Report from Cuba…

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Our trip to Cuba was out first visit to a “socialist” country, and that was exciting. We expected to see tremendous social progress — and we did.

But we also expected a serious backslide into conservative and bureaucratic practices, and we have found that, too.

The traveler in Cuba gets the overall impression of a dynamic, forward-moving society.

From all appearances, the population is adequately fed, housed and clothed, and free education, plus medical, cultural, and recreational services are available to all.

Infant mortality has decreased from the Latin American average of 80-200 per 1,000 births to 29 per 1,000 — less than the figure for minority races in the United States.

In 1976, Castro asserted, “Today we can proudly proclaim that ours is a country where unemployment, racial discrimination, beggars, gambling, prostitution, narcotics, illiteracy, barefoot children, shantytowns and sick people abandoned to their fate no longer exist.”

This was not an empty boast.

What struck us most forcibly were the numerous high rise buildings dotting the landscape, even in remote areas. These were brightly-colored and well-designed hospitals, schools, housing projects, and some factories — the first priorities of the revolution.

Nevertheless, for must Cubans, life remains close to the poverty level. Most common articles of consumption, including food staples, are strictly rationed or unavailable. However, food prices are minimal, and such basics as fish and eggs are unrestricted.

Housing Boom

The quality of housing is very uneven. Newly-built, attractive, reasonably furnished homes coexist with primitive dwellings. Thousands of new units are under construction.

We visited a rural housing project of 220 families, mostly dairy farmers who were impoverished peasants before the revolution. They sold their land to the new government in return for monthly compensation, relatively high wages for work in the large state dairy farm, and free rent in the modern housing development. They were proud of their excellent school, hospital, and recreational facilities — a far cry from the old dirt floor and thatched roofs.

People can build or inherit homes, but cannot earn income as landlords. Rents paid to the state are keyed to income; workers in the lowest income brackets pay no rent. Rent is very low, generally 6% of wages.

Equal Education

Female and male students study the same subjects. Six years of primary and three years of secondary school are mandatory, and all advanced studies are combined with work programs where the students work in their chosen fields. All schooling is free.

Women make up 25% of the student body in technological studies, 42% in economics, 50% in medicine, 50% in sciences, 60% in liberal arts, and 62% in education.

The women we spoke with claim that their children experience no racism or sexism in school, and are imbued early with social consciousness and internationalism. Each province has a special school, a Pioneer Palace, where children are exposed to a wide variety of studies from which to choose careers.

But the children are not taught to think critically. The Soviet Union is upheld as the epitome of an ideal socialist society and Cuban children are taught to view it as the model for their own future society.

Inequality and Privilege

We did not, of course, expect to find a complete economic equality in a country with Cuba’s colonial heritage and continuing economic problems. What can be expected of a truly socialist leadership is that inequalities be held to a minimum and that functionaries renounce all privileges.

It is the linkage of material benefits to positions of power that is so pernicious, tending to generate an entrenched, self-perpetuating bureaucracy that uses the state machinery to protect its power and privilege.

Our observations were not encouraging. Defenders of the regime readily admitted a sharp turn from “idealistic egalitarianism” toward an emphasis on material incentives, with officials sharing in the new privileges. Since the Communist Party has a monopoly on state power, bureaucratic degeneration is a real danger.

The wage spread is considerable, ranging from 86 pesos monthly to over 700, but this is much smaller than in the Soviet Union. There are no restrictions on the income of party or state officials.

We were permitted to go anywhere and speak with anybody. With one exception, we heard no criticism of the regime from the Left, from a socialist standpoint. We did find widespread and open discontent from avowed anticommunists, pro-capitalists and pro-Americans — would-be entrepreneurs, some of them black-marketeers, who feel that Cuba lacks an appreciation for their talents.

The exception referred to professed to be a supporter of the revolution. He strongly disapproved of the privileges of the bureaucracy. He favored: 1) prohibiting officials who travel abroad from bringing back clothes, appliances, electronic equipment, etc., unavailable in Cuba; 2) prohibiting officials’ personal use of government automobiles; and 3) limiting their pay to that of the average worker.

Asked if he could advocate these opinions in any public forum, his answer was an emphatic “NO!” He said that such views would not be tolerated within the party.

The immediate cause of his bitterness was the economic policy just adopted. The National Assembly of Peoples Power had decreed “seven lean years” of sacrifice. Except for housing, investments in consumer goods and services were to remain constant and all surplus reinvested for economic “development” and “consolidation.”

A policy of sacrifice for the masses but not the officialdom is bound to alienate the workers and strengthen the anticommunist opposition.

Great Strides for Women

The revolution inherited a stagnant economy and high unemployment. Expansion of industry and services turned the labor surplus into a shortage, and it became imperative to bring women into the workforce.

In 1959, only 9% of workers were women, most of them servants or prostitutes. In 1960, the Federation of Cuban Women was founded and launched a campaign to wipe out the illiteracy in one year. Fifty-nine percent of the teachers who went into the countryside were women.

The Federation also motivated women in the traditional trades and peasant women to learn new skills, become involved in the social production, and receive training in the militia.

New laws gave women the right to free contraception information and abortion on demand. Women receive 41/2 months paid maternity leave, free prenatal care, mandatory and free postnatal care, and guaranteed job seniority for one year if they choose to stay home with their babies.

By 1969, it was revealed that 73% of the newly-employed women had left the workforce due to rationing and shopping schedule problems incompatible with work hours, arduous housekeeping chores, poor working conditions and a lack of domestic services like laundries and canteens. Complaints about sexism soared; machismo had defeated a great plan for women.

It took four years before the Feminine Front was organized in the trade unions to combat sexism. Shopping was simplified for working women, more nurseries, canteens and boarding schools opened, an a public campaign in schools, work sites and mass organizations was undertaken to encourage men to share domestic labor.

Nursery school construction is now a top priority.

Public propaganda urging women to upgrade their skills led them to demand time for study and political work. by 1973, one-half million women were working. The increasing divorce rate is attributed to women’s new aspirations and economic independence.

Prostitution is illegal. Prostitutes are reeducated in a new community, where they are given jobs and an opportunity to learn a skill. After three arrests, the prostitute is sent to jail.

A public discussion was initiated in 1973 preliminary to the drafting of the New Family code and an exciting debate raged. Many men said that women’s equality with men was anti-historical and anti-biological.

The Code eliminated some glaring inequalities. Marriage now entails equal rights and duties for both partners; persons may live together unmarried without stigma; either spouse can initiate divorce or annulment. Grounds for divorce were simplified and humanized; alimony was assigned to whichever parent is unemployed caring for the children, or incapacitated. Visitation rights are equal, and the concept of illegitimacy was abolished. Both parents are responsible for the children.

But Sexism Persists

An example of the continued discrimination against women is the anti-delinquincy law, which stipulates that males must attend school or work between the age of 14 and 60. Females are not mentioned, and women are demanding that the law be extended to include them.

There is no effective affirmative action program by the government to retrain and reeducate adult women, but women we spoke to said the first priorities were for elementary schools and universal health care. Evening classes for upgrading skills accommodate workers, but it is still difficult for women to take advantage of them.

The nuclear family, unfortunately, is still considered the ideal because the state is currently unable to underwrite all of society’s needs and continues to depend on the family structure to fill many of these needs. But it is a mistake to make a virtue of necessity and mis-educate people to believe in the sanctity of an institution which basically oppresses women and children.

In 1976, the first Communist Party Congress produced a thesis on women’s rights, calling for all men and women communists to become spearheads in the struggle for equality. The Congress affirmed that “… Despite the fact that men and women have been given equal rights since the revolution … a certain degree of inequality survives as a consequence not only of the scarcity of material resources but also of the frequent expression of opinions of the attitudes that are not in keeping with the postulates and laws of our socialist society.”

But obviously not all communists have heeded these words, and the percentage of women in the leadership is notably low. Castro has complained publicly about the small number of women in the Communist Party, the only political party in Cuba.

The struggle for women’s equality in Cuba depends almost entirely upon the women themselves. If they are ready to fight for their rights, they are given the backing of the party, the unions, the local organizations, and the state.

Gay Oppression

Persecution of lesbians and gay men is in full sway, fueled by official sanction.

In the mid ’60s, a reign of terror against homosexuals was unleashed, replete with stoolpigeons, denunciations, and long prison terms. As the witchhunt became a scandal at home and abroad, Castro intervened and the campaign abated.

But in 1971, the first National Congress on Education and Culture declared:

“It is not to be tolerated for notorious homosexuals to have influence in the foundation of our youth on the basis of their ‘artistic merits.’ Consequently, a study is called for to determine how best to tackle the problems of the presence of homosexuals in the various institutions of our cultural sectors.”

Gays are absolutely prohibited from teaching. And while homosexuality is no longer illegal, “flaunting” or “scandal” are prohibited, forcing gays to remain in the closet.

Instead of ending discrimination against sexual minorities, the leadership fosters it. This is part of the general Stalinist, pro-nuclear family trend evident in recent years.

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