Cuban society is slowly becoming exposed to two visibly different ways of accessing education
Haroldo Dilla Alfonso*
HAVANA TIMES — An ad for a private day care center in Havana has been posted on the Internet (including Cuba’s classifieds page, Revolico) for some days now. The owner, Zulema Rosales, is reportedly the daughter of General Rosales del Toro.
Since I don’t know this person, or the general’s family, or the general, for that matter, I can’t really confirm this claim. I don’t know whether they are good or bad people, if they are hard-working or lazy, honest or not. As such, none of this stems from a personal judgment of these individuals.
In any event, such judgments are unnecessary here. Whoever her father is, I think it’s reasonable to assume that Zulema Rosales is a rather fortunate person, as the day care center is housed by a spacious, two-story home located in Havana’s posh neighborhood of Kohly.
The neighborhood has always been privileged, first as the home of an upper middle-class that found refuge in its pleasant environment, winding streets and green surroundings, and, later, because its residences were shared out to the new political class, who would enjoy the privacy afforded by this community – which would become a segregated and mysterious part of town – behind the protection of armed guards and closed-off thoroughfares.
On its web-page (http://guarderiainfantil.webng.com/ ) and other promotional materials, the day care center advertises a whole range of products, from regular nursery to per-hour services, announcing that the center employs highly qualified personnel who will give customers the “satisfaction of seeing the educational development of their little ones.”
Someone mentioned that this nursery charges 85 CUC (95 USD) a month per child. If this is so, it would place its rate in the high-mid-range for Latin America (at around four times the average monthly salary in Cuba).
This news have steered my thoughts in two directions.
My first reflection centers on what it means to place the advertised activities in private hands. What we’re talking about, after all, is not simply looking after children, but of providing them with their earliest education. Though not obligatory, this type of early education is advisable and, in Cuba, is aimed at children up to six years old.
For decades, however, education in Cuba has been proclaimed as a public – or, better, State – domain, and equal, unrestricted and free access to education has been one of the pillars of the country’s social consensus.
Note that I am not objecting to any one particular way of conceiving educational services. Needless to say, I have my own convictions and preferences in this regard – but that’s not the issue at the moment.
What is important is that parts of the public sphere are being handed over to the private sector without the slightest bit of transparency, such that Cubans are unable to decide what they want for their society in an open and plural debate.
In this connection, Zulema’s day care center is one case among many others, which include private schools maintained by international organizations, to which the children of Cuba’s nouveaux riches flock in a mad, happy rush. As such, Cuban society is slowly becoming exposed to two visibly different ways of accessing education.
At the top, we have the children of those who have come out victorious in the process of capitalist restoration, comfortable in their private institutions and nurseries. At the very broad base, we have the heirs of poverty, in an educational system that is in shambles, with badly-paid teachers and ramshackle facilities. Some go up while others plunge further down.
This shameful process, in which capitalism is secretly restored while loyalty is demanded to a decrepit system, which the Cuban leadership – and, curiously enough, neo-liberals – insist on calling “socialism”, that is actually the worst kind of privatization.
The reason for this, among others, is that it is being implemented without clear norms that set down the infrastructural, ethical, personal and methodological requirements that someone who wishes to provide educational services privately must meet.
Rather than regulations, what we are witnessing is total permissiveness: this day care center, for instance, operates in the shadow of a medieval legislation that authorizes the private care of children. What would happen, I wonder, if, availing themselves of a permit to care for the ill, someone as “fortunate” as Zulema decided to open a private clinic?
My second reflection focuses on Zulema’s fortunate circumstances. If there is something we have to concede here, it is the fact of Zulema’s good fortune. She is fortunate to have a two-story home, surrounded by gardens, in an upper-class area of Havana, in a country where the more fortunate of the lot would secure an apartment in the working-class neighborhood of Alamar after many years of work, in construction brigades that erected whatever buildings the Comandante deemed convenient to build.
She is fortunate to have Internet access, a web-page and email account, in a country where such services, we are told, aren’t offered to private residences. Inherently – and perhaps through inheritance – she is fortunate to be able to purchase toys, furniture and flat-screen TVs, in a society gripped by poverty.
She has also been very, very fortunate to have been permitted to operate a business whose legality is indeed questionable, particularly in a country where the police clamp down on and fine elderly people who refill cigarette lighters, and where former government delegate Sirley Avila was fined for selling mangos that grew in a tree in her own backyard.
We have to acknowledge this is indeed good fortune, but not any kind of fortune. It is the kind that accompanies the descendants of the post-revolutionary elite.
A case like Zulema’s shows the true meaning of the “slow but sure” restructuring process, a process aimed at restoring capitalism in Cuba, to the benefit of an elite that is slowly becoming the country’s new bourgeoisie – a bourgeoisie that relies on the State to make its initial profits and, at the same time, protect itself from competitors.
This is the class that Zulema Rosales and her day care center represent. Again, her good fortune isn’t just any old luck. It is the good fortune inherent to her social position, a position which is increasingly classist. It is the good fortune which comes with Cuba’s new class, its budding bourgeoisie.
Posted on one of the walls of the nursery, we see a decorative hanging which alludes to the Grimm Brother’s The Frog Prince. A text, in English, explains that, before finding the right frog (which turns into a prince on being touched by true love’s kiss), one must first kiss many frogs.
Zulema Rosales didn’t have to do this. She knew what frog to kiss from the very beginning.
(*) A Havana Times translation of the original published in Spanish by Cubaencuentro.com