The Accomplishments of the Cuban Revolution and The Failures of American Foreign Policy Towards Cuba
Dr. Jess G. Nieto

The changes in Cuba were immediately visible as I entered the Jose Marti International Airport in July this summer.  The airport's modernistic architectural design reflected the new construction made possible by French investments.  It was a major improvement from the appearance of the Third World airport I remembered in 1985 when I traveled to Cuba as part of an American delegation seeking a diplomatic peace in Central America.

My son Diego and I were invited to present a paper at the University of Havana as part of an American delegation of Latino scholars to share our perspectives on the "Chicano Movement" of the United States while our Cuban counterparts presented their views on the Cuban Revolution.  While in Cuba, we had the opportunity to talk with Cuban scholars as well as with a variety of Cubans including governmental officials, students, businessmen, performing artists, and health professionals.












Photo / mural (above) of young university students leading a protest march is at a Havana Cuban TV station.

Photo (above) of starving Cubans of all ages shows the horrible conditions before the Cuban Revolution.

Photo (above), a young Castro is seen addressing Cuban revolutionaries during the Cuban Revolution.

Photo (above) shows a group of medical students about to be executed for their protests against the government in 1874.

I was tremendously impressed with the accomplishments of the Cuban Revolution, and reminded of our country's inhumane treatment of Cuba for the last 40 years since the U.S. instituted the infamous embargo as one of the means to topple their government and Fidel Castro.  From what our delegation saw in Cuba (and based on what I saw in 1985), a scenario hoped for by our government where the embargo would contribute toward a deterioration of economic conditions which would in turn lead to an uprising and toppling of Castro and his government just will not happen.

The embargo has not succeeded, but it has stiffened popular Cuban support for their Revolution and overall support for their leader. The United States is alone internationally in its imposition of sanctions against Cuba.  Repeated and varied American attempts to assassinate Castro and topple his government have created within Cuba a state of tension not conducive to the promotion of civil liberties.

The embargo has also caused incredible suffering primarily to the Cuban poor, women, and children especially in the areas of health, education, and income of the population.  Despite the terrible toll that the U.S. embargo has had on Cuba, the Cuban people have made extraordinary progress in expanding economic, social, and cultural rights over the past forty years.  In Cuba, universal health care is a reality.  Cubans enjoy the highest life expectancy in Latin America (75 years), they have the lowest infant mortality rate -  7.1 per thousand which approaches that of the U.S. and is half that of Washington D.C. and many inner U.S. cities.  At the time of the Cuban Revolution there were 6,000 doctors.  Of these 3,000 left Cuba.  Now there are over 64,000 doctors providing medical services in every corner of the island. Cuba has over 400 doctors in rural South Africa, and there are three times as many doctors in the Third World as the World Health Organization.  Cuba also trains hundreds of architectural and medical students from the Caribbean and other developing countries free of charge.  But the effect of the embargo was evident everywhere.  Our delegation visited several medical facilities and we were able to see how the embargo had seriously created a severe lack of medical supplies, medicines, and equipment. 


Cuba's comprehensive educational system has helped erode class, gender, and racial inequality.  Education has been particularly beneficial to those coming from disadvantaged backgrounds.  Cuba has the highest level of literacy in Latin America, in fact, it is even higher than in the U.S.  Cuba provides free education from kindergarten through the doctoral level to every Cuban based on ability.

Cuba's overall response to four decades of punitive economic attacks from the U.S. has been remarkable.  Although there was a bedrock mixture of defiance, perseverance, and hope that characterized the attitudes and statements of many Cubans, our delegation found people in every walk of life resolute to their commitment to the social goals of their revolution.  Economically, there was willingness to talk about new methods and explore new models of economic activity.  This was evident in the Cuban decision to legalize the possession and use of the dollar.  The government decided  that it would be in the country's interest to have international joint ventures pay the state in dollars with workers receiving salaries from the state in pesos, and this combined with taxation of private businesses, would strengthen social spending which would lessen the gap between rich and poor.

The Cubans are now experimenting with a free market economy.  In my trip to Beijing just two weeks earlier, I had been impressed with the bustling Chinese economy.  I asked the Cuban scholars if they were looking to the Chinese model for inspiration of how a socialist country can implement a free market economy model.  They replied that they had to develop their model based on their own experiences, and that the reality of the U.S. embargo was a major problem for them. 

The United States must lift the embargo and start a process of healing between both nations and start to redeem our national dignity. Denying food and medicine to poor people who bear us no malice is to cover us all in shame.  The embargo has not worked. To skeptics, go see Cuba for yourself.

Written by:

Dr. Jess G. Nieto, Executive Director of Heritage of America Educational & Cultural Foundation And Professor for the  University of San Diego CLAD Certificate Program (Cross Cultural & Language Academic Development)

Published by the Bakersfield Californian Newspaper, April 1999

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