Ideology aside, Cuba did have a good educational system, between the 60s and the late 80s, by Third World standards. A network of schools was built across the island that raised the population's base educational level, and allowed for the training of tens of thousands of university professionals.
Fidel Castro made everyone believe that this was possible due to the superiority of the Communist model he had implanted. Free and massive education, as a "genuine achievement of the Revolution," together with public health, constituted the flagship with which the strongman sold the world a great political-ideological product. It was so successful, in fact, that 27 years after collapsing everywhere, people continue to praise education in Cuba.
The truth is that everything was a facade, and devoid of noble purposes. The commander gave himself the credit, but it was Uncle Boris of the Kremlin who was picking up the bills, with subsidies of 3 to 5 billion dollars per year. The unproductive "revolutionary" economy was incapable of sustaining those massive outlays, far beyond what it could afford.
Cuba received some 115 billion dollars from the Soviet Union between 1960 and 1991. But Castro did not invest it in the economic development of the country to guarantee education and all social expenditures in a sustainable and indigenous way, but rather to project the appearance, for dictatorial reasons, that Cuba could compete with the world's developed nations and, above all, to feed his megalomaniacal ego.
Meanwhile, the Caribbean pharaoh intervened militarily in Angola, Ethiopia, Somalia, Namibia, Congo, Syria (against Israel), Algeria (against Morocco), Panama, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and Venezuela.
He also created, trained, armed and assisted rural and urban guerrillas and terrorist groups in Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Brazil, El Salvador, Guatemala and Haiti. He fancied himself a leader of the Movement of Non-Aligned Countries and "Redeemer" of the Third World. How much did all this cost?
Brainwashing and control
Castro's true purpose in mass education was never altruistic, as the propaganda purported. His goal was to pull off the biggest act of brainwashing in the history of the Americas, to sow in children, adolescents, young people and all the people a sweetened vision of socialism and its dictatorship, and project a deceptive version of history, the world, society and humanity.
Education as an "achievement of the Revolution" allowed the commander to shore up his power. His image as a benefactor and social philanthropist for his people and the poor of the world nourished the cult of the Cuban revolution worldwide.
Since all schools were nationalized, the new "revolutionary" teaching set about instilling a contempt for the values of western culture, democracy and the freedoms of the modern citizen. And to glorify the dictator and his circle.
That's why today in Cuba almost no one is shocked by the fact that anyone caught with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in his pocket goes to jail for carrying "enemy propaganda." Nor are they surprised when children and teenagers shout at dissidents: "Down with human rights!" These aberrations are cultivated in Castro's schools, at every level.
Even the Literacy Campaign, a positive effort, had political-ideological intentions. The first words that the Conrado Benítez Brigades taught were praise for the Revolution and for Fidel. Incidentally, Cuba, with an illiteracy index of 23% in 1956, was recognized by the UN as one of the countries with the lowest rates in Latin America. Most of the Latin American nations, and even Spain, were around or under 50% at that time.
Some 707,000 Cubans were literate, but another 272,000 remained illiterate. Fidel declared Cuba "illiteracy-free territory" anyway. As always, he lied. It should be noted that promoting literacy did not necessitate a Marxist-Leninist tyranny.
Physical and moral damage
The atrocities committed by the caudillo in the educational sphere bordered on criminality. In a megalomaniacal fit in 1969, he launched a plan that was "unique in the world," which he dubbed Country Schools, of clearly fascist inspiration.
In his early years, Fidel Castro had been an admirer of fascist theory, and Spanish falangism. His father, Ángel Castro, was a Falangist. The young student avidly read Hitler's Mein Kampf, knew by heart fragments of speeches by Mussolini and José Antonio Primo de Rivera, the leader of the Spanish Falange, according to his Jesuit professor and tutor, Father Armando Llorente, and José Ignacio Rasco, his classmate at the Colegio Belén and the University of Havana.
In Cuba, children and adolescents were separated from their parents to submit them to state control and to produce the "new man", not coincidentally borrowed from the Nazis' "superior man," derived, in turn, from Nietzsche's "superman," Hitler's dream for a new fascist world order that was to last 1,000 years. Castro and Che Guevara wanted to train him for the Communist world order, infinite in time.
Fidel ordered the construction of 535 giant secondary schools in the fields, standing three and four stories high. Billions of dollars were spent on them, over the course of 22 years, until the USSR’s collapse. The dictator himself had a hand in the designs for the first prototype school, in Ceiba del Agua (1971), in the province of Havana, along with two architects and an engineer.
In 1991, at the Fourth Congress of the PCC, it was disclosed that the Country Schools had required 10 million tons of cement, 2,000 Russian buses (Girón) to transport the students, 16 million tons of food, and 15 million tons of fuel, in addition to the technical equipment, uniforms, supplies and teaching staff. Each school had a hospital with 10 beds and ambulances.
The vast majority of the secondary and pre-university students were transferred to live at those schools. Living in remote locations, they were forced to work part-time as agricultural laborers. Sexual promiscuity and verbal and physical violence were rampant, and thousands of adolescent girls became pregnant.
To produce the Castro-Guevarist "superman" Castro also launched a program by which high school students who remained in the cities were also forced to go to the countryside to work for 45 days, with females and males living together. Many 15-year-old girls became mothers.
The end, due to a lack of cash, not common sense
Castroism did not put an end to this madness because it realized that it was harmful to the country's youth, but rather because the money ran out. When the Soviet subsidies ran out, the huge rural facilities were abandoned. Some became shelters for criminals, who sold everything that was left. Others were converted into prisons, or homes, now empty because they are surrounded by sicklebush.
Today the Lenin Vocational School, a model of "revolutionary education," decays, devoured by vegetation. Three quarters of the school have been turned over to other agencies.
Venezuelan subsidies covered part of the educational expenses for a while, but they have dipped. Given its parasitism, unable to sustain itself, the economy sank into a terminal crisis. Exports of goods fell from 5.87 billion dollars in 2011 to 2.317 billion in 2016, according to official figures. There is little free oil now from Venezuela, and tourism from the US has dropped.
Education was never an "achievement of the Revolution," but rather of Moscow. In the end, it served to create the "mass man" of whom Ortega y Gasset wrote: he who thinks he knows, but does not, or who does not know what he should. It is yet another false showcase, today shattered by reality. A flagship that sank.
Of the dramatic situation facing Cuban education, and other related aspects, I will write in a future article.