Vermont Senator and Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders recently came under fire for comments he made about Cuba and Fidel Castro in the 1980s. In a “60 Minutes” interview on Monday, Sanders stated that despite Cuba’s “authoritarian nature”, it would be unfair to write off everything else about Cuba as bad. Unsurprisingly, he’s completely right.
The U.S. has a long history of imperialist action in multiple countries south of the border. The motivation behind the action, of course, is something left over from the earliest days of colonization: the racist belief that non-white people were inferior and incapable of governing themselves. The remnants of these sentiments in American history education combined with McCarthyism in the 1940s and ‘50s creates the perfect storm of reasons for America to absolutely despise Cuba, a country that has been run by a Marxist-Leninist party for decades. But as much as Americans and capitalists want to revise history, it remains true that Cuba has thrived in many ways that America has not, despite decades of American embargos.
Cuba’s education system is one that Americans are only starting to fight for. From pre-school to doctorate programs, education is free and open to all and literacy rates are nearly at 100%, thanks to the Cuban Revolution which overthrew President Fulgencio Batista. Under the direction of the new communist leader Fidel Castro, public education became a top priority. Class sizes are restricted to 25 in primary schools and 15 in secondary schools in order to give students more attention and a better quality education. The school day was revolutionized: it starts with breakfast and free play then continues with classes and ends with enrichment activities like art, gym, music, sports and more. Schools also provide free food, before and after-school care and mobile teachers that teach sick or disabled children at their own home. Cuban children have thrived in this environment, with indiscipline, truancy and dropouts being rare.
Cuba also has a revolutionary healthcare system that Sanders is now championing in the U.S.: Medicare for All. Families in Cuba aren’t permanently destroyed or burdened by medical debt because appointments are free, whether it be with a nutritionist, psychologist or dentist. Doctors are localized in neighborhoods, making them easily accessible and convenient, but also well-known community figures who aren’t complete strangers. Cuba has three times as many doctors per capita as the United States, making care for its 11 million inhabitants much more personal and speedy. Doctors in Cuba have also created a successful lung cancer vaccine, have vaccinated almost all of their children and have been providing free gender reaffirming surgery and hormone therapy since 2008: innovation beyond what the U.S. has today.
Fidel Castro was just as bold and unashamed a leader as Cuba is a country. In addition to surviving several hundred assassination attempts by the C.I.A., Castro has been championed as a solid ally to Black people worldwide. Castro gave amnesty to Assata Shakur, a leader of the radical Black Liberation Army accused of killing a police officer in 1973. He broke down the barrier of strong racial segregation after the Cuban Revolution. He expressed disgust about gentrification in 1960s Harlem. He militantly opposed South African apartheid, and supported liberation efforts in Algeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guinea Bissau, Angola, Namibia and Cape Verde. He led international aid efforts to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea when Ebola broke out, and set a precedent for training African doctors. And when Castro died in 2016, countries worldwide mourned for days.
Had Castro been President of the United States, he would’ve been celebrated for eternity as a champion of the people. But because of lingering Cold War propaganda and misconceptions about socialism and communism, he’s made up to be a dictator by Western leaders and media. Though he was not a perfect leader, he was arguably one of the most progressive and popular heads of state the world has seen, fighting against the inherent inequalities of capitalism, American interventionism and European imperialism for decades. Bernie Sanders is absolutely correct in praising such a powerful activist and radical whose name won’t ever be forgotten. And if the 2020 election goes well, maybe Bernie can even join those ranks.
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Liz Collins is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.