Cuban Children and Civil Society

Daisy Valera

HAVANA TIMES — A Cuban elementary school. A sixth-grade classroom. A civics class.

This three-element set is a kind of time machine for those who were born during the “Revolution.”

In my 1998-1999 school year, two years after the holding of the second Pioneers Congress, we had the slogan “Defend Happiness!”

While I wore my red neckerchief (the ends nibbled away), the instructor of mathematics and head of Collective Activity would — in his domineering manner — make us recite revolutionary poems like “The Pink Shoes” or “Elegy of White Shoes.”

To sit in front of a civics book today is like being 12 again, verifying the exact adjective that accompanies the new Party gospel.

The new economic reform guidelines of the Party don’t seem to have disrupted the functioning of the classroom. Today, like in the past, the civic-mindedness of Cuban citizens begins and ends with training in the last year of primary school.

The neckerchief marks the beginning of one having to go through the motions, pretending, simulating. It means being a Pioneer before being a child, and without even understanding the meaning of the word “pioneer.”

What’s drilled in is that a citizen is someone who demonstrates feelings of “Cubania,” pride in the country and the Revolution, admiration and respect for our leaders, and the desire to follow their examples.

It’s that short, that simple – period.

“By having children participate in the exercise of democracy and the construction and development of socialism, the Pioneers are organizing themselves for social participation,” so they say.

Unit 2 is a display of quotes of adulterated concepts and a warning for the future.

Pioneer projects and activities go beyond classrooms and schools and what filters beneath is a superficial mutation, whether in a factory or in a doctor’s office.

There’s nothing more similar to the Movement of Pioneers Explorers than the national “Defense Days.”

The Pioneers Movement for Social Action was replaced by volunteer labor, workers guard duty and rapid response brigades.

The Pioneer elections become neighborhood elections.

The role of the Leader of the Collective (LC) is clear: to count one, two, three to begin the daily singings of the national anthem. The function of the neighborhood delegate is not so clear.

The LC complies with the orders of the Base Guide (a teacher and member of the Party’s youth league), and the neighborhood delegate follows the directives of a superior in the Party.

Finally, collective and individual “emulation” is no more than training to fight in one’s neighborhood CDR for an Atec-Panda-brand TV set or for a work evaluation that will add a few cents more to one’s take-home pay.

Children must participate in the activities of the Pioneers Organization with willingness and enthusiasm in order to receive an evaluation of being “outstanding” or “an achiever.”

This is the same enthusiasm that Cuban workers must show when attending union activities or those of the Party, the youth group of the Party, etc.

Visiting a sixth-grade classroom one can go back a decade in time. The 2012 reforms are confused with the reforms of 1966, 1999 and 2006.

It’s only that now, the civics textbook has been downloaded with difficulty from the Ministry of Education web site, as it is no longer handed out the first day of classes.

What student now gets is a pile of letter-sized papers, often held together with a paperclip from the office of a parent, friend or neighbor.

The state is making budget cuts, eliminating gratuities, and they’re not even covering the costs of printing.



Daisy Valera

Daisy Valera:Soil scientist and blogger. I write from Mexico City, where Havana sometimes becomes so small that it disappears. However in others, the Cuban capital is a city so past and present that it steals your breath.

2 thoughts on “Cuban Children and Civil Society

  • Too late for what? Succumbing to US imperialism and returning to being a plaything for Americans? Better never than late.

  • The three-legged stool of the revolution, universal health care, full employment and free education, like the octegenarian leadership, is increasingly wobbly and infirm. For the sake of the future of Cuba, one can only hope that the leadership will see their failures before it is too late, if it isn´t already.

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