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Thursday, November 10, 2005


And the winner is...

When I wrote the story of Cuban scientist Dr. Vicente Verez Bencomo being denied a visa to attend the Tech Awards ceremony in San Jose last night, I understood that he was one of 25 people being honored (one of five in the "health" category), but I didn't understand that the awards were actually a competition with one of the five in each category to be selected a winner (yeah, yeah, "they're all winners." :-) ). Well, the awards ceremony was held last night, sans red carpet and also, as it turned out, sans one of the five winners, Dr. Verez. Obviously the winner was selected completely indendently of the visa denial, but still it feels like the tiniest bit of justice.

The San Jose Mercury News notes one of the consequences of the visa denial, as it takes note of Dr. Verez's absence for the third consecutive day:

"From the moment the finalists are announced in August, organizers look for ways to connect the entrepreneurs with potential partners and financial backers, said Michael O'Farrell, vice president of global community relations for Applied Materials, the main sponsor of The Tech Museum Awards.

"Whether or not they get funding or find a partner immediately isn't the point, O'Farrell said. Social change takes time.

"'They may not conclude business while they're here,' he said. 'But they've had a chance to meet someone they probably could not have met otherwise.'

"One of the winners missed out on the award ceremony and its networking bonanza, however. Verez-Bencomo, the Cuban who helped develop a flu vaccine, was blocked from coming by the U.S. State Department for reasons it refused to disclose."
Dr. Verez isn't an entrepreneur, but the point is the same. This awards ceremony could have been an opportunity for him to find companies interested in licensing the technology from the Cuban government, to the benefit not only of the Cuban people (though the money their country would earn) but also to the people of the world. An opportunity denied by Condoleezza Rice and her minions.

There's another consequence the Mercury News didn't mention. The winner in each category received a prize of $50,000. But, unless I am mistaken, the U.S. government will not allow this money to be sent to Dr. Verez in Cuba. I suppose it will be sitting in San Jose, waiting for some future day when he manages to get a visa approved, and comes to the U.S. for a wild spending spree (since he still won't be able to take it back with him). No, I'm kidding, more likely the money will go to his co-worker in Montreal, who will then be violating U.S. law (remember the "blockade"?) if he dares to forward it to his colleague in Cuba.

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