Health Care

Alberto Gutiérrez writes: "I wonder if Linda Nyquist read my comments months ago about health services in Cuba. Is she aware for instance of the situation inside the wards at Calixto García Hospital , in Havana? There is an overwhelming difference between that hospital and Cira García and other clinics catering to foreigners. Is that what she considers extending health benefits to a majority of the Cuban population? In 1991 AMAC (the short-lived environmental association I founded with other exiles) denounced the radioactive leakage from Camagüey Oncological Hospital that affected pedestrians outside the building, and the dumping of assorted residues from the Military Hospital in Mariano,west of Havana, into the Quibú River. Does Linda Nyquist know that before 1959 dengue was under control in Cuba? Data E.R.Squibb and Sons Overseas Division provided in the fifties support my words . Since then, how many times has dengue affected the Cuban population? Or does she know at least how many pints of blood were "donated" by many Cubans just before facing the execution wall decades ago? At the same time transfusions of blood were denied to other opponents of Castro in hospitals across Cuba. Last Friday Alina Fernández Revuelta, Castro's daughter,was talking about her previous experiences while helping a sick friend in a Cuban hospital. Among a few unpleasant memories, she described the time when she left a ward with her hands soiled by urine and blood because there was no water to wash up. You may say it is impossible, and I will reply no, it is not. Once I sent a lady to take a look inside the Hermanos Almejeiras Hospital and she found piles of garbage accumulated in the basement of that revolutionary showcase.

There is an abysmal discrepancy between the data available to Ms Nyquist and the facts I have. How many times in the last decades Cuban medical "surplus" were delivered abroad as propaganda from Castro to assorted disasters ? What were the consequences for the overtaxed Cuban people in the meantime? Just two weeks ago I sent some money and a package with vitamins to a man in Camagüey suffering from cancer,who has very little to eat. He also needs a pain killer I was not able to get. Just yesterday I sent a nebulizer and four packages of albuterol, ipratropium ,pulmicort and budesonide to somebody south of Havana hoping to relief the respiratory problems around his neighborhood, mainly asthma. These and many other similar efforts are sponsored by a small political organization with limited resources. I am one of its members, and in control of the medicaments other exiles, even a few doctors donate to us to ease at least a little the misery in Cuba. Other local organizations and people do better than us. We had a few setbacks: When Castro ordered the repressive wave last March, some of the packages of medicine we sent to different places in Cuba were confiscated.Then recently a man in Baracoa died of cancer before he received another package sent as a token of solidarity . On the other hand I am very happy because finally an army recruit is well after taking 6 pills of Prazyquantel I sent him.That medicament for large intestinal worms is very expensive and hard to find, and evidently Castro does not provide it to his soldiers. But now the recruit wants to leave Cuba. I hope he will not become part of the statistics. According to the US Coast Guard two out of three Cubans perish at sea in their escape attempts from "paradise"

My lines may sound self-flattering , but they are necessary to clarify a few of the reasons why I reject any effort to remind me about the good health services the Castro tyranny allegedly provides to the Cuban people. First I have my own experiences to demonstrate another view. Second, I remember the good and the bad sides of the health services in Cuba before 1959. I suggest Linda Nyquist read "Socialized medicine in Cuba", two articles by Dr Miguel Farías available in NewsMax. Or many other articles published by Virgilio Beato, Alfredo Melgar and other Cuban doctors.

Long ago I learned that in Mexico only those with adequate resources could get the best care available. In Cuba it is the same for the ruling elite and for foreigners who pay in hard currency. While I do not consider Mexicans and the rest of Latin Americans " my brothers" , I feel sorry for the injustice and disparities among them".

Linda Nyquist replies: "Mr. Gutierrez has chosen to really personalize my comments. I am not the only one, and certainly not unique among those who have lived in Latin America, who believes that health care might be more universal in Cuba than in many other Latin American countries. I do not disbelieve the facts that Mr. Gutierrez presents. My position is that I have seen the very same thing - only worse - in other parts of Latin America. I would like to add a comment about the use of pain medication, particularly in Mexico, whose health care system I know the best. Narcotic pain control, which we deem essential for cancer patients, post-surgical patients, end-of-life patients (i.e., hospice), is almost non-existent in Mexico. Surgical patients are routinely given analgesics for the control of pain, which work minimally at best, and, for the most part are not sold in the First World because of the blood disorders they cause (i.e., aplastic anemia). An example of this is dipryone. I have seen suffering beyond one's imagination in terms of pain. This is an odd fact, considering the widespread availability of street narcotics. One must also remember the inability of the Castro government to obtain many medications due to the blockade.

Mr. Gutierrez and I are NEVER going to agree on this situation. It is important, however, to clarify my political position. Frankly, I don't care if Attila the Hun is running these countries; all I want is social justice, which includes access to SOME medical care. It may not be the Mayo Clinic, but at least there is some care available. I wish Mr. Gutierrez well personally. I am certain that his intentions are well-meaning. So are mine".

Tim Bown says: "There is not and never has been a "blockade" of Cuba. There has been a unilateral US-only economic embargo. So Castro, or Cuba, whichever you prefer, has always been able to obtain any and all the medicines it wants or needs simply by purchasing them from any country other than the US. Canada, Switzerland, Japan, France, Mexico, Germany, the UK, The Netherlands jump to mind as available suppliers who have very developed pharmaceutical industries that produce virtually everything ours does and would be more than happy to sell Cuba what it needs or wants. And even in those extremely, and I do mean extremely, rare instances when Cuba needs a medicine that can only be obtained in a timely fashion from the US, it is and always has been able to buy them here under export license. I know. I used to sign export license for US manufactured medicines going to Cuba.

Mr. Gutierrez is correct about the absence of medicines in Cuba, except for the privileged few. But that scarcity is the result of a deliberate decision by the Cuban government. Cuban has more than enough hard currency income to buy any and all the imported medicines its people need. But instead, Castro has made a conscious choice to spend this money on arms, subversive efforts abroad in places like Africa, Venezuela and Chile, and on its political control system - the secret police and its one political party instead of on medicines for people need. While it can be argued that all Cubans, except of course for the privileges upper 10%, equally share whatever health care there is, to my knowledge there is no other country other than Castro's Cuba that has knowingly and deliberately chosen to reduce the well-being of its people in order to free up the money needed to pursue its leader's revolutionary dreams both at home and abroad".

RH. I suspect that the Venezuela of Hugo Chavez may be doing just that.

Alberto Gutierrez says: "Despite what Linda Nyquist may think, I also support social justice. But for her information and those who think like her, long before Castro health care in Cuba was better than in many Latin American countries. Besides the FREE public hospitals, FREE casas de socorro ( emergency centers) and FREE maternity hospitals, there were FREE dispensaries for respiratory diseases and FREE dispensaries for children. Not the Mayo Clinic she mentioned, but places where even the poorest Cuban received some FREE medical attention. For comparisons I suggest Norton Ginsburg's Atlas of Economic Development (1961). Moreover, mutualist societies in Cuba provided medical services for a very modest sum, and were popular among the middle class and even some poor people ( the average monthly fee was $ 2) The main disparity of health care in Cuba was always in the countryside. Often the peasantry was abused in every way, and a flagrant criminal negligence was the lack of medical attention in remote places.

Under heavy doses of repression even the best free health care is not social justice . Since Ms Nyquist doesn't care if Attila is the ruler, because all she wants is social justice, I wonder what she thinks about Stalin. After all under his iron grip apparently millions of human beings had access to SOME medical care".

Linda Nyquist says: "How dare Mr. Gutierrez suggest that I support Stalin? I have worked tirelessly all of my life, and donated a substantial portion of my personal finances, to help the poor. To suggest that I support Stalin is repugnant and offensive. My position is and has been clear. I want social justice. Food, health care, and housing for all human beings. Period. Cubans did not have this and Mr. Gutierrez knows this. Castro never could have got into power if they did. Cuba was a mess. Perhaps it still is. That is a good question. But attacking me personally for wanting good things for the disenfranchised and detracting from the humanitarian work that I try to do hardly solves the problem". RH: We all esteem Linda's generosity, but Alberto Gutierrez was simply calling her attention to certain facts about Cuba before Castro. Castro did not come to power because of the plight of the people but because of the corruption of the Batista regime and the suppression of democracy. Linda is most familiar with Mexico, where social injustice is blatant. The revolution actually made things worse. Mexicans should be deeply grateful for Linda`s work, and I am sure they are. I agree completely with Linda that we must develop a just society.

Tim Brown says: "Let me come to the defense of both Ms. Nyquist and Mr. Gutierrez. On Ms. Nyquist, I hardly think she is a Stalinist. I have several Stalinist friends, and believe me, they are far, far to the left of her.
I also admire her concern with social justice and helping the poor. I simply disagree with the model she seems to want to follow in order to correct these injustices because it is a failed model that has not and will not work. It's pie-in-the-sky pretty. But whenever it has been applied to the real world, the poor have remained poor, injustice has continued, and the only fundamental change has been for the worse as far as the masses are concerned

But Mr. Gutierrez is also correct. The Cuban revolution took place in a country that was not ripe for Marxism because within Latin American it was head an shoulders above any other country in the region north of Argentina in economic, health, educational and governmental services terms. It had many social, health and economic problems, but none on the level or scale of Mexico up to very recent times. That is precisely why Castro went to extreme lengths to hide his core Marxism until he had consolidated power and then used massive coercion to impose a program the people had not agreed to. Had he told the truth about his intentions and how he intended to impose his social model, as bad as Batista, was I suspect most Cubans would rather have kept him than accept Castro. So first he lied and then he used force. Not my kind of guy.

The core issue for me is, what happened then? As Mexican political cartoonist Ruiz, once rabidly pro-Castro, has put it, Lastima, la de Cuba, what a shame what happened to Cuba. Since 1959 relatively Cuba has fallen further and further behind, while most non-Marxist Latin American countries have improved dramatically. I cite Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, even Venezuela for all its problems today, and Mexico and El Salvador not to mention most of the Caribbean, as cases in point. The worst failure is, of course, Haiti. But it wasn't prosperous to begin with, whereas Cuba was. In 1959 Cuba was economically, educationally and in many other ways among the top four. Today it is among the bottom four. While many persons, especially Liberals, refuse to accept this, even Castro admits it's true. Why else would he constantly insist that after 44 years of his version of Marxism, Cuba is poor because of the embargo, if Cuba in fact isn't poor?

RH: My belief is that, if each of us would spread a little kindness and light around us, the world would be a better, brighter place. Thus, while we may not agree with Linda Nyquist's ideology or assessment of pre-Castro Cuba, we cannot but admire the kindness and light she is spreading in Mexico. The problem is that, on US or Mexican TV, I have never seen Linda. What I have seen on both are mobs of American "students" on spring break behaving like animals in Cancun. The people of Cancun are divided. On the one hand, they are relieved that the mayhem was not quite as bad as last year, on the other they appreciate the money these "students" bring. Who is to blame? Is it that student mobs, like all mobs, make good TV material, whereas the quiet work of Linda does not? It it the failure of our universities, which have failed to instill values into the students? Is it the fault of the parents, who have failed in that regard, and also have provided the money to make these Cancun jaunts possible? Clearly these are not poor families, but those who should be setting standards. Or is it the fault of our society, whose highest ideal seems to be having fun? Rather than cursing the dark, let us praise those who, like Linda, bring a little light and cheer to the world.


Historian Christian Leitz asks: "Could Alberto Gutierrez please explain when Cubans ever enjoyed the "freedom and democracy" he wants to see return? My knowledge of Cuban history is admittedly rather limited. but I can't recall the country ever having been truly democratic. Pre-Batista?"

Christian Leitz asked Alberto Gutiérrez if Cuba had ever been a democracy. Here is Alberto's reply:
1) Cuba became a republic on May 20,1902, after Cubans accepted the Platt Amendment (which gave the US the right to intervene in Cuban affairs), with no other choice but a war against the US. Tomás Estrada Palma became the first president, after a dubious election, with US support. Freedom was limited by the Platt amendment. Estrada Palma, honest and thrifty, was reelected against a noticeable opposition.The assassination of an opponent of Estrada Palma led to a revolt . Estrada Palma, unable to control the unrest, requested US intervention and resigned.
2) Second US intervention.Charles Magoon, the US envoy who ruled Cuba until 1908 kept everybody happy with sinecures. It was the institutionalization of the official corruption in the Cuban republic.
3) José Miguel Gómez elected president in 1908 was simpatico and corrupt .He suppressed a Black revolt with no qualms.
4) Mario García Menocal elected president in 1912. A US favorite, rather aristocratic and corrupt. His controversial reelection led to a brief revolt.
5)Alfredo Zayas, elected president in 1920. Very democratic and corrupt at the same time.
6)Gerardo Machado elected president in 1924. At first very good and popular in the US .He built the National Capitol, the Central Highway, etc.Other domestic programs were praiseworthy. He was re-elected and lenghtened illegally his term to six years .Opposition to this measure and the declining price of sugar led to a crisis. For the first time, Cuba suffered under a power-hungry dictator.The communists tried to take advantage of the turmoil. US mediation led to Machado's abrupt departure in August, 1933.
7) The provisional president Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, the son of the elder Céspedes who began the war against Spain in 1868, was accused of being a tool of the US interests and too soft on Machado's policies. On September 4, 1933, he was deposed. Prominent civilians and university students supported the coup, but the participation of soldiers unhappy with the army officer corps was decisive. Fulgencio Batista, a sergeant stenographer, emerged as the leading figure of the military faction.
8) A revolutionary junta elected president Ramón Grau San Martín. He rejected the Platt Amendment and took a number of nationalistic measures for the popular benefit. Washington didn't like what was going on and began to deal with Batista,already a self-appointed colonel in charge of the army.
9)Batista forced Grau to resign in January of 1934. Finally that year the US repealed the Platt Amendment and technically Cuba was at last entirely free. However, the US interests were not ready to write off their influence.There were two provisional presidents until 1936, but Batista remained the power behind the throne with US support.
10 Miguel Mariano Gómez was elected president but disagreed with Batista about some military issues.The Senate, pressured by Batista, deposed Gómez . Vicepresident Federico Laredo Brú became president by default .
11)A remarkable Cuban constitution was promulgated in 1940. I, along with many others, now exiles like me,, energetically supported that constitution. Batista was elected president that year.
12) In 1944 Grau was elected president .Curiously Batista supported the results against his own candidate. In 1948 Carlos Prío Socarrás, Grau's political heir, became president. From October 10,1944, to March 10,1952, Cuba enjoyed an unprecedented atmosphere of freedom and democracy. We didn't appreciate it. There were also a few political gangs ,scandals and lots of corruption.
13) Three months before the next presidential election Batista, unable to gather the votes to become president again, led a military coup and deposed Prío. After that sometimes Batista carried out a democratic charade. I suppose the rest of our history is better known.

RH. The Batista dictatorship ended with the Castro revolution. During the Batista dictatorship, I was once on the same platform as future Vice President Hubert Humphrey, The US policy was to undermine French control of North Africa, and Humphrey made an impassioned plea to bring democracy to North Africa. I asked him, since hw was so keen on democracy, what he thought about Batista's Cuba. He looked flustered and said he knew nothing about Cuba. I asked him how he could be so well informed about far away North Africa but knew nothing about nearby Cuba. It was not Hubert's happiest day. Nor Cuba's.

Linda Nyquist wrote: "“Frankly, I don't care if Attila the Hun is running these countries; all I want is social justice, which includes access to SOME medical care. It may not be the Mayo Clinic, but at least there is some care available.”
From Moscow, Cameron Sawyer writes: "“Social justice” is a meaningless concept without two things: (a) freedom; and (b) general prosperity. It is exactly the philosophical mistake of letting some end justify the means – let the people at least have health care and education; so what if a few freedoms are curtailed, a few rich people are murdered; some property confiscated – which produces oppression, poverty, and an overall reduction of social justice.

In the Soviet Union, health care was one of the few sectors which were favored by central planners. The idea being, just like Linda reasons, let’s build hospitals, by God, apartments for everyone, and consumer goods can wait. The result, famously, was neither decent health care nor decent housing nor much less any reasonable standard of living for anyone. The people were deprived of their freedom, of their right to earn a decent living, and never even got what they were promised in return. The Soviet Union led the world in hospital beds per capita, but you should see those hospital beds. Health care was theoretically universal, and “socially just”, but health care needs more than just a certain number of doctors per capita, or hospital beds per capita – it requires medicine, and equipment, and doctors with training, to have value.

Likewise with Cubans under Castro, but even more so. There is no medicine because the country is so impoverished from Communism that it cannot afford to buy basic medicines. The idea that the U.S. embargo has anything to do with it is patently absurd; that is just Castro’s all-purpose excuse for his country’s poverty. U.S. medicines are the most expensive in the world, and the Cubans would never buy them in any case, nor medicines from the Netherlands, on any large scale. India (together with a few other countries like Brazil) produces most of the medicines used in poor countries, and by ignoring patent rights (in some cases, particularly with regards to AIDS drugs, this is actually permitted by treaty), produces some version of almost every medicine made at a fraction of the cost from developed countries. But Cuba is so incredibly poor that it does not even provide its mythical health care system with the medicines which even Africans can buy from India.

That is the so-called “social justice” which Cubans got in exchange for their freedom. It is a bad deal. Real social justice requires basic freedoms, and general prosperity which allows for decent health care, decent housing, and all of the other social goods required for dignified human life".


Tim Brown objected to talk of a US blockade of Cuba. David Westbrook comments: "Didn't the Cuban missile crisis involve what must in fairness be called a blockade, if perhaps selective?" RH: That was indeed a blockade, but the question is the use of the word "blockade" to describe current US policy toward Cuba. There is a thing called a pacific blockade, like the one in 1902 when Germany, Italy and Britain instituted a pacific blockade to force Venezuela to pay its debts, but I do not think the present US policy toward Cuba could be described as a pacific blockade.

Gabriela Garcia Marquez

In order to clarify the relationship between Gabriel García Márquez and Fidel Castro, I consulted the Colombian community at Stanford. Countries are usually proud of their Nobel laureates, and Colombia is no exception. García Márquez is a national icon, and it is almost sacrilegious to criticize him. No one wanted to tackle his relations with Castro. Cuban exile Alberto Gutiérrez has no such constraints: "Since I never read a book of García Márquez, I am not in a position to challenge those who claim he is the best writer in Spanish of all times. As for his suppor of Pastrana's presidential campaign, perhaps the degree of that disservice to Colombia should be judged by his own admirers.

The García Márquez I remember is not an icon, but a regular writer who like others followed the mirage that reflected the Castro revolution at first. Eventually many were disenchanted with the oppression and misery in Cuba. One of the turning points was the notorious Padilla affair in 1971. The poet Heberto Padilla, who until then considered Castro his friend, fell in disgrace after the publication of his critical books of poems Fuera de Juego. He was accused of divisionism and counterrevolution, and became the target of a judiciary process similar to the Moscow Trials of 1936-1938. Many foreign intellectuals rallied to his support , but García Márquez was among a handful who deserted that effort. He refused to sign a letter asking for the liberation of Padilla, and he disapproved of the condemnation of the farcical trial. Castro replied with a diatribe to the intellectuals skillfully using the name of García Márquez. See "García Márquez en tiempos de cólera" by Belkis Cuza Male, ex-wife of the late Padilla, published by The Miami Herald (5/2//03).

I also remember that García Márquez, according to his own words, saw in Cuba an advanced health service. Yet, when the time came, he set aside all the propaganda of behalf of the Castro tyranny, and decided that Mexico was safer to take care of his cancer. Previously, while he often enjoyed the company of his friend Castro, he claimed there were no individual privileges in Cuba, no repression and no discrimination. He described the CDRs , the nationwide net of spies euphemistically called Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, as " a system of collective vigilance to know the individuals who live in every block and their activities", using Castro's own definition.

"By 1980 Cuba will be the first developed country of Latin America " once said García Márquez . And he counted all the virtues of his friend Castro, who he insisted "has achieved the elusive dream of many rulers: the love of the masses" . There was no mention of a single execution, the unjust confiscations, the censorship, the massive incarcerations, etc. not even the harvest of death for the adventures of Castro in Africa were obstacles to his views. I also recommend three extracts from an article he wrote giving an account of the war in Angola and published by The Washington Post on January 10,11 and 12/1977. The newspaper didn't hesitate to call García Márquez a prominent Communist (but of course that was long before the Nobel prize).

For somebody allegedly interested only in literature, García Márquez showed in that article a political vein and some untruths. For instance:"The Portuguese colonialists built beautiful,modern cities for whites, like those the gringos built around Old Havana" What are the cities the gringos built around Old Havana? . And " His personal ties (Che Guevara's) with Fidel Castro, about which there has been so much speculation, did not deteriorate at any time" Did García Márquez support Castro in Angola because he sincerely thought Castro could do some good? Curiously, he forgot to mention who was protecting the US oil wells in that country.

Last year again Castro sent a whole bunch of Cubans to prison, reminding those with bad memory who he is. He executed three blacks who wanted to escape from "paradise" aboard the ferryboat to Regla. Two other hapless human beings "killed themselves" for the same reason aboard another boat in the fishing port of La Coloma. Finally even the Portuguese José Saramago cut his links with Castro. Susan Sontag confronted García Márquez at the Book Fair of Bogotá to no avail."Sectors of the media-CNN among them- are tergiversating my answer to Susan Sontag" he said later, "to present a view contrary to the Cuban revolution"

PS.- I include "gringo" in my commentary only to reproduce with accuracy the lines of García Márquez. Since I am not overwhelmed by an inferiority complex on account of the US proximity to Cuba, I have no use for that term".

RH: None of this appeared in the messages I received from Colombians at Stanford. Had I brought this up, I would have received some angry letters.

Alberto Gutierrez said: "García Márquez, according to his own words, saw in Cuba an advanced health service. Yet, when the time came, he set aside all the propaganda of behalf of the Castro tyranny, and decided that Mexico was safer to take care of his cancer." Linda Nyquist replies: "It is not unreasonable that Garcia Marquez would choose his country of residence for treatment of his cancer; furthermore, he has adequate resources to purchase the very best care available in Mexico, which can be quite good. Mr. Gutierrez does not mention that in Cuba, according to the available data, almost everyone would have treatment for cancer available. In Mexico, at least 50% of the population would have access to no care whatsoever (and my personal guess would put that number even higher).
Nobody likes repression on the part of any government, including me. But I believe that we should give some credit to Cuba for extending health and education benefits to a majority of the population".

Christopher Jones says: "I have read some of Gabriel García Marquez's works and I can confirm that he is a magnificent writer. He cultivates an almost journalistic style, with short phrases and painting the scene with great skill. I like his style much more than the labored almost snobbish stuff produced by Mario Vargas Llosa. Another super Castro lover was Alejo Carpentier who was also quite talented. This does not change the fact that I find Carpentier and García Marquez's politics atrocious and the statements Alberto Gutiérrez has posted prove that he is either insane or a terrible liar. But Colombians should realize that he is not the greatest writer in the Spanish language -- far from it". RH: Every country has a writer who is singled out,e.g. José Martí (Cuba), Rubén Darío (Nicaragua). It is like wanting to have an internationally recognized soccer team.

Juan-Mauricio Florez wrote:that Gabriel García Marquez attributed more value to friendship than to politics. He supported Pastrana's campaign because Pastrana's vicepresident was a very good friend of his". Juan Reyes explains: "·His name is Gustavo Bell, a native of Barranquilla, and ex- governor of Atlantico. Regardless of politics and viewoints`, Garcia Marquez latest book, Vivir para Contarla, is a wonderful narrative about 20th century life on the Caribbean coast of Colombia and how a "Costeño"(coastal resident) goes to "Cachacolandia"(the capital, Bogota)..

A few years ago (as I can testify), being a costeño in Bogota was very hard, perhaps because all the blood had the intrinsic characteristic of being blue. Garcia Marquez portraits this beautifully in his last book. As he says, in those days politicians in Bogotá were highly literate people, and they used to hang around with painters, musicians and writers. As such the word of a writer was carried out by politicians and writers produced political thoughts. The point, as naive as it might seem, was that in in those days nobody stepped on other people's toes, and these relationships were sincere. In today's politics, a friendship of this kind exists, but with a serious caveat, that they involve interests and everything but the enjoyment of the intellect or the arts.

In Colombia Garcia Marquez is an icon. In Barranquilla, he is viewed as a good friend because he tells the "real" stories of people surrounding him in his youth. In the rest of the world,he is considered an illusionist, a master of fiction; anything he says might be true or false. Therefore his words or standpoints are those of an artist, and as such
they are left as the reader's imagination. You might believe he is telling the truth, or you might leave your ideas free to believe or not that there is something true about Garcia Marquez's words. Being rational about Garcia Marquez is like believing that Mickey Mouse is human".

RH: This is very interesting. The reference to blue blood means that there was something aristocratic about Bogotá, known as th Athens of the Americas. The politicians and journalists were intellectuals and spoke beautiful Spanish, whereas the coastal people spoke slovenly Spanish and were not very intellectual. They must have felt like country hicks in Bogotá and were viewed as such. All that has changed. Bogotá is no longer the Athens o th Americas.


Randy Black says: "Cuba earns a huge part of its hard currency needs from the dozens of five star resorts that entertain Canadians, Europeans, and others, including Americans who go there via Jamaica and Mexico with impunity. The luxury resort industry really got its start in the late 80s, so its not a new thing". RH: Why do Americans defy the law by going to Cuba, rather than to nearby islands such as Jamaica and the Bahamas? In Communist Europe, the favored status of tourists was a source of resentment. Presumably that is true in Cuba also.


Adriana Pena comments on Siegfried Ramler's report of the Cuban campaign to stamp out illiteracy: "The double edge of education mixed with indoctrination had a ironic twist in Russia. The communists stamped out illiteracy, and then persecuted those who read the Bible, which, if they had not been educated in the first place, they would have been unable to do. So, while on the one hand they tried to stamp out Bible reading, in the other hand, they made it possible. If you cannot appreciate irony, you should not study history...". RH: Likewise, the literacy of the Cuban people may have consequences which Castro did not intend.

Discussions about Cuban progress in health services and education arouse so much partisan passion that fair-minded observers do not know whom to believe. I am therefore delighted to receive this report from Siegfried Ramler, an impartial specialist in international education: "With the intent of reporting on the present state of education in Cuba, as part of a series of essays on cutting edge issues in education in various parts of the world, I had hoped to travel to Cuba to obtain an objective impression through school visits and interviews. Since I don't speak Spanish, I would have had to depend on interpreters and on "official" contacts, making it difficult, if not impossible, to obtain the depth and veracity of information I would seek. In addition, I would have had to face the need to evade the ban on travel to Cuba, easy enough to accomplish but not an attractive option. So I abandoned the plan, but not my interest in learning more about the educational scene in Cuba.

An article which appeared in the spring 2004 issue of the Independent School journal by Deborah Klein, a teacher of English at St. Mary's Academy in Colorado, describes the Cuban Literacy Campaign of 1961 - La Campaña de la Alfabetizacion - a national movement that virtually erased illiteracy across the nation. While the curriculum used revolutionary propaganda as its base, it also brought the power of language to every corner of the island and expanded education into Cuba's rural and uneducated communities. From a rate of 24% - almost a million Cubans - illiteracy dropped to a mere 4%. Of course, the achievement of literacy was not the only goal of the campaign. With it came indoctrination, with literacy as a vehicle to build a revolutionary society.

Today 100% of Cuban students complete at least the equivalent of the 9th grade, and Cuban universities graduate more students every year. Cuba hosts pedagogical conferences attracting attendance from all over Latin America and invests in an educational television channel, both for university level programs, as well as for remedial offerings.

However, there are limited opportunities to use the education received. Deborah Klein says that "the government that freed you with knowledge is the same one that keeps you at a monthly salary of $20." While the system provides the Cuban student with some knowledge of the world, with severely restricted travel opportunities only few are allowed or can afford to experience it.

There are parallels with other nations where desirable means serve the purposes of a dictatorial regime. The Mao revolution in China also sharply reduced illiteracy and the tyrannical Hitler regime reduced unemployment and gave the Autobahn to Germany.

Eventually education, with literacy as an essential tool, is a means of liberation. It gives the power to recognize what can be achieved and in that sense it is a hopeful beacon for the future".

Response: Life in Cuba

James Tent writes: "It is possible that someday scholars will compare the society of current-day Cuba with that of East Germany, i.e. the German Democratic Republic (GDR) in the period just prior to its dissolution in 1989. The citizenry of the GDR had become a quasi-mass-consumer society by the late 1980s. Yet, they were frustrated that the level of their standard of living remained low compared to the West Europeans. That frustration led directly to the exodus of ordinary citizens over Hungarian and other borders in the summer 1989. It was an unplanned, completely spontaneous "revolution" by plumbers and hairdressers who went on holiday and never returned home. They went over the border into Austria and thence to the Federal Republic of Germany instead.

If any population in the world deserves to be frustrated by its current living standards, it is the Cuban people. I say this with apologies to the people of North Korea, who are so isolated that comparisons as brought forward by the mass media are simply not available to them. They simply starve and suffer in isolation".

John Heelan said:"Might I also suggest Cuba Diaries by Isadora Tattlin (2002). Cuban exile Alberto Gutiérrez protests: "I heard about the book by Ms Tattlin, but I never read it. I strongly disagree with the blurb. It is simplistic, if not unfair, to relate any clash with the revolution only to the lure of multinational consumerism, because the oppression in Cuba went in crescendo since the early days of 1959. For instance those executed hailing "Long live Christ the King!" were not motivated by rumors of a special sale in Haileah"!

John Heelan said:"Might I also suggest Cuba Diaries by Isadora Tattlin (2002). Cuban exile Alberto Gutiérrez protested: "I heard about the book by Ms Tattlin, but I never read it. I strongly disagree with the blurb". John r4plies: "Perhaps Alberto should read the book before commenting? It would be instructive for him to see what Tattlin says about daily life in Cuba between 1992-1996 (albeit through an American expatriate's eyes) and then give us his opinion of daily life in Cuba of that period through a Cuban expatriate's eyes, so that we can judge any discrepancy for ourselves. [By the way, the book blurb did *not* indicate that the lure of multinational consumerism was the *only* clash with the revolution.]"

John Heelan adds this note to Bill Ratliff's piece about race in Cuba:"Might I also suggest Cuba Diaries by Isadora Tattlin (2002) ISBN 0-553-81532-6? Well worth reading! (In the UK it is published by Bantam paperbacks).
Californian Tattlin is married to an executive of a European energy company and lives, with their two children, wherever the international jobs take them. This book describes life in Cuba in quasi-diary form. Despite seeing daily life from a privileged foreigner's perspective, she accurately describes Cuba of today- including Castro and those surrounding him. The blurb states that the book is "a remarkable testimony to a unique period in Cuba's history when el triunfo de la revolución was beginning to clash with the powerful lure of multinational consumerism".

Human Rights

Alberto Gutiérrez sends me an English translation of a message from an inmate of State Security Prison, Pedernales, Holguin, Cuba. Here is an excerpt: "I am Juan Carlos Gonzalez Leiva, 39 years old, a blind Cuban lawyer, president of the Cuban Foundation of Human Rights, imprisoned since March 2, 2002, without a trial. i hereby expose to the world the physical and psychological tortures to which i have been subjected for months:

State Security maintains electrical connections with exposed wires without any protection. Last night I got tangled up in one from the light bulb which they hang very low in the bathroom. It was a miracle I wasn't killed. I was wet, getting dressed. The socket fell, the light bulb broke, and I had to pick up the pieces of glass. The noise was loud, but no one came to see what was happening. This is the second time I've run into these exposed, ungrounded cables that connect to the light. Three or four days ago they placed a light over my head that really heats up my cell a lot, and it makes the temperature of my cell vary to their desires: sometimes very hot and other times very cold.

The authorities throw a sort of powder on the floor of my cell and force me to clean it up with water, a procedure I repeat up to ten times a day to avoid any exposure to this substance. They also throw small stones on the floor of my cell. When these small stones come in contact with water, they make the floor as cold as ice, and the coldness fills my cell. They throw this powder on my face, on my bed clothes, and on the blades of the fan, filling my eyes, nose, and mouth with this powder every night.

They place something, a substance which is the most horrible of all the tortures, beside my bed. It affects the central nervous system, disrupting and disorienting thoughts that flow in my mind and cluttering my mind so that nothing makes sense, and I sink into a kind of lethargy, a feeling of abandonment, and finally a depressed state. It is as if a lion were giving you a strong blow to the head every time you tried to go to sleep. It's like something jumps inside of you. This period of torture lasts two to four hours. Today, when it ended, I didn't remember certain names of people and friends whom I know well and other basic things. In addition, it causes me fatigue, nausea, headaches, and a loss of coordination in my speech and walking, tremors, high blood pressure (up to 110 beats per minute) and fever.

They also throw trash and substances in my food which cause burning in my mouth and stomach. Yesterday, while I was eating, the guard, Irmais, passed by my side and threw a piece of nylon fishing line in my food. I have to cover my bowl while I'm chewing, with my ears tuned in to hear them approaching. I can't save any water or food because they (State Security guards) fill them with substances when I fall asleep.
NOTE: Juan Carlos Gonzales Leiva was violently arrested, wounded, and incarcerated on March 4, 2002, for carrying out a peaceful protest along with 9 human rights activists at the Antonio Luaces Iraola Hospital in Ciego de Avila, Cuba in defense of a beating carried out on the independent journalist, Jesús Alvarez Castillo, by Cuban authorities. Two activists are under house arrest while the others remain confined in different prisons without right to a trial or bail, accused of disorderly conduct and contempt of court, crimes which mean up to eight years in prison.
Testimony smuggled from prison. Given via telephone from Cuba by Maritza Calderin, wife of Juan Carlos Gonzalez Leiva. Recorded, transcribed and translated to English.
Address: Honorato del Castillo #154, entre Republica y Cuba, Ciego de Avila, Cuba. Tel: + 53 33 222235
Coalition of Cuban-American Women/ LAIDA CARRO/ TANYA WILDER/
Fax: 305-740-7323 Email addresses ( or (

Eradicating Poverty

Tim Brown says: A nit-pick with Cameron Sawyer. Saying "Cuba is impoverished" is correct, but that does not mean all "Cubans" are impoverished. Perhaps 90-95% of all Cubans are, but Cuba's ruling "revolutionary" elite is rich. I would estimate that the upper 5-10% of today's Cuban's have per capita incomes higher than those of the average American, Frenchman or German. In Havana they are the ones driving Mercedes, living in remodeled mansions the "revolution" confiscated from their original owners and dining in fine restaurants that charge more for meals than the better restaurants of Miami. Based on what actually happened in revolutionary Russia, China, Cuba and Nicaragua, the modern Marxist form of "social justice" results only in "social justice" for revolutionary elites, and the devil take the rest. It's not that the power elites in other countries are any less rapacious than self-proclaimed "revolutionary defenders of the masses," they are just less overwhelmingly self-righteous, self-laudatory and hypocritical and also more subject to external influences from others with who they share power.

Is there a "perfect" way to control this universal impulse of all power elites, regardless of ideology, towards self-enrichment? I doubt it. But there are ways to channel it towards the greater good. Modern Europe does this through social welfarism, dividing the economic pie through massive wealth transfers via its tax and social safety net systems. In the US we prefer to concentrate on growing the pie itself and let those who earn it spend it. Neither system is perfect but both are reasonably good because they abandon the pursuit of the unattainable "perfect" in favor of the attainable "good." Both systems are the product of revolutionary processes that reversed the direction power flowed by making it flow from the people up rather than from the elite down. I am a strong believer that revolutionary change is sometimes necessary. But I prefer as my models proven successes not proven failures. The most successful revolutions have been the American, French and British not Russian, Chinese or Cuban and have taken place in accord with the ideologies of Washington, Jefferson and Madison not Marx, Lenin and Engel. It's a process I call revolutionary capitalism"

RH: While there is poverty in the US and Europe, the real problems are Africa, Latin America and India. How to fight poverty there is a major source of disagreement..

Tim Brown said "Perhaps 90-95% of all Cubans are poor, but Cuba's ruling "revolutionary" elite is rich". Alberto Gutierrez comments: "Mr Brown is absolutely right. In Cuba there is a lot of social injustice. As for the rich "revolutionary elite" he mentions, a typical example is Ramiro Valdés, the Cuban Dzerzhinsky. Guillemo García, a peasant who helped Castro in the Sierra Maestra mountains since the very beginning, and eventually became "comandante revolucionario", is another among those conspicuously rich. In the Cuban "Animal Farm" those animals are not only more equal than others , but also exceedingly wealthy.

Randy Black denounces "the fallacy of the socialist concept. You simply cannot stamp out the spirit of a man that causes him to want "more" than his neighbor. You can try; you can succeed over the short run; but over the long haul, it just won't last. The Soviets tried to "equalize" everyone with their ill-fated Marxist-Leninist ideals, but there were always those at the top with better cars, better vacations, more chocolate, better food, more freedoms... and then there were the rest of the nation. It doesn't work in Cuba either". RH: The Soviets did not try to equalize everyone; there was a planned hierarchy. What Randy says is true, but it must not be used to justify greed. US capitalism is widely viewed with suspicion, since executive pay themselves bloated salaries, but do not hesitate to fire loyal workers. Hopefully that is changing.

Integrity of Press

Christopher Jones says: "The lack of objective, unbiased and objective reporting of the sad situation in Cuba is not unique. Alberto Gutierrez has my complete solidarity, but this lack of professionalism has now permeated virtually all sectors of the press. Reports have to be balanced in order to avoid accusations of slander. But more and more, one sided, sloppy reports written by mean egocentric salon communists are promoted by editors because the money for a more "educated" view is no longer there. I suppose that the proliferation of news through the internet is to blame, but instead of generat8ing more well researched, thoughtful features, newspapers in the Western world have specialized in a "peg" oriented journalism which relegates real investigation to the historical trash can. It is a sad state and it is not going to change for the better.

One of the worst examples in recent memory other than the constant glorification of communists like Daniel Cohn Bendit and real bolsheviks like Fidel Castro is in Britain and specifically in the once hallowed Sunday Times. I recently uncovered a report that glorified a family of Italian art counterfeiters named Albaretto. They are well know forgers and have been for years. Prior to publication, I warned the publishers about this unique family, but a motor running on arrogance and money drove them to publish the article. This is serious! When a newspaper openly misleads the public (and they were warned by yours truly that the German federal prosecutor was about to press charges for fraud) by presenting a false picture of a group of people who are faking art and charging thousands of dollars for a fake print, one can only wonder what good is, in the end, freedom of the press. like a few others specialized in art fraud I think that the Albarettos bought the article".

RH: Some newspapers earn a reputation for honest reporting. The role of media barons is not new, but they can be a threat to journalistic integrity. We must follow this subject.

Foreigners in National Politics

Alberto Gutierrez says: "Unfortunately the list of foreigners who have intervened in Cuban politics is very long: From Leonard Wood, the US military governor who imposed the Platt Amendment , to the very " wasteful" Charles Magoon. From especial envoy Benjamin Sumner Welles to Herbert Matthews ,the godfather of the revolution of 1959 according to Hugh Thomas, and Anastas Mikoyan, the Armenian middleman.

Why the role of Cuban inmigrants in US national politics is an acute issue? Curiously I don't remember the same "acuteness" linked to Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzesinski, Cyrus Eaton, Max Lerner, Hans Morgenthau, and many, many other foreigners, including Stokely Charmichael. So we are controversial because we love the return of freedom and democracy to Cuba ! How about that raising US concern oriented instead to the real enemies of this country?"

RH: As noted earlier, intervention comes in a great variety of forms, and we must distinguish among them. There is in the US a great suspicion of Kissinger, not for intervening in US politics but in Latin American politics! I do not know how actively he promoted Zionist policies, and it is not generally believed that Brzesinski is a kind of Polish agent.The present irony is that Carlos Noriega and Otto Reich are charged with intervening in Haitian politics. It is an awfully complex web.

Ronald Hilton -