SPEECH BY COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF FIDEL CASTRO AT THE CLOSING OF THE SECOND SPECIAL EDUCATION WORLD MEETING. Karl Marx Theater, Havana. 20 June 1998
I see that most of you are women (Laughter and applause.); therefore, I must begin by saying:
Dear women delegates;
Dear men delegates (Laughter.) We're not going to forget you now;
Dear Cuban teachers invited to this activity (Applause.):
I know I have come a little late, because the Brazilians have already left us. You wanted me to say a few words the first day and I made you a signal. It wasn't meant as a farewell, but rather to let you know that I meant to return. But, besides, I'm the least indicated person to deliver these final remarks, because I haven't participated in the meetings, nor in the scientific conferences, nor in the debates that you have held.
I've been able to follow what has come out in the press, on T.V., some news items that I've received, but very brief ones. I did have the opportunity to listen to the opening remarks of our Minister [of Education] and of the President of the Association who has just honored me with the undeserved plaque which has been awarded me (Exclamations and prolonged applause.) and which I have received only in the name of those who really deserve it: our teachers. (Applause.) Those of today... (From the audience: "And those of yesterday".) How did you guess? Do you have some sort of device to know in advance what one is going to say? (Laughter.) Well, if I'm at a loss for words, I'll borrow them from you. That's what I meant to say: Those of today and those of yesterday. We cannot forget them, all the pedagogues and scientists who have worked in our countryscientific pedagogues, researchersfor the achievements that have been mentioned here, to be able to exchange the experiences that have been exchanged here, to be able to hold meetings as the one that has just been held. And, according to what I hear, it seems we will have another one in the year 2000.
To speak about education in our country would be very lengthy. Just remember that we practically started off from scratch, just remember that 30% of our population was illiterate and 60% semi-illiterate. Nobody knows who actually knew how to read and write in this country. Because having passed the first, the second, the third grade, knowing how to sign and how to write a few phrases or even a letter, does not mean that a person is literate, or that that person has received some learning, or can be considered a learned person.
I asked our minister, Gómez (He refers to the Minister of Education, Luis Ignacio Gómez.), if he happened to remember how many teachers there were in Cuba when the Revolution triumphed, and he told me that around 29,000. He then added that approximately 10,000-and that figure I do remember-were unemployed. They had no classrooms nor budgetary funds for education.
There were some schools, known as escuelas normales [teachers' training schools], which we have a lot to thank for, because they trained those teachers, but since there are always people of all sorts, as the education of those teachers did not instill in them the sense of duty to teach in any part of the country, this aspect was not included in our country's pedagogic training. So, even though after the triumph of the Revolution we allocated some of the few resources we had to send teachers to the mountains and to the countryside, not enough teachers were willing to go and teach there.
Of course, there were always some who did, but our teachers had not been educated to carry out such a task. However, those who were willing to work in the city and in the countryside were the seed from which grew this relatively big tree, which constitutes our educational system, and also the achievements attained during these years. We must remember them too as the seed which sprouted what we have today.
This was not a subject that could be learned overnight, neither could we presume what had to be done. We did realize that first of all we had to teach the people to read and write, and that task was fulfilled with the help of the teachersthose few teachers that we hadand the people's participation, mainly that of students, junior and senior high school students, university students, and volunteers in general with an educational level sufficiently high to teach to read and write in one year people who had practically never gone to school.
Those who were going to teach the illiterate received courses on the methods to use and then set off for all parts of the country.
The blockade was already there, as were the mercenary bands organized in many parts of the country, organized by the United States, armed bands which unfortunately murdered some of those teachers, whose names are remembered today in the names of schools and other institutions. They are remembered and shall always be remembered, even some of the students, almost adolescents, who went to the mountains or the plains to teach people to read and write. More than 100,000 people participated. It was a large number, I say 100,000, that is a minimum figure, but if we add them all up... someone here must know the exact figure. I reckon that at least 150,000 participated in that campaign.
Our country achieved the featwhich I believe no other country has ever achievedof teaching to read and write that huge number of illiterates that we had, of teaching that first grade, we could say, to all of those who did not know how to read and write and were still physically able to learn somethingand I know they taught people who were even older than 80. Of course, many of those who were taught to read and write, especially the younger ones, later became teachers, professors and university graduates, many of them. Some of them graduated from the university, because even more important than the literacy campaign were the plans to carry it on, the follow-up programs, as we called them then.
Thus, after that year, for a very long time, a great effort ensued to make these people reach the second, the third, the sixth grade, junior high school, and there were many who reached the latter level, in spite of the lack of teachers we had.
We had to turn many high school graduates and people with the necessary school level into teachers while we were training the new ones. We even had so few junior high school students, that the first students we recruited en masse to be teachers had only finished the sixth grade. There weren't enough junior high school graduates to send, after nine grades of study, to learn the noble profession of teaching.
But, besides, many of the high school students and graduates were needed not only for education, but for many other sectors as well. The country's defense called upon many young people with certain qualification to learn to use specific weapons with which we had to defend ourselves from that powerful neighbor, a neighbor, who in the middle of the literacy campaign, in 1961, invaded us with mercenary troops. Because the infamous Bay of Pigs invasion took place in April of 1961, the Year of the Literacy Campaign, and not even the mercenary invasionwhich, by the way, was finished in less than 72 hours, no matter how well advised, trained and supported it was from abroad, and right in front of the U.S. squadron, apparently ready to disembark, although they didn't even have time since we didn't let them establish a government therenot even under those circumstances was the literacy campaign stopped. I think that was one of the greatest merits of that year, that not even then did we stop the campaign.
I'm telling you that a great number of high school students and graduates were needed to work in the country's defense, public administration and activities of all kinds. So that, although the gates of the university were opened, we didn't have enough high school graduates to bring to the universities. It was necessary to carry out huge teacher training programs; huge plans for the construction of small schools, especially in the countryside and in the mountains, the first ones to be built there, for the elementary education of our children. The needs of grade education were covered quite quickly, and sometimes the school was in a bohío [rustic Cuban dwelling] or even under a tree, because that was where the lessons were being taught. We had learned in the mountains that people could be taught even in the forest.
Afterwards, they began finishing the sixth grade en masse. We had to deal with the tremendous problem of overageness until we managed to match the children's ages with the proper school level. Many years went by before we totally achieved this. And after the sixth grade, they massively began secondary school, but there were not enough schools. There were years when the Revolution built more than 100 junior high schools, with room for 50,000 new students. But when we finally had the schools, we still did not have enough teachers for them. Once again, the Revolution had to resort to high school students, to young people, to recruit them to work as junior high school teachers, which required a certain level, and we had to set up a study and work system with the teachers-in-training. In other words, those students devoted part of their time to studying to be teachers and another part to teaching junior high students. It was a very long road.
At the time, statistics talked about how many teachers had degrees; for example, how many of those who were teaching had their teacher's degree already. And there were times during those first years-which coincided with a baby boom which had started at the triumph of the Revolutionwhen for every 100 grade school teachers, if I remember well, 70 did not have a degree. Afterwards, another statistical figure was added to this, the headache of every year: how many junior high school teachers and how many high school teachers held a degree.
This also happened at university level, because they took away our university professors. They lured them away, opened up their doors to them so that a country as rich as the United States, which could pay much higher salaries, could take them away. We accepted this challenge, we allowed those who wanted to leave to do so. They took away half of our doctors that same way, of which we had 6,000 then.
We could not graduate doctors massively. We had to wait until we had enough high school graduates, and to have enough high school graduates we had to advance en masse to junior high school and then to high school, to build again and again, to graduate teachers again and again; to turn recently graduated students into university teachers from among those with the best academic record, and to set up faculties everywhere. At first, university education existed in only two or three places in Cuba. Afterwards, higher education extended to the whole country. Even when the 6 former provinces turned into 14, there were already higher learning institution in each of those 14 provinces. And for medical studies, for example, 21 faculties were created. The City of Havana alone had several. I don't remember if 5 or 6, others had 2, and the smaller ones at least one university faculty. That was how we attained the current figure of 60,000 medical doctors.
When one compares those times with these, in which each province, no matter how small, prepares its own doctors and even its own specialists, we realize the progress that has been made. They say that success makes people forget. Sometimes it is good to remember that the road traveled to reach what we have now was a long one. Yet, to us it seems short, because we know that we still have quite a lot to do.
Then came the times of those who sought a degree higher than that of a bachelor's: a master's degree, a doctor's degree, of which we have, how many? I wouldnt dare to quote now an exact figureI dont know if Rosa Elena is around or someone who can help me out on this (He refers to Rosa Elena Simeón, Minister for Science, Technology and the Environment), or one of those diviners that were over therebut doctors or those with postgraduate degrees, I would venture to say number more than 10,000.
(They tell him there are 4,000.)
¿There are 4,000? How far off I was! There are 4,000 what, doctors? Are masters included in that figure? (They tell him no.)
Isn't that higher than a bachelor's degree? (They tell him yes.) Well, yes, I didn't mean so many doctors, I meant postgraduate degrees. (They tell him it must be around 11,000 and 12,000.)
They say 11,000. It turns out that I came close but fell short. (Laughter.)
Eleven plus four equals fifteen, doesn't it? That's what I'm trying to put together, the eleven plus the four. (Laughter.). The eleven masters plus the four doctors multiplied times 1,000, of course, to simplify matters.
Yes it is a large figure, but more are getting ready to obtain these degrees.
Among the 29,000 teachers I mentioned, I did not include university teachers, who were very few. Right now higher education must have more than 20 thousand teachers, more than 20.000! Vecino is around, maybe he says no, or yes? What is it, Vecino? [In reference to Fernando Vecino, Minister for Higher Education.] Say it out loud so everyone can hear you.
(Vecino answers that 21,000.)
Well, that's OK, it is better to fall short than to exaggerate. (Laughter.)
I know they have quite enough, and more than once I have asked them: Listen, how many teachers are you planning to have? And they always defend the thesis of having as many as possible; because nobody is ever in excess anywhere. We learned that from the teachers themselves, after that story I told you about. The time came when all the teachers were graduates, and the time came when instead of studying to be a teacher after finishing the 6th grade, they had to have their junior high diploma, and the time came when instead of junior high students, high school graduates were the ones who entered teachers colleges. Today, teachers-in-training enter with that level and they have to study for five years in order to become a grade school teacher. At present, they have to study the same number of years as those studying to be junior or senior high school teachers.
There came a time when we had so many teachers that we could afford creating a reserve of teachers. What for? So that the rest of the teachers could study, and then those who had started studying to be teachers after the sixth grade could obtain even a university degree, and they were paid their salaries for several years, in full, so that they could study, and many of them became bachelors. That is, the level of all the teachers gradually became the same. That way they gradually gathered experience. That is why it is fair to say that our teachers should be the first to be acknowledged. (Applause.)
The country did all it could and is doing all it can in matters of education. And it has been able to maintain what we have despite the worsening of the blockade. And when we lost our marketsas Gómez pointed out here the first daywe had to suffer a double blockade. How did we manage to bear this? Well, thanks to the people, our people, that well-instructed and patriotic people, who has played the leading role in this epic struggle for almost 40 years. But not even in those difficult moments was a classroom or a student left without a teacher. It did not matter if it were only five, six or seven children, those calculations were never made, if they lived in a remote place, they had a teacher there.
I will not mentionit would be too lengthythe great variety of institutions created to train teachers, we could as well say to train professionals of all sorts, in the whole country. That, thanks to the effort of our people and because it is a sacred duty of the Revolution. We don't even deserve to be thanked. In any event, thank the people for being revolutionary, because none of this would have been possible without a Revolution, frankly. (Applause.).
I am not exhorting you to carry out a revolution. We don't want to be accused of promoting subversion. Besides, it is not necessary, neoliberalization is promoting it far better than us (Applause.), poverty, abandonment.
I have told you this long story, which led to us having from 250,000 to 300,000 teachers today... And there aren't more because, logically, teachers were also sought after, because, since they had a high educational level, oftentimes the administration, the economic enterprises, tried to lure them away, because teachers were knowledgeable. That was another struggle. That is why we had to train so many teachers.
But the fact that today, counting special education and initial and preschool education, there are almost 40,000 teachers, double the amount teaching in the whole country before, gives a clear idea of the effort that has been made. They teach children of up to six years of age, or a bit more, if you will, because now in special schools they are a little older; but without counting teachers of the first grade, second grade, of the rest of the educational system.
In initial and preschool education there are around 25,000 teachers, in day-care centers, classrooms, etc. In special education, there are 13,500, which add up to 38,000, if the arithmetic they taught me is any good. If one compares this figure with the total number of teachers in the country before, one can see the effort made in this respect. And when I say this I don't mean to be boastful. On the contrary, we are rather critical of, and not fully satisfied with, what we have done. I say it to try to explain the efforts the Revolution has made in this field, to explain it to you, who in your vast majority come from Latin America, where in almost 200 years of independence it has not been possible to completely eradicate illiteracy. You know that.
You have come here to talk about these two basic topics: special education and initial and preschool education, I don't want make this too lengthy, but I was pondering about certain things that evidence the progress made. I was meditating, for instance, about the fact that at the triumph of the Revolution, only 134 pupils were enrolled in special education. I am sure that in other Latin American sister countries, if not so few, there might be a similar situation in some of them. One hundred and thirty-four, compared to fifty-seven thousand that our country has today! If you multiply 134 times 400, I believe it comes close to the figure of 57,000 students that we have in special schools, the 425 institutions already mentioned here.
Unfortunately, the debacle of the socialist camp takes place, the loss of our markets, we enter the special period, when we were carrying out a huge program for the construction of day-care centers and special schools. You have seen some of them. We had a complete program for the whole country.
Sometimes these schools are housed in facilities that are not perfect. Oh!, a school for deaf and dumb children, for example, is a school which requires a laboratory, requires equipment, requires a lot of teaching aids, a well-built school, appropriate facilities. These were designed for that.
Schools for amblyopic childrenwhich are not the blind childrenhave to be especially designed. We, who have visited them on several occasions, see the many playing grounds that they have. It is impossible, impossible!, to bring together in another school the different means that these schools have. These are children whose sight is saved, because many of them have problems which, if not attended, could make them lose their sight. The schools for blind and visually impaired children also require very special facilities and equipment. I marvel at what those children learn and are able to do afterwards in those very humane schools.
We also have some schools for blind adults, which prepare them to carry out many different tasks. They are particularly impressive.
Unfortunately, there are some very sad diseases which deprive children of their eyesight, such as the well-known eye tumor affecting some children. How terribly the families suffer in those cases!, when a child in two or three years becomes blind, even if he is saved. That child has to be saved, in the first place, treated in time so that the disease cannot progress, and if it does progress, operated on so that it does not spread to the rest of the body, and later educated so as to feel useful and happy. That constitutes the great success, that constitutes the great feat: to make that child, who was once able to see, feel happy with time. Sometimes they are four years old or a little older and perhaps many of them can remember when they were able to see.
Some of them are born blind, were never able to see. I suppose adaptation is more natural for them. Now, is there anything more humane than teaching that child, for example? This requires facilities, and we wanted all the facilities for special schools to be modern, with all the necessary equipment. That program had to be interrupted, but the schools were created very early wherever we were able to.
Schools for mentally retarded children do not need such special facilities, or schools for children with slow mental development are less complicated. These are topics that the specialists can discuss, if they send them to one school or the other. I'm not very conversant with this topic, for example, of cases of slow psychic development. I suppose they have discussed it and are discussing it; but I have absolutely no doubts that mentally retarded children require special schools, require special attention, I haven't the slightest doubt. Concerning the other ones, the specialists ought to know. They have defended them a lot. They have the resources and it is something transitory.
There are also schools which have students that need special treatment. But as a matter of opinion, it has to be determined if students with behavior problems, for example, should be there.
Sometimes we hear complaints from parents of students in relation to cases of children with behavior problems in a common, ordinary school. I know some special schools for adolescents with marked behavior problems. I have talked to these children, I have seen them, many of them quite intelligent, quite likable. These schools have been successful with them. These are the fruits of good pedagogy. That's what it is for, to transform children who might have a tendency to violence, or another negative tendency. That's what it exists for. In special schools for children with behavior disorders, there are around 2,000 students, according to what I have seen in the enrollment data, a little over than 2,000.
With eyesight problems, blind or severely visually impaired children, those who cannot see, there are around 1,000 enrolled in these schools. In schools for the deaf and dumb, there are around 2,000. If we add the deaf and dumb students with the visually impaired or blind students and with those that suffer from amblyopia or strabismus, we get around 4,000; mentally retarded, around 29,000 and some odds, with problems in their psychic development, around 20,000; those with language disorders, around 600.
All these schools, the more modern, were being built by us, especially those requiring particularly specialized facilities. And we got to build a number of them in the different provinces. We also wanted the facilities for the rest of the special schools to be optimal. We were forced to interrupt that program, but we will continue it some day and we will have optimal facilities. Meanwhile, we confront the country's total needs using the best facilities available in each place.
In these special schools, there is a teacher for every four students-I don't think I'm wrong, there are 13,500 specialized teachers devoted to that noble and very humane work. I believe in some schools the number of teachers per student is greater-; but in our country there are teachers that even go to hospitals or to the students' homes at certain moments to attend the children that may need them for some reason.
I was asking myself, what else can we do? What else can the Revolution do? Well, we would have to begin earlier, begin to educate the children before they are born. There is a formula: to educate the parents, to educate the mothers, the mothers-to-be. So there's still more to be done. Right now, they are well attended: 9 or 10 visits to the doctor during pregnancy, hospitalized childbirth in almost one hundred percent of the cases. But I haven't heard about courses or programs to teach them to be mothers. Because it would be useful for them to know what to do from the first few months to contribute to these programs of initial education.
I think that special education, one of the main topics you have analyzed these last few days, is an extra-ordinarily humane thing. I think that no state, no government with any resources, should refrain from fulfilling this basic duty. Do all children who need this type of teaching in the United States by any chance have it? And it is the richest country in the world, with a Gross Domestic Product of from 8 to 10 trillion dollars. The problem then lies in the system, not anywhere else.
I didn't come here to campaign for any system. I'm simply asserting my point of view that the problem lies in the system: a system educated in lies and which educates in lies, an alienating system which educates the masses in selfishness, in individualism, in the antithesis of society. It can't do otherwise, because that's the way the system is designed. And no one designed it, it was a product of history, of the development of human society, which went through other systems that were very harsh too. They say that worse than this one, but it is very hard to imagine one worse than this one we know.
I don't know if feudalism could have been worse. One can't be completely sure, because in the times of feudalism there were castles, feudal lords and all of those things, but a globalized economy did not exist, neoliberalization did not exist and feudal lords took care of their serfs, it wasn't convenient for them that their serfs should die from hunger or disease. The capitalist monopoly does not care if workers die, what happens to them, about their lot. There is always a reserve of unemployed workers to replace them, or immigrants when they're needed, or of countries with cheap labor where they can intervene.
The slave masters of the system prior to feudalism in history, or in the modern age, after the conquest of America, took care of their slaves. They were their property and as such they took care of them. Workers are a property in this modern capitalist world. Because that's the way they are treated. The work force is bought, or sold, or laid off, or fired, a phenomenon which occurs even in highly industrialized countries, with a rate of unemployment of more than 10%, quite high; some with more, with 12% or higher. It is an insoluble dilemma: the more they develop and the more they apply new technology, the more unemployment they have, they do not solve and cannot solve that contradiction.
Such a system does not look after people or care about people. Lies and more lies, yes; that yes. And we know this quite well, because for many years now we have been fighting against the lies that these gentlemen disseminate throughout the world against the country which has done the most for man, which has done the most for mankind, not only for children, but also for the elderly, not only for the offsprings but also for their fathers and their mothers; and not only for men but also and very much so for women, everything that has been possible, without being able to achieve all that we would want to. We see the growing enthusiasm and awareness with which women are struggling in the world today and their achievements, even certain laws in Europe and the very United States, as a result of their struggle.
What Cuba has done for the human being, it has done with extraordinarily humane methods. In this blockaded country, there has never been a case of a banished person throughout its history; in this blockaded country, there are no death squads, which even kill children who live in the streets; in this blockaded country, no one can mention a single case of political assassination. And something else, as I tell many people: in this country, which struggles against that empire, there is not a single case of torture, not a single case, yet this country is taken to the human rights commission to be tried. Who? The culprits of all the calamities the world is suffering today, the culprits of the 30,000 banished in Argentina (Applause.), of the thousands banished and murdered in Chile (Applause.), and of the 100,000 banished and almost 50,000 murdered in Guatemala (Applause.), a country where the category of prisoner was not known.
Today everyone knows who caused all that, who instructed the repressive forces of those countries in the art of torture and murder. The manuals existed up to very recently, until someone brought these manuals to light and these "angels" champions of human rights became so ashamed that they suppressed the manual. I think they burned it. But to no avail: the system they defend engenders violence, engenders injustice, engenders murder, because it is not inspired in the slightest sense of humanity.
That is the cause, the system, you cannot blame people or individuals.
Moreover, they own the media. You Latin Americans know it well, but the Europeans know it too. Over there, the serials on T.V. are made in the United States, and the movies, almost all those shown in European movie theatersI'm not talking about Latin America, because in Latin America we could say it is all of them; in Europe a very high percentage of the movies shown come from the United States, and they take their ideology, their doctrine over there. The same thing occurs in most countries of the Third World, dazzling people in places where hunger reigns and everything is lacking, advertising luxurious cars, jewels, dresses, the consumer society.
What sense is there in taking to Africa their model of a squandering consumer society, to places where people don't even have a shack, or a teacher, where millions of people die every year for lack of medical care? That is the type of propaganda they take there through their powerful media: television, movies, magazines and others.
In our continent, what is the situation of the Latin American film and television industries? Where do they prepare all that material and what is shown? Teachers educating on the one hand and the American movies, serials and advertisements spoiling people on the other, filling their brains with impossible ambitions, like they do in the rest of the world, with a humanity numbering 6 billion people and nature being destroyed by the savage aggression that such a system and its economic mechanisms have imposed on the planet.
Now they have discovered, guess what. In recent years, two or three years ago, they began speaking about education and health care, at this stage, gentlemen!
I've told you about all the trouble we went through when we beganand we had more or less the same situation as the rest of the countries of the hemisphereand now the World Bank speaks, and they meet at a summit in Rio and speak about health and education. When what they impose on governments is budgetary restrictions, and the first budget they cut is that of education and health care. (Applause.)
How can they speak about education and health care when they have cut budgets to a minimum, when they want to cut pensions, when they want to cut unemployment benefits, when they want to forget about the elderly, the retired, everywhere?
Neoliberalization is an offensive against all the achievements that even within capitalism the masses, the working class, the workers had attained, especially after the Second World War, because the socialist countries existed and they were afraid, they were waging a desperate struggle against revolutionary changes. When the socialist camp and the USSR disappeared, they lost their fear, and to what extent! They want to do away with every social achievement attained by the peoples.
They have even done away with trade unions. There are countries in Europe where the number of active workers in trade unions do not reach 10%. They're destroying the instruments the poor have to defend themselves.
They were the ones who taught all the most brutal and repressive measures the world has suffered in its social struggles. They were the teachers, the advocators of the system and the promoters of this neoliberalization. And they are the ones who tell the IMF and the World Bank what they have to impose on the different countries, only that now it is practiced at a world, global and total level.
You have very wisely, very progressively and I would dare say, if it doesn't harm you, very revolutionarily expressed the idea of the globalization of solidarity and the need for support among the peoples. Actually, the system that prevails is that of anti-solidarity and it is leading the world to the dead-end street of the brutal neoliberal globalization. Of course, this will only lead it to a crisis, inevitably, the system cannot be saved, and the longer they walk along that road the less possibility they'll have of being saved. This will force people from all over to fight, it will spur the masses to fight. That is why awareness is so important.
You have proposed: to build awareness in States and governments in order that they pay attention to health care, in order that they pay attention to education, and I have just told you that, hypocritically, they have spoken about these issues. But they have to talk about twenty other issues also, these are not the only ones, understand? They have to talk about employment, they have to talk about housing, they have to talk about drinking water, they have to talk about food and they have to talk about the environment. Because guided by the blind laws of the market, they destroy arable lands, they destroy drinking water, they destroy nature, they destroy the atmosphere, they destroy the seas, a very important source of food for the world, they destroy everything.
The world is not going to follow that road. The world is learning a lot and even the illiterate learn. And we have gone through that experience, because in our struggle a considerable part of the peasants that we found in the mountains were illiterate, and they understood what the Revolution was, they realized it. Who taught them? Capitalism did: the abuses, the injustices, the outrage, the evictions, that's who. And they are also teaching the world. It's encouraging to see how the world is learning, and we see this in the international meetings.
And what is the World Bank going to do? Are they going to lend money so that schools can be built? And then the budget for those schools? How much will have to be paid for that money? Because all these Latin American countries, for example, already owe 600 billion dollars.
I want you to know that when the Cuban Revolution triumphed, there was hardly any foreign debt in Latin America, a few thousands if any, perhaps less than 10 billion, and today it's 600 billion. Oh, so they're going to lend! What they ought to do is donate, not lend but donate! and really donate.
What did these gentlemen from the North and their representatives say in the Santiago summit? Oh, that education must be worked for. But, where are the resources? They go to Africa and they say the same thing. But, where are the resources?
At the United Nations they one day agreed to request 0.7% of the Gross Domestic Product of rich countries to help development, a figure which would contribute to end illiteracy, to promote health care programs, education and the economic development of the Third World. There is a country, Norway, which contributes with nearly 0.9% and they are planning to raise it to 1%. If every industrialized country gave 1%, it would mean 200 billion per year, and then a program could be devised. But do you know what the rich countries are doing? They're reducing their development assistance. It decreases every year. This year it only reaches 0.22%, some time ago it was 0.34%. Development aid is decreasing, not the loans to indebt the countries or to increase the transnationals' income, not the investments of big financial capital; all the contrary, these grow.
Of all industrialized countries, the United States is the one with the lowest contribution to development aid. I think it is 0.08, that is, below 0.1%. I know that the average figure for development assistance contributed by the rich countries is 0.22. And it is no less than the champion of democracy and human rights, a country where there are people with up to 50 billion dollars; in a world where 378 rich people own as much money as what 2.6 billion people earn in one year. Three hundred and seventy-eight rich people as compared to 2.6 billion people. That's the world they are promising; that's the heaven they promise; that's what neoliberal globalization promises: some countries growing richer, and the rest growing poorer, and within each country, an increasingly richer minority and an increasingly poorer majority. That difference grows between different countries and also within the countries.
If they want to talk to us about education and health care; if they want to talk to us about a humane, fair world; if they want to talk about a really democratic world, let them renounce their system, let their plundering stop, let the exploitation of man by man cease and the exploitation of poor countries by the rich ones, and let human beings be brothers and sisters and not wild animals devouring one another or fighting for bread crumbs.
And this is partly what you say, when you request that States and governments become aware and pay attention to at least education, health care and other social issues. But they're not going to do itthat's something that can be assuredand they could very easily do it with all the money they have.
There was that question by the Chilean comrade with her unaffected remarks when she asked how it was possible that a poor country like Cuba was able to do it. And she also made reference to last night's performance. I wasn't able to attend, but I have spoken to several persons and they have told me that they were very impressed with this performance, where children from ordinary schools mingled with children from the special school "Solidarity with Panama". (Applause.) The mere name of that school reminds us of one of the empire's barbarous acts when it invaded that country and killed who knows how many people. They didn't even rebuild the houses that they destroyed with their bombs. We could suggest that they build at least one school like "Solidarity with Panama", so that children with physical or walking limitations can have the education of the children you saw last night. I think this would be a good example of the type of integration we should strive for, the type of integration we should strive for! (Applause.)
There isn't any dogma. Let us always look for the best and let us learn to find the best. Let us perfect what we are doing as researchers test and advance. Because one of the things I have liked most is having been able to confirm in the documents matter and in what has been said here how hard you have worked in pedagogical research and how new concepts have been arrived at, and this was not done overnight.
Preschool education began here practically for another purpose: due to the day-care centers that were established to help working mothers.
Now that I mention the day-care centers, I remember that we also had a program for building new day-care centers along with the special schools I talked about before. It is enough to say that, at the time, in only one year we built in Havana 110 day-care centers each for 200 children, and that same year other day-care centers were built in other parts of the country, something which we unfortunately cannot do now. We had more resources before, we had more trade, we had better prices for our products, before the situation that came later. But what we did make we will defend tooth and nail.
At present we have around 160,000 children in day-care centers. (Someone mentions a figure concerning the day-care centers.) There are one thousand and some odd day-care centers, I know, but I don't want to fill the audience's head with exact figures, I'm giving approximate figures. We began the day-care centers to help working mothers, then we discovered that they were a wonderful institution to prepare children for school. Some preschool classrooms already existed, a few. These preschool classrooms were developed as much as possible. Today we have around five thousand and some odd or 5,200 preschool classroomsI've seen it in some papersin addition to the more than 1000 day-care centers. But I was very impressed, I sincerely mean it, by the 27,000 informal school-initiation groups.
You used two different words: informal or non-institutional, and they say that there were 886 children in that program, and also that more than 90% of the possible children are involved-somebody said 98%. You said half of those groups were in the rural sector. I am very impressed, I didn't know that figure. I know you people have continued working in education, but that figure is impressive, the idea, the creativity shown by that figure.
There was a paragraph there that filled me with pride, not Cuban pride, we are not and we cannot be chauvinistic. I was full of revolutionary pride when they said Cuba held the highest place among all the countries, concerning initial and preschool education, which was the other issue you discussed here. (Applause.).
I was content to see clearly now that, based on those modest efforts of the first few years, initial and preschool education constitute today an education system. You have turned that type of education, that attention to children up to six years of age, into a system, and you have proved, besides, that what is needed is the human being, what is needed is the teacher.
You spoke about needing a tripod to reach this lofty goal, but not a tripod for a machine gun, a tripod for teaching, for peace, the tripod made up of the teacher, the family and the community.
Believe me, I learned a lot when I saw that material, because it is a beautiful idea, a concept and a clear, synthetic explanation about that work and the reason for having reached such a high percentage of benefitted children. Those groups are actually a creation of our pedagogues. It wasn't the Revolution. When the Revolution triumphed, it didn't even dream of this. In those times all our efforts were focused on illiteracy and on the other problems; but these are those ideas in full development and evolution.
That is why, dear friends who are visiting us, we defend and will defend with such determination the work and the achievements of the Revolution. (Applause.) That is why we are not dismayed by what our powerful enemy might do or by his blockade, that is why we are not discouraged by its slander, its campaigns and its infamous propaganda, its revolting lies, because they cannot block out the sun with one finger. They would not be able to discuss things here, you might invite many of these gentlemen to a meeting such as this one, and you can be sure, because I have seen them, they try to sneak in unseen, through a small door, they say a few words and run off. Debate? Oh, no, no debate, that would be too much. These "great statesmen" want no part of it. They prefer a speech, which can be very idyllic, without any reasoning.
It would please us if they could explain a few things to you here, among them, the things that occur in Europe; but not in Europe, in Europe they are more advanced socially than the United States, a lot more advanced. Of course, neoliberalization wants to impose its rules there too, but these are developed countries, they can defend themselves better. Now they are joining forces to defend themselves; but they have a lot of problems over there.
Among other things, I recently read that the number of mothers who are heads of the family, be it because they are single mothers, be it because they are divorced, be it because they are widows, for whatever reason, the percentage of mothers who have to quit their jobs to care for their children due to a lack of day-care centers has grown 60%. In that same text, I read that a mother in the United States must pay 500 dollars a month for day-care services.
Here we charge a small fee, according to the exchange rate that they mention, because they like to mention things that are not real, when they say that salaries are very low. Yes, they are low. We don't deny it, but rather than decreasing, they have lost purchasing power. This could be best understood if I say that we have less material resources to give in exchange for those salaries. Many of these resources were formerly distributed as equitably as possible, a large part of them subsidized by the State.
They don't take at all into account that, for example, 85% of Cuban families own their houses thanks to revolutionary laws. For a house such as these, any American citizen has to pay 1,000 dollars a month or more. Even those who own their houses have to pay very high taxes. Home owners don't even have to pay taxes here.
Of course, they are accustomed to using the international exchange rate with the dollar, as they do in many countries, to assess the purchasing power of salaries. Using that same arbitrary method, what people pay for day-care services here is less than two dollars a month, less than two dollars! Day-care centers are totally subsidized, and the reason for charging a small fee for day-care services was rather symbolic and educative, due to the great demand for them even from people that didn't really need them, since they had other possibilities within their families. Each day-care center also has its own doctor.
I have referred to the critical situation of day-care centers in the United states. To be honest, I must say that this U.S. president, who can, of course, be very rightly criticized, has tried to implement some social programs in that country, but they wouldn't let him.
He recently spoke about the need for a program to build day-care centers to solve the problem of mothers who have to quit their jobs because they cannot pay the day-care center, plus the house, plus all the other expenses they have. But he hasn't been able to. The system has prevented it. He couldn't do even that. He had some other ideas, a bit more progressive, but he hasn't been able to implement them. It's that the right wing is strong in the U.S. Congress and it opposes any such measures.
As a matter of fact, he made a statement todayI read it in the cableswhich called my attention: he declared that the United States cannot continue applying unilateral sanctions. That it has become the country that imposes most sanctions in the world, and is in the habit of sanctioning any nation. I believe this was meant as a sort of challenge to excessively rightist trends over there and perhaps as a revengepreaching in that desertfor the obstacles they have put to his plans of introducing some social improvements.
A curious thing: he declared that food should not be an object of sanctions. He should have added some other things, medicines; he should have said no country should be subjected to economic blockade, because it is a genocidal act, a murderous act. (Applause.)
Right now, they're discussing in Rome the creation of an international criminal court to judge war crimes, and many countries have proposed different things. UNICEF has even proposed that rape or sexual abuse of minors be considered war crimes.
There is much discussion there because the United States wants that court to be subordinated to the Security Council. There are five permanent members in that U.N. body, all nuclear powers and with the right to veto.
The United Nations Organization is an institution necessary for humanity, which must play an increasingly important role as the globalizing process develops. But the Security Council has usurped functions that must entirely belong to the General Assembly, where all the countries of the world are represented, and the presence of five permanent members with the power of veto in that Council, works against the democratic character of the United Nations. The decision of one single permanent member is enough to annul any agreement of the General Assembly.
On the issue of the blockade against Cuba, around 150 nations voted in the General Assembly in favor of the Cuban resolution against the blockade. Only three countries, including the United States, voted against it. Just look at the difference, 3 to 150. Others abstain. To abstain is actually an expression of disagreement with the U.S. policy towards Cuba. Not everyone dares to defy the United States by openly expressing in favor of a resolution that opposes such policy, for fear of all sorts of reprisals that may be taken against them. The United States becomes furious when it is contradicted on this sensitive issue. Despite all this, there are many people who dare to defy their fury.
Our delegation, which is in Rome, is going to propose that the economic blockade against any country be classified and penalized as a war crime. (Applause.) It will be proposed there. Yes sir, the blockade is so cruel and unjust that it constitutes a genocide. The attempt to subdue a country by hunger and illness is a great crime against humanity, and it must be prohibited, condemned and tried as such.
We totally support the creation of that court; of an independent court, not as the United States wants it subordinated to the Security Council. No, not there, where they have the right to veto, so often used by the United States, more often than all the permanent members put together. If a court to try war crimes is to be created, it must be absolutely independent. (Applause.) It would really be a good thing.
I made this parenthesis to acknowledge, all things considered, some of the positive things about the current U.S. President. That declaration I read today is important, I found it constructive, even courageous. How will it be heeded by the reactionary right? Not at all! He can do nothing, or very little. Neither can the U.S. govern-ment control the laws which govern a globalization process in which it believes and for which it fights. The system it promotes is subject to the blind laws of the market. They are the ones who really rule the world. A savage beast rules the world: the market, and it is inexorably leading it to neoliberal globalization.
Going back to our subject, as I was saying, how much does it cost to do those things we spoke about when we analyzed the achievements attained in our country in relation to initial and preschool education? How much has it cost, let us say, to turn this education into a system?
What does it cost to organize those informal groups to attend children in initial education? Yes, a considerable number of teachers is necessary, but not great investments, not at all. It costs very little. Of course, many other things will have to be done before attaining the great progress achieved by Cuba in the field of education. In the first place, millions and millions of teachers would have to be trained. The ones that exist in Latin America today would not be enough. Perhaps they would need twice or thrice that amount if they were to devise an education program like the one our country fortunately has and defends under very difficult circumstances.
Nobody is going to fool anybody here, except those who want to be fooled. There is a very popular proverb meaning that the worst blind is he who does not want to see.
There are some adults that need, let's say, special education, (Laughter and applause.) there are some who need to take lessons on ethics in order not to be so selfish and to understand what the capitalist system stands for. A rich, developed, capitalist country has its appeal, for whom? For the privileged millionaire class of those countries and also for the hundreds of millions of people with low incomes or without employment in the Third World countries. There are also those who are dazzled by the news and advertisements of the consumer societies. If the United States had done with the rest of Latin America what it did with Cuba, that is, leave its doors wide open for all who wanted to go to that country which was and is the most developed and rich country in the world, a challenge which the Revolution was able to face with great dignity and heroism. If they took away doctors, professors, highly trained professionals, technicians and skilled workers, our response was to massively train doctors, professors, professionals, technicians and skilled workers; and, above all, form them as patriots. "Let there be freedom to emigrate", we said.
The average salary of a worker in the United States is thirty times the minimum salary of a Latin American worker. If they had opened the doors to the whole impoverished continent sacked by imperialism, more than half the population of the United States would be made up of Latin American and Caribbean people. How great!, I mean, at least wealth would be better distributed in this hemisphere. But they are building a gigantic wall in the Mexico-U.S. border to prevent the immigration of people from the south. There are no open doors or automatic residence for them. The ruling class in the United States does not want to taint the pure, Anglo-Saxon and Aryan, European and white blood of the majority of the population of that country, and lives in fear because their black population multiplies faster and so do the Latin Americans.
Yes, there is a tremendous economic immigration pressure. If the Chinese had been given the facilities given the Cubans, who by simply stepping on U.S. soil, without a visa, without a passport, without anything, received their residence automatically, how many Chinese would there be in the United States? Or Indians from India? I am not referring to our natives [also called Indians].
They try to present as a virtue of the system-the system that has exploited and plundered-as an attraction of the system, the material needs of billions of people in the world.
The road for you and for the countries of the Third World is a long one, I believe, a very long road; but, still, things can be done along the way.
Why has a hemisphere whose independence was obtained at the beginning of last century fallen so far behind? The first declaration of independence dates back to 1812, one of the first; well, actually the first one was Haiti's, during the French Revolution, but Venezuela's was in 1812, and the countries gradually became independent during the period until the battle of Ayacucho. Let us say that in approximately 20 years, maybe even less, two centuries of independence will have passed. What did they do in Latin America-now I'm talking about our hemisphere- during those almost 20 years? How many became millionaires by plundering the public treasury? How many military dictatorships have our countries suffered? And who supported them? Capitalism did, British imperialism first and later the imperialism which emerged in the North, which after stripping Mexico of more than half of its territory, occupied the Isthmus of Panama, took over Puerto Rico, frustrated Cuba's independence, set up a military base in its territory, intervened in Central America and in all Latin American countries of the Caribbean and politically controlled the rest of the continent which it has sacked mercilessly. How could we make any progress?
Somoza, a famous tyrant, who put him in Nicaragua and delivered that country to him upon the blood of Sandino and other Nicaraguan patriots? They did.
Who placed Trujillo in power in one of those interventions in the Dominican Republic? They did. Who placed in power all the regimes of terror in this hemisphere and supported them, and maintained these countries Balkanized? Who prevented their economic and social development? They did, and all of those who allowed them to, and those who gave in to the empire, sometimes in a shameful way. Because the mere fact of excluding Cuba from Latin American meetingsas if we were on Mars and not here in the Caribbeanwhich responds to a sheer Yankee whim, is a shame for this hemisphere. I won't say for all, because there are some countries that oppose it. The Caribbean countries unanimously oppose it and some others in Latin America, but the orders are really given by those gentlemen from the North. And I ask: what do they want to punish Cuba for, a country that has so tenaciously and heroically resisted that policy? We have things to say, things to do and things to expound in this world.
We have developed our internationalist awareness and we are concerned with the problems not only of America and the Caribbean but also of the whole world, and of Africa in particular. We shed our blood there fighting against colonialism, fighting against apartheid.
As was mentioned here, 26,000 Cuban teachers have rendered internationalist services. I'll tell you more: when Nicaragua requested 2,000 teachers, 30,000 Cuban teachers volunteered to go. Many of them went to the mountains to teach, not to Managua, but to the mountains of Nicaragua, in places where you had to walk three days to get to. And when the counter-revolutionary bands, organized by the United States, murdered some of those teachers, 100,000 Cuban teachers offered to go, one hundred thousand! (Applause.). And the volumes with the signatures of those 100,000 teachers exist.
We did more than form teachers to go to our mountains and our countryside, we formed teachers capable of going to anyplace in the world, any mountain in the world, any plain in the world, even any desert in the world, because in the Saharan Arab Democratic Republic many of our teachers have been teaching in the desert for many years. And that is much more than forming teachers, that's forming the human being as the human being should be, not a selfish, individualistic person. The truly solidary human beings are those who go to any part of the world to teach, to promote health or to shed their blood for a just cause.
The Revolution has done more than that, more than half a million Cubans have accomplished internationalist missions, despite being a small, blockaded country. If you add all the peace missions or peace forces in the United States, created after the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, and out of fear of the Cuban Revolution, which was when they created their Peace Corps, Cuba alone, all by itself, has sent abroad more people to teach, educate, work for other peoples, than the United States since the famous Peace Corps were created. And if they don't believe it, let one of them in that country so much given to statistics calculate it. Let them, with their computers and all that, calculate it. I would be glad if they have the data and they compare it with the more than half a million citizens of this country.
The Revolution's work is not limited to material work, it has worked on people's consciousness, on their soul, preparing the human being as the human being of tomorrow, of the future, should be, and fighting against the lies, fighting against the dirtiest and gross propaganda, fighting against blockade and fighting against the harassment that tries to weaken the Revolution, to weaken its morale, its consciousness.
Some day history will have to analyze why this people has been able to resist, a people which has a higher educational level than any other Third World country, with an educational level even higher than many developed countries. Because there is illiteracy in countries as developed as the United States, and real illiteracy, of the type in which people don't know how to read or write, and also functional illiteracy in which they cannot even read a newspaper.
We're not against globalization. You can't be against it, it is a law of history. We're against neoliberal globalization, which they want to impose on the world and which will be unsustainable, which will collapse and we must help collapse, and in order to help we need consciousness, because consciousness is essential. It is with a lot of consciousness that the work of the Revolution has been carried out.
This has been a meetingwith different tasks, among them the scientific conferenceswhich has had a curious characteristic: it began with people speaking about poetry and poets and it has ended with people speaking about poetry and poets. Gómez recalled Neruda when the latter spoke about the hope that had emerged in Cuba and his trust that that hope would be maintained in our country. How many years have gone by since he said that! And here it is, in such adverse, such difficult conditions, in a world dominated by the United States, in a unipolar world. It remains unflinching. I am sure Neruda could not have imagined what a difficult battle this people would have to wage to get here.
In your declaration you spoke about Gabriela Mistral I think you mentioned her twice, you and she (Pointing to two comrades that spoke before he did.)her concepts and ideas about education, which you have left with us as a legacy of this meeting. How glad we are that many of the things she dreamed about have become true.
I am not a poet and, therefore, my remarks do not end with a poem but with a tribute and a homage to those who had such foresight, by saying to Gabriela Mistral: "Here, amid incredible difficulties that you couldn't even have imagined, is the work of the Revolution, in this hemisphere and country which are also yours, because Cuba considers itself a sister, a member-and this capacity no one can take away from us-of the Latin American family."
And by telling Neruda: "Thank you for your hopes for Cuba! We have not let you down, and we gladly and proudly bear the honor of having resisted and having defended our ideas, which were also your ideas, much more than what you perhaps imagined the day when you pronounced the noble words that so extol and even now encourage our people, when you expressed your immense confidence in that recently born revolution. We shall never betray that confidence nor that hope!" (Applause.)
Honor and glory to all those who with infinite selflessness and kindness work in special education, so necessary and so extraordinarily humane! (Applause.)
Honor and glory to the teachers from twenty-four countries who have participated in this meeting! (Applause.)
Honor and glory to the heroic Cuban teachers! (Applause.)
We usually finish our speeches with two phrases. I maintain these two phrases. I said them a very long time ago and in difficult times they must be repeated even more, because I don't renounce any principle and I don't even renounce a revolutionary phrase. (Applause.) That is why I usually say:
Socialism or Death!, but convinced that there will be socialism, that socialism will triumph. (Applause.)
Motherland or Death!, an expression of our determination, but absolutely convinced that our motherland will live on, a revolutionary motherland, a socialist motherland. (Applause.)
We will win!