Tijuana, Mexico — The intense five days of the 9th U.S./Cuba/Mexico/Latin America Labor Conference and Seminar in Tijuana, Mexico, from Aug. 15 to 19, resolved to prepare for Encuentro Sindical Nuestra América VI (Sixth Unionist Meeting in Our America) — to be hosted by Cuba in 2014. ESNA VI will continue integrating working-class movements and class conscious unions that confront the capitalist economic crisis on many fronts.
ESNA is a movement of millions of workers throughout Latin America and the Caribbean offering powerful examples for the U.S. working class. The capitalist class has no borders in international trade, finance and exploitation. Neither should workers!
On Sept. 12, the unjust imprisonment for the Cuban 5 — Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González and René González — will complete its 14th year. Cuban 5 supporters organized a special program featuring Rosa Aurora Freijanes, spouse of Fernando González, on the night of Aug. 17, and shared a special cake marking his birthday the following day.
Banners calling on Obama to free the Cuban 5 decorated the meeting hall throughout the conference, making everyone conscious of the need to expand the struggle to free these five heroes. Freijanes had participated in the struggle to free Nelson Mandela from apartheid South Africa. She knows the people can win freedom for the Cuban 5.
The conference highlighted the fight for education and public jobs — a point of struggle in communities across the U.S., in Mexico and many other countries.
Maribel Vázquez Lozano, a leader in the Cuban Union of Education, Science and Sport opened the conference along with Aníbal Melo Infante, representing the Confederation of Cuban Workers International Department.
Melo Infante stressed,“We have an obligation to support those teachers and students who are creating a movement to oppose the privatization of education.” He called such privatization in Mexico, Chile, Europe and the U.S., “selling a human right.”
Melo Infante rebutted the corporate media’s lies about the current steps to modernize the Cuban economy, asserting the adjustments underway are aimed at meeting the needs of the people. There is no privatization of the economy in Cuba, he said, only a proposal to open minor areas of the economy to self-employment.
The main economic engine will remain in the hands of the state, which will guarantee the social conquests of the revolution — free health care, free education through graduate levels, social security, employment and retirement for all Cubans. The highly educated Cuban population is what makes it possible for Cuba to share its benefits around the world, Melo Infante said.
Cuba’s education system
Vázquez Lozano presented details about the Cuban education system, including its ideological roots in the formulations of José Martí and Fidel Castro. Castro linked the unequal and low level of education with Cuba’s neocolonial economic system in his 1953 “History Will Absolve Me” speech at his trial after the attack on the Moncada Barracks.
Emphasizing the primacy of education for socialist Cuba, Vázquez Lozano drew applause saying, “Without education, there is no revolution.” One of the first acts of the revolution was to create 10,000 classrooms and employ all the unemployed teachers, but it didn’t guarantee classrooms everywhere.
In 1961, a massive literacy campaign went to the far corners of Cuba, eliminating illiteracy in one year. This dedication to education is shown 50 years later in the “Yo sí puedo” (Yes I can) literacy method developed by Cuban educators and used around the world.
A concrete benefit of the growing continental integration represented by ESNA, “Yo sí puedo” originates from a radio literacy program developed by Cuban educators working in Haiti. More than 5 million people in 28 countries have conquered illiteracy using this program since its inception in 2001, including its Braille version for blind people. Internationalist in intent, it is designed to help people 15 years of age and older who have never gone to school develop skills to participate more fully in their society.
The United Nations declared Venezuela and Bolivia free of illiteracy after these countries used this method. It is being used in Mexico, Argentina, Ecuador, Peru, Honduras, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Granada, Brazil, New Zealand, Mozambique, Guinea Bissau, Colombia, El Salvador, Uruguay, Guatemala, and St. Kitts and Nevis.
Education is mandatory in Cuba and free of charge at all levels, from infant care and pre-school through post-graduate work.
Before the 1959 revolution, there were only three universities in Cuba — in Havana, Santiago and Las Villas — with only 15,000 students, compared to today’s hundreds of thousands. Only those in the richer social classes were able to attend. The education style was repetition and memorization with separation between the students and their professors, who were servile to the administration and the government.
The new paradigm is University for Everyone with classes in every province and every municipality. Adult education and education for children and adults with disabilities is also emphasized so everyone can develop to their fullest capacity.
Cuba’s debt-free graduates, who are guaranteed a place in productive work, are a sharp contrast to the reality faced by young people in the U.S., but it was not the most striking difference. Answering a question, Vázquez Lozano contrasted the Cuban system to the shockingly low U.S. high school graduation rates, especially for students of color — described as a 78 percent “push-out” rate.
“We don’t expel anyone,” she replied, “except the beautiful expulsion when they graduate. If students in the course of their studies decide to leave and not continue their studies, our professors go to visit them and bring them back to school. That is where we see the greatest challenge, unity between the students and the teachers.”
Watch the full panel at ustre.am/:1G35m or view below