Rogelio Manuel Diaz Moreno
HAVANA TIMES — On Friday, September 21, the weekly “Letters to the Editor” section of the Granma newspaper published a letter that many people found disturbing. This message was signed by a certain N. Paez del Amo, who raised the possibility of the Cuban government eliminating a number of subsidies that up until now have benefitted school-age children and youth.
The nationalization of the entire educational system is customarily presented as one of the achievements of the Cuban Revolution after its triumph in 1959. Until that time the vast majority of Cubans were unable to even think about going on to higher educational levels due to the high costs involved.
The new post-revolutionary concepts involved the provision of all educational needs for free, from nursery school to university studies. All students receive annually — at no cost to them or their families — the necessary materials for each school year. These materials include the free supply of notebooks and supplementary materials; free lunches, snacks and meals at the schools; as well as the provision of uniforms or the sale of these at heavily subsidized prices. Measures such as these allowed for advances that were never before seen in a Third World country.
In the face of the economic crisis, which is a chronic part of our country today, all socioeconomic sectors have experienced severe budget cuts. The Ministry of Education has felt the downsizing of its workforce and facilities.
In his letter, Paez del Amo suggested extending this policy through the shifting — to the pockets of parents — the market costs for school supplies, uniforms, etc., in a move that would be gradually phased in.
Over the weeks that followed, in the same section of that paper, we saw responses appearing from outraged citizens who were in total disagreement with the proposal by Paez del Amo. Those who disagreed with him pointed out that following his prescription would deeply hurt the chances of lower-income people — the majority of Cubans — from having the same access to higher education opportunities as those students from higher income households.
On Friday, October 12, Paez del Amo rejoined the fray to repeat the arguments for those people who found his proposal acceptable, explaining to them the need for the government to economize and to create a greater awareness of the value and the need to care for school supplies, etc.
He also noted that his proposal would have to be accompanied by a corresponding increase in the wages of working parents in order to cope with the rising educational costs. Those people who didn’t have the necessary income levels would be assisted.
Most readers are mere mortals who have no idea of the intricacies of the “Letters to the Editor,” the criteria for selecting those that are published, or even if those who express themselves there are real people.
Notwithstanding, we have had bitter experiences whereby every time the official media begin some kind of debate around these issues, it’s not long before the government ends up implementing the variation that’s most harmful to Jane and John Q. Public.
This was what happened prior to a substantial reduction in allocations of regulated and subsidized food through the rationing system (eliminating certain items in our ration books), as well as restrictions placed on accessibility and support for artistic and sports activities, among other areas life.
Oh…and we never see any benefits come back to us as a result of such cuts, nor are there any increases in our meager paychecks.
The large parts of the controversy missing
There are several associations in Cuba that theoretically are responsible for representing the interests of students at various instructional levels. Yet not in the “Letters to the Editor,” not anywhere else in Granma or in any other newspapers, nor in the media outlets of these very same student organizations have we seen any statement on this matter of cutting educational subsidies.
This position is in sharp contrast with those of other student organizations in other countries, who seem a little more active in defending the interests of their members, as is reflected in the news that we can in fact read in the national press here.
I am unaware of any statement by any official government figure in relation to this particular point, though this could be due to our lack of information. Of course, I no longer have complete confidence that a ministerial figure (or any other senior-level authority) might appear and promise that government-pledged support for education will remain, complete with subsidies and everything else.
Similar promises were made but then couldn’t stand up to harsh reality, as we later saw massive layoffs and steps toward the “rationalization” of schools and health care centers – as the government has now acknowledged.
However, we were able to recognize this gesture (which reflects a little of that awareness we demand) on the part of our political authorities, who are obligated to inform the people of their actions.
Finally, our chronic lack of access to the internet prevents us from looking at the pro-government blogs to see if they have indeed echoed these concerns or to see which side they’ve taken.
I am concerned that the debate reflected in Granma’s “Letters to the Editor” is the prelude to the implementation of neoliberal and capitalist policies in our educational system.
My father is the son of a poor campesino family. Prior to 1959, such people would die of the most trivial diseases because they weren’t able to pay for the services of a doctor. Not to mention education, as his parents (my grandparents) received nothing more than the most basic levels of education.
However, the revolution opened the doors of progress to my father and he earned an engineering degree. This was thanks to social concerns addressed and resolved by the effort at socialist construction that was carried out.
In recent decades, millions of other Cubans have also received advanced professional training, which they subsequently put in the service of society. However, they wouldn’t have been able to get to that stage without the solidarity practiced by that society, which provides the resources necessary to guarantee that everyone has the proper conditions for their studies.
Given all of this, I will make use of this and every means at my disposal to denounce in the strongest words possible those intentions to undermine the values of our society, which aspires to build socialism.
Meanwhile, my wife is calling the Ministry of Education to find out if we need to start saving over the next two years to buy books for our son. For my part, I am going to try to join in with other people of good will to ensure that those values are not reversed to those of the days of my grandparents.