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Biotechnology paying off for Cuba

Biotechnology paying off for Cuba
by Ross Sheil Online Co-ordinator
Sunday, December 14, 2008

, Cuba – Reporting annual revenues from biotechnology in excess of
a quarter-billion United States dollars, Communist Cuba has developed
the sector into the country's second largest export behind nickel and
ahead of tourism.

Cuba is conducting trials of locally developed genetically modified
plants in an attempt to reduce its dependency on imported . Six
Thousand hectares of genetically modified maize is scheduled to be
planted there next year.

"They (the government) gave priority to this field as there was a
political will to work in this field and give priority to biotechnology
and pharmaceuticals and for these products to be used in the
field and and also to make it a profitable business sector,"
said Dr Eduardo Martinez of the Cuban Centre of Engineering and
Biotechnology (CIGB).

Martinez was speaking during a tour of the CIGB in Havana this week,
included in the programme of a seminar on science journalism organised
by the country's government and sponsored by UNESCO. Cuba attributes its
scientific progress to a highly educated population with a near 100 per
cent literacy rate complemented by an aggressive health policy which has
produced a ratio of one doctor for every 179 people, among a population
of 11.5 million.

, who stepped down as earlier this year, had
identified the industry as a means to help develop the . This
despite the economic by the United States, which hampers Cuba's
ability to source technology. However, the embargo has been relaxed to
allow imports of US food and restricted biotechnology exports to their
northern neighbour.

"He (US President George W Bush) does not accept Cuba has a
biotechnology development. He says that Cuba is a poor country that
should not be devoted to these kind of industries but instead
agriculture – but we are saying the opposite," said Martinez.

Cuba has over 12,000 scientists and has developed 60 medicines and now
exports its biotechnology products to over 40 countries since the 1980s.
Cuba has 11 biotechnology institutions with CIGB alone employing 1,371

The CIGB and Cuba have denied accusations by the Bush administration of
producing biological weapons.

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