Senator Bernie Sanders has been relentless in promoting his rose-colored glasses vision of Cuba by extolling the literacy program implemented by Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. But despite Sanders blowing smoke, the reality of what Castro forced Cubans to endure is quite different from the sunny picture Sanders keeps pushing.
Sanders said to CNN’s Anderson Cooper, “You know? When Fidel Castro came into office, you know what he did? He had a massive literacy program. Is that a bad thing? Even though Fidel Castro did it?” Sanders doubled down the next day at a CNN townhall, saying, “When Fidel Castro first came into power … you know what he did? He initiated a major literacy program. It was a lot of folks in Cuba at that point who were illiterate and he formed the Literacy Brigade … and they went out and they helped people learn to read and write. You know what? I think teaching people to read and write is a good thing,”
Writing in The Hill, Gregory J. Wallance, a federal prosecutor during the Carter and Reagan administrations, wrote:
Cuban children were taught in school that their highest loyalty is to the Communist Party. They were instructed to denounce their parents to authorities for counter-revolutionary tendencies. If parents, in the privacy of their own home, explained ideas to their children that conflicted with communist ideology, they could be jailed for three years under the Code for Children, Youth and Family. The school system stifled private religious beliefs …
Starting in elementary school, a student’s progress was recorded in a so-called “cumulative school file.” The file not only recorded academic progress but also measured the “revolutionary integration” of both the student and the student’s family, such as whether they participated in mass demonstrations. The file was updated throughout the life of the child, whose education and work options would be determined by what it contained.
Hans Bader of the Foundation for Economic Education pointed out, “Castro did not give Cubans literacy. Cuba already had one of the highest literacy rates in Latin America by 1950, nearly a decade before Castro took power, according to United Nations data (statistics from UNESCO). In 2016, the Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler debunked a politician’s claim that Castro’s rule significantly improved Cuban healthcare and education. In today’s Cuba, children are taught by poorly paid teachers in dilapidated schools. Cuba has made less educational progress than most Latin American countries over the last 60 years.”
Miami Herald columnist Fabiola Santiago, who fled Cuba in 1969, penned a blistering op-ed in which she described how brutally oppressive Cuba’s literacy program was, noting that despite the false claims of Sanders that Fidel Castro started the literacy program in Cuba, her mother “worked in a literacy program in the countryside after graduation from a teacher’s college in the early 1950s.” She wrote that her own “real-life experience is the antidote to your cheap, propagandist talking points on Cuba’s education system and Fidel Castro.”
NBC News admitted that Castro’s plans for Cuba “came at a cost — a repressive system that punished virtually all forms of dissent and expropriated private property. The literacy campaign that taught many Cubans to read and write also included political indoctrination.” NBC News added, “The last literacy estimate for pre-revolutionary Cuba is from 1953 when 76.4 percent of the population was literate, making it the fourth in the region.”