Neither so Educated nor so Superior / Miriam Celaya

clip_image001HAVANA, Cuba, May, I’ve heard it said that hunger can affect vision permanently. For a while, I thought that this sentence was just a popular myth based on superstition, however, it turns out to be absolutely true. Hunger and other deficiencies cause, additionally, some distortions, such as lack of perception of reality and total lack of perspective.

This explains why, for many “inside” Cubans, almost everything is irrelevant and nothing transcends beyond the narrow confines of daily survival. Decades of material shortages and of totalitarianism have ruined the ability of a large segment of the population of the island to discern, despite the high levels of instruction exhibited by official statistics, turning subjects into slaves of their own elementary needs.

An example of this was the recent electoral process in Venezuela which showed, by comparison, how far we Cubans are from even reaching the first step of this difficult stairway filled with obstacles called democracy. While Venezuelans offered us a true example of civility by exercising their right to vote and to assert the power of suffrage — an unknown experience for millions of Cubans — the main concern of people on the island was the possibility of the start of a new era of blackouts and a new “Special Period” if the opposition candidate, Henrique Capriles, won. Paradoxically, many Cubans refer to Venezuelans as “crude,” “illiterate” and “ignorant.”

The combined action of the monopoly of information and direction, the lack of freedom of association and the manipulation of the press have been three basic mainstays which — together with the material precariousness of survival — have plunged the Cuban population in a deep ignorance that does not reflect the benign statistics. The Cuban case demonstrates exactly how the use of statistics has allowed the government to misinform the population and feed the national vanity. The farce, often repeated, has spread alarmingly, to the point that even many prestigious international organizations have recognized the “achievements” of the revolution in education and health and other indicators of social development.

The numbers, however, are fickle, and mask a reality very different than the image they project. Decades of incomplete, distorted and biased information have resulted in only a minority of Cubans possessing the ability to analyze issues related to politics, economics, or any event occurring in the world. The “masses,” meanwhile, form opinions from indoctrination and emotions… when they form opinions. Usually, the standard displayed among people faced with any matter not related to their daily subsistence is limited to an apathetic shrug of the shoulders.

The indifference and ignorance grow, while each year the statistics are more triumphant and less reliable. Let’s take the case of the training of doctors and other health specialists. The graduations are massive, but the quality of the graduates is generally very low. The levels of professionalism are often extremely poor and only a few dozen will stand out amid thousands of new doctors and technical personnel in each group.

The same applies to general education. Officially, it is stated that there is a teacher in every classroom, which is a lie. However, the worst thing is that there are hardly any teachers able to educate and instruct students, so both, the levels and the quality of education have declined dramatically over the years, particularly since the 90’s.

The proverbial ignorance of many of these “teachers,” coupled with their failure to educate, has forced parents to search for alternative solutions, such as hiring “tutors,” teachers who have been generally separated from the formal education system due to terrible wages and deplorable working conditions, and now teach in private education. This option has proven the effectiveness the official system lacks, and is marking a major schism among students whose parents can afford the expense of hiring the services of a private teacher and those who must make do with the meager knowledge they receive in classrooms.

But, in the meantime, the numbers and the official press continue out there. The statistics support the government fanfare about the advantages of the Cuban system, yet deceive public opinion by distorting, at the same time, society’s general opinion. The media revels, jubilant, in the advantages of the system. Perhaps this explains why Cubans see themselves as highly educated and intellectually superior to many other people in the region. Another deceit that, in some way, constitutes a small consolation after half a century of dictatorship that has erased the memory of a nation’s population.

Translated by Norma Whiting

10 May 2013