Health, Education in Cuba
Latin lessons: What can we learn from the world’s most ambitious literacy campaign? - UK Independent
Cuba: Education and Revolution
“Every province has at least one university and one school of medicine. We maintain a health system that is entirely free of cost for patients and covers the entire country and all its people. Tens of thousands of Cuban doctors are providing their services, also free of charge, in several countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, and Oceania. Cuba has developed research centers that have discovered, produced, and export vaccines, medicines, and specialized equipment, accomplishments that give the island a leading role in this respect among third world countries. This is especially noteworthy when one takes into account that this world health sector is strongly controlled by monopolies of the great capitalist corporations. Cuba has done all this despite the draconian measures of the economic blockade that the United States has imposed on it for half a century.
This year in Cuba we are celebrating two anniversaries that are closely linked to each other. Fifty years ago we eliminated illiteracy and, at the same time, we won our victory at the Bay of Pigs, where in less than seventy-two hours, a military invasion organized, armed, and led by the CIA was overwhelmingly defeated. In 1961 the Cuban people achieved two hard-to-repeat prizes. Cuba became the first country on the American continent to eradicate illiteracy and the first militarily to defeat imperialism. Ironically, in the same year that UNESCO certified that every Cuban had learned to read and write, President Kennedy ordered the military attack that, if it had been successful, would have returned the people to a past of ignorance and no education.
When the Revolution triumphed in 1959, at least one quarter of the Cuban population was completely illiterate. Many others were considered to be “functionally illiterate,” which means that even though they could decipher and pronounce words, they were unable fully to understand them. Such a reality was striking in a country where there were thousands of jobless teachers and thousands of classrooms without teachers, a country where most of the children were not enrolled in any school and most of those who started education never finished the primary level. The data proving these statements are recorded in the last census carried out by the Batista regime, which was not exactly interested in exaggerating the dramatically unjust social situation prevailing in Cuba at that time. The Cuban literacy campaign offered extraordinary dimensions in terms of public participation. Scores of students, organized in brigades, “invaded” the entire country, armed only with a lantern and a literacy booklet, and they penetrated the most remote areas on their noble mission. One of them, Manuel Ascunce, was murdered by mercenary gangs who also killed his student, the campesino Pedro Lantigua.
Far from impeding the campaign, these crimes served as a stimulus for an even greater mobilization of student literacy workers. Unions also gave a decisive contribution. Conrado Benitez, a worker, was also murdered while teaching reading and writing in the mountains. The names of these martyrs became beloved symbols for the Cuban teaching profession.
Successfully carrying out the literacy program was a solid foundation for a project with an even wider and more sustained scope. The program was followed by the battle to require every single person to complete at least primary education and to promote massive reading through the establishment of a publishing system that has by now printed millions of copies of books of diverse titles that are sold at incredibly low prices. This effort was begun with the publication of Miguel de Cervantes’s timeless The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha. Having reached half a century ago what is even now one of the UN Millennium goals, a fundamental right still denied to hundreds of millions around the globe, we believe it to be our moral duty to help others do the same. This is internationalism for us, the heart and substance of socialist ideals.
Cuban teachers devised an agile and suitable method for learning how to read and write, the “Yes, I Can” (Yo Sí Puedo) method that has allowed millions of people in other countries to free themselves of illiteracy. Yo Sí Puedo applies the method pioneered by Paulo Freire in Brazil, building literacy around the needs and initiatives of communities themselves, working with people to read the word and the world. Repeating the exploit their parents and grandparents carried out on the island half a century ago, tens of thousands of young Cubans have “invaded” the remotest areas in Latin America and Africa and other continents and embarked on successful literacy campaigns. Venezuela, for example, now is an Illiteracy-Free Territory, officially acknowledged as such by UNESCO.
General literacy has already been reached by important segments of the population in Bolivia, Nicaragua, Haiti, and Ecuador, countries that are marching confidently toward the complete eradication of the scourge of ignorance. The Cuban literacy program Yo Sí Puedo, approved by UNESCO, has been effectively implemented in twenty countries all over the world. To date, eleven versions of the program have been produced: seven in Spanish (for Venezuela, Mexico, Argentina, Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia, and Uruguay); one in Portuguese; one in English; two recently completed versions for Bolivia in Quechua and Aymara; and one in Creole, used successfully in Haiti. The multiplying effect of this campaign is one of its most beautiful fruits. It is not only Cubans who are part of this noble and challenging quest. Side by side with them today are young Venezuelans, Bolivians, Nicaraguans, Haitians, Ecuadorans, and young people from other nationalities.
Something similar is happening with the massive spread of free medical care. For years, tens of thousands of Cuban doctors have provided their services in many places in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia. But now they are not alone in the fulfilment of this task. The Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM), located close to the west of Havana, has by now graduated many young people from many countries, including the United States. Some of the graduates collaborate with the Henry Reeve Brigade, a contingent of Cuban doctors that was created in response to the catastrophe resulting from Hurricane Katrina. President George W. Bush, however, refused the Brigade’s offer to help the victims in Louisiana. Unable to come to the aid of the American people, the Henry Reeve Brigade went off to the Himalayas to save Pakistanis affected by the devastating earthquake. More recently, it joined thousands of young Cubans who, since the end of the last century, have been providing the Haitian people with essential life-saving services, and have practically put an end to a terrible cholera epidemic there. Our doctors have been honored in Pakistan and Haiti, and acknowledged by international institutions….”