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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Biological Weapons

Cuba is not reported to possess chemical weapons, nor are there credible reports of Cuban posession of long range ballistic missiles. Cuba is regarded by some as having a program of research on biological warfare agents, though the scope and focus of this effort remains obscure and controversial. The State Department’s 2005 compliance report states that Cuba likely “has the technical capability to pursue some aspects of offensive BW.” However, U.S. officials disagree as to whether Cuba has, or has ever had, a biological weapons program.

Public health has been a high priority sector for the Cuban government since the late 1950s. As a result, the Cuban population enjoys one of the highest life expectancies at 75.2 years, and one of the lowest infant mortality rates (9.7 per 1,000 live births). Cuba's accomplishments in primary care involve low-technology and organizational innovations such as neighborhood-based family medicine. Vaccination is a major focus of the Cuban health system, whose childhood immunization program has led to the eradication of measles, mumps and polio, as well as a 30-fold decrease in the incidence of meningitis. There are projects to develop vaccines against salmonella and dengue haemorrhagic fever -- a particularly difficult project, as vaccines must be effective against all four dengue viruses to prevent disease.

Cuba's biotechnology industry is one of the most advanced in emerging countries. Fidel Castro has vowed that Cuba will become the only developing nation to be a significant player in the world's biotechnology and pharmaceuticals industries, and a concerted national effort instigated by Castro himself has made independent progress unmatched elsewhere in the developing world. Cuban biotech research has added several vaccines to the national immunization program, and is responsible for drugs such as recombinant streptokinase, the "clot-buster" for heart attack victims produced at a fraction of the cost of imports. Cuba has produced a number of valuable medicinal goods, such as epiderman growth factor and policosanol (PPG), an oral medication derived from sugar cane that lowers cholesterol and atherogenic lipoproteins. Cuba has expanded the production of interferons, monoclonal antibodies, interleukins, and thrombolytic agents, for both export and internal use. But the sector was largely based on imitating patented vaccines, which cannot be sold in countries that respect patent laws.

Cuba sells products medical primarily to former Soviet states, and third world countries. In 1994, Cuba exported $110 million worth of medical supplies. In 1995, this figure rose to $125 million. These earnings have been used to support and subsidize Cuba's biomedical research programs. Biotechnology is not yet a major exporter like the sugar cane or tobacco industries, but it could be an important part of the economy in the future. The two main sectors in which the Cuban economy is specifically targeting for international investment are the tourism and biotechnology industries. In October 1999 the Anglo-U.S. health care group SmithKline Beecham, annunced details of an agreement to test and market a Cuban meningitis vaccine. The company plans to sell the drug in Europe first but eventually take it to the United States. The agreement represented a breakthrough for Cuba's fledgling biotechnology industry.

The Cuban Democracy Act of 1992 (CDA) permits US firms and their subsidiaries to apply for licenses to sell medicines or medical equipment to the island, provided there is no reasonable likelihood the item will be used in the production of any biotechnology product. The Cuban Democracy Act also explicitly bans exports for Cuba's biotechnology research and production. Regulations require US sellers to keep track of products until they are delivered to end users, in order to prevent US goods from being used in the Cuban biotechnology sector.

The advances achieved by Cuba regarding biological safety in the late 1990s were significant. The National Authority for the control of biological safety was created, which has a national, territorial level and with the Cuban biotechnology plants.

Cuba would be capable of producing biological warfare agents, and Cuba's biotechnology industry could produce many types of toxins. Defector reports claim that the civilian-run Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology in Havana is a "front" for a military research center that manufactures anthrax and bubonic plague.

In 1996 it was asserted that a Florida citrus canker outbreak was the result of a Cuban biological weapons program, although it was not possible to substantiate the claim.

In February 1997 Cuban President Fidel Castro compared the United States to a dragon and Cuba to a lamb and warned that if the dragon tried to eat the lamb, it would find its meal "poisoned" -- setting off speculation concerning Cuba's biological warfare capabilities.

In March 1997 Cuba accused the United States government of a "biological attack" in which Thrips palmi insects were allegedly dropped from a crop-dusting plane in October 1996. UN Food and Agriculture Organization plant-protection expert Jim Pollard confirmed a Thrips palmi pest of crops outbreak in April 1997. Thrips palmi (palm thrips) has been spreading in the Caribbean region since 1985. In the USA is had been reported only from Hawaii, and in 1991 from Florida. T. palmi has only moderate dispersal potential by itself, but is liable to be carried on fruits, or plants for planting of host species, or in packing material. Heavily infested plants are characterized by a silvered or bronzed appearance of the leaves, stunted leaves and terminal shoots, and scarred and deformed fruits.

In June 1997 Cuba formally requested consultations under the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) to consider its allegations. The United States maintained that the aircraft was heading toward Colombia for "narcotics crop eradication" on 21 October 1996, and was cleared to fly over Cuba. The US government stated that the plane's pilot noticed a nearby Cuban airliner and "followed prudent and safe aviation procedures by marking his aircraft's location with smoke" from the plane's smoke generator.

On 31 July 1997, informal consultations were held in Geneva among BWC Parties to establish the procedures and date for formal consultations. Formal consultations were held 25-27 August 1997 in Geneva under the Chairmanship of the United Kingdom. Cuba and the United States made presentations. The Bureau was to resolve the outstanding issues and issue a report to BWC Parties by December 31, 1997. The Bureau's report was issued December 15, 1997, and concluded that "it has not proved possible to reach a definitive conclusion with regard to the concerns raised by the Government of Cuba," and did not recommend any follow-on actions. The report did go on to say "there has been general agreement throughout the process that the requirements of Article V of the Convention and of the consultative process established by the Third Review Conference have been fulfilled in an impartial and transparent manner."

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Page last modified: 21-09-2012 16:28:14 ZULU