Cuba, the Socialist Caribbean island, has narrowed the gap between rich and poor. Today, more?
Cuba, the Socialist Caribbean island, has narrowed the gap between rich and poor. Today, more than a decade after the revolution which brought Fidel Castro to power, there are not so many rich. And the poor, although still on the bread-line, are a little better off.
Fidel Castro's latest plan to improve life in Cuba is collective farming -- not unlike the Kibbutz communities found in Israel. The idea is to make farming more productive -- and therefore improve the life of the commune inhabitants. Some of the farm communities are large -- one has over a thousand people living there, rent free and with furniture provided by the state. The peasants are expected to work the land, and hand over all produce to the Government -- who decide the price they will pay for it. The apartments allocated to each family are not lavish, but they are generally better than the slums of old Havana.
But although the communes are fully inhabited, and the schools are full, the so-called green belt plan is not yet working. Somebody made a mistake while planning the communities, and there is no land ready to be farmed. Nor is there any machinery to work it. So, until these problems are sorted out, most commune dwellers take buses into Havana daily to work there.
Later, when the villagers are organised, each community will be self-contained -- with shops, communal hall, school and breeding farms to improve animal stock.
In Havana, life is also different to pre-revolution days, when the poverty gap between rich and poor was enormous. Now, the old colonial-style mansions along the city's Fifth Avenue no longer house the wealthy, but have been converted into schools, and homes for the Cuban revolutionary elite -- bureaucrats and senior army officers.
But it's the children of the revolution who get priority in Castro's plans. Even before they are born, they earn privileges -- expectant mothers get extra rations of milk and food, and strict controls on materials are eased for the making of baby clothes. In schools, compulsory education puts young Cubans ahead of children in most other Latin American countries. Pictures of Lenin and Castro decorate the class-room walls, and there are liberal doses of propaganda -- but the children are well-fed, well-schooled and seem to be happy.
The teachers are mostly young -- under twenty -- and mostly dedicated to the ideals of the revolution. Some act as foster-mothers to children whose parents live far away from schools, and many are Party members. It is hoped that in the future country children will be taken daily by buses to towns and villages where they will receive schooling, but until then frame school huts have been placed among the sugar cane fields.
Although there is still a long way to go in the country's education plans, illiteracy is fast disappearing, and even the son of a peasant, provided he has the ability, can expect the state to pay his way through college. It seems to be the sons of the revolution who are reaping its fruits.