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Cuba during the twentieth century was a nation marred with corruption, poverty, warfare and irresponsible leadership. Cuban history as a whole is extremely tumultuous dating back hundreds of years. More recently, during the early 1940s and 1950s Cuba was firmly under the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, a cruel, unlawful, corrupt individual leader (Sierra, 2010). Batista was connected to dozens of murder cases, organized crime and the disappearance of millions of government funds (Sierra, 2010). During Batista's presidency the country was doing poorly economically, the divide between the rich and the poor was greater than ever seen in the nation. Batista was the head of a brutish dictatorship which suppressed and censored the rights of the Cuban people. He served as a puppet for the United States government; as they played a major role in the Cuban day to day government operations (Schlesinger,1998, p. 66). Batista was in acceptance of this foreign control because it awarded greater personal wealth for him and his friends. Batista's presidency had its challenges, he was in a constant struggle for power during his reign, he was forcibly removed twice from his position at the head of the government by the people before he was finally detached from power. When he finally was absolved of power he managed to steal nearly 700 million dollars worth of art and money before he was exiled and fled to the United States (Schlesinger,1998, p. 48). Cuba soon found relief from a man named Fidel Castro. A highly educated man, born into a predominant family, who earned his recognition through his body of work (Foss, 2007, p. 16). Fidel Castro spearheaded the Cuban revolution and was responsible for removing Batista from power. Fidel would be everything Batista was not. Castro's legacy has been solidified through his personal accomplishments and changes he inducted into Cuban government.
This paper will discuss the social issues present throughout Cuba during the late twentieth century as well as the early twenty-first century. The information compiled will relate to healthcare, education and Cuban lifestyle. More specifically, this paper shall highlight the distinct improvements attributed solely to Fidel Castro.
I have had a profound interest in Cuban history and issues since my aunt introduced me to the misconceptions floating around in North American society about the Cuban nation. Upon her return from visiting Cuba, she introduced me to the fictitious discourses affecting Cuba today, primarily because of Cuban-American relations dating back decades. Therefore, I found it necessary to highlight the illegitimate orientalist discourse in Cuba because I believe Castro and Cuba have not been represented fairly to much of the first world.
The state of the Cuban healthcare system was vastly improved because of Fidel Castro's personal efforts. He immediately made drastic changes, the most important was his declaration of free healthcare for all Cuban citizens (Foss, 2007, p. 56). This translated into free dental care and eye care and prescriptions for all those in need. Castro also invested in new technological advancements which further propelled the healthcare system.
Next, Castro noticeably improved the educational system in Cuba. He reworked the entire education system so that it would not only meet but exceed international standards in-place around the world. Castro's changes effected every grade from kindergarten to the university level. He set a precedence on math and science. This new system made education free to anyone, it even covered the cost of uniforms, books, tuition and even dorm fees (Castro, 2007, p. 358).
Also, the lifestyle of the previously oppressed people was eminently improved. Castro increased minimum wage by doubling it for everyone. He gradually improved the economic system since its collapse due to the fall of the USSR. Cuba was reconstructed; moving from a segregated country to a unified body. The homeless rate vastly diminished and affordable housing was introduced.
I argue that Fidel Castro's government was extremely beneficial for Cuba. My hypothesis is can be proven accurate because post-development theory states that change can be deliberately directed through intervention.
Cuban Social Issues and Post-Development Theory
Fidel Castro has been a major advocate for direct intervention in order for improvements to be legitimized. Cuba has been transformed mainly because of intentional intercession by Castro's government. Post-development theory is a rejection of all past development theories, such as Neoliberalism;
Cuban leadership has been able to successfully resist the pressures of neoliberal globalization and maintain the island's economic independence... In a world dominated by neoliberal extremism, pundits and politicians long ago predicted the quick and inevitable demise of Fidel Castro's government in the wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Yet the survival of Cuba under incredibly adverse circumstances, which includes the tightening of the U.S. economic blockade of the island, has been surprising and remarkable(Báez, 2004, p. 71).
Post-development theory calls for alternatives to development, opposite of those found throughout previously manufactured theories such as neoliberalism and underdevelopment theory. Post-development theory is people oriented, at the basis of every ideal is the importance to account for the impact on the people. This theory offers a criticism to postmodernism, stating that at the height of technical progress, one can observe the negation of human progress which cannot be justified. Post-development theory states that development should be more than order and discipline or master and follower. It should be about instituting new found knowledge while removing the flawed ideas. The commodities promoted in the West are not adequate for the entire world, and therefore should not be sought after by developing nations. Castro's ideological correlation with post-development theory can be observed through his rejection of capitalism, he believed it no longer worked. The market existed before capitalism; but capitalism had distorted the conception of the market. A countries history has to be taken into account when attempting to achieve development. The relation between Cuban social issues and Post-development theory can be effortlessly recognized when you observe the effects of modernization theories that were constructed and/or invented before its own inception. Major post-development thinkers such as Wolfgang Sachs have said, "Delusion and disappointment, failures and crimes have been the steady companions of development and they tell a common story: it did not work"(Sachs, 1992, p. 1). This directly relates to Castro's Cuba, he took an alternate route to development, one tailored specifically for his nation. Castro ingeniously imposed his own alterations, beneficial for the entire country. Edward Said's Orientalism argues that underdeveloped countries (such as Cuba) should not compete with highly developed nations, instead they should look towards other nations in the same position to improve their situation. Castro knew that Cuba could not follow the path of industrialized countries to gain prosperity, he had to use the tools readily available to him for advancement. Likewise, Castro strongly believed that the ideals of the western world needed to be avoided; independent prosperity through interior means was necessary. For instance, Sahle's article on post-development states;
The belief in the role of modernization as the only force capable of destroying archaic superstitions and relations, at whatever social, cultural and political cost. Industrialization and urbanization were seen as the inevitable and necessary progressive routes to modernization. Only through material advancements could social, cultural, and political change be achieved...(2007, p.39-40).
Fidel Castro is an embodiment of post-development theory, he exemplified this through his domestic policy changes. Cuban social issues such as education, healthcare and lifestyle can be directly connected to post-development theory because these issues have progressed towards industrialized levels (the standards possessed by industrialized countries) through the incorporation of post-development ideals.
Research and Analysis
Cuban social issues have been a major topic of conversation for the past few decades. Castro's Cuba has been a victim of oriental discourses and stereotypes due to the state of American-Cuban relations. Based off the major influential ability of the United States much of the world regards Cuba as a poor nation with inadequate public institutions. These misconceptions lack legitimacy and can be disproved through critical observation. Cuban social issues such as healthcare, education and lifestyle are perfect areas to examine to alter these artificial assumptions.
Fidel Castro completely transformed the entire landscape of the Cuban healthcare system, he built it up into a smooth running, efficient operation. When Castro took over power there was a doctor readily available to all people, Castro himself explained the state of healthcare in Cuba when he proclaimed, "We have more than 70,000 doctors, plus another 25,000 young people studying medicine, that puts us in a very special place...we are in an incomparable place, and I am not exaggerating in the slightest"(Foss, 2007, p. 56). Not to mention, Fidel Castro increased the life expectancy rate in Cuba to match Canada and exceed the United States. His government also obtained the lowest HIV & AIDS rate in the entire hemisphere (Sweig, 2009, p. 143). Cuban people were also introduced to biotechnology through Castro bringing in the most recent equipment to the country's laboratories and institutes. Castro's government has even sent thirty-thousand doctors to third-world countries (Sweig, 2009, p. 143). Many countries have mocked the Cuban healthcare system because of its effectiveness and proficiency, "Healthcare remains one of the revolutions flagship achievements and is recognized as such not only by Cuban's themselves but also by foreign governments, international organizations, and poor citizens around the world who have directly benefited from Cuba's global health policies"(Sweig, 2009, p. 143). Cuba's healthcare system is based on preventive care; investments have gone to maternal, infant and child care. Cubans are far less likely to suffer from malnutrition, malaria or other typical third-world afflictions than they are medical problems common in developed countries. Cuba's healthcare record remains undeniably strong (Sweig, 2009, p. 143). A major cause of the negative stereotypes attached to Cuba relates to the American Helms-Burton Act (Torricelli Law) which severely restricted American spending in Cuba, the State Department will inquire about expenditures in Cuba by any American who is known to have visited the island. If travel restrictions could be eased, then millions of uninsured Americans could probably receive inexpensive medical care (Cusack, 2010, p. 8). This exemplifies the extent of excellency the Cuban healthcare system possess, it is efficient and affordable at the same time. Cuba has been able to make significant progress in public health because its socioeconomic values are very consistent with health care priorities (Nikelly, 1988, p. 19). An American columnist declared that, "If the U.S. had an infant mortality rate as good as Cuba's, we would save an additional 2,212 American babies a year"(Kristof, 2005, p. 1). Thus, one major social issue in relation to Cuba is the healthcare system, many people around the world are not in tune with the predominance of Cuban healthcare because of the oriental discourses affecting Cuba.
Furthermore, another social issue affecting Cuba is the misunderstanding of the educational system. Similar to the healthcare system, the Cuban educational system is world renowned. One stereotype of education in Cuba is that there is still an extremely high illiteracy rate, this is untrue. Education follows healthcare in social priorities, the party/state apparatus is still responsible for the education and professional training of Cuban citizens (Baez, 2004, p. 160). In 1961, Fidel Castro started to eradicate illiteracy, schools were built in the countryside to combine study and practical farming experience. Fidel Castro marveled at his educational accomplishments when he stated;
In our country there were times when computer science wasn't even taught in universities. We moved gradually and we started in the universities. Then we created 170 youth clubs for computers...in our country the teachings of computer science starts at the pre-school level. 100% of our children from pre-school to university have computer labs (Castro, 2007, p. 358).
Under Batista's reign the high-school retention and graduation rates were in the lower half percentile of the world. Castro improved these figures to 97.5% which is top ten in the entire world. He was also responsible for improving the staff-to-student ratio, "This is a society that is increasingly knowledgeable...moving towards the multiplication of its knowledge in every field; philosophy, politics, history, science and the arts. We have acquired the awareness of the possibilities of modern technological methods of multiplying knowledge" (Castro, 2007. P. 648). The accomplishments awarded to Castro's government pertaining to education are important because they have advanced Cuban society to levels comparable with first world nations. The Cuban illiteracy rate between 1953 and 1979 decreased from 23.9 percent to 5.9 percent, and has been steadily declining ever since (Brundenius, 1984, p. 129). Cuba went from having one of the highest illiteracy rates in the so-called third world to having one of the most highly educated citizenry's in the world, "In 1961, only two years after the triumph, about one million people learned to read and write"(Kumar & Hill, 2009, p. 228). Castro produced the single highest literacy rate ever in Cuban history. The improvements in health and education continue to serve as a model for the developing world(Wright & Wylie, 2009, p. 149). Thus, many of the fictitious discourses associated with Cuban education need to be eradicated because Cuba possess one of the most acclaimed educational systems in the world.
To further define, one of the most important social issues affecting Cuba is pertinent to the living conditions of the Cuban people. More specifically, minimum wage, employment and housing are major topics of interest pertaining to Cuba. First, Castro's government has done great things to improve the wealth of all citizens within Cuba; he has been responsible for doubling minimum wage for everyone. Historically, Castro's government has continued to battle unemployment rates, "The unemployment rate was successively reduced during the 1960s until it reached, according to the 1970 census, only 1.3 percent"(Brundenius, 1984, p. 127). Recently, Castro has been able to drastically reduce the unemployment figures in Cuba, "Between 1997 and 2000, the newly recognized unemployment rate dropped considerably. Whereas in 1998, the official unemployment rate was 7 percent, the rate dropped during the course of 2000 by 1.5 per cent"(Baez, 2004, p. 160). Next, the Castro government has been continually combating housing problems since Castro's induction into office, "The revolutionary government was determined from the outset to ameliorate the housing situation, not only by stepping up construction, but also by decreasing the burden of rent for the population"(Brundenius, 1984, p. 86). Prior to the revolution the rate of people who either had no home or inadequate shelter was hovering around forty-five percent; ever-since that number has fallen to the low teens. Another prime example of what Castro's government did to ease the housing burden can be found in his legislation changes, "When Castro came to power, he passed housing-related legislation to halt evictions and roll back most rents by up to 50 percent"(Kupar, 2002, p. 5). Thus, Castro's government has made tremendous changes to improve the living conditions of all Cuban people by doubling minimum wage, increasing employment and introducing affordable housing.
Fidel Castro's government was extremely beneficial for Cuba. Post-development theory states that change can be deliberately directed through intervention which was exemplified by Castro. Consequently, the stigma associated with Cuba and Castro's government is unwarranted. Due to the unavailability of scholarly works pertaining to Cuba, there has always been a misunderstanding of the Cuban nation. The economic blockade placed against Cuba by the United States in the 1960's has been a driving force against Cuban depictions. Also, the tyranny of former Cuban leader Fulgencio Batista has also negatively reflected upon the Castro era. Fidel Castro is an embodiment of post-development theory, he exemplified this through his domestic policy changes. Also, Cuban social issues such as education, healthcare and living standards are directly connected to post-development theory. One of the major social issues in Cuba has been around the healthcare system. Through Castro's personal efforts he elevated the state of health in Cuba to a level comparable with the world's most industrialized countries. Next, Castro tackled the burden of education by reworking the entire system by making it free, universal, and widely available. The Castro government greatly reduced illiteracy in the country by introducing government funded educational programs to children and adults alike. Also, Castro's government made tremendous strides in improving the overall living conditions of all of its citizens. He doubled minimum wage, greatly reduced unemployment and instituted affordable housing. Thus, the misconceptions associated with Cuba are both unnecessary and unwarranted due to excessive negative media, U.S.-Cuban relations and a lack of scholarly works highlighting the positive aspects of the Cuban nation. Castro's government has been extremely beneficial for Cuba and has been a symbol of stability for over forty-years providing constant improvements. Conclusively, this ultimately means that people need to better understand the positives of Castro's government instead of focusing solely on the cons. This is important to grasp because until the first world fully understands the leadership of many third world countries there will always be growing animosity between first and third world nations. With the transition of power from Fidel Castro to his younger brother Raul, the world needs to realize exactly what Cuba is about without being influenced by the United States. Fidel Castro has been the catalyst for Cuban development for the last forty years, he has been the driving force in improving multiple aspects of Cuban society including the military, government, healthcare, education, lifestyle and economy. Without Fidel Castro in power will the same growth still be obtained? Will the world start to realize how beneficial he was to Cuba? Will Fidel Castro be remembered as a tyrant or a hero? Only time will tell. Cuba's in one of the most important transition periods it has ever faced, this time they will not have the benefit of leaning on Fidel Castro for help.