Fidel and His Buddy Hugo, Exporting Revolution

The gains in health and education being the most notable achievements of the Cuban revolution, they are now exporting them to places like Venezuela, Nicaragua, and even as far off as Bolivia.

Fidel Castro is a hard core revolutionary, and what he said recently about the hanging of Saddam Hussein was pretty indicative of that. At eighty years old, gravely ill, and possibly on his death bed, Castro pledged that he wouldn’t go down the same way as Saddam. “That’s not the way to go,” he told his Venezuelan counterpart, Hugo Chávez, with whom he maintains a close friendship. “If the Yankees ever invade, don’t go hide in a hole like Saddam,” he warned him.  “If they ever invade Havana, I’ll be right on the front line waiting for them.”[1]

Just 90 miles off the coast of Florida, Castro has endured almost half a century of U.S. aggressions, assassination attempts, and destabilization efforts. The recent documentary film “638 Ways to Kill Castro” documents the hundreds of different attempts on Castro’s life; explosive-laden cigars, hidden snipers, poisoned milk-shakes, a remote airplane with a bomb, bazookas, and grenade attacks. They very nearly succeeded once with a gun hidden in a video camera at a press conference, but the cameraman lost his nerve. Another time they tried to give Castro a poisoned scuba-diving suit, but he preferred his old one and never used it.

In a region of the world that is dominated by Washington, and where unwanted leaders have always been eliminated by either U.S. invasions, coups, or covert wars, Castro is still standing. Even when much of the world was saying that he was nearly dead, two weeks ago he appeared on television visiting with Hugo Chávez. After several operations, it appeared that his health situation has improved as he looked healthier than a few months ago.
The CIA strategies and manipulations have not been able to do with Castro what they have with nearly every other revolutionary leader in Latin America over the last century; Allende in Chile, Arbenz in Guatemala, the Sandinistas in Nicaragua,
Aristide in Haiti, to name a few. In Cuba, Castro’s communist revolution continues to be the path, and although there has always been a lot of controversy surrounding it, I’m told the Revolution isn’t going anywhere.  Cuban friends tell me that Castro’s brother Raúl has taken over his position, and that most Cubans on the island still back the revolution.

But not only are Castro and the revolution still standing strong, now it appears that the Cuban Revolution is spreading to the rest of Latin America. If before the island was fairly isolated from the world, Cuba is now exporting something important: its revolution. As Latin America moves to the left, and leftist governments are coming to power, Fidel is now helping them build what it took decades for the Cuban Revolution to develop.

Exporting Revolution

In the poor community where I work, high in the Andes mountains of Mérida, Venezuela, there is a new resident. Mileidys, a Cuban doctor, just moved into the community. Like in thousands of communities across the country, the Chávez government has built a small clinic, where the Cuban doctor lives and gives basic health care to the community, completely free of charge.  During the day Mileidys sits in the clinic with the door open. Inside she has brand new equipment and an arsenal of basic medicines, all made in Cuba. I watch as people come and go; everyone from elderly couples to sick children filter in and out throughout the day. Most of these people have never had basic health care. Many suffer from basic ailments such as respiratory problems and parasites, due to their poor living conditions.

One of the most recognized accomplishments of the Cuban Revolution has been the construction of valuable social programs. Over the last half century, the Cuban Revolution has developed a health system that has been called “a model for the world” by the World Health Organization, and an education system that has given them some of the best statistics in Latin America. [2] The gains in health and education being the most notable achievements of the revolution, they are now exporting them to places like Venezuela, Nicaragua, and even as far off as Bolivia.

There are now 20,000 Cuban doctors throughout Venezuela, in nearly every corner of the country. This is the first phase of a whole new health system that the Venezuelan government is building called Barrio Adentro (inside the barrio). It is the Cuban health system, and the Cubans are helping build it. In addition to small clinics in every community, the government has built as the second phase of the system more than 200 of an eventual 600 diagnostic centers, and 11 of an eventual 35 high tech hospitals. [3] This is the same basic system developed under the Cuban Revolution, which has given them better health statistics than the United States. [4]  If all goes as planned, everything indicates that Venezuela should soon have one of the best health systems in the hemisphere.

 But the political opposition in Venezuela, along with the private media, have criticized this program claiming that the Cuban doctors are taking the jobs of Venezuelan doctors, and making Venezuela dependent on Cuba. As usual, they couldn’t be more wrong. One of the most interesting parts of this program is that the Cuban doctors, in addition to giving free health care, are also teachers. A few days a week, Mileidys teaches university-level courses on Integrated Medicine, the Cuban medical program. Venezuelan university students, mostly from the poor sectors, receive government scholarships to study in this new program, which aims to replace the Cuban doctors within a few years with newly-trained Venezuelan doctors. The Cubans are the teachers, and they teach the Venezuelans right in the newly-built hospitals and clinics.  Instead of taking away jobs, this program is creating jobs, while at the same time building a new health system that will serve all Venezuelans.

But world class health care isn’t the only thing being exported to Venezuela. Chávez has also implemented programs such as the Cuban literacy program “yo si puedo” (Yes I can!), which has taught hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans to read in the last few years. [5] The system was developed early on in the Cuban Revolution, when young Cubans were sent out all across the island to teach the rural poor to read and write. Since then, it has been refined into a proven method of teaching people how to read and write by watching a series of video tapes with the help of a facilitator.  The goal is to eradicate illiteracy, and encourage the students to continue with their studies. The program also offers up to a sixth grade education to those who wish to continue studying. An educational exchange program has also been developed allowing Venezuelans to study in Cuban universities. Cuban sports trainers have been deployed in Venezuela to teach the population the importance of sports, another major success of the Cuban Revolution.

And not only is all of this happening in Venezuela, but Chávez and Fidel have already begun to export the programs to Bolivia. When Evo Morales took over the presidency in January of 2006, he immediately began to integrate the country with Venezuela and Cuba. The process of implementing the social programs began right away, and now it moves more quickly. In the first year, Cuban doctors in Bolivia had already attended nearly 30% of the population and 20 hospitals were rehabilitated. Tens of thousands of Bolivians were taught to read, and 5000 students were given scholarships to study in Cuba. [6]

The focus on improving social conditions is growing, and so are the Cuban social programs.  With recent leftist victories in Nicaragua and Ecuador, we will probably soon see the export of Cuba’s programs to these countries as well. In Nicaragua they have already begun the use of the “yo si puedo” literacy program, where the neoliberal politics of the 1990’s increased the illiteracy rate from 13% to 39%. Cuba has donated all the equipment including five thousand television sets, half a million workbooks, five thousand VCRs, and eighty-seven thousand VHS tapes. [7] And so the process continues. Just as literacy, education, and health care were extended to all Cubans after the Cuban Revolution, now they are extending all of these programs to the rest of Latin America. Instead of dying away, the Cuban Revolution is spreading.

However, throughout history there has always been a lot of controversy surrounding Fidel Castro and the revolution. He is certainly hated in southern Florida where there have recently been huge celebrations in response to rumors that he is dying. Yet studies have shown that he is one of the most popular Latin American leaders among Venezuela’s marginalized poor classes. [8] And Cuba has a history of giving aid to poor countries.  They have sent more than 17,000 health care workers to 65 countries to provide free health care and education that simply wouldn’t be available otherwise. Even during the 2004 U.S.-orchestrated Haitian coup, Cuban medical teams, at great risk, continued to provide care to anyone needing it. [9]

While the Cuban political system definitely has its detractors, no one can deny that the revolution has made some amazing accomplishments. These accomplishments are what are being exported. It is also important to point out that no one is copying or implementing the Cuban political system, and that is not the intention. Each country that is working with Cuba to implement social programs has a distinct political system. As the successes of the Cuban experience will be carried on, hopefully the failures will be left behind.

However, Washington, along with private media, has always focused on distorting the truth about Fidel and the Cuban Revolution. They blame Cuba’s socialism for the problems in Cuba, but they don’t blame capitalism for the much graver problems in neighboring places like Haiti, Guatemala, Honduras, or Mexico. Washington claims to want to “free Cuba” from dictatorship, but other much more brutal dictators of the region never seemed to bother them. In fact, Washington supported the long, brutal dictatorships of Somoza in Nicaragua, Trujillo in the Dominican Republic, and Papa and Baby Doc in Haiti. The reality is that Fidel has always been portrayed as a horrible dictator because of the example he has provided for the world; because he rejected North American imperialism, refused to permit the exploitation of his country, and showed that another way is possible.

And so this is why Washington has always wanted to kill Fidel Castro; not because the United States promotes “democracy” as they claim. What has always been so threatening about Cuba is the fact that they might serve as an example for the rest of Latin America and the world, and that the revolution will spread. Washington has been afraid that the Cuban Revolution might succeed, that they might improve the lives of their people, that they might successfully get out from under Washington’s boot. If so, other countries might want to do the same thing. Washington is exactly right. They do.

1.  According to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez on his weekly TV show, Aló Presidente.
2.  Summary Report of American Association of World Health on Impact of U.S. Embargo on Health of Cuban People, Medical Students for Cuba,
3. “Denial of Food and Medicine: The Impact Of The U.S. Embargo On The Health And Nutrition In Cuba” -An Executive Summary- American Association for World Health Report, Summary of Findings, March 1997, http://www.cubasolidarity.net/aawh.html
4. ALBA: LA JUSTICIA DE LOS HECHOS, Por Mariela Pérez Valenzuela, January 20th, 2007, Portalalba, http://www.alternativabolivariana.org/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=1400
5.  Cuba envía programa “Yo Sí Puedo” a Bolivia, El Universal, Venezuela, 6 de febrero de 2006.
6.  ALBA: LA JUSTICIA DE LOS HECHOS, Por Mariela Pérez Valenzuela, January 20th, 2007, Portalalba,
7.  Jiménez, Tania. “Comienza campaña de alfabetización ‘Yo sí puedo'”, El Nuevo Diario, May 24th, 2006. http://www.elnuevodiario.com.ni/2006/05/24/departamentales/20128
8.  Hellinger, Daniel. Nationalism, Globalization, and Chavismo, Webster University, Prepared for delivery at the 2001 meeting of the Latin American Studies Association, Washington DC, September 2-8, 2001
9.  Krales, Edwin. Cuba’s Response to AIDS, A Model for the Developing World, CounterPunch, November 11, 2004. 

Source: Gringo in Venezuela