Literacy in Cuba

OK, the whole discussion of whether a literacy program is a good trade-off for totalitarianism (and no, it isn’t) is inane when it comes to Cuba. Because all of the stats on Cuban literacy rates come exclusively from the regime itself. I met quite a few functionally illiterate adults in Cuba. I also visited a school in the countryside where the school was housed in a former pigsty and kids were unfamiliar with the concept of a pen.

I also hung out with students at the University of Havana. They could read. But there was nothing to read. Their ignorance was at the level of peasants in tsarist Russia.

What’s the point of literacy if there are no books and all you are allowed to read or hear is propaganda?

Another one of my sentimental favorites is the myth about the low infant mortality rates in Cuba. That one really makes me mad. “Infant mortality in Cuba is lower than in the US!” As somebody intimately familiar with infant mortality in the US, I see red when I hear this stuff. In Cuba, both of my children would be aborted at five months of pregnancy because nobody would bother with a high-risk pregnancy. But infant mortality would be avoided, yippee.

Dumb fucks.

14 thoughts on “Literacy in Cuba”

  1. I think what Sanders said is: starting a literacy program is a good idea. On how perfect results are, I’d compare then and now, and also to comparable countries. The most amazing illiteracy I’ve seen was in Brazil in late 20th C, you could hardly turn around without having to help someone read — every time you went anywhere where forms had to be filled out or instructions to be read, there would be people asking for help with it. This was with an official adult literacy rate of something like 48%, if I remember well. My point: much, although not all that is wrong with Cuba is also wrong in other Lat Am countries regardless of government


    1. He’s mistaken because most of propaganda isn’t done through reading. In the USSR, for instance, it was impossible to turn off the radio. It was always on, 24/7. You could turn the sound down but it would always be there, muttering in your ear. Imagine, 40-50 years of non-stop muttering of propaganda in your ear.


      1. “it was impossible to turn off the radio.”

        Surely, you could unplug it temporarily — or did the Soviets hard-wire the electrical cord into the wall?


        1. Yep. The system was designed to give you as little control as possible, even in such tiny aspects. And to make daily life as uncomfortable as possible.

          Example. Until 1980s, there was a single cup size in Soviet bras. You are not a woman but I’m sure you’ve had some experience with female bras and can imagine the discomfort of having one cup size for all women of a gigantic country.

          This is not an accident or s manufacturing limitation. This was a highly ideological issue that was discussed at the meeting of the Secretariat General of the Communist Party of the USSR. The reason why it was decided only to manufacture one bra size was that “Soviet women are workers first and women second. Hence, they have no need of bourgeois luxuries like different bra sizes.”

          It’s called a totalitarian regime because it invades the totality of your life.


  2. “Cuban literacy rates ”

    Without having been in Cuba… my guess is that it’s like Soviet industrialization – a lot like the cargo cults.
    The Soviets didn’t understand the source of capitalist wealth beyond some idea like…. factories! And so they built a bunch of factories without giving thought to whether there was a market for what they would produce (or how they can or should be run) and result (when it wasn’t famine….) was a wildly dysfunctional economy where production took place in a vacuum. One absurd feature was the fetish about exceeding quotas…. again with no thought given to silly questions like: Is there any reason to produce 40% more tin widgets that don’t work?

    The idea of literacy campaigns was very big in the 1960s and so the Cuban government probably assumed if they just conducted alphabet drills that would produce a literate population – the act of “teaching” literacy was divorced from the context of reading and writing (because what commie government wants a population that reads and writes things?)
    I would say that writing is more fundamental to real literacy than being able to read signs and/or propaganda sheets…


    1. Exactly. It’s all a meaningless formality whose only aim was to prove to the outside world that their system worked.

      What I don’t get is why this debate needs to be at the center of the presidential campaign. Do we have no problems of our own? Why are we debating Cuba and Nicaragua and talking about the Embassy in Israel? It feels very escapist.


  3. Why is it that some Democratic candidates can’t resist talking about Fidel Castro? Fidel Castro is a long time dead. Fidel Castro’s literacy program was a long time ago. And obviously, literacy is a good thing, and obviously, Fidel Castro was a bad dictator. What’s to talk about? Get over it. Move on. Live in the present. Debate in the present.


    1. That’s exactly what I’m saying. Aren’t there any actual problems for us to discuss? Why does the election have to dredge up things that are of no interest to the voters?


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