Cuban ‘President’ Claims to Earn Doctorate amid Pandemic

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - OCTOBER 17: Miguel Diaz Canel, President of Cuba poses during a state visit to Mexico at Palacio Nacional on October 17, 2019 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images)
Hector Vivas/Getty Images

Cuba’s second-in-command, President Miguel Díaz-Canel, claimed to have successfully defended his dissertation this week for a doctorate from the Central University of Las Villas on the topic of “Science- and Innovation-Based Governance System for the Sustainable Development of Cuba.”

Cuba’s supreme ruler is the head of the Communist Party and longtime dictator Raúl Castro. Constitutionally, Castro is both Party head and military commander-in-chief but chose to issue his weakest title, “president,” to Díaz-Canel in 2018, giving the over half-century-old Castro regime a veneer of transition has not materialized in any substantive changes on the island.

Díaz-Canel has crafted a public persona as a scientific mind, claiming a background as an engineer who brings different sensibilities to governing than the former guerrilla fighters and bureaucrats still controlling the island today. His latest alleged academic achievement — at 60 years of age — comes at one of the most turbulent times in the modern history of Cuba, which faces a worsening Chinese coronavirus outbreak, severe food and basic good shortages, and multiple popular pro-democracy movements.

Cubadebate, a state-run propaganda outlet, praised Díaz-Canel on Tuesday for defending his doctoral dissertation “with the modesty and simplicity of a student” before a group of academics from the central Cuban university offering him a degree, who traveled to Havana to listen to his defense. It applauded the leader for allegedly facing the “crude reality” that the Cuban Revolution had failed to create an efficient technology apparatus. The outlet then quoted from Díaz-Canel’s alleged dissertation, which claimed his work was necessary because a “perception” existed that “the human potential and the scientific and technological capacities that the Revolution created have not in a generalized way had the desired practical impact on society and, in particular, the economy.”

Díaz-Canel reportedly objected to this “perception,” not the reality of Cuba’s population living in squalor while the Castro family’s riches grew for decades.

Cubadebate concluded Díaz-Canel “left no question unanswered” on the topic and received the acclaim of the professors.

Díaz-Canel addressed his presumably successful dissertation defense on Thursay, stating, “it’s not about receiving a title, but about applying the knowledge,” without elaborating. Díaz-Canel also tasked the nation’s academics with “focusing on the solution of the problems of the industrial systems in the country and to satisfy the internal market.”

The abrupt announcement of the culmination of what is typically at least three years of academic work conducted full-time by a senior member of a national government recalled similar incidents in other dictatorships, particularly the controversy surrounding former Zimbabwean first lady Grace Mugabe. Mugabe, known as “Gucci Grace” for her extravagant expenditures while husband Robert ruled the country for decades, claimed to have received a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Zimbabwe in 2014, months after enrolling in the program. Following the military intervention that extracted the Mugabes from power, the new government arrested the vice-chancellor of the university, Levi Nyagura, on charges of corruption tied directly to fraudulently awarding Mugabe a doctorate.

The Cuban independent publication 14 y Medio noted the strange timing of Díaz-Canel taking time out of his presidential duties to pursue a doctorate degree: in the middle of a pandemic that has reached record infection rates, while Cubans struggle to find basic foods like chicken and bread in their stores.

Cuba documented 816 cases of Chinese coronavirus on Wednesday and thre deaths, one of the highest one-date rates since the pandemic began. In total, Cuba has documented nearly 70,000 cases of Chinese coronavirus and 408 deaths, numbers that many observers have questioned given the deteriorated state of the Cuban socialist healthcare system and testimony from defecting members of the Cuban slave doctor system who have admitted to documenting false coronavirus testing and treatment abroad.

The Castro regime has focused significantly more on developing coronavirus treatment products to sell abroad than on containing the outbreak at home. Havana claims to have four coronavirus vaccine candidates in development, among which “Soberana 02” is considered the furthest along on the path to approval. On Wednesday, Díaz-Canel boasted that thousands of Cubans would soon be “vaccinated” with Soberana 02 and another candidate, Adbala, despite the products not yet passing Phase III clinical trials. The mass administering of the experimental products, state newspaper Granma claimed, would be the clinical trials. As of Wednesday, the Finlay Vaccine Institute, which is developing the candidates, claimed that 22,000 people in the country had been “immunized,” despite the lack of evidence that the products work.

A report from early March revealed that the Cuban government has already begun attempts to convince friendly nations around the world to purchase the products. The Castro regime’s ambassador to Suriname reportedly mentioned the potential of distributing a Cuban-made vaccine candidate in the country during a meeting with representatives in Paramaribo at the time.

Prior to attempts to sell vaccine candidates, the Castro regime had spent much of 2020 promoting the use of antivirals known as interferons to fight coronavirus infections, a method that no other country had adopted on a large scale and the scant scientific evidence suggested had a high success rate. In April 2020, a group of Cuban medical researchers denounced the use of interferons in a statement distributed by the NGO Cuban Prisoners Defenders, warning that it could lead to severe medical problems for patients, particularly those with mild cases of Chinese coronavirus who may recover naturally.

“When the Government of Cuba assures that the Interferon developed in Cuba cures the coronavirus, it is committing a serious crime against world public health, since this drug not only lacks any scientific proof, but also where it has been tested has already given null results of encouragement,” the researchers’ statement read.

As of this month, reports from Cuba surfaced accusing the regime of continuing to force coronavirus patients to ingest interferons as a means of treating respiratory disease.

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