Declaration

We, the political prisoners of conscience from the cause of the 75 of the Black Spring that find ourselves imprisoned in the Provincial Prison of Canaleta in Ciego de Avila, emphatically oppose the measures of violent repression that have been taken against The Ladies in White in different areas of Cuba, especially those events which have occurred in the Cuban capital. The group of peaceful women is simply asking for unconditional freedom for their loved ones who are currently in captivity for reasons of consciousness.

One must point out the violent acts and attitudes that events in Cuba are carrying out. In Cuba, inflammatory articles are being published, while certain famous figures read offensive declarations against the political sectors in the country that hold an opposition stance towards the prevailing regime, while these same opposition figures are not allowed to respond. We ask that you all increase your vigilance over the conduct of the Cuban government, for we must keep into account that uninformed, fanatical, or demented people could act violently against The Ladies in White or against any dissidents who openly oppose the regime and its politics.

We are making an appeal to the national and international communities so that they can intercede before the authorities of Havana and appeal to the sense of duty. The regime endangers the integrity of the brave Ladies in White and other people. Any ill-fated events that take place against these women will be traced back to the government, for it is their absolute responsibility.

Antonio Diaz Sanchez
Felix Navarro Rodriguez
Pedro Arguelles Moran
Adolfo Fernandez Sainz
Pablo Pacheco Avila

Education: An Instrument of Ideological Dominance (Part 4)


Image: Naked with Gannets by Diego Rivera (1944)

I studied until the ninth grade in my town of birth, and from then on I began my bachelors degree by traveling daily to the city of Pinar del Rio just like the generations before me did. During a day of finals in the 70’s, to my surprise, I found out that all the rural students, upon finishing the sixth grade and being only 12 years old, were obligated to take a scholarship. They no longer had the option to study in the basic secondary school in their own villages. All the urban pre-university centers were closed down, as well as those even in large cities. With their scholarships, students would study in recently-constructed schools that were located in very remote places, far from their homes. They became known as BSSIC (or in Spanish ‘ESBEC); (Basic Secondary Schools In the Countryside).

That was a very traumatic experience for Cuban families. Parents would worriedly see how their children were taken and how they would lose them at such a difficult age. They especially worried about the girls who had been controlled “in a fist” and were now going far away at such a tender age. It was a totally unnecessary experiment, for the majority of those students already had schools and were taken to new ones. In other words, the purpose was not to provide schools to those who did not have one, which would have been praiseworthy.

It wasn’t enough for the communists to educate every child, they wanted to do so at the furthest distance possible from their parents in a kind of isolation. It was not sufficient to take them for 45 days to agricultural work camps. Now, the kidnapping was permanent. The students would go hom to visit every two weeks, and the following weekend the parents would go visit them at their schools, with the resultant difficulties of finding transport to places so remote from any urban center.

This dirty trick, without any consideration for the Cuban family, had a very different portrayal in the official propaganda. They published a book dedicated to the new project, “Revolution in the Revolution,” and they also dedicated the song “The New School” by Silvio Rodriguez; it was even said that “other countries will look at us with envy.”

At first, adolescents would get excited, because such a project had some elements of adventure, for at a certain age children want to break away from the rope that ties them to their family, a link that in some moments they see as oppressive. It is a natural stage in our development, but shortly thereafter begin some difficulties; they long for home and its comforts but see that it’s impossible to return. They then began to pretend being sick so that the family could try to obtain, through any means, a medical certificate that would authorize them to abandon their scholarships and return to one of the few urban schools that remained for the purpose of educating those who were incompatible with the regime due to medical reasons.

It became the custom to lie to an official institution with the assistance of a health professional who would also become an accomplice, but everyone would wink, then share the same logic, that all this was still supreme nonsense and that the adolescent, innocent of everything, would not have to take the blame. Some would really get sick from nerves.

If the purpose of the BSSICs was economic, i.e. providing labor to the large citric and other plantations, it was also a great failure, for at no moment was there an abundance of fruit or other products in the agro-markets. Students had to study in one session and work in another. Another practice that became a habit was to falsify the production reports. If the student was expected to fulfill an agricultural norm but had little interest or did not have the enthusiasm to work, he/she would falsify the data, or the functionary in charge of the countryside, a peasant who was paid a salary, would increase the overall data. No country that has reached development through the capitalist path has ever applied this system, nor did the former socialist countries. The only scientific, pedagogical, and ideological support for this mega-experiment was a phrase from Jose Marti that was taken out of context, in which he states that the student should “use books in the morning and hoes in the afternoon.”

Anybody could say it would be good for children, especially those from the city, to know about working in the country as part of their life experience, and if that awakens such a vocation in them, then perfect. But in order to become closer to the working world, it is not necessary to destroy a national system that was functioning, based on a system of rural and urban schools and which was part of the habit of many generations.

Adolfo Fernandez Sainz, Cuban political prisoner, Canaleta prison in Ciego de Avila, Cuba.

Education: The Instrument of Ideological Domination (Part Two)


The Flower Seller- by Diego Rivera

Around 1970 massiveness exploded. The population had grown a great deal and with the new opportunities to study, the grand influx of students led to a shortage of teachers. It was then that the practice of graduating emerging professors was put into place- a technique that has been revived in these past few years.

I clearly remember the evolution of the recruitment process in the educational station Manuel Ascunce. In that era, I myself was a teacher and they first came asking for volunteers amongst my basic secondary students to make them teachers for newly emerging courses. At first, the recruitment was voluntary but later they forced many to take the step, in order to appeal to their revolutionary conscience. They pressured them quite a lot to accept, especially those who were members of juvenile organizations. When some would openly refuse because they did not like the magisterial system and the recruitment process did not advance in the desired speed, they were told it was mandatory. They would take them to meetings where they tried to convince them- the pressure in such reunions were intolerable. After many hours, the meetings would end and all of them would have finally accepted. In their eyes one could see that they had been coerced. Many would lean towards studying to become teachers in order to get the stressful process they were in over with, while others did so in appreciation of the Revolution, even though their professions had been completely different. The majority of them graduated and exercised their roles as teachers without even being fond of it.

For discontent and for lack of vocation, improvisation was added. Teachers of emerging courses, whom were recently graduated and very young (almost the same age as their students), confronted tasks that often were too advanced for them. The custom of male teachers having sexual relations with their female students became a normality. If before they would expel teachers with such immoral tendencies, now it was a situation that occurred frequently. Everything became more complicated with the politics of students having to forcefully be granted scholarships from very young ages.

When scholarships were mentioned, everyone saw it as the perfect opportunity for the children of poor families to study in a university with the possibility of removing the family from poverty forever. Students were awarded scholarships if they wanted to study domestically, either because both parents worked, because he/she lived too distant from any other schools, or simply because they favored the regime and wanted to pass the time. But in each case it was a free decision and who could be against that. However, the scholarship became a style of slavery. What was at first seen with much enthusiasm was later hated. The scholarship went from being synonymous with “opportunity” to being synonymous with “captivity”.

Amongst the first group of granted students during those years of the Revolution were two young girls that came from the Sierra Maestra and were going to Havana to study Style and Dressmaking. They were housed in the best residences of Miramar that the wealthiest families in the country had abandoned. You don’t have to be a genius to imagine how proud their parents must have felt, most likely being very poor and not having been able to even travel to the Cuban capital, seeing their two daughters living in mansions and in neighborhoods that not even they, in their wildest dreams, could have seen. Precisely, at the core of causing such an effect was the great propaganda of “the rich and the exploiters want to return to take away such a beautiful opportunity that the Revolution has given us”. As the craze of moment passed, the prized students were housed in other places and the luxurious residences came to be used for other purposes. I never ever heard mention again of the seamstresses, nor did I ever hear that word in the official phraseology again.

In the mid 60’s, there were thousands of scholarship holding students from the pre-university school housed in the beach of Tarara. For a young graduate of the ninth grade from the provinces, studying in Havana symbolized a great advancement, even though the majority were there against their will and would have preferred the external pre-university school but there existed no other option, neither for them or for their parents. There they found a very strict military-style discipline and a staff of very extremist people who were in a very bitter ideological combat against religious beliefs and certain other styles that were considered inconvenient. The parents that were at first against their children receiving grants by force now tiredly sighed and would say that at least their children were not wasting their time and were preparing for the future. I remember that during those years some of those who were given scholarships would talk to us, their friends, and they bitterly lamented about being internal students. What they envied the most about us students studying in the exterior (because we were older we were not given scholarships) was that our regime was more flexible. They would tell us that those in charge of military discipline were too extremists, that they would get pleasure out of reporting them to go before disciplinary courts, with the danger of losing their chance back home which was very treasured.

The more inflexible and intolerant those in charge of discipline were, the quicker they ascended in that semi-military hierarchy.

Education: An Instrument of Ideological Domination


The Flower Seller (1942) by Diego Rivera

The efforts and the achievements obtained by the revolutionary government in matters of education have been, during all these years, one of the main battle horses of the Castro propaganda system. If we stick to the hard numbers, like the number of graduates in different careers, it’s true that Cuban education would go unmatched worldwide. However, the reality of the Cuban people demonstrates very negative facets that do not appear in the official version.

The Cuban school of the pre-revolutionary years was a true source of national pride- The quality of the teachers was excellent, and the Cuban teacher was paid and respected by all of society, a worthy heir of Varela Luz, Caballero, and Mendive. As a child, I heard the elders referring to their teachers with great admiration, and I don’t remember any contrary instance. Currently, it is a well known fact that the state-run press never praises those teachers. There were free public schools and some paid private schools- Also, it must be said that there were parts of the country where a kid would have to walk long distances to attend a modest rural school, but in front of those students, despite how humble, there was always a good teacher. Now, they insist that there really are classrooms with a teacher for only one student in remote areas, but I don’t know, and you have to doubt that such a case exists. But generally, in the classrooms which millions of students attend, the teachers are improvised, immature, uneducated, lacking specific knowledge, rude, and even immoral. With such professors, the educational process hardly can be worthy of its name.

How have we regressed so much? How have we lost so much quality in a field that is so fundamental for the future of the country? It’s also important to recognize that in spite of everything, there have always been teachers ready to pass on the fruits of their teaching to their pupils – but they’re the exception. In my village, there was a public primary school that was excellent, with magnificent teachers that were capable of forming kids into good citizens, and also a private academy that went up to what would now be considered the ninth grade. To continue formal studies you had to transfer to the main city, Pinar del Rio. Poor families, making a huge effort, would send their children to the School of Commerce that would graduate accountants, or to the Normal, where one would study education. But many were not able to. One of the main aspirations of poor families was to have their children study. After the revolution of 1959 the first general impression of the people was that there was a longing to improve, a notable desire to learn. If, before, a grand number of students had to conform to just finishing the sixth grade or the ninth grade at most, now young students aspired to get a bachelor degree at the university. If, before, not everyone could think of advanced studies due to the expense of living in a distant city, now anyone could obtain a free scholarship and continue their studies until graduating from the university. Undoubtedly, that was a major benefit for the Cuban family. Enthusiasm reigned throughout the country.

But along with these positive measures that mostly benefited the poor and represented a grand help for all, it did not take too long for the expropriation of all private schools. In one day and one night, all schools entered into the hands of the state. That was, in the first place, a real injustice. The private schools had produced excellent teacher; some were notable because of their high quality and their owners did not deserve by any means to lose their legitimate properties. A grand dissatisfaction was produced and the churches were screaming- for it must be said that some of the best private schools were religious. That was a declaration of war and a harsh warning for all of society that communism would not be content with possessing just the material sphere. Now, the state had all the children in its hands and was completely in charge of their education.

The defenders of Castro-communism can say that the nationalization of the private schools fixed a grave inequality. It’s true that the poorest people could not attend those private universities, but there were free schools. What should have been done was to improve the free public schools, which were already of good quality, and expand them to the most distant corners and raise them to the level of the best private schools. This process came to be known as the “nationalization of learning” but this name is deceiving because in Cuba, education was already national. This was an important strengthening of totalitarian authority, an operation of ideological dominance. The Marxists, experts in these types of justifications, would say that in all societies the dominant class is in charge of educating the children according to their own interests, but I believe in a law, like the one we always had, that allowed parents to be the ones who decided what kind of education their children would have- if they want to send them to a religious school or a secular one, a private or a public school, or to teach them themselves- let all possibilities exist under the law.

With this hit, communism robbed us of a grand right and they dressed it up as the elimination of an injustice. In the context of previous popular and beneficial measures, an expropriation was produced that directly affected the most well-off families, with the consequent confrontation between the poor and rich, supported by the government from the tribunal. Since then, education in Cuba has been free, obligatory, and includes special schools for those with different types of disadvantages. But it has also been a constant that Cuban schools have served as vehicles for the indoctrination of new generations in the most radical ideas of the regime in its own interest.

Without a doubt, for many Cuban families this process served as a warning that the time had arrived to confront the ideas of the hordes that had possessed authority or leave the country, or at least to start thinking about sending their children away via any route. The confrontation between the rich and the poor, besides painful, was deliberately provoked. Ever since we are born, in our country our opinion is formed to be in favor of the poor. Ever since Jesus Christ and up to Jose Marti, all the grand people who have added to the development of our culture have spoken with that same voice. In no moment did the Cuban people find it difficult to support the measures that would benefit the most humble, but this case consisted of the clear usurpation of one of the most important rights of the family: to decide the kind of ideas under which their children would be educated. To benefit the poor of the world, no other person’s freedoms should be suppressed. (To be continued.)

Adolfo Fernandez Sainz, prisoner of conscience, Canaleta prison, Ciego de Avila, Cuba.

When the Best Is Corrupted


Image: “The Acidic Melody” by Joan Miró.

During the first year of the Revolution popular support was almost total. At the time, I was 10 years old and I remember the joy of the first days. The dictatorship had come to an end; the tyrant had fled; everything was hope. In that same year of 1959 the Law of Agrarian Reform was passed (which was the first, for there would be a second law later), and unanimous support continued for the most part. That became the topic of the moment in the media and among the people. The land was going to belong to the peasants. At last that grand aspiration of the Cuban nation was going to be fulfilled and the enthusiasm was not going to decrease.

I remember that in my hometown, San Luis in Pinar del Rio, the plaza that stands between the church and the park was filled with plows, threshing machines, other agricultural implements and some tractors. They were spontaneous contributions that came from merchants and other well-off people. Late into the year of ’59, I began to hear the earliest voices of doubt, very timid at first. A family friend of ours would stop to converse, and the discussions of those times were more or less along these lines:

“Listen, how can you say that? How can Fidel Castro be a Communist? Who can come up with such a thing, if that young man comes from a rich family, educated by the monks, lawyer?

“Hey, notice that they are putting communists in all the key places,” would say the skeptic.

“But he has said himself that he is not one,” the other would reply.

During the year that followed everyone knew that the “skeptic” was right and that the people had been deceived. But until then, almost everyone had seen the Revolution through sympathetic eyes: the Catholic Church, the Americans, the rich, and the entire media. Even if there had been a good number of spurious executions by firing squad and even if they had been denounced outside Cuba, the Cuban people had justified them in one way or another. Within the country, the opinion of the majority was that a revolution had been needed. The most important cause for disgust among the population was that the rulers and other politicians were enriching themselves with money from the public treasury.

With the initial support that the Revolution had, if the promised course of restoring democracy and eliminating the great governmental corruption had actually been followed, Cuba could have become a very prosperous country and, even more importantly, could have prospered from a great moral and human richness that could have served as an example for all the sister nations of Ibero-America. This could have all happened under a legitimate government headed by Fidel Castro, who could have been the great national figure anyway, and governed with nearly no opposition and without having to oppress anyone. But the Revolution of 1959 was born from that great lie that clouded everything.

Looking back at what has occurred from the commodity of retrospective, I believe that all the bad decisions of those first years were marked by that original sin. From the very moment that Batista supporters were being executed, which began from the very first day. I do not doubt that amongst those executed were some assassins and torturers, but why not allow them a fair trial especially since the leader of the Triumph of the Revolution was a lawyer? (The Nazis, during World War II, were far worse, and the Nuremberg trials were still fresh in the collective memory. Some of those high-ranking Nazis were pardoned; others were sentenced to prison and others given the death penalty.) Why didn’t he give his former enemies an actual trial? Even before an international court? What an example a trial like that would have been for our people! How much would we have gained in civility! How much prestige would that have brought to a revolution that declared itself an advocate of human rights and whose generosity had been proclaimed in its platform! How many of the best figures of humanity would have come out in support of such a decision!

However, the option of killing weighed on the minds of those young leaders, I guess, in order to radicalize the Revolution and also to plant terror and eliminate any possible future enemies. In fact, even those initial measures that benefited ample sectors were actually marked by haste. Fidel Castro was very skillful in the ability to carry out measures that had broad popular support while he embraced divisive power strategies and unfurled an inflammatory rhetoric.

My opinion is that it could all have been done much better and with more calm. It could have benefited the poorest anyway but without making enemies of anyone. One success was the literacy campaign.Who would oppose making illiterate people literate? But why did this task have to be completed in just one year, and why were young adolescents separated from their families and taken to places that in 1961 were dangerous? The same thing could have been accomplished with much more calm and rationality. Of course, that way the propaganda would have lost some of its effect.

The betrayal even reached the agrarian reform. After the first one, a second law was passed that changed the character of the first. Now the peasants were no longer going to be the owners of the land, but instead employees of huge state farms. The rural estate had changed ownership. Years later, when I was a University student (it was mandatory to take and pass a course on Marxism-Leninism), I remember that one day a professor explained to us the reason for that change. Because she was a professor of Marxism, which in those days was like saying she was an inappealable judge of knowledge, I assumed that this would be the official explanation and not any other previous one. She told us that giving land to a peasant was to turn him into a class enemy. I had an image of a peasant without land, converted into a prosperous country person, producing a farm from his property, with a good home and car. But that dream was to turn the poor into a bourgeois, into an ideological enemy, an “enemy of the people”.

In short, with the revolutionary triumph Fidel Castro had the golden opportunity in his hands to take the people along the path of peace and democracy, toward a grand and well-shared prosperity and a harmonious civility in order to make Jose Marti’s formula of “WITH ALL AND FOR THE GOOD OF ALL” a reality. He preferred to take the route of confrontation and communism, an ideology foreign to our history and our environment and that essentially violated human rights. This move allowed him to govern with totalitarian power. What has been the result? That once-prosperous economy ended up converted into a country in ruin, a people once united currently more divided than ever, not only by differences of opinion but also by geographic separation and the scattered hopes of our young.

He could have been a grand liberator yet he chose to turn himself into the head of a tyranny that has lasted 50 years. What happened to us was nothing more than what the ancient Romans already knew: When the best is corrupted, the worst occurs (Corruptio optimi, pessima).

Adolfo Fernandez Sainz, prisoner of conscience, Canaleta prison, Ciego de Ávila

(The author turns 61 years old today, November 30)

Condolences

It with great grief and sorrow that we just watched the news report concerning the tragic accident of Air France Airbus 330 on Sunday May 31st, 2009, where 228 lives were lost. We extend our deepest sympathies to the family and friends of the victims of the disaster and we join in the mourning of the international community, praying to God for the souls of the missing.

Félix Navarro Rodríguez, Adolfo Fernández Saiz, Pedro Argüelles Morán, Pablo Pacheco Ávila,  all send their condolences.

Pablo Pacheco: Canaleta Prison

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