By W. T. Whitney, published in CounterPunch, Nov 2, 2016
Cuba may soon turn out to be a helpful neighbor to the United States. U.S. barriers have prevented that from happening. But bi-national relations are improving and there are signs that Cuba is primed to lend a hand.
For example, Catherine Conley of Chicago arrived in Cuba on August 26, 2016 to study dance at the National School of Ballet, emblematic among Cuba’s highly-developed teaching programs in the arts. The recent high school graduate, who has been dancing since she was three, will be there for a year. She joins tens of thousands of young people from all over who arrive in Cuba to add to their education.
For ten years Catherine Conley studied dance at the Ruth Page Center in Chicago. She’s participated in summer programs in Boston, New York, and London. The Center in 2015 carried out a student exchange program with the Cuban Ballet School. After participating, Catherine received a scholarship to study dance in Cuba.
The young dancer told a Cuban interviewer that she rejected further dance training in the United States, Europe, or Russia in favor of the Cuban school. In Cuba, she observed, “there’s a very big appreciation for the arts, which I realized the first time I came here … It’s so wonderful that there’s a [television] channel dedicated solely to ballet complete with classes. We don’t have that in the United States.”
She observed that, “Professors [here] insist on interpretation, on feelings that you transmit, on pure and powerful execution.” She predicted other U. S. ballet students will be following her to Cuba. But “I would recommend that they stay longer in Cuba because the training [in dance] is strong. One learns quite rapidly, but it’s a little difficult to adapt to the rigor, although with time it can be done.”
In another example of outreach to the United States, Cuba has helped out with the education of future U.S. physicians and, according to U. S. public health academician and practitioner C. William Keck, is ready to expand medical cooperation with the United States. In his recent commentary in the New England Journal of Medicine, Keck pointed out that collaboration between the two countries in health care is stalled as long as the U.S. economic blockade remains.
Keck highlighted Cuba’s record in providing effective medical education and health care for Cubans and the world. He thinks U. S. health planners could “learn a number of lessons from Cuba’s experience” in providing health care for all while achieving statistical markers of superior outcome. Keck mentions Cuba’s Latin American Medical School where “240 Americans from underserved communities who were unable to afford tuition in this country [have] received full scholarships from Cuba.” Consequently, “the President could authorize U.S. students to enroll in Cuban health professional schools and pay tuition.”
Cuba has prepared scientists who are now the backbone of Cuba’s thriving bio-medical research and industrial network. Two medicines produced in Cuba ought to be available to U.S patients and their physicians, says Dr. Keck. One is Heberprot-P, available in 23 countries and useful for healing foot ulcers in persons with diabetes, and thereby preventing amputations. The other one, Cuba’s CIMAvax vaccine, extends the lives of many people afflicted by lung cancer.
Cuba’s capability of rendering assistance to U. S. Americans is due to Cuba’s experience in nurturing the consciousness, creativity, and capabilities of individual human beings. High functioning minds and bodies and respect for human solidarity and ethical values are prerequisites for success with activities like the ones mentioned in the two reports.
Work toward full human development has taken up considerable space within Cuba’s revolutionary project, more so than was the case with 20th century revolutionary movements generally. Cuban national hero Jose Marti (1853 – 1895) and Ernesto “Che” Guevara set the tone. In his “Socialism and Man in Cuba” (1965) Guevara dealt with the individual’s role inside an evolving revolution. Excerpts follow.
When “there was only the germ of socialism,” he writes, “the individual was a fundamental factor. We put our trust in him … [Within] the framework of … this revolution that took place in our habits and our minds, the individual was the basic factor… In the attitude of our fighters could be glimpsed the man and woman of the future. … The individual [is] in a dual existence as a unique being and as a member of society. [We] recognize the individual’s quality of incompleteness, of being an unfinished product …”
“The process [of education] is two-sided. On the one hand, society acts through direct and indirect education; on the other, the individual submits to a conscious process of self-education… Meanwhile, the economic foundation that has been laid has done its work of undermining the development of consciousness. To build communism it is necessary, simultaneous with the new material foundations, to build the new man and woman… [There must be] development of a consciousness in which there is a new scale of values. Society as a whole must be converted into a gigantic school.”
Commenting on Che Guevara, authors Besancenot and Löwy contend that, “Socialism is not only an economic change. It is also a profound moral and cultural revolution breaking with the egoistical and venal utilitarianism of capitalist civilization.” (1) In a 1963 interview, Guevara himself announced that, “Economic socialism without communist morality does not interest me. We are fighting against poverty but at the same time against alienation.” (2)
It goes without saying that revolutionary movements of the 20th century agitated for equitable distribution of goods and services for entire populations, for health and education for everybody. There was also rhetoric about preparing individuals for full lives and social usefulness. But Cuba’s commitment to the latter goal was exceptional; that’s evident now in the high levels of culture, education, and health that Cubans enjoy.
Cuba’s attention to the care and nurture of individuals is consistent with prescriptions from the founders of revolutionary socialism. Karl Marx, in particular, had a lot to say. In his recent article entitled ‘What Is Socialism for the 21st Century?‘, political analyst Michael A. Lebowitz conveniently displays Marx’s own words on the subject. Marx asked, for instance, “What is wealth other than the universality of individual needs, capacities, pleasures, and productive forces?” He regarded “development of all human powers as such the end in itself.”
The message taken from Cuba’s history of solidarity with other peoples and from teachings of Marx and Che Guevara is that Cuban solidarity with North Americans would by no means be accidental. Cuba has been able to take on solidarity projects precisely because its people have already been equipped with ethical values and with skills for getting jobs done, and for creating.
These qualities are products of the Cuban brand of revolution. They make it so that U. S. capitalists may soon be discovering a paradox: the socialist nation they’ve vilified is willing and able to lend a hand. And, ironically, tools for turning the improbable into a possibility – solidarity, ethics, and skills – wouldn’t exist but for a socialist revolution.
1 Olivier Besancenot and Michael Löwy, Che Guevara: His Revolutionary Legacy, (Monthly Review Press, NY, 2009), p. 40
2, Ibid, p. 40
W.T. Whitney Jr. is a retired pediatrician and political journalist living in Maine. More articles by him in CounterPunch are here.