ban the most toxic pesticides and fund an organic research program comparable to the Human Genome Project.

The Cuban scheme to reduce primary school class size to 20 students per teacher is a dual-use program aimed at educating all children in the sciences and humanities, and is capable of producing scientists capable of producing more weapons. With 2 % of the population of Latin America they already have 11% of the scientists, and if this trend continues for 400 years almost every scientist south of the border will be a Cuban! The United States cannot wait indefinitely. We must respond by cutting primary school classes to 18 children per teacher!

Together with our allies we should call an International Conference where we will introduce and offer to fund a Biological Weapons Proliferation Treaty which obliges all countries, in a multilateral Coalition of the Reluctant, to catch up with Cuba. Only then will the danger to our freedoms disappear.

RICHARD LEVINS