Listen to the Radio-Essay here.
As news flashed of the formal resignation of Cuba's Fidel Castro from the office of the President, morbid celebrations broke out in 'Little Havana' (Miami), Florida, the U.S. capital of the Cuban exile anti-Castro movement. Just as they rejoiced at his illness in 2006, they reveled at his resignation.
But, Fidel's almost 50-year run as Cuban head-of-state has had a momentous impact, not just in Cuba, but in Latin America, and the vast world beyond.
For as Fidel steps down from power, almost a 1/2 dozen of his ideological sons and daughters have come to power throughout Latin America. While nominally socialist, and deeply nationalist, many of them were inspired by the Cuban Revolution. Some, like Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, have embraced a continental and internationalist perspective, one that is overtly opposed to the interventionist policies of the U.S. backed IMF (International Monetary Fund) and the World Bank.
Latin America, largely through Cuba's steadfast example, has turned away from the draconian U.S. backed rule of the generals, to the rule of democratic and leftist populists.*
In the realm of education, Cuba's performance has been exemplary. In Central and South America, the average literacy rate is 86.4 percent. Cuba's literacy rate is 98%.
Under its socialist system all education is free. In fact, Cuba is the educator of choice for thousands of people from around the world, especially in higher, and medical education. All of this --for free!
Castro didn't inherit a country with such a high literacy rate. Indeed, in 1981 over a million Cubans (mostly folks in the nations's rural areas) were illiterate. Over 100,000 children over 10 years of age volunteered to participate in the "literacy brigadistas" covering the country to teach the poor and the peasants how to read and to write.
One such man, an alfabetizado (or student) named Juan Martinez wrote, in one of the first sentences of his life, "Nunca me he sentido cubano hasta que aprendi a leer y a escribir..." (In English his words meant, "I never really felt Cuban until I learned to read and write." (Keeble, 54)
In foreign affairs, Cuba put her considerable military power in the front ranks against the racist apartheid system of South Africa. Cuba, supporting the armed forces of Angola, fought South Africa at a place called Cuite Carnivals, inflicting such losses on the apartheid army that it began the long road to negotiation, settlement, and dissolution.
Yes, Castro is laying aside his office, a process which, for U.S. presidents usually means the opportunity to accrue obscene amounts of money. But he leaves a proud tradition of Latin American sovereignty, impressive successes in the field's of education and medicine, and revolutionary resistance to the racist apartheid regime of South Africa.
In large part, his efforts paved the way to peace and democracy in South Africa.
His name, and his example will be remembered for centuries, for the ability of the small to stand up to the mighty.
--(c) '08 maj
[Source: Keeble, Alexandre, ed., In the Spirit of Wandering Teachers: Cuban Literacy Campaign, 19611 (Melbourne, Australia: Ocean Press, 2001), p.54; Kozol, Jonathan, Children of the Revolution: A Yankee Teacher in the Cuban Schools (N.Y.; Delacorte Press, 1978.) ]