Article excerpt

Background Information for this article was collected during my experience in Cuba [Figure 1] when I was selected by the People to People Ambassador Programs to lead an educational group to Cuba. The purpose of this program is to establish and maintain interpersonal communication among members of the world community. The program promotes friendly relations among all countries through scientific, professional, cultural, and technical exchanges. These exchanges focus on specialized disciplines. Ours were counseling and career development. Delegation members are invited primarily because of their professional background.

A Brief History

Education in the Republic of Cuba can be dated as before Fidel Castro, after Fidel Castro, and since 1990 (Coy, 2001). Before Fidel Castro, President Gerado Machado y Morales was overthrown in a coup, and Army Sergeant Fulgencio Batista seized power in August 1933. One of the prime motivations for the Revolution that overthrew General Machado in 1933 was better education, but in the post-war decades education made little progress. The constitution of 1940 expressed lofty ideals e.g., the Ministry of Education's budget should not be smaller than any other ministry's budget. Educational funds became a huge source of graft (Baker, 2000).

The corrupt Batista won, lost and stole power over the next 20 years while Cuba's assets were increasingly placed into foreign hands and Cuba crumbled. Before the revolutionaries attained power, education reflected the depressing and backward outlook of authorities who did not seem much interested in developing the human resources of the country (Valdes, 1972). The pre-revolutionary years of Cuban education present a concrete example of a country having the potential for educational growth, but hindered by a lack of leadership and structural obstacles (Baker, 2000).

The years of political corruption and social injustice finally came to a close in 1959, after a three-year guerrilla campaign led by young Fidel Castro along with Che' Guevara, Celia Sanchez and other now famous revolutionaries (Bonachea & Valdes, 1972; Deutschmann & Shnookal, 1989). According to government statistics, on the eve of the Revolution, 43 per cent of the population and half a million Cuban children went without school (Baker, 2000). Castro's government poured its heart and soul into improving the lot of the Cuban poor (Krich, 1981). First came health and education, where instant gains could be seen (Franqui, 1985). The educational situation of Cuba has undergone profound transformation (Coy, 2001).

The Soviet Union sent trade and technical delegations and bought up Cuba's sugar surplus. Cuba appeared to be improving (Valdes, 1972). The country's plight worsened when Eastern Europe collapsed in 1989, and Russia soon withdrew its 11,000 military personnel and technicians. Trade links with the Soviet bloc dissolved in the early 1990s, declining living standards and a large wave of attempted emigration led the government to liberalize some economic policies. It opened free markets for crafts and produce; granted 2.6 hectares of state land to farming cooperatives; increased soybean production to boost protein consumption; promoted certain types of self-employment; reorganized some state enterprises; and established joint ventures with foreign firms in tourism, mining, communications, and construction.

The economy experienced modest growth after 1994 but slowed to 1 percent in 1998. The economy grew 2.5 percent in 1999. Mexico and Canada are Cuba's most important trading partners. Life turned grim under what the Cubans call the "Special Period," which began when the Berlin Wall crashed and Cuba's Soviet lifeline was severed. Cuba went from down to destitute. What began as inconveniences turned to real hardships. Monthly allotments were greatly reduced (Blight, Allyn, & Welch, 1993). Cuba, the only country in Latin America to have eliminated hunger, began to suffer malnutrition. …