CUBA'S ACHIEVEMENTS IN PROVIDING HEALTH CARE AND EDUCATION TO THE GENERAL PUBLIC ARE BETTER THATN THOSE OF MANY DEVELOPED COUNTRIES. HOW HAS IT MANAGEDTHIS?
There may be some question over Fidel Castro's achievements in providing economic success, or democracy to Cuba in the last forty five years or so. However Cuba's record on providing egalitarian health care and education to the masses have generally been agreed as a success story, even by Castro's old enemy the United States. "To be educated is to be free," (Marti in Marshall, 1987, p146) has become one of the more popular revolutionary slogans and has been greatly adhered to by Castro's government. While health care is articulated in the 1975 Cuban constitution as being "the right of all and the responsibility of the state" (Feinsilver, 1993, p26). The social political stance of Castro's government has been the driving force behind the success in health care and education. Issues such as housing, employment, health care and education are viewed as a basic human right and are in theory guaranteed by the state to all. In Cuba, health care indicators are also seen as a measure of the government's efficiency and performance. Other socialist states that have come and gone over the last century have also professed to put these issues at the forefront of priority. States such as Russia and China have to a lesser or greater degree failed to provide the standard of services provided in Cuba. "Until 1969 China's health care system served only the urban population, which represented about 15 percent of the total population" (Feinsilver, 1993, p2). There are certainly factors that make this comparison unfair but Cuba's achievements in providing these social services are still quite remarkable given its economic position. By truly placing education and healthcare as one of the fundamental priorities of the revolution, and developing specific programs and initiatives to deal with these two social issues, Cuba managed to succeeded where others more wealthy nations failed. The use of popular participation and central government control also were powerful tools in implementing these social policies. It would now be useful to look at some of these initiatives that have been taken by the Cuban government that enabled it to equal if no surpass education and health standards in many developed countries. Before 1959 and Castro's grip on power, Cuba education and health care systems were limited and based around Havana. Although Cubans had a relatively high income and an above average literacy rate compared to the rest of Latin America things were far from perfect. Under the Batista Regime the rich and the middle class tended to send their children to the private Catholic schools while the poor had to use the badly equipped and staffed general schools, or in more rural areas nothing at all. In 1953 the illiteracy rate was 24 per cent of the population. The difference between urban areas and rural areas showed that most of the limited resources were going to the big cities, with illiteracy rates in town being 11 per cent to 42 per cent in the country (Marshall, 1987, p146). Within two years of coming to power Castro had nationalised all private schools and started the first major education initiative, the literacy campaign. This campaign was established not just to educate the city dwellers but to prioritise education for those that had mainly been ignored in the countryside. Over a 100,000 young students travelled into the rural areas to live with and educate the peasant population. 1961 became known as the "Year of Education," (Perez, 1995, 358) while the slogan of the day being, "If don't know, learn. If you know, teach" (Marshall, 1987, p147). The campaign became a great success with official government figures suggesting that by 1962 96 per cent of the population was now literate which was the highest rate in Latin America at the time. Even...
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