Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Different View of Cuba

President Obama’s “new approach” on Cuba has intensified the debate on U.S.—Cuban relations. Would you like to learn a bit modern Cuba, besides all the politics?

Read the new thriller Malignancy. The plot in this fast-moving thriller is fiction but the background is based on documented scientific developments in Cuba and my observations during a visit to Cuba in November 2013.

Cuba is changing.
Among the propaganda spouted by Cuban tour guide in 2013 was the statement: Cuban scientists had patented a drug for cancer. When I got home, I found researchers in Havana had patented a therapeutic cancer vaccine to treat a rather rare type of lung cancer (non-small cell). In essence, the drug is supposed to rev up patients’ own immune systems to produce cells to slay the cancer cells without injuring the normal cells.

This patent demonstrates two facets of modern Cuba. Cuban scientists are doing competitive science. The Cuban government recognizes the importance of commercialization of their research. My guide’s comments suggest although Cubans are proud of their past, many think science and economic changes are important for their future.

The U.S. response to Cuba is surprising.
First off, I was amazed by the tons of consumer goods being flown by American Airlines from Miami into Cuba daily despite the embargo. I bet you’d be amazed, too, if you saw the baggage check in for flights to Havana.

I was also surprised to learn hundreds of Cuban scientists and artists had participated in non-U.S. government-sponsored exchanges already. In June 2014, the president of AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) even requested U.S. government to sponsor scientific exchanges with Cuba. (Check out the editorial “Science diplomacy with Cuba” in the journal Science on June 6, 2014.)

My trip to Cuba turns into the thriller Malignancy.
Scientific exchanges were one of the early steps in the normalization of U.S. relationships with China in the 1970s. Similarly, the U.S. is apt to initiate more scientific exchanges with Cuba in the near future. I thought Sara Almquist, the epidemiologist and heroine of my previous medical thrillers Coming Flu and Ignore the Pain, would be the perfect protagonist to do a little “scientific diplomacy” in Cuba.

I wanted readers of Malignancy see more of Cuba than its scientific aspirations. So I have Sara to slip into La Floridita Bar, made famous by Hemingway, in Old Havana to meet a mysterious Cuban. Is he just a potential colleague, a spymaster, or both?

I suspect most Americans, including myself, know less about Cuban history than they realize. Accordingly, Sara discovers interesting quirks of Cuban history, as well as clues about those who are trying to kill her in Albuquerque, while she explores historic Colon Cemetery and Plaza de la RevoluciĆ³n in Havana.

So visit Cuba with Sara in Malignancy. Then you can decide if the personality of Havana matches your expectations.

Blurb for Malignancy: Men disguised as police officers shoot at Sara Almquist twice in one day. Albuquerque police suspect Jim Mazzone, a drug czar who has tangled with Sara before, will order more hits on Sara. Thus when colleagues in the State Department invite Sara to arrange scientific exchanges between the U.S. and Cuba, she jumps at the chance to get out of town and to see the mysterious Xave Zack, who rescued her in Bolivia. Maybe, she should question their motives.

The book is available from Amazon in paperback and Kindle versions.