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Bienvenidos a Cuba! Health Care, Education, Equality, and Freedom

Restore Full Relations! The Cuban People Are Not Our Enemies – Todos Somos Americanos

Robert García The City Project
Photos by Sam García Stanford ‘18

En español

Escuela Nacional de Artes Plasticos
Escuela Nacional de Artes Plasticos

Health Care, Education, Equality, and Freedom

Cuban peopke are proud of their accomplishments under the Revolution, despite decades of economic problems under the US economic, financial, and travel blockade: Being a small island nation that stand ups to the US and shakes the world, universal health care, free education, equal pay for women and men, and culture, music, and art. At the press conference with Prgesident Barack Obama in Habana, President Raul Castro asked the press, “Do you think there’s any more sacred right than the right to health, so that billions of children don’t die just for the lack of a vaccine or a drug or a medication? Do you agree with the right to free education for all those born anywhere in the world or in any country? I think many countries don’t think these are human rights.” Indeed, health care and education are not recognized as human rights in the US.

A sociology professor at the University of Habana told us, “We have had free health care and education under the Revolution, under the Soviet bloc, during the Special Period after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and now. There is no reason to think Cuban society will leave the good behind. Lifting the blockade will be good for Cuba and for the US. Cuba will not become like the US. Russia and China have not done so. There is no other nation like the US.” The professor is counting on an economy based on knowledge and a well educated population, not a tourist economy, an “economía de postre” (“dessert economy”). Cuba did receive a record 3.5 million visitors last year, up 17% from 2014, with US visitors up 77% to 161,000.

Universal free quality health care is a human right under the Cuban constitution. Life expectancy for a baby born in 2011 was 79 years in Cuba, according to the World Bank. Life expectancy is longer in Cuba than in the US, where there are disparities – rich people live longer, and life expectancy for the poor depends on where they live. Cuba’s doctor-to-patient ratio is among the best three in the world, according to data from the World Health Organization. Every pregnant woman receives prenatal care, and every child is born in a hospital, according to President Castro. Cuba sent more health care workers to help stop Ebola in West Africa than other nations. While the US blockade hurts the people of Cuba, the blockade hurts the people of the US as well. Cuba has a vaccine against lung cancer, for example, that the blockade prohibits in the US. “Cuba does not export revolution, we share what we have with nations in need,” in the eyes of the Cuban engineer. The tradition of selfless dedication to medical care is inspired in part by Che Guevara, who was a medical doctor in Argentina before becoming a hero of the Revolution.

Congressional Democrats passed Obamacare without a single Republican vote in 2010, which is having a big effect in reducing disparities in insurance coverage between rich and poor while adding 20 million people to the ranks of the insured. The law is not close to achieving universal or free medical coverage. High premiums and deductibles still make coverage a crushing financial burden for many families. Only 67% of Hispanics are covered, in part because Obamacare does not cover 11 million undocumented workers. Black folks disproportionately live in 19 states, mostly Confederate states, that chose not to expand Medicaid coverage for the poor. Republicans routinely try to repeal the law.

Cuba has the best education system in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to the World Bank. The literacy rate is over 90 percent, even in rural parts of the island. In contrast, 53% of working-age residents of Los Angeles have trouble reading street signs or bus schedules, filling out job applications in English, or understanding a utility bill, according to the L.A. Times. The US average is 48%. Cuba provides free education through professional and graduate school.

A majority of US public school students live in poverty (qualify for free or reduced price meals). People who can afford to do so commonly pull their children out of public schools in favor of private academies. Low income students trail more privileged children and rarely catch up. They are less likely to have support at home, are less frequently exposed to enriching activities in or out of school, and are more likely to drop out and never attend college. US students more and more are saddled with increasing tuition payments for college and advanced degrees, and years of student debt at above market rates. The myth of education as the great equalizer remains out of reach for many US families.

Ministerio de Salud Público Hospital Pediatrico
Ministerio de Salud Público Hospital Pediatrico

The Revolution banned racial discrimination in the work place beginning in 1959, although disparities remain for AfroCubans in leadership roles.

The US banned Jim Crow laws and other forms of discrimination under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Discrimination remains ubiquitous in crucial spheres like income, wealth, housing, education, and health. The racial and ethnic wealth gaps in the US in 2013 were at or near their highest levels in the 30 years for which there is data. The US Supreme Court in 2015 held that prohibiting discrimination under the Fair Housing Act remains necessary to help move the US away from residential segregation toward equal opportunity for all. While the average white or Asian-American student attends a school in at least the 60th percentile in test performance, the average black student attends a school at the 37th percentile. Lead poisoning is more than twice as common among black children as among white children. And so on.

In 2000, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, the father of 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez, talked with CBS News Anchor Dan Rather about why he wanted to take his son back to Cuba. Elian became the center of an international struggle when he was rescued from the Florida Straights and taken to Miami after his mother drowned attempting to leave Cuba with him. Mr. Rather asked, “Tell me why it wouldn’t be best for you to say okay I’ll, I’ll stay in the USA, I’ll stay here with my child, where there is freedom and maybe more opportunity for him.” Mr. Gonzalez replied, “Well, what do you call freedom and opportunity? . . . Well, freedom is for example, in Cuba, where education and health care is free. Or is it the way it is here? Which of the two is freedom? For example, here when parents send their children to school they have to worry about violence. A child could be shot at school. In Cuba, things like that don’t happen. So you can go to work and not worry. Which of the two is freedom?” Mr. Gonzalez concluded, “I love Cuba. That’s where I want to live, that’s where I want my son to be raised at my side. . . . In Cuba I can do what I want to do.”

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Sam García is a sophomore at Stanford with a minor in Latin American Studies.

Robert García is Founding Director and Counsel of The City Project. He first worked on lifting the US blockade of Cuba in 1974, drafting the remarks and bill for Congressman Michael Harrington (D-MA) published in the Congressional Record.