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The Cuban Revolution

On December 2, 1956 a boat carrying 82 men landed on the coast of eastern Cuba. By the time they made their way to safety in the Sierra Maestra mountains their number had been reduced to 20. They called themselves the 26th of July Movement and they declared their goal to be the overthrow of the Cuban government. Two years later this had been achieved, as the U.S. backed dictator Fulgencio Batista fled and the rebels took Havana. Although this represented the victory of the Cuban people over the economic interests of American companies that had dominated the island, the character of the revolution was still uncertain. In the following years the revolutionary government came to embraced Marxism and came into greater conflict with the United States, which was determined to crush the revolution through economic methods like the trade embargo and military means such as the Bay of Pigs invasion.
    The Cuban people made education and healthcare the cornerstones of their revolution, with a great deal of success. In 1961, 1,000,000 Cubans were mobilized in the literacy campaign known as the “year of education.” In this single year Cuba’s literacy rate was improved from 76% to 96% and has continued to increase. The proportion of children in Cuba attending school has been raised from 55% in 1959 to virtually 100% today. Education is free for all Cubans, as is a healthcare service that is widely acknowledged as being amongst the most advanced in the world and has achieved better average lifespans and infant mortality rates than the United States. Free access to this healthcare system is guaranteed in Cuba’s constitution. Another right guaranteed by the Cuban government is the right to work, a fact which is demonstrated by Cuba’s unemployment rate of 1.6% - significantly below the world average of 8.7% and 9.3% in the U.S.
    The achievements of the Cuban Revolution aren’t limited to the island itself, as Cuba has supported revolutionary movements across the globe. This support has at times involved sending weapons and volunteers to places as far away as Angola and Guinea-Bissau to aid revolutionaries fighting against European colonial powers but has had other manifestation as well. When the Sandinista government took power in Nicaragua, Cuba trained Nicaraguan teachers to participate in their own literacy campaign and even sent teachers of its own. While these were important contributions to revolutionary efforts, the most successful aspect of Cuba’s foreign policy has been its “medical internationalism” which brings medical care to places in need at no charge to the patients or host countries. Since 1963, an estimated 130,000 Cuban physicians have volunteered in Cuban medical missions in foreign countries, and in 2008 almost 25% of Cuba’s doctors were working abroad. A large proportion of these doctors are currently working in Venezuela, where they have established 6,000 clinics to serve the poorest areas of the country. Cuba also has a large medical presence in Haiti, where its doctors provide medical care for 80% of the population. One of the most successful Cuban programs is Operation Miracle, which has provided free eye surgery to over 1.3 million people from throughout Latin America. In addition to treating local populations, Cuban doctors have set up medical schools in many of the countries in which they have volunteered. Cuba also operates the Latin American School of Medicine, one of the largest such institutions in the world, which trains international students to become doctors. In 2008 there were over 8,000 students from 28 countries enrolled.
    The Cuban Revolution has over the past 50 years been able to achieve all of this and more in the face of constant aggression from the world’s most powerful nation. Although errors have been made, the leadership has shown a willingness to admit when its policies have been incorrect. Two of the most well publicized cases have been the government’s previously harsh stances towards organized religion and homosexuality, both of which have been overturned and apologized for by the parties responsible. This shows that the revolutionary government has the willingness to continue to deepen the revolution and continue to build a better society. As a whole, the Cuban Revolution has been a remarkable triumph and should be an inspiration to all those who work for a better way of life.


By: Jack Hagen

Filed under Jack Hagen Radical History Revolutionaries Socialism Latin America Cuba Communism Revolution politics