News Release

Sanders and Cuban Literacy Rate


Sen. Bernie Sanders has been criticized for recently stating: “We’re very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba but you know, it’s unfair to simply say everything is bad. 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?”

Notably, then-President Barack Obama stated in 2016: “And I said this to President Castro in Cuba. I said, look, you’ve made great progress in educating young people. Every child in Cuba gets a basic education — that’s a huge improvement from where it was. Medical care — the life expectancy of Cubans is equivalent to the United States, despite it being a very poor country, because they have access to health care. That’s a huge achievement.” See video clip — viral on Twitter.

A 1984 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) report found that in 1959, 23.6 percent of the population above the age of 10 were illiterate. By 1961, the number had fallen to 3.9 percent.

JAMES COUNTS EARLY, early1947 at
Early has visited Cuba many times over 44 years. He is the former Smithsonian Institution assistant secretary for education and public service and is a trustee of the Institute for Policy Studies.

He said today that an additional aspect of Cuba’s success on literacy has been the “global export of the Cuban literacy model to developing countries around the world, and to underdeveloped communities in developed countries. …

”Cuban citizens and their political representatives have always expressed a desire to respectfully pursue mutual beneficial relationships between the two countries [Cuba and the U.S.] without preconditions, and a readiness to respectfully discuss all differences. This has resulted in progress on drug interdiction, education of medical doctors from African American and Hispanic communities, a biotech joint venture designed to bring four promising Cuban cancer drugs to U.S. patients, artistic and scholarly exchanges enjoyed by both countries, among other mutual benefits. This, despite the U.S. blockade and destabilizing policies of the Trump administration compared to the productive policies established by the Obama administration.

“There is widespread debate in Cuba among citizens and government officials about the virtues, achievements, errors and failures of their economic and political system.” Early noted “the damaging U.S. blockade which all but literally a few countries in the world condemn. … Sanders and other U.S. officials and mainstream media should respectfully go to Cuba and exchange” ideas without castigating or attempting to dictate how Cubans determine the future of their country.

See in-depth interviews with Early from The Real News, including on Cuba.

See documentary “Maestra (Teacher)” at the Zinn Education Project by Catherine Murphy about the successful 1961 literacy campaign in Cuba.