The Cuban government has once again successfully navigated the halls of power in Washington, DC. The Miami Herald is reporting this morning that several Members of Congress will send a letter to the Treasury Department requesting that a license be granted authorizing the import from Cuba of a diabetes treatment for foot ulcers called Herberprot-B.
The drug appears to have been developed at a facility with suspected links to Cuba’s bioweapons program, the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB). While this should matter, I doubt it will. CIGB bioterror links have been hotly debated in this town for many years and, most of the time, people ignore or try to downplay the connection.
So, what else do we know? Of course, there is the money. A lot of it.
New Jersey-based Healiance Pharmaceuticals is the lead U.S. company on the project. Healiance is the U.S. subsidiary of an obscure German company called Graffinity Pharmaceuticals. During the course of the last two years, Healiance has retained a few lobbyists including:
- Former Congressman Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.) — note that his lobbying report says he is working on “medical innovation”. He fails to mention any links to the Cuba project. Rep. Delahunt is a long-time advocate on easing all economic sanctions on Cuba.
- The Gephardt Group‘s Janice O’Connell — note that this lobbying report filed two years prior to Rep. Delahunt’s report says that she is working on the exact same thing, “medical innovation”. As with Delahunt, she does not list any links to the Cuba project. O’Connell is a sharp policy and political operative. A former Senate Foreign Relations Committee staffer, as with Delahunt, an opponent of current U.S. policy toward Cuba.
According to the Herald, there is at least one Republican on board: a top advisor to the Romney for President campaign, former New Hampshire Governor and White House Chief of Staff to George H.W. Bush, John Sununu.
For fellow regulatory lawyers and politicos, securing an OFAC authorization for the import of this drug may not be as difficult as it used to be. The issue is not the OFAC license, rather it is the public safety component and numerous FDA regulatory hurdles imposed by the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic (FD&C) Act and other laws. None of this is cheap. It takes a great deal of time and money to get it right.
But wait, there is more.
An old but still in force law with regards to Cuba, the Trading With the Enemy Act (TWEA), as well as the national emergency with respect to Cuba in place since the late 1990s, poses significant legal hurdles to the proposed transactions. I will talk some more about these challenges in a future post.
For now just keep in mind that if Cuba is going to benefit economically from these transactions, it may be illegal. If the Obama Administration can find some loophole and manage to license the sale of this Cuban drug, the proceeds from the sale or manufacture of this medicine should be used to pay for pending claims against Cuba such as certified property claims and many more recent judgements.
Even if the drug is never sold in the United States in the near term, the regime still benefits. Accessing the U.S. market, even if just for FDA testing, is a money-making event. You see it can be used for marketing purposes to boost Herberprot-B sales in other markets. This would, in turn, directly benefit the Cuban regime.
Stay tuned, I expect a lot more news on this story and related Cuba efforts to ease sanctions. While not a subject reported on the mainstream news, there is a lot taking place these days in DC and throughout the United States that does not bode well for supporters of U.S. sanctions.
Here is a video prepared by Cuban state media on the Herberprot-B treatment:
And here is a 2007 video that includes Janice O’Connell, one of the lobbyists that may be working on Healiance Cuba project. Note her comments on U.S.-Cuba policy: