Assessing a revolution

Berube, Maurice R.

FOOD, HEALTH, & SCHOOLING IN CUBA Assessing a revolution MAURICE R. BERUBE CUBA HAS MADE significant progress in social policy since the revolution twenty-six years ago. But, that progress has...

...Nonetheless, the accomplishments of the revolution in education should not be minimized...
...But those gains in some areas of social policy should not obscure the distressed condition of the Cuban economy...
...Shortly after the revolution the aim was to do so...
...How can such policy advances be evaluated in relationship to the Cubans' lack of political freedom...
...Educationally it compares more with the size of the New York City school district Commonweal: 460 rather than with this nation of 234 million people...
...The Cuban economy is heavily subsidized by Ae Soviet Union which pays Cuba ten times the world price for its major crop, sugar...
...In the sixties, half of the primary school children were grade repeaters and in the intermediate schools only 13 percent of the students graduated...
...In short, Cuban officials are wary of rationing as a permanent way of life...
...Consequently, they eased the food shortage somewhat by creating a "dash of capitalism" in agriculture and, concomitantly, a painful ideological headache for Cuban officials...
...One's impression of Cuba departs from such media overkill...
...6 September 1985: 461 Why hasn't Cuba diversified...
...More than 1.2 million workers were mobilized from other segments of the economy to produce the targeted goal...
...Although the revolution has raised the standard of living for the extremely poor, it still has a long way to go to upgrade the quality of life for the vast majority...
...The Mariel boat lift of some 120,000 emigres to the United States in 1980 jolted Castro and his colleagues, revealing the extent of dissatisfaction with the revolution...
...Equally important, Cuban policy in recent years has raised large philosophical problems that go to the root of socialism...
...In addition, cheaper substitute sweeteners are fast replacing sugar in processed foods, which actually account fo» most sugar use...
...Second, policy planning lacked analytical tools in the first decade of the revolution...
...Moreover, "losses and setbacks to the rest of the economy were staggering...
...most socialist countries and many developed Western nations such as France and West Germany boast such systems...
...On the other hand, we are learning in the United States that people increasingly pursue more than one career in a lifetime, and universities arc attracting "non-traditional" students who come to college at a later stage in life...
...Cuba watchers are divided into two academic camps...
...The diet is "not particularly healthful," and the lack of variety makes it monotonous...
...of beef, and 1 lb...
...Only the most academically proficient can hope to attend the university...
...A major fact which emerges from the study is that Cuba is not now, and never has been, food sufficient...
...Secondarily, the major fact about Cuba, which visiting that nation indelibly imprints, is that Cuba is still an underdeveloped country despite the two and a half decades of revolutionary government...
...travel to Cuba has been restricted except for a few short years during the Carter administration...
...Cuba is as dependent on one crop, sugar, as it has always been...
...instead of the United States being the chief client it is now the Soviet Union...
...Cuba attempted to diversify "without any studies of soil, rainfall, climate, or economic prospects, such as demand, transportation, and proximity to markets...
...Intermediate school students seem less motivated than those on the elementary level...
...And Cuba remains light years from developed countries in using tools for adequate planning...
...Crucial to understanding Cuban life is the fact that rationing becomes a hustle...
...Moreover, export earnings amounted to approximately 83 percent of the foreign exchange, the same as that in the days prior to the revolution...
...Moreover, Cuba owes those Western nations nearly three and a half billion dollars, not counting the debt owed to the Communist bloc...
...In the end, one cannot separate the political matrix from the social policy developed within it...
...Chief of these reforms was a program combining work and study whereby students even harvested crops (except for sugar, which involves particularly strenuous work...
...Exceptions were made recently for a few leading emigre scholars...
...Poor harvests caused by bad weather, lack of farm machinery (once supplied by the United States), loss of trained agricultural personnel to exile, and most important, poor planning caused Cuban officials to rethink their policy of planting crops that would make Cuba food sufficient...
...Jorge Dominguez, a leading emigre scholar from Harvard MAURICE R. berube is associate professor of education at Old Dominion University in Norfolk...
...Meat, coffee, rice, and beans the traditional Cuban fare are in short supply...
...The result was that only 8.5 million tons were produced still a record but under the goal...
...Cuban officials are justly proud of their health-care system, but they are paying dearly for this right to health...
...For example, conservative propaganda from the Reagan administration has so inflated the role of Cuba in the tensions in Central and Latin America that one fails to realize how small, indeed, this tiny nation of 10 million people actually is...
...hunger has been eliminated in Cuba, with few exceptions...
...Indeed, at a time when the neighborhood United States public school is installing mini-computers, the lack of classroom supplies in Cuba, especially in science classes, is painful...
...The findings are that Cuba has made great strides in education and health, not without serious problems however, and has suffered the severest setbacks in food and diet policy...
...of beans, and 4 oz...
...Government promotion of non-traditional Cuban foods such as eggs and spaghetti (in great supply) has resulted in a diet not indigenous to Cubans and therefore less than satisfying...
...Prior to the revolution, less than half of the eligible elementary students attended school, whereas today approximately 97 percent attend and an outstanding 93 percent graduate after passing national examinations...
...Tropical diseases afflicting people in Latin America, such as typhoid, malaria polio, and gastroenteritis were brought under control...
...They add, "Cubans may not have the kind of foods they want, or even as much as they want, but few suffer from lack of calories or protein...
...And of utmost importance, the traditional diet of Cubans has been altered...
...Moreover, the best grades of fish, fruit, and rum are reserved for export...
...Student and parent organizations form an educational infrastructure, which aids school administrators and teachers by stressing student achievement and discipline, and discouraging truancy...
...Knowledge concerning Cuba must also filter through a maze of media misinformation emphasizing negative political overtones and neglecting positive, although still problematic, gains which have been made in social policy...
...Cubans consume some 2800 calories a day, a respectable figure...
...In short, a vast national campaign was mounted that turned out to be cost ineffective...
...of coffee per person are given each month...
...A number of policy questions arise...
...This is a precarious economic policy...
...Foremost, the United States boycott of Cuba these past twenty-six years has inhibited American scholarship...
...Nonetheless, parents have no say in determining school policy as they have at least the potential for doing in the United States through elected school boards...
...They point out, and rightly so, that Cuba was far more advanced economically and socially than the rest of its Latin neighbors at the time of the revolution...
...Long lines at the government stores are complicated by irregular shipments of food...
...MesaLago and Dominquez, for example, were invited to Cuba in the late seventies and early eighties, and the former's study of the Cuban economy profited from government access...
...The turning point comes during the intermediate school years when nearly 27 percent of sixteenyear-olds drop out of school a figure that still compares favorably with the 45 percent who drop out after that age in urban high schools in the United States...
...Perhaps the Reagan administration's anti-Cuba policy, exemplified by Radio Marti, will result in the Cubans once again closing the door...
...Havana, for example, has none of the glitter of a Miami...
...Since the late 1970s, government stores have been offering a "parallel market" that offers food at higher prices than the ration...
...In Latin America, Cuba is second only to Argentina in per capita food availability...
...In 1958, prior to the revolution, sugar cane production employed 60 percent of the cultivated land...
...And lastly, most scholarship that has emerged from Cuban emigres suffers both from a polemical bent and the inability of most to return to the homeland and, more importantly, gain access to vital data and key government officials...
...This has enabled higher-income Cubans to supplement their diet...
...Indeed, a massive national campaign combined with a possible political mega-Hawthorne effect resulted in the only successful major literacy campaign among underdeveloped countries...
...Cuban education officials cite their most pressing problems to be the need to improve teacher quality and to obtain more supplies...
...Shortly after the revolution, Cuban leaders declared an agricultural policy that would have made Cuba food sufficient without a need to import most food...
...First, the revolutionaries were initially ideologues, for the most part lacking technical backgrounds...
...In the end, the revolution gave priority to social rather than economic development, and has only recently stressed the latter...
...nonetheless, policy is so mired in internal ideological disputes that rationing appears unlikely to be scrapped in the near future...
...they "surpassed the gains in sugar production...
...Indeed, the authors of No Free Lunch conclude optimistically that...
...On the other hand, there are no slums nor homeless people that characterize other Latin American countries, as well as the U.S...
...The greatest success of the Cuban Revolution has been in health...
...In the final analysis, Cuba must be judged by the standards of other underdeveloped Latin American countries...
...diet is based on large and varied supplies of foodstuffs, it could also be termed not especially healthful...
...The authors of No Free Lunch conclude that, although hunger is almost non-existent in Cuba, the diet "is far from ideal on a number of counts...
...Moreover, food shortages, exacerbated by the United States boycott, motivated Cuban officials to institute rationing in 1962...
...The authors of the UNCTAD study did not recommend the Cuban health system as a model for underdeveloped countries because of its high cost...
...This failure, a source of great dissatisfaction among Cubans, is the result of policy decisions to emphasize exports, as well as of planning errors...
...Cuba's food shortages are tied to a government emphasis on sugar as the chief crop destined to be exported and to produce the hard foreign currency needed to finance other government projects...
...Yet, in the final analysis, the effectiveness of educational policy is also mixed...
...Despite miscalculations, however, Fidel Castro appears to be a "Teflon" leader who retains an enormous popularity...
...A recent confidential report by the Cuban National Bank, for example, to its creditors in Western nations (except the United States) cites some of these difficulties...
...In some areas of social policy notably health and education Cuba is fast approaching the status of a developed nation...
...In a nation with limited resources, Cuban officials believe that meritocracy is the only fair method of selecting students for a free higher education...
...In his definitive study of the Cuban economy, The Economy of Socialist Cuba, (University of New Mexico, 1981), Cuban emigre scholar Carmelo Mesa-Lago of the University of Pittsburgh argues that the Cuban Revolution attempted too much...
...A recent study of food in Cuba No Free Lunch: Food and Revolution in Cuba Today (The Institute for Food and Development Policy, 1985, $7.95) by Meda Benjamin, Joseph Collins, and Michael Scott highlights that policy...
...Three years later, Fidel Castro promised to end rationing the following year...
...On the surface, statistics the authors cite regarding food and hunger in Cuba are positive...
...A study conducted by the United Nations Committee on Technology and Development in 1979 concludes "that the health of the average Cuban has improved during the nearly two decades that have elapsed since the coming to power of the revolutionary government...
...it shows no signs of disappearing...
...Perhaps the strongest criticism that can be made of the Cuban educational system is that it is stiflingly meritocratic...
...of rice, 20 oz...
...Cuba has provided access free education to all at the elementary and secondary school level and to those who qualify academically at the university level...
...On the other hand, attempts at effective schooling after the revolution in the sixties and early seventies were futile...
...The health care system free to all has raised the level of health among Cubans...
...Five lb...
...After a brief interval, that policy was reversed, and to this day Cuba emphasizes sugar production destined for export and foreign dollars instead of cultivating more land for food independence...
...One fifth of the Cuban diet is bought off the ration...
...Revolutionary leaders struggled to balance economic growth, the major eonomic problem prior to the revolution, with social aims such as reducing unemployment, achieving equality, and providing social services...
...who has studied literacy both in Cuba and the United States, estimates that in the United States "44 percent of blacks and 55 percent of Hispanics are either total, functional, or marginal readers...
...This would be unfortunate...
...Still, outside of the military and health systems, education receives the most money...
...Indeed, the ten leading causes of death in Cuba now resemble those of a developed country...
...In developed countries, cost has supplanted quality as the dominant policy issue...
...This system has dramatically altered the way Cubans go to school...
...There is a great deal of student and parent participation in Cuban education, but neither group is directly involved with policy...
...Reforms initiated in the mid-1970s reversed that trend toward the end of the decade...
...They faced a balance-ofpayments crisis in 1962...
...Adults are permitted four cigars a month, in a country whose leader is rarely seen without a cigar, and three packs of cigarettes...
...A common practice throughout Cuba is for families to frequent restaurants at the end of the month and slip the cooked food into plastic bags to bring home to prepare multiple meals...
...This resulted from a lack of qualified teachers, since many middle-class teachers had left Cuba, and poor student motivation...
...of chicken for each person every nine days...
...Unfortunately, there has been scant independent scholarship by Americans which would result in an accurate picture of Cuban society...
...His most recent book is Education and Poverty: Effective Schooling in the United States and Cuba (Greenwood...
...The ability of these authors, who are sympathetic yet critical of the Cuban Revolution, to obtain the highest access makes this study extremely valuable...
...Which explains why some vote, as Lenin proclaimed, with their feet...
...Correspondingly, the siege mentality of Cuban government officials has often spilled over into a paranoia that distrusts independent studies from a Cold War foe...
...4 oz...
...University, presents this argument in his classic Cuba: Order and Revolution (Harvard University, 1978...
...Students proceed from one level to the next on past academic Commonweal: 462 performances...
...With a vengence, Cuba swiftly returned to being a one-crop sugar economy...
...The meat ration is 1 lb...
...In Britain and the United States, for example, certain policy analysts are recommending curtailing some health services because of limited resources...
...Meritocracy rewards early achievers and penalizes late bloomers...
...This goal became "an obsession with Fidel Castro" and a "yardstick of the revolution...
...only in the last few years have Cuban officials permitted American scholars to conduct such studies, whereas Cuban academics are not encouraged to follow suit...
...But in 1985 the rationing system is still in place, accounting for four-fifths of the Cuban diet...
...Ultimately, one has to face that question...
...Fidel Castro declared that "there is no excuse for the shortage of viandas (a popular Cuban vegetable), and we pledge that they will never be scarce again...
...Nonetheless, the difference is that the diet in Cuba "is controlled much more directly by government decisions than in most countries...
...Jonathan Kozol...
...A major instance of poor planning was the heralded 1970 drive to produce ten million tons of sugar for export the most that Cuba would have ever produced...
...Even Marx did poorly in history early in school...
...By 1983, that proportion had increased to 75 percent...
...First, the Cuban literacy campaign, conducted in 1961 in the afterglow of the revolution, raised the literacy rates from 76 percent, highest in Latin America, to an unprecedented 96 percent of the population...
...Cubans lack the means to register their opinions on national and domestic needs...
...It raises the issue not only of a "trade-off" between political freedom and gains in social policy but also of the bearing that limits on freedom have on the nature and process of policy...
...Cuba has made significant progress in education...
...Food is in short supply...
...For example, the extremely complicated rationing system requires a huge bureaucracy because it functions without use of computers...
...Without a large sugar crop for export, Cuba was $ 170 million in debt...
...There is no foreseeable increase in demand for sugar worldwide, at least at current highly subsidized prices...
...Costbenefit analysis lagged a decade behind that in the United States where it was introduced into government planning in the mid-1960s...
...The authors of No Free Lunch observe that "political dissent be it by individual citizens, opposition parties, party caucuses, or in public forums is severely curbed...
...THE SINGLE greatest social policy failure of the revolutionary government has been its inability to provide a high-level diet with variety and attuned to the traditional eating habits of the Cuban people...
...Of equal significance is the lack of genuine consumer influence in the policy process...
...Even this success has drawbacks...
...But, that progress has been mixed and open to criticism, both for its accomplishments as well as for the lack of political freedom on which it is based...
...Farmers producing for profit seem to have more incentive to work and to be efficient than state farm employees working for a wage...
...That scarcity of information is the result of three primary causes...
...This meritocratic system, of course, is not unique to Cuba...
...itself...
...Even on social policy there has been some criticism, mainly from emigre scholars...
...Recent independent studies, sympathetic but critical, reveal the degree of success in three key areas food, health, and education...
...Parenthetically, it might be added that though the U.S...
...One notes improvements in some areas of social policy whereas others concentrate on the political and economic difficulties...
...Farm cooperatives, for example where farmers share in the profits outproduce and are more efficient than large state farms...
...In health, for example, a more equitable distribution of free health care has replaced the pre-revolutionary fee-for-service system which saw two-thirds of the doctors practicing in Havana...
...In three years, however, that policy was dropped...
...What the statistics fail to reveal, nonetheless, are an extremely low level of nutrition and the constant exertion to obtain food...
...This capitalistic endeavor resulted in high prices and some comparatively rich fanners...
...Moreover, after the Mariel boatlift farmers were permitted to sell excess produce and livestock at their own prices...
...When I traveled to Cuba, for example, in the spring of 1983 to write a comparative study of education, I was astonished to learn that only three books on education by Americans, essentially journalistic accounts, had been published since the revolution in 1959...
...For a nation providing the largest share of the World's market 28 percent Cuba is taking a large economic risk in relying on sugar as its main crop...
...Other social needs, such as housing, receive lower priority...
...Nevertheless, there haye been even more significant strides in social policy in certain areas since the revolution...

Vol. 112 • September 1985 • No. 15


 
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