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No Room for Stigmatization---Interview with Cuban Ambassador to China Carlos Miguel Pereira

2020-08-27 19:34:00 Source:China Today Author:MICHAEL ZÁRATE
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CARLOS Miguel Pereira is no stranger to China. The “new” Cuban ambassador is in fact taking up the post for the second time, having first served as his country’s top envoy to China back in 2006. However his relationship with the country dates back even further — in 1991 he arrived as a student to learn Chinese at Peking University. With his long contact history with the country and ability of speaking the language, Pereira has a deep understanding of China and its people, something that is crucial for an ambassador in the difficult times in which we are living.

                                                                            The ambassador has a deep understanding of China and its people.

China Today (CT): Taking into account the way the COVID-19 epidemic evolved in China, what do you think about the country’s efforts in containing the disease?

Ambassador Pereira: We believe that China has exhibited an exemplary and comprehensive response from the onset of the epidemic.

Thanks to this exemplary response, China is also able to make a great contribution to the rest of the world. It provided a time buffer so that other countries and governments could prepare beforehand. Unfortunately, not all countries have done this.

In Cuba, we studied China’s experience closely from the beginning. Cuba is well-known for its robust health system, with doctors and medical personnel that have accumulated vast experience in managing epidemics and similar disasters. But, without a doubt, it is China’s experience that has served as an example to the rest of the world. In this context, bilateral exchange has materialized through multiple channels, such as video conferences between Chinese and Cuban experts, which have catalyzed cooperation between the two countries.

CT: One of the drugs used in China to treat COVID-19 patients is Recombinant Interferon Alpha 2B, which since 2007, has been produced in the joint Sino-Cuban company Changchun Heber Biological Technology. How is bilateral biotechnological cooperation progressing?

Ambassador Pereira: Recombinant Interferon Alpha 2B is one of the 30 drugs chosen by the Chinese National Health Commission in the treatment of COVID-19.

A lot of drugs that are being developed, or those that are already registered in the country, contributed to the treatment of specific cases. For instance, there is a Cuban monoclonal drug, Nimotuzumab, which has proven to be very successful in the treatment of cancer, and it is produced here in Beijing by the joint company Biotech Pharmaceuticals.

The epidemic has allowed us to identify new products that can be used to treat COVID-19, which forms part of the cooperation efforts between Cuba and China. There are currently several joint projects that are being considered, some of which are actually being carried out, especially through a biotechnology research and development center located in Yongzhou City, Hunan Province.

There are four joint companies that are currently operating in the biotech field, and others that are being established, such as the first joint biotech park in China for the development of drugs, which will launch with nine or ten Cuban biotechnological products.

CT: Where will this project be carried out?

Ambassador Pereira: The joint biotech park is being developed in Fangchenggang City of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. The project already broke ground in early March.

As of now, there are almost 100 drugs produced in China that have already been registered in Cuba. There are also approximately 10 Cuban drugs registered in China, and there are 10 others that are in the process of being approved. All of this shows that biotechnology is one of the pillars for bilateral cooperation.

CT: Currently there are Cuban medical teams fighting COVID-19 in 23 countries, and China has also been doing the same. How effective has this been?

Ambassador Pereira: There has been practical cooperation efforts since the start of the epidemic. A lot of it has to do with the fact that China and Cuba were amongst the first countries to give a sound response in terms of solidarity and international cooperation. A group of countries have been politicizing and stigmatizing these cooperation efforts, but we believe this is simply a smoke screen to hide their own failure, as is the case of the U.S.

When it was still battling the virus inside its own borders, China did not hesitate to offer its help to the world, sending out vital supplies to other countries. And in the case of Cuba, because of its inherent solidarity and despite its limitations, the country has also responded to requests for assistance made by a considerable number of other countries.

There has also been a joint collaboration among Chinese experts and Cuban medical teams. In Venezuela, for example, Cuba and China combined efforts to take part in the massive investigation tasks related to COVID-19. This shows that in an epidemic of this nature countries have to work together, and there is no room for politicization or stigmatization, which certain governments have been trying to impose.

CT: What is the greatest lesson you think COVID-19 has taught us?

Ambassador Pereira: A pandemic of this nature does not take into account ideologies or political doctrines, nor does it consider nationalities. Apart from some countries that have taken xenophobic attitudes or engaged in campaigns to discredit other countries’ efforts, the world as a whole has adopted a path of solidarity and international cooperation.

This is a very important matter for Cuba, because our country has been subject to a long economic embargo from the United States. From the very start of the epidemic, the embargo has been felt in everyday life, as even donations made by other countries have been blocked from arriving to Cuba. The best-known case is that of the Jack Ma Foundation, which announced a donation of medical supplies for Latin American and Caribbean countries. However, the only country in the region not able to receive the supplies was Cuba, precisely because of the U.S. embargo. The American company Apex Cargo Services declined at the last minute to deliver the donation due to the extraterritoriality of the United States’ blockade. That shipment, during the initial stage of the pandemic, would have been really positive for our country.

CT: September 28 marks the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between China and Cuba, which was also the first country in Latin America to establish such a relationship with China. What significance does this date have for the Cuban government and people?

Ambassador Pereira: This is not just any other anniversary. The decision to establish diplomatic relations with China was probably the nascent Cuban Revolution’s first act of independence, and it opened the door to the establishment of relations between China and the rest of Latin America and the Caribbeans. In that sense, we could say that Cuba holds many firsts with China. Cuba was the first country to sign a trade agreement with China, the first country to receive Chinese students to learn Spanish in the 1960s, and was the destination for the first official Chinese delegations that traveled to that part of the world. But, what is really worth highlighting about these 60 years is that we have not only been at the forefront of relations with China, but we have also managed to sustain a strategic partnership based on friendship and mutual trust.

For us, this 60th anniversary is of great importance. Originally, both sides had planned for an extensive program of festivities, which we will not be able to carry out now because of the pandemic. However, depending on how the situation evolves, we will hold some activities during the second half of the year to commemorate this milestone, which is of great significance in bilateral terms.

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