Part I: Export Sales, Blood Collection, and Rights of Donors.
For decades, the Cuban state has run a multi-million dollar business with blood, collected from unknowing and un-remunerated citizens.
As early as the mid-1960s Cuba was reportedly selling blood to at least Vietnam and Canada. By 1995, blood exports of US$30.1 million were Cuba’s 5th export product after sugar, nickel, crustaceans, and cigars.
Cuba’s official statistics, published by the Oficina Nacional de Estadísticas (O.N.E.), do not report these exports, but global trade data indicates that in the 1995-2014 twenty-year period), Cuba exported $622.5 million —an annual average of $31 million— under SITC (Standard International Trade Classification) 3002 for human blood components (plasma, etc.) and plasma-derived medicinal products (PDMPs). (See export data by year and country of destination here). The bulk of these exports has gone to authoritarian governments, politically allied with Cuba, presumably to state entities applying laxer standards, ethical and otherwise (Iran, Russia, Vietnam, Algeria until 2003, then to Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, and Ecuador).
Cuba reports that 95% of all collected units of human blood is fractionated into components, allowing for a much more lucrative trade than for plasma alone and for the production of highly valued PDMPs such as interferon, human albumin, inmunoglobulines, coagulation factors, toxins, vaccines, and other medicinal products. This export business has an important edge over competitors by saving the usual cost of paying donors for the raw material, their blood.
The business could be much larger than as reported under SITC 3002. In 2012, O.N.E. reported $808 million in exports of pharmaceutical/medicinal products, of which some —or many— might also be derived from human blood and not classified as such. Cuba’s unreliable statistics are standard fare and, in fact, Cuban officials have reported to the media that pharmaceutical and biotechnology exports are more than $2 billion.
Blood collection in Cuba: massive government deception and exploitation
Mass blood drives soliciting volunteer and altruistic donation began very soon after Fidel Castro’s rise to power in January 1959. But, a much more sinister approach was also put in place. In the 1960’s, the blood of political prisoners was drained right before their way to execution. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights denounced this in a scathing April 1967 report. Cuba Archive has documented at least eleven cases and obtained numerous anecdotal accounts of this island-wide practice lasting several years. (See our report).
Cuba has long had a 100% donation rate. By 1998, Cuba was reporting that the ratio of voluntary altruistic blood donation had surpassed the PAHO/WHO goal of one per 20 inhabitants. In 2014, the last year of official statistics, it reported 407,989 voluntary non-remunerated blood donations, of which 392,244 (96%) were useful. Surprisingly, citizens are required to donate blood before any medical procedure, even minor ones, and there is often no blood when needed for emergencies or surgeries. PDMPs are also not readily available to the population, reserved for foreigners, the nomeklatura, and the well-connected.