HAVANA TIMES — A recent debate among friends stirred up something of a thorny issue: did the crusade against illiteracy and the founding of free schools and hospitals justify the sacrifices involved in the Cuban revolution?
Was an educational system that dished out “culture” for the masses, omitting much of our national and universal heritage, a system that told (and tells) us what to think and what to say worth our efforts?
I would love to be able to say that, at school, no sooner than we had become politically mature, they told us and stressed that the fact of having been born in the “first free country in the Americas” granted us:
– The right to life, liberty and personal integrity
– The right to travel freely around Cuba and choose our place of residence anywhere in the country
– The right to leave this or any other country and return, without being arbitrarily deprived of our nationality
– The right to be spared inhumane or degrading treatment
– The right not to be arbitrarily detained, imprisoned or banished
– The right to be free from attacks on our integrity or reputation
– The right to individual and collective property
– The right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion
– The right to assembly and to form peaceful associations
– The right not to be harassed over our opinions
– The right to seek and receive information and opinions, and to divulge these without any restrictions and through any form of communication.
But I can only attest to the fact they would repeat that we had to be good students, loyal to the revolution and grateful to the socialist homeland.
Three decades later, when my son started going to school, his school was repaired, like many others in the neighborhood of Alamar, and a large sign reading “Thank you, Fidel!” was inscribed on all of their freshly-painted facades.
This kind of forced gratefulness and collectivism, characterized by unchanging (and sometimes aggressive) adjectives and slogans, moved by an underlying paranoia and made up of half-truths, full-fledged lies and whispered criticisms, was the world of my childhood.
When, in 2011, I walked by the offices of Paris’ Le Monde journal, I felt the kind of ease and freedom I have never felt at home, whenever I pass by the offices of Granma newspaper, where guards in olive-green uniforms keep watch over the entrance.
That what we are taught should be called “culture” is something quite debatable. That the knowledge we received was worth giving up our right to question and demand answers is also questionable. The price of free education for all was a people able to read and write but illiterate when it comes to the law, vastly unaware of its civil rights and afraid to demand these.
Personally, I am unable to blot out the bad and see the good on its own. I believe the intention behind an action determines its result in the long run. Awakening, tearing the gag from our mouths (be it in public or in the privacy of our homes), has been far too long and painful a process, and it has disemboweled the country.
When I converse with young university students, I am surprised at their lack of commitment towards Cuba. Trained in the art of the double standard, they can justify their apathy with sophisticated arguments, barely able to cover up their indifference towards the society they live in and do not identify with. Their maxim is to get the most out of the educational options at hand, in order to practice their profession abroad. Many of those who chose careers such as medicine (having a calling for it or not) aspire only to go work abroad and leave the country.
Like previous generations, who, thanks to the education received, became professionals in the field of survival, they have only learned one thing well: that, in the world where culture and health are offered us free of charge, freedom tends to be the most expensive thing.