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Cuba says the U.S. embargo keeps medical aid from reaching sick Cubans like this 1-year-old boy at a Havana hospital on Oct. 23.

It was a story meant to captivate the United Nations: A dozen Cuban children with heart defects were forced to endure unnecessary surgery because the U.S. embargo blocked them from receiving American-made catheters.

The embargo as a whole "could be classified as an act of genocide," Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said before the U.N. General Assembly voted 187-3 in October to condemn U.S. policy toward Cuba for the 18th year running.

Cuba claims that despite the embargo exemption, the U.S. government imposes extra regulations on medical exports to discourage American companies from participating.

U.S. medical export firms interviewed by The Associated Press agree the paperwork can be troublesome, but say they won't go on the record or give specific examples for fear of jeopardizing pending or future export applications. Others complained

about both sides in private, but said they preferred not to do so for attribution given how touchy a subject U.S.-Cuba relations can be.

"It's not the embargo," said John Kavulich, a senior policy adviser at the New York-based U.S.-Cuba Economic Trade Council, which provides nonpartisan commercial and economic information about Cuba. "These are economic and political decisions not to buy."

In his U.N. speech, and later to reporters, Rodriguez singled out the case of Alexis Garcia Iribar, a 6-year-old born in the eastern province of Guantanamo with a congenital heart defect who underwent successful but unnecessary surgery in March.

Rodriguez gave no further details, but said he could have mentioned a dozen other cases where children between the ages of 5 months and 13 years also went under the knife for want of technology made only in the United States.

Rodriguez named four U.S. companies he said were blocked by the embargo from selling catheters or other desperately needed supplies to Cuba.

Two of them, Massachusetts-based Boston Scientific and AGA Medical of Minnesota, declined to comment. The parent company of another firm he mentioned, Applied Biosystems, said it has "not sought to sell products to Cuba, and has not applied for a
license from the Commerce Department to sell products to Cuba."

The fourth company, NuMed, Inc. of Hopkinton, New York, would only say: "We will make every effort to work with the U.S. government and the Cuban government in order to get our product into Cuba to help their children."


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