A Moral Vest
By Dr. June Terpstra
March 19, 2010 "Information Clearing House" -- In the film, Fidel, The Untold Story, there is an interview with Fidel Castro where he says he does not need a Kevlar vest to protect him from countless CIA assassination attempts because he wears a moral vest. I am back in Havana, Cuba today after visiting a natural medicine clinic in Santa Clara, Cuba; an agricultural cooperative in Matanzas, Cuba; a teacher training arts school in Matanzas; and ELAM, the incredible Latin American Medical School that trains and sends doctors to work all over the world. With each program or institution visited I wonder what it would be like to live in a country with values of social justice instead of values of profit and plunder. There are countless examples of those who wear a moral vest here in Cuba.
It is most certainly not easy for the Cubans to live their principles in the face of so much oppression from the USA. Their daily lives are restricted from the moment they wake till they sleep at night and not by the government. Running water, flushing toilets, toiletries, access to oil to run a tractor or a car, obtaining the parts to fix a car, obtaining medicines; these and more are scarce and make life difficult. It is interesting to me that while their form of socialism is so hated by USA elites it is based in hard work and contributions to the country; they are rewarded for the level of their commitment to social justice and the sharing of resources. This is not allowed under capitalism.
The homes and apartments in which Cubans live, whether or not they are allotted cars, their job appointments; all are based on education, level of commitment and hard work as evidenced in their contributions at work and in their communities. People from the USA have difficulty grasping the concept of a life where one does not pay rent or a mortgage or a car payment or for health care or school. Members of this delegation from the USA continue to ask questions about shareholders; how much cars cost; where the stores are located; and, how much oppression people here are facing without any real understanding of the fundamental changes this government is attempting to establish and manifest.
In the Cuban medical schools they are taught both traditional and natural medicine. These doctors are known and trusted around the world because they have been taught to care about the patient and not view them as a client to be charged money for profit. Just recently seven American women doctors trained in Cuba returned to work with the medical brigade in Haiti. All of the training done in Cuba is framed within the commitment to serve communities in need. On the contrary, the people of the USA are programmed to think hate of medicine not for healing rather as a mechanism to maintain disease to keep a drug and surgical industry as a profitable way to make money.
On the farms in Cuba the land is given to those who apply and they are allowed to live on the land and work for 90 days before they make their commitment and a cooperative board accepts them as a member of the cooperative association. Women and all races in Cuba have access to these opportunities and many incentives are provided because developing a self-sustaining Cuba has been critical since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Once one is a member they contribute to both their own sustenance and receive the resources and benefits of their hard work. Women and all races are present at every level of labor and leadership.
Education, intellectual life, and culture is highly respected and valued in Cuba. They have established a teacher training program for artists in music, literature, theater, dance and painting, and sculpture. The students pay nothing for this specialized education but they must make a commitment to teach at the end of their training. There is no job insecurity in Cuba; the teachers of the arts will always have jobs! On the contrary, in the USA, the arts programs are always the first to be cut and many schools no longer have these programs for all the students nor are they offered on a daily basis. Which country is really a country of wealth?
Every place I have visited and talked with the people they express their commitment and passion for their culture and society. This is not my experience in the USA where the focus is rarely on producing art for the people. Producing art is for money and fame. Where ego is de-emphasized here; narcissism is encouraged in the West. Where good behavior is encouraged here, ugly and violent behavior is glorified in the USA. Where the women’s federations set up programs to counsel all family members in domestic crisis and teach them to live in ways that benefit the family; the USA model is to disconnect and provide a band-aid in the form of a shelter.
I am not telling you things are perfect here in Cuba. They are not. Most certainly, the effects of the embargo have been devastating. The effects of colonial racism and sexism have their own unique manifestations here as Cuban socialism attempts to rid itself of these internalized oppressions. However, the real Cuban people; not the ones who are sitting in Miami plotting the destruction of their own people out of their own greed and selfishness; the real Cuban people wear a moral vest and the examples they set for their children in the schools and hospitals and their daily life are visible to those of us to whom they open their doors.
Viva Cuban Women!
By June Terpstra, Ph.D.
NEIU Justice Studies
I met amazing and inspirational Cuban women during the March 2010 Research Program
organized by Marazul Charters with the US Women and Cuba Collaboration. The aim of the
program was to examine through a series of daily meetings over the course of 10 days the status
of gender and race equity in light of fifty years of the Cuban Revolution while supporting the
ending of the oppressive USA embargo against Cuba. Hence, our trip was structured in such a
manner that we could meet with women leaders from community levels to national levels be they
farmers, teachers, artists, cultural workers, trade unionists, students, politicians, administrators,
or doctors in their work environments.
On 1 January 1959 the Cuban Revolution, which included brigades of women, overthrew the US
backed dictator, Fulgencio Batista. At the time Cuba was an impoverished Third World US
colony where the majority were illiterate, unemployed or underemployed and living in dire
poverty, while a rich elite and their US cronies enjoyed the Mafia run brothels and casinos in
Havana. Over the past 50 years Cuba has been transformed into one of the most literate
countries in the world, where many of the most basic rights people in the USA cannot depend on
- such as free and accessible health care, care of the elderly, education for all - have been made a
reality despite the cruelties and hardships of economic sanctions. One of the rarely told stories in
the USA are of the invincible women involved in the Cuban revolution such as Celia Sanchez
and Vilma Espin, who are role models for many Cuban women today.
A primary emphasis of the revolution has been free education for all Cubans. Thus, the well
educated and articulate Cuban women, whether farmer, trade unionist, teacher, student or artist
with whom the delegation met, conveyed the importance of revolutionary socialist principles in
every session. They articulated their belief that a country consistently under attack by the USA
should be more concerned with production rather than consumerism. They emphasized the
importance of establishing an anti-imperialist model for the world. They demonstrated in their
professional work how mass political participation at all levels is more important than
individualism. They modeled unity as women united with the men as necessary for the goals of
social justice as described in their Constitution.
“…aware that all the regimes based on the exploitation of man by man cause the humiliation
of the exploited and the degradation of the human nature of the exploiters; that only under
socialism and communism, when man has been freed from all forms of exploitation-slavery,
servitude and capitalism-can full dignity of the human being be attained…”
It was our translator and guide, Tatiana, who modeled Cuban revolutionary praxis (theory
transformed into action) as manifested in her daily life with the delegation. A hard working, well
educated, dedicated anti-imperialist woman, Tatiana patiently educated the delegation members
from the imperialist USA about all aspects of history, politics and culture in Cuban life. She was
with us from early morning till late evenings with a two hour commute back to her home and family after intense meetings where she translated, coordinated, and graciously facilitated all
aspects of the delegation’s journey through Cuba.
The revolution’s solidarity ethic started at home for Tatiana whose mother taught in the literacy
campaigns after the revolution. She explained how in the first constitution racism was officially
combated and discrimination made illegal. Tatiana described the accomplishments of universal
opportunities for education at all levels and socialized medicine. She detailed how illiteracy was
eliminated with the participation of 100,000 young people in the National Literacy Campaigns
and that free education extends all the way to post graduate studies with a university system that
is currently extending to all of the country’s 169 municipalities.
Tatiana described how despite the crushing economic crisis caused by the US/UN blockade,
which prevents food, medicine, books and information from getting in or out of Cuba and despite
appalling shortages of fuel, spare parts, paper and most other commodities, not one hospital,
school or library in Cuba has been closed down, and no doctors, teachers or library workers have
lost their jobs.
The women of Cuba and their families have suffered through blockades, embargoes and direct
terrorist attacks, experiencing chronic “September 11” type traumas and their after-effects in
addition to the cruelties of the embargo. The Cuban women, such as Tatiana, are not narcissistic
“Sex in the City” capitalist women living off the backs of the global poor; paying $400.00 for
shoes and obsessing about the husband who does not take them out for dinner. These are brave,
selfless women who bring vision and creativity to their communities while living with US
imposed scarcity daily, working long hours, contributing to their culture, and raising their
Tatiana, as one of the most well-read women I have met in a long time, modeled the Cuban
“The revolution does not tell you to believe - the revolution tells you to read".
A small island of spirited people, descended from African slaves, Spaniards and Indigenous natives has managed to hold out and develop a socialist society with an anti-Imperialist orientation under the very noses of the mightiest empire in known history, a scant ninety miles from its borders. This small island nation has held out against punishing sanctions, invasion and sabotage on the part of the mighty power's hirelings. Its now-elderly recognized leader has survived numerous CIA sponsored assassination attempts. Its people proudly and defiantly tell the Superpower to go peddle its merchandise and its inhuman system elsewhere. The island is festooned with statues, murals, memorials and other testaments to its resilient ability to maintain a dignified, compassionate society in spite of the constant assault intended to get it to buckle down to its knees and give in to its historical tormentors.
That island nation is Cuba. It would do all people good to recognize the laudable features of the Cuban revolution, to support its achievements and to try to emulate and institute political action and social initiatives in their own nations and societies which approximate those of the spirited Cubano people.
The Cuban revolutionaries were motivated by deep and intense motives of patriotic nationalism, involving a caring for the welfare and prospects of their people. Unlike phony "nationalists" such as the Irish gentry who were reputedly "proud that they had a people to sell" and unlike ersatz reactionaries who pretended to love their countries only so that they could lord it over their subjects, those who took to the hills to wage armed struggle with Fidel Castro in the 1950s were eager to achieve a genuine liberation of their people, of the suffering impoverished popular masses.
The Fidelistas explicitly were fighting against oppression, to stop oppressors and their system of exploitation along with the conditions of poverty, illiteracy, gangsterist landowning slavery and exploitation and to abolish the aristocratic overlordship which had blighted the country for centuries. They chose the only viable road to achieve their objective, that of armed struggle based on, and on behalf of, the popular and poorer classes, and resolutely stuck to their course until achieving military and political victory. They showed what a determined few could accomplish once they ignited the spark and initiated the process of attaining true liberation.
The guerrillas refused to listen to the blandishments of the compromisers, the pacifists and the "reformers", those who counseled "participation in the political process" and those who espoused making a deal with the devil which they clearly recognized and sought to eliminate. Unlike such as the Communist Party of Cuba of that period, they never approached the dictator Batista to make a deal or to enter his puppet government. A compromise which would have liquidated them as a revolutionary entity was impermissible and unthinkable. Unlike so many others such as the PLO, IRA and ANC, they stuck with the task at hand, made all the necessary sacrifices and achieved their goal.
The revolutionaries recognized that the revolution meant taking measures on behalf of the welfare of the people after the seizure of power and have striven mightily to do this in the decades since. They got rid of the exploiters, the foreign corporations and the American-based gangster Mob elements which were running Cuba and did everything to educate, feed, house and clothe the people, something unprecedented in Cuban history. They achieved monumental feats in terms of the health and well-being of the people, a fact which even the hostile Imperialist media have been forced to repeatedly acknowledge.
Finally, the Cubans have resisted Imperialism for decades as virtually all other governments and almost all organized political movements have succumbed and surrendered. They have helped other peoples and their struggles, being among the very few to disinterestedly back and support Black and Arab strugglers when few if any others were inclined to do so.
No matter what the future brings to Cuba and the rest of us, what the Cuban revolution has done will live forever in the annals of the genuine struggle for liberation, which is and will be ongoing. Those of us who are committed to a revolution to get rid of oppressors and their oppressions will always carry a debt of gratitude to the sterling example they have provided. The million or so gusano traitors to their homeland scheming and plotting with their Norte-Americano sponsors as they cower in their lairs in Florida and Washington D.C., will never succeed in defeating the Cuban people who have stuck by their guns and defended themselves with dignity. The Cuban people are an inspirational beacon of hope as to what possibilities exist for the rest of the people of the world, provided they do the right thing and are not dissuaded from seeing their fight through to the finish.
Feel free to download and use images.