SPEECH GIVEN BY DR. FIDEL CASTRO RUZ, PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF CUBA, AT THE CEREMONY TO REOPEN 402 SCHOOLS IN HAVANA THAT HAVE UNDERGONE REPAIRS, JUNE 29, 2002
Twenty-two months ago primary education in the capital was in a disastrous state: the average number of students was 37 per classroom; 340 had more than 40 students and quite a few had 45 or more. The students in Santiago de Cuba knew twice as much as those in Havana. Around eight thousand wonderful dedicated teachers ¾ with an average of over 20 years in the profession¾ kept the schools open with the classrooms, buildings and school furniture in a terrible state following ten years of special period that had deprived the country of the minimum amount of resources essential for their upkeep. In addition to this there were the subjective conditions, as many of the administrative staff showed a decline in spirit, pessimism and dejection. Although resolute and willing to give their lives for the revolution, they showed signs of a lack of creativity and inability to adapt to a situation of huge shortages in resources. They were not used to this.
Barely four-dozen new graduates in primary education were joining every year the heroic teaching staff that was keeping the schools functioning, and to replace those who needed to retire. Nobody wanted to be a primary school teacher. Apparently, the vocation for the noble task of educating young children was lost.
What happened in a very short time teaches us an unforgettable lesson: almost 4,500 primary school teachers have been intensively trained in less than two years, and only a few days remain until most of them, around 3,400, graduate. These have received almost twice as much training as the first thousand whom, from the very beginning, had exhibited great dedication to their studies and excellent qualities and training for their job.
Each of them is tutored by a graduate primary school teacher, which means that every young teacher has a professor from a higher educational level directly assigned to him. It is a new revolutionary formula for training teachers. While working in their own municipality, just a short distance from their homes, each one of them is registered in a university degree program.
From the point of view of human capital, an extraordinary feat has been accomplished. Glory to our Young Communists’ League to whom the Party entrusted this impossible but now almost completed task!
But training teachers was not enough. We had to resolve another impossible problem: the repair, actually near restoration of the 746 primary and secondary schools in Havana, including those for children with special needs in these two age groups.
I would rather not mention the various kinds of material problems that had piled up in ten years of special period. Suffice to say that there were classrooms with no windows, toilets without doors, leaking roofs, broken plumbing, inconsistent water supply, schools with hundreds of students and only one working toilet. Not all schools suffered from these calamities but almost all had one or more of them. There were no drinking water fountains; adequately equipped kitchens were either not operational or did not exist and in more than 450 kitchens in those schools there was no refrigeration or freezer equipment or facilities for food. This was compounded by an insufficient availability of food or its inadequate preparation.
I do not hesitate to enumerate these difficulties since they are proof of the suffering resulting from laws like the Torricelli and Helm-Burton Acts, the U.S. economic war and the double blockade with followed the demise of the socialist camp, especially the USSR. After the breakup of the Soviet Union into a thousand pieces, its main heir, Russia, allied with the United States, suspended its agreements and betrayed Cuba. I cannot use any other word, although I do not blame any leader in particular. Such were the results of its mistakes and the pitiful way in which it lost the ideological battle against the bourgeois, capitalist, imperialist West under the aegis of the United States.
A small country, a few miles away from the victorious and hegemonic superpower decided to fight, following the best principles of the socialist ideal and with the remarkable wealth of the ethics and philosophy of Martí’s thought, and its history of tenacious and heroic struggle against Spanish colonialism. Therefore, when the capitalist world is today sunk in a deep economic and social crisis, our people stand firm and shine forth as an impressive example to other countries of the world.
Nothing could give us an excuse to even pause in our struggle. Numerous new tasks await us. We are about to reach an important goal in the educational field: completing the program ¾ which is being carried out at very low costs and whose resources are guaranteed¾ to restore the 746 schools mentioned. Another 33 must be added to this figure which are being neither repaired nor restored but built to ensure we have the 2000 new classrooms needed in Havana and to make the dream of no more than 20 students per classroom come true all throughout the country. This is something even the richest most developed countries have not achieved.
Today, June 29, we have reached the figure of 402 schools repaired. To meet the goal of 2000 additional classrooms, we still have 344 schools to repair and 33 new ones to build. All of the latter are already under construction. Work has begun in 264 of the 344 schools still needing repairs, leaving only 80 where work has not yet begun but these need the least amount of repair work.
In the two months we have left, a special effort is needed to finish work in all those to be repaired and especially in 10 of the 33 new schools under construction. There are various reasons for this, including the type of ground on which they are being built, the difficulties arising from the recent rains and unforeseeable delays that might arise from heavy or not so heavy rains, which might fall in July and August.
The ideal is that in September, when the next school year begins, not only the human capital but also all of the 779 schools mentioned, including those repaired and newly built, are ready
It is the Party’s, the YCL’s and all of the people of Havana’s wish and resolve that the Revolution meets this goal and do so with the required quality without jeopardizing any priority economic goal.
All the provinces that began their primary and secondary school restoration program this year are cooperating with Havana, as are all central agencies and many enterprises. Therefore, as in the days of the battle that ended with the total defeat of dengue, Havana will once again be completely involved in this task, with the support of the fifteen municipalities and of all the people’s councils, the parents and neighbors of every school undergoing repairs or under construction.
There are already more than 9000 construction workers on the job and within two weeks there will be no less than 12,000. And this figure does not include the parents and local residents who will also be helping.
Since July and August are vacation months, when the schools are not open, work will go on day and night and with extra effort in the places where the goal is more pressing. All necessary measures have been anticipated and are already in place.
As in the latest great popular marches, and in the gigantic June 12 national march, the rain, no matter how heavy, will not prevent us from meeting our goal. In this final stage of the program, work in almost all the schools will be in the inside part of the buildings where the rain can do less damage.
We shall not rest on our laurels and if we do what we have to do and are prepared to withstand even a hurricane ¾ if one crosses our path in either of the next two months¾ we shall meet our goals, that is a given.
In September we shall celebrate one of our greatest victories for the benefit of our wonderful children. And this is only a part of our ambitious plans to be top of the class in the fields of education and culture, without which no society will ever be able to be truly independent, democratic and free.
Long live socialism!
Homeland or Death!
We shall overcome!