Education President vs. War President
During the last two weeks, Cuban President Fidel Castro, the real “Education President” has dedicated long hours at public events to back up his stated belief that only a well-educated and cultured population can save a world marked by greed, injustice and plain indifference.
His personal interest and direct participation, as well as that of other top Cuban government officials, is evident in the widespread promotion and coverage given three important events in Havana that emphasize knowledge as a pillar in the search for a better world.
First came Pedagogy 2005 and the World Literacy Congress (Jan 27-31). Participants from some 50 nations discussed ways to move forward on the slacking UN goal of eradicating illiteracy by 2015, a product of little but lip service from the wealthy nations whose leaders have always seen educated poor people as a threat to their political and economic power. The event echoed many of the conclusions of the recently concluded World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil.
President Fidel Castro attended and twice addressed the congress, commenting on the debates. He made a detailed presentation of the situation of illiteracy and functional illiteracy plaguing a world that every four days spends more on military hardware than is needed to eradicate, on a global level, this worsening problem.
Besides stating the importance in Cuba of raising the general educational and cultural level of the entire population, the Cuban leader emphasized the unselfish efforts his country has made in far off lands to address these fundamental problems. He cited as exemplary a recent agreement with Venezuela to jointly offer the proven Cuban audio-visual teaching methods to help bring millions of the continent’s forgotten citizens out of the dark.
Havana International Book Fair
As the curtain fell on Pedagogy 2005, the 14th Havana International Book Fair (Feb. 3-13) opened to the delight of avid local readers and the many foreign visitors to the island, which last year attracted over 2 million tourists.
With an emphasis on Brazil ─this year’s special guest─, book presentations, conferences by renowned authors, nightly concerts by topnotch artists, and an array of coinciding plays and movies are just a sampling of the activities.
Brazilian education minister, Tarzo Genro, who will be joined during the 11-day fest by culture minister and singer Gilberto Gil and several other dignitaries, writers and artists from the South American giant, opened the book fair. Brazil and Cuba have maintained a special relationship for decades but the ties were strengthened since the coming to power of Luis Inacio Lula da Silva at the beginning of 2003.
Publishing houses from Asia, Europe, North and South America are exhibiting their literature, poetry, technical books, etc., alongside the production of dozens of Cuban publishers from across the island.
The annual literature event is a favorite of entire Cuban families who can take special buses to the San Carlos de la Cabana Fortress, converted by the Cuban Revolution into a romantic center for art and culture that overlooks the city with a breathtaking view.
Globalization and the Problems of Development
A picture can tell a thousand words and the back cover of one of the new books offered at the fair from New International Press of Canada leads well into the title of the third event of consequence in this short period in the Cuban capital. The graphic shows a map of the world by night, illustrating how energy consumption portrays the disadvantages faced by the so-called “developing” nations.
The 7th International Conference on Globalization and the Problems of Development (Feb 7-11) brings together some of the cream of the world’s economists from a wide spectrum of views to debate the pros and cons of today’s global interaction.
Cuban TV, radio and print media, and once again President Fidel Castro and his government, are dedicating considerable time to the different analysis of participating experts from 36 countries and to the debate on how to resolve the pressing crisis affecting both Third World and wealthy nations economies, their people’s living standards and the planet’s deteriorated natural resources.
Besides the presence of a Nobel prizewinning economist and representatives of the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and other multi-lateral financial organizations, experts in the field with a people and environment first philosophy, that Cuba advocates, are also widely represented.
Meanwhile, back on his Texas ranch, the self-proclaimed “War President”, George W. Bush –who calls the real “Education President” a tyrant- spent the same period threatening countries that don’t accept his dictates such as Iran, Syria, Cuba and Venezuela. He also campaigned around the country to drum up support in Congress for putting the pensions of US citizens in private hands and cutting social spending in order to foot a portion of his over half trillion-dollar military budget and soaring 12-figure annual deficit.
It is obvious to all that education has long since ceased to be a concern of the White House, except, of course, during election campaigns. The philosophy seems to be that “free” markets, charity and the heavy artillery will take care of one of the world’s most glaring problems.
Bush administration officials, led by Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, VP Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, arrogantly imply that the US style military democracy must be shoved down everybody’s throat, even if the results have already proven disastrous for the vast majority of the takers.
A Challenge to the Rich
At the opening of Pedagogy 2005, Fidel Castro highlighted the markedly different Cuban approach to serious world problems. He noted how his small, blockaded and under-developed nation of 11 million people has been able to offer tens of thousands of doctors and teachers to nations in need.
Fidel, in his confident style and backed by Cuban achievements, challenged Bush and the European Union to come up with the volunteer human resources needed to fight illiteracy and provide health care and medical training in the world’s many outposts of sickness and ignorance.
While assuring that they can’t and won’t, he said that in the meantime Cuba and the countries willing to join her would continue preaching social and economic justice and practicing real solidarity.