People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 35

September 02, 2007

CUBA: Building A Moral Power


R Arun Kumar


ONE billboard stands quite strikingly among the few that one finds in the streets of Havana. It is striking not because of Fidel’s photo but because it explains the entire process of revolution in Cuba in just five words. It states, “Revolution: modesty, selflessness, altruism, solidarity and heroism.” These five words of Fidel Castro effectively explain what Cuba is. The fifteen-day visit of the ten-member first Indian youth-student brigade to Cuba is an experience in this philosophy of Cuba.


Cuba is into its 49th year of revolution and has recently celebrated the 54th anniversary of the attack on the Moncado garrison. The Cuban economy grew at the rate of 12.5 per cent of the GDP this year. According to the UN standards, Cuba has achieved full-employment. It has achieved 100 per cent literacy long back, to be precise in 1963 and now 51 per cent of the youth in the age group of 17-23 years are into higher education. About 30 per cent of the GDP is spent on providing health care, education and social security to its citizens. No wonder Cuba has made rapid progress in the fields of health care and education.


Education and health are given top most importance in Cuba. There are 958 university campuses in the country in which 500,000 students study. There is a university campus in every municipality in the country. This was made possible after a decision taken by the government that instead of students going to the university, the university should come to the students. There are nearly 18 university campuses in the prisons that have an under-graduate course in socio-cultural studies and in which 594 prisoners have enrolled. Apart from these there are another 19 university campuses in the prisons that cater to the disciplines in sports and 579 are enrolled in them. 886 million pesos are spent on higher education in the year 2005 while 4,117 million pesos are spent on overall education.




During our visit, we were taken to a senior secondary school just to see the campus and get a feel of the atmosphere. July and August are two months of vacation time for the students so we could not see a school in ‘work’. The interaction with a few students helped us to gain some insights. Education from the primary level to the post-doctoral level is completely free in Cuba. The State takes care of all the needs of the students. Books are made available free of cost in the schools. Milk and nutritious food is provided to all the students in the schools. The students are encouraged to pursue their interests like music and dance apart from traditional subjects and equal weightage is given to all of them. Spanish is the medium of instruction and English is taught as a subject. It seems that Fidel Castro has once commented that the people of Cuba have to be adept not only in their language but also in the language of the enemy! All the children are taught about the environment in which they are living and defence of motherland is one of the important subjects taught to them.


122 schools in Cuba have only one student, in 1068 schools only 6-8 students and in another 1032 schools only 8-10 students. Even for them all the facilities that exist in a normal school are provided and even computer courses are taught to them. This is because they do not want people to be deprived of education. This is what democracy means for the Cubans. All the schools are well equipped with laboratory, computers and TVs. Electronic mode of teaching is one of the important means through which lessons are taken. The present teacher student ratio is 1:20 and they are trying to bring it down to 1:15 so that much more attention can be given to each and every student and help them in a wholesome development. There is an innovative approach to teach history in Cuba. School students in the locality up to the primary level are required to spend 3 months in the Museum to learn about the history and the curator of the museum along with their teachers will teach them. Their classes are held there. This is intended to enable them to develop a historical perspective along with the idea that they learn to appreciate their rich and glorious heritage from a young age.


Another innovative thing that we have learnt in our interaction with the students is the way they are punished for not paying sufficient attention to their course. Suppose, if they fail to do their homework, they are asked to put their head on the table in front of their chair and cover it with their arms for the entire period. This, they have said, is meant to make the student realise their mistake. No physical punishments, like asking the students to stand in the class or asking them to leave the class, are given. Beating the students is a strict no. The students were unable to believe us when we told them about some of the instances of punishment given to the students in our country.


Another innovative feature at the level of higher education is the opening up of centres of higher education to the workers who want to pursue their dreams. We have met a worker in the camp where we stayed, who is pursuing a mechanical engineering course in a nearby university campus. He attends classes for two days per week and this is regarded as work on duty and is paid wages for this. It seems that there are some courses specifically designed for the old people who want to study, just to encourage them in their lives and make them live longer. No wonder that there are clubs for citizens above 120 years of age in many municipalities in Cuba!




The icing on the cake of the Cuban education system is their medical education. The advances made by Cuba in the field of medical education and health is phenomenal. The Latin American School Of Medicine is really a centre of excellence that is open to the students from all over the world. Here the education is provided entirely free of cost. We had the opportunity to witness the graduation ceremony of the doctors, nurses and medical technicians from the school. This year there were graduates from 25 countries, including the US. Training a medical doctor in the United States will cost no less than 300,000 dollars! Cuba, however, is presently training more than 12,000 doctors for the Third World – to a value of more than three billion US dollars – and thus contributing to the well being of these countries. On the immense costs involved in the entire project, Fidel Castro had commented “If we train or help to train 100,000 doctors from other countries in a period of ten years, we will be contributing the equivalent of 300 billion US dollars, despite the fact that Cuba is a small, Third World nation suffering from an economic blockade imposed by the United States. What is the secret? It lies in the solid fact that the human capital is worth far more than the financial capital. Human capital involves not only knowledge, but also – and this is essential – conscience, ethics, solidarity, truly humane feelings, spirit of sacrifice, heroism, and the ability to make a little go a long way”.


This philosophy of solidarity and altruism is visible in all the deeds of Cuba. A visit to the neighbourhood polyclinic has provided us with a first hand experience of the progress it has made in providing health care to all its citizens. Health care, like education, is completely free of cost, covering all ailments like common cold to cosmetic surgery. There are 600 polyclinics covering the entire country. The health care system is three tiered –– first is the neighbourhood or ‘house doctor’, next the polyclinic followed by the hospital. All the polyclinics have facilities like X-ray, ultra-sound scan, advanced laboratory facilities for blood, urine and stool tests. The polyclinic we visited had 13 doctors and 67 nurses working and we were told that this is the norm in all the polyclinics. The infant mortality rate per thousand population in Cuba is among the lowest in the world at 5.3 and 20 municipalities out of 169 have zero mortality rate. All the polyclinics have facilities for treating patients in Cuban traditional medicine, acupuncture, apart from the allopathic treatment. The polyclinics have attached centres of rehabilitation to cure patients addicted to alcohol, smoking and drug use. They also have centres to cater to the needs of mentally challenged children. And these polyclinics are for outpatients only. All the major cases are referred to the hospitals that are only 10 minutes away from any polyclinic in the country. No wonder that Cuba is a healthy country.


The advances made in the field of biotechnology to support their health care system too are astounding. Cuba has developed a vaccine for throat and breast cancer that even the US is forced to import, in spite of the blanket blockade that it has imposed. Now Cuba has taken it as a challenge to become a software power. Six years ago only 2000 computer graduates were there in Cuba but due to conscious efforts now there are 30,000 students graduating from computer related courses. Already Cuba has started exporting its software to a telephone company in South America and it wants to build on this initiative. After witnessing the resolve of the Cubans and their achievements overcoming all sorts of obstacles, we need not have even an iota of doubt about their capabilities.


In spite of all these significant achievements what stands out most is the modesty of the Cubans, right from the leaders to the ordinary citizens. The yearning to achieve more and not to be content with what has already been achieved is inherent in all their talk. Another important aspect of Cuba is it is never shy of accepting its mistakes. The most significant part in this entire exercise is the way in which the government and the entire Party machinery is able to take the people into confidence, explain the difficulties and thus carry them along in all their endeavours. A huge team of more than 37,000 social workers were trained and graduated in the universities to deal with these kinds of issues. 72 per cent of these social workers are girls. Their prime task is to ‘wage a war against corruption, against the re-routing of resources, against thievery and educating people about the means and methods in the conservation of energy’. Of course the entire Party and its organisations stood by them in this endeavour. The amount of criticism and self-criticism found in Cuba is a lesson by itself.




The achievements of Cuba were possible because of the immense belief of the government and the Communist Party on its people and the deep-rooted organic relation between them. As Fidel Castro said “The Revolution always needs the understanding and the support of the people for every step that it takes”. These words have not remained in just theory but were transformed into practice. There is an urge among the people to transform the country into an even better society and for this they are ready for any amount of sacrifice. They want their country to ‘have much more’ but never want it to become a ‘consumer society’. In the words of Fidel Castro they want their country to be “a society of knowledge, of culture, of the most extraordinary human development imaginable, development in art, culture, science but not for chemical weapons, with a breadth of liberty that no one will be able to dismantle”.


Cuban people are for the construction of new world and they are very clear that imperialism is the impediment. As a speaker in one of the lectures organised as a part of the programme mentioned, they are ‘building moral power’ to fight the unjust world order. They believe that this can be achieved only by building bridges of solidarity with all the people who are at the receiving end of the imperialist forces.


The programme of the ‘Brigade’ organised by the ICAP is a part of this process of understanding the Cuban reality and developing solidarity among the people. Brigades from more than 100 countries take part in this innovative programme annually. Creative programmes where expert lectures are combined with free interaction with the common people along with the first hand experience of visiting many of their faculties are organised. Meeting the families of the arrested five Cuban heroes and many veterans of the revolution was another highlight of the programme.


The important lesson that Cuba, located 90 miles from the seat of the empire teaches ‘for any Third World country’ in the words of Fidel Castro is “to not fear the empire”. “We have always acted that way and they are beginning to feel demoralised…There must be an end to stupidity in the world, and to abuse, and to the empire based on might and terror. It will disappear when all fear disappears. Every day there are more fearless countries. Every day there will be more countries that will rebel and the empire will not be able to keep that infamous system alive any longer”. Hope our rulers remember these words.