For anyone who wonders how hundreds of Cuban trained doctors mobilized like no other nation to help stop the horrible Ebola epidemic in West African countries, this statistic is certainly a clue. Education is free, including university and post-graduate training.
Cuba had 6,000 doctors before the revolution, but only half stayed to help build a socialist future. In 1959, 37.5 percent of Cubans were illiterate and 70 percent of Cuba’s children had no teacher.
Cuban President Fidel Castro revealed these details of Cuba’s colonial underdevelopment that challenged the young revolution in a speech before the United Nations on Sept. 26, 1960.
In that speech, he announced the massive 1961 Literacy Campaign that mobilized 250,000 volunteers — 100,000 under the age of 18 — to erase illiteracy in all corners of the island, including the remote mountainous regions. In 1962, the U.N. declared Cuba free of illiteracy.
Infant mortality was at least 60 per thousand live births before the revolution. Cuba just announced the current national statistic of 4.2 per thousand. This couldn’t have been achieved without a thorough commitment to universal free education as well as universal health care.
Education is critical to fully develop human beings and to maximize each individual’s potential to contribute to the common good of a socialist economy. Literacy is a powerful weapon, which is why in the U.S. it was illegal to teach an enslaved person of African descent to read and write.
In 2004, Cuba and Venezuela initiated the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our Americas, known as ALBA, which is also the Spanish word for dawn. Using the Cuban literacy program “Yo Sí Puedo,” UNESCO certified Venezuela free of illiteracy in 2005. Other ALBA partners — Ecuador, Nicaragua and Bolivia — also achieved that milestone, including literacy in several Indigenous languages.
Without fanfare or publicity, tens of thousands of Cuban trained medical, teaching and other professionals are internationalist volunteers across the globe in day-to-day work and to assist in natural disasters. When Haiti suffered a devastating earthquake five years ago, Cuban doctors were already there. In 2005, the U.S. rebuffed Cuba’s offer of 1,586 medical disaster specialists to aid the people of New Orleans after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Many of those same “Henry Reeve Contingent” doctors were then deployed to help Pakistani earthquake survivors in the Himalayas. Granma.cu just reported that 600 new Pakistani doctors will be graduating from Cuban medical schools to return home.
Cuban researchers have developed medicines like Herberprot-B, a foot ulcer medication that can prevent diabetic amputations. The U.S. government’s unilateral economic, commercial and financial blockade against Cuba — still in full effect despite Barack Obama’s speech on Dec. 17 — prevents Cuba from fully developing its potential and U.S. residents from sharing in Cuban advances.
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