Up Next

Fusion's Jorge Ramos on what he learned covering the 2016 race

Diabetics could be the first to benefit from relations with Cuba

On the coast of Cuba, at the point closest to the United States, sits the Port of Mariel. It is probably best remembered as the place where we first met Cuban political prisoner Tony Montana in Scarface. But in the 1980s, Mariel was also the site of a mass exodus of “Marielitos” –hundreds of thousands of Cubans piling into boats headed to the U.S. in search of the American Dream.

Today, Cuba hopes to make a fortune at Mariel. Brazil has already spent nearly one billion dollars financing the construction of the deep-water container terminal and the remodeling of the port. While the Cuban government will operate the port and pump its profits into the treasury, the land sitting around Mariel is being developed for private businesses, in the hopes of encouraging foreign investment.

For the U.S., a port equipped with state-of-the-art technology means more shipping opportunities and exports. But this isn’t the only area where the U.S. and Cuba may be able to mutually benefit from normalized relations.

A new medical treatment being tested in Cuba to prevent one of the most insidious consequences of diabetes—foot and leg amputation—could be the first step to a win-win relationship.

“My personal dream, I think all the staff’s dream, is to reduce amputation all around the world,” Jorge Berlanga, a doctor at Cuba’s Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB), told Fusion. Berlanga has been working in Havana laboratories for 20 years.

Diabetes leads to an amputation once every 20 seconds around the world. In the U.S. alone, 73,000 diabetics lose a limb every year to cuts, sores and ulcers that cannot heal.

The treatment, called Heberprot-P, involves a series of drug injections around and deep into the wounds, and has already saved the feet of 70% of patients in an island-wide clinical trial.

The Cubans want to share their findings, but political blocks have stood in the way.

“To my understanding, it’s not because of medical reasons,” Berlanga said. “We do understand that every country has rules and there are standards that we have to fulfill, but we would be happy to put medication in American hands, with American clinicians, with American surgeons, and say, ‘ok, let’s try it.’”

If the U.S. were to lift the embargo on Cuba, this could be one of the first benefits Americans see. Pharmaceutical companies could finally have conversations with the medical and research industry in Cuba, and the treatment—which is currently undergoing a clinical trial in Europe—could be evaluated in the U.S. by the FDA.

Scroll through the image gallery below for a look at Mariel, past and present.

Diabetics could be the first to benefit from relations with Cuba

On the coast of Cuba, at the point closest to the United States, sits the Port of Mariel. It is probably best remembered as the place where we first met Cuban political prisoner Tony Montana in Scarface. But in the 1980s, Mariel was also the site of a mass exodus of “Marielitos” –hundreds of thousands of Cubans piling into boats headed to the U.S. in search of the American Dream.

Today, Cuba hopes to make a fortune at Mariel. Brazil has already spent nearly one billion dollars financing the construction of the deep-water container terminal and the remodeling of the port. While the Cuban government will operate the port and pump its profits into the treasury, the land sitting around Mariel is being developed for private businesses, in the hopes of encouraging foreign investment.

For the U.S., a port equipped with state-of-the-art technology means more shipping opportunities and exports. But this isn’t the only area where the U.S. and Cuba may be able to mutually benefit from normalized relations.

A new medical treatment being tested in Cuba to prevent one of the most insidious consequences of diabetes—foot and leg amputation—could be the first step to a win-win relationship.

“My personal dream, I think all the staff’s dream, is to reduce amputation all around the world,” Jorge Berlanga, a doctor at Cuba’s Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB), told Fusion. Berlanga has been working in Havana laboratories for 20 years.

Diabetes leads to an amputation once every 20 seconds around the world. In the U.S. alone, 73,000 diabetics lose a limb every year to cuts, sores and ulcers that cannot heal.

The treatment, called Heberprot-P, involves a series of drug injections around and deep into the wounds, and has already saved the feet of 70% of patients in an island-wide clinical trial.

The Cubans want to share their findings, but political blocks have stood in the way.

“To my understanding, it’s not because of medical reasons,” Berlanga said. “We do understand that every country has rules and there are standards that we have to fulfill, but we would be happy to put medication in American hands, with American clinicians, with American surgeons, and say, ‘ok, let’s try it.’”

If the U.S. were to lift the embargo on Cuba, this could be one of the first benefits Americans see. Pharmaceutical companies could finally have conversations with the medical and research industry in Cuba, and the treatment—which is currently undergoing a clinical trial in Europe—could be evaluated in the U.S. by the FDA.

Scroll through the image gallery below for a look at Mariel, past and present.

WHERE TO WATCH