Four Canadians Who Saw Cuba (1963)
A pamphlet published by the Fair Play for Cuba Committee in March 1963.
A Report by Four Canadians on Cuba As They Saw It
The American State Department has stepped up efforts to tighten its curtain of silence and distortion around the Cuban Revolution. The American people are not allowed to visit Cuba except by special permission of the U.S. State Department. Canadians and others are finding it increasingly difficult to visit Cuba because of the open F.B.I. interference in Mexico, one of the few countries outside the Soviet Bloc which permits flights to Havana.
The reason for this "Iron Curtain", we are told, is to prevent the Cubans from exporting trained guerrilla fighters, from exporting revolution and subversion to Latin America and elsewhere. Such an "explanation" is designed, we believe, to hide the real purpose of this criminal game of isolation. At the moment the U.S. State Department is working overtime to prevent the Latin American people from visiting Cuba. Why? Because anyone looking at Cuba cannot help but contrast the situation in his own country with that which now prevails inside Cuba. To see Cuba is to get a glimpse at the future of America — and to see that it works.
The people of Canada, the U.S. and Latin America have a right to know what is going on in Cuba and the daily press cannot be relied on for information. The Fair Play for Cuba Committee of Canada has strained its financial resources to make this pamphlet available. The results, we believe, have been worth the effort. We hope you will agree.
whose trip to Cuba roused national attention was there from January 1st of this year for 18 days. He has represented the Burnaby constituency in the BC legislature, since 1957. He is a card carrying member of the Mine Mill and Smelter Workers Union in which he played an active role and is chairman of the, Vancouver Chapter of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee. He is married to a daughter of that pioneer of the West Coast labor and socialist movement, Ernest Winch.
principal of the public school in Coboconk, Ontario. He spent part of the summer of 1962 in Cuba where he made a special effort to study the educational system there. He is a member of the provincial council of the Ontario New Democratic Party. He has taught for six years.
’s last Cuban trip was in the summer of 1962. He has for sometime been a close student of developments both there and Latin America and has spoken on the subject many times to Winnipeg area audiences besides writing at length in his regular column in the Prairie New Democrat Commonwealth, of which he is a co-editor. He was editor, prior to its fusion with the Saskatchewan paper, of the Manitoba CCF Commonwealth, and has been long active in railway workers' union circles.
is in his second year in Political Science and Economics at the University of Toronto. He is a former member of the Ontario Provincial Council of the New Democratic Party and vice-president of the York East NDP. He is chairman of the University of Toronto Student Committee on Cuban Affairs. He visited Cuba as a guest at the ceremonies marking the Fourth Anniversary of the Revolution from January 2 to January 30 of this year.
A portion of a speech delivered to over 500 persons who rallied to a meeting called by the Oil and Chemical Workers Union and the Burnaby constituency association of the NDP
I am so filled with emotion tonight I could just about cry with joy. Three days ago I almost wept with sorrow when I had to leave the people of Cuba. The people of Cuba are a very enthusiastic and happy people and when you realize it is quite possible they may be destroyed you will understand why I cried. The people I met in Cuba were good people, just like you people here in Burnaby. They are human beings who enjoy living, who enjoy their families and who want to live in peace.
But before I start to tell you about Cuba, I first want to thank all those who supported me when I asked them whether I should go to Cuba. I also would like to thank Mr. and Mrs. Kornisoff who offered to address this meeting if by any chance the Mexican government delayed my return. I'll have something more to say about that a little later on. (Applause) I would also like to thank Sam Shannon who was my first campaign manager, along with the Oil Workers, for doing such a fine job in organizing this meeting. There is no harder worker in Burnaby than Sam. (Applause) In fact, you don't realize just how happy I am tonight to see you here. (Audience — "We're glad to see you" — Applause).
While I was down in Cuba the Toronto Globe and Mail sent a reporter around to interview me. He brought along a bunch of clippings. One of the clippings he showed me read: I have been an embarrassment to the NDP-CCF for years. (Laughter) Well, friends, maybe I have. I'll tell you what is behind this so-called embarrassment. If going to Russia to find out the truth about the people of Russia is an embarrassment, well then I am an embarrassment to the party. If belonging to the Mine, Mill & Smelter Workers is an embarrassment, that's too bad. I helped organize the Mine, Mill & Smelter Workers, and I am still a member. If that's an embarrassment it's unfortunate. (Applause) And I might say friends that there is no political party and no person going to tell me what I am going to say to my union and when I am going to say it.
I am a trade unionist and a union man and I feel I have the same right as any other union man to speak out when I want to speak out. (Applause) As for this trip to Cuba I was invited by the Cuban Ambassador at Ottawa. When I received their wire it said I had to reply within three hours. There wasn't time to call a meeting of our NDP Constituency club. I phoned various people who I knew supported me and asked them to make as many enquiries as they could as to whether I should go. Within two hours, Ron Irvine, Sam Shannon, Martin Amiable and others throughout the riding told me that I had a lot of support and to go. A few days later Bob Strachan asked me if I would reconsider. I told Bob that I would reconsider. But I would again take it up with the people who I had previously asked whether I should go. (Remarks from audience. In response to remarks from the audience: "Bob is still our leader") These same people in Burnaby told me — you have received an invitation to go to Cuba, we are the people who elected you, who nominated you, we want you to go and bring back the story. And I went to Cuba with the approval of the majority of the people who I know support me here in Burnaby. Not only did I ask members of the NDP, I phoned my own local doctor and businessmen who I know. They thought it was a golden opportunity to get into Cuba so soon after the crisis.
I might say that I am the first elected representative of Canada who has visited Cuba, they told me. That may be a crime, coming from Canada, but the British Labor Party was represented by three MP's and one of the executive of the party. All of their trips were paid for by the Cuban government. (Applause) In fact, every socialist party which spoke up during the crisis was asked to send a representative. I met members from the Socialist Party of Norway, Sweden, Holland, Greece, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, and Mexico. And all of these people told me that they belonged to the socialist party of their country, and all of them also told me that their expenses were being paid. Now this may be a crime — accepting a trip that is paid for by somebody else, but I know that your elected representatives couldn't afford to travel very far if they had to pay their own way, and the world today is so small that if you are going to understand the problems of people, you have to go and visit these people.
My main interest in going to Cuba was not to meet Fidel Castro, because I didn't meet him. My main interest was to go to Cuba to find out for myself, to meet and to talk with the Cuban people. By doing this I think I am working towards the road to peace. If the people in the province of British Columbia can understand the Cuban people a little better after I have finished speaking tonight we are that much closer to peace, and I think we all want that. (Applause)
I have another invitation to take a tour. And today I have been invited to Montreal to address the Sir George Williams University. I don't know whether I will be criticized or not. I imagine from letters and telegrams I have been receiving that I will be kept quite busy this coming spring .. .
Well, now I am going to tell you about my trip to Cuba. I left here on New Year's Day by CPA jet to Mexico. I was in Mexico City in exactly four hours after I left Vancouver. I had a landing permit from the Mexican Ambassador here in the city of Vancouver for which I paid $3.00. I told him that I was returning from Cuba at the end of the month so I wanted to have a permit that was good for a month. The gentleman said that's fine. He gave it to me. So I got off the plane in Mexico City that day, I got a taxi and I went into the city of Mexico for three hours. It was all lit up. It is a beautiful city — all decorated. I have never seen a city so well decorated with Christmas Tree lights. It is really a beautiful city. I went back to catch our plane at the airport which was supposed to leave at 2 o'clock. But 2 o'clock came and went, and the Cuban plane still hadn't arrived.
After going to Cuba I know now that they meant Cuban time. We waited around until 6 o'clock in the morning when the Cuban plane came in and picked us up. But before we got to this plane we were intimidated by the Mexican officials. We had to show our passports and tickets and as we did it some stooges of the CIA took our pictures.
Harassed by the CIA in Mexico
This is nothing but intimidation because Canada is at war with no one. Cuba is at war with no one. I didn't know that it was a crime to go to Cuba. Yet they were taking all our pictures. I told some of the Canadian delegates who were on the plane that I admired the courage of the women going to Cuba. There were a number of women going from the Latin American countries. I said that these women will be lucky if they get back home after their pictures have been taken.
Well, anyway, we got on the plane and went to Cuba. It took us three hours. When we arrived at the airport they told us: Leave your baggage. We will take everything to the hotel for you. We have buses waiting here for you. You have missed the parade but if you rush you will hear Fidel speak. So we missed the parade but we got into the grandstand in Revolution Square five minutes before Fidel started to speak.
Now when I left here, according to the American press, most people were out for Castro's blood and at the first opportunity they were going to kill him. I expected to find everybody there with horns and everybody booing, you know. Instead of that, what do I find? And I will have my pictures to prove it in a week or so when they are developed — providing they all come out, of course. I found here in this Revolution Square between three quarters of a million and a million people. At least one third of these people would be members of the militia, all armed. It would have been quite easy for a saboteur to be among them with a revolver. Nobody would have paid any attention to him because walking around the streets of Cuba are young girls carrying their revolvers and the fellows are carrying their revolvers. It would have been quite easy for somebody to have a revolver there and have taken a pot-shot at Fidel. But no, nobody took a pot-shot at Fidel.
Fidel started his speech, "Distinguished visitors, workers, campesinos, students, citizens all — Mr. Kennedy would say that I am speaking to the captive people of Cuba. Are you people captives?" "No! Fidel. We are not captives. We love you Fidel!" Three quarters of a million people yelling this. Well, right away I could see it was a different story — five minutes after arriving in Revolution Square. Well, Fidel went on with his speech for about two hours before closing. Then they sang the Internationale — three verses of the Internationale.
I have movie pictures which I hope come out — maybe the local television will want to use them — (Laughter) — where the whole crowd are moving in a mass like this while they are singing the Internationale. They didn't look like people who were ready to kill Fidel. They looked to me like people who were very happy that they have established a new social order in Cuba. (Applause) After the singing of the Internationale, Castro returns to the microphones as if he had forgotten something: "What are we going to call this year", he asks "The Year of Organization."
Now it has been said that Castro is a communist. He may be. I don't know. I am quite sure he knows a lot about Marx and Lenin. I do know that he is establishing a new social order in Cuba. I also know that he decisively broke with the Secretary of the Communist Party, Anibal Escalante, and he did not go into a back room to do so. When he denounced Escalante he did so openly, before the people of Cuba — while being interviewed by a panel of newspapermen heard over all the radio and TV stations of Cuba.
He dropped the axe on the secretary of the CP because he and others had been turning the new party "into a yoke, a straight-jacket".
This to me is proof that Fidel Castro is running Cuba. He is running his own social order. It's not the Communist Party that is running it. The men of the 26th of July Movement are still in control of the revolution in Cuba ...
I am quite sure that if the Americans would remove the embargo and get off their backs, give them a chance to trade with the world, that within ten years Cuba would be a paradise. (Applause) Cuba is one of the richest pieces of land in the world. It can feed over fifty million people. The population today is seven million. Konni Zilliacus, when we were speaking to a Cuban official, said "Don't I wish we had this piece of land over in Great Britain. We haven't enough land in Great Britain to feed ten per cent of our people. We have to depend on other people for food." He said: "You people are fortunate. In a few short years you will not only be able to feed all of your people, but you will be able to export to most of the world." Cuba is a land where they are assured of three crops a year.
Since the Americans have left, the Cubans have found one of the largest deposits of nickel ore in the world. Cuba is rich in nickel, it's rich in chromium, rich in magnesium, they have found 400 million tons of iron ore. This island is a very rich island. But that is not why the Americans want Cuba.
The Americans are not at all concerned about the wealth of Cuba or the people of Cuba. What they are concerned about are the ideas that are implanted in the minds of the people of Cuba and these ideas have now spread out to all of Latin America. They can drop bombs on Cuba, they can kill every Cuban if they want, but they will not kill the ideas that are implanted in the minds of the Latin Americans now. (Applause) These are impressions, mind you, I am not a mind reader. I was only down there a short while but these are my impressions after talking to people.
Now I suppose I ought to start telling you a little bit about the life of the Cuban people. Before the revolution, 35 % of the working force of Cuba was permanently unemployed. How they lived, managed to survive, I don't know. They lived in bohios, which are little grass huts, mud and grass, or maybe some lumber and grass. Dirt floors. They slept on the ground. 35 % of the population lived like this. Today there are 10% unemployed. This vast improvement took place within four years.
I went to a state farm, one of the largest poultry farms I have ever seen. I saw the new village cities that are being built for these people, people who lived in bohios, now living in new modern homes, pre-fabricated, concrete homes, lovely homes, with completely modern bathrooms. Something that they are not used to — it's going to take a lot of education just to show these people how to live in these homes. But Castro is building them and these homes don't cost them a cent while they work on the state farm. They pay no rent. That is one of the privileges of working on the state farm. Now they don't get paid much working on the state farm. They get around $100 a month. But remember — before they got nothing. They didn't even know where their next meal was coming from. They never worked. Now they are raising chickens and ducks. This farm I was on raises ducks also.
For the first time in the history of Cuba they are producing ducks and on the 6th of January they processed 80,000 ducks for the celebration. The sixth of January is their Feast of the Wise Men — exchange gifts day. I think we call it "little Christmas".
Well anyway, on the morning of the 6th of January, there was a knock at my door. I got out of bed and went to the door and a man, who said he was Santa Claus, handed me a book of records of the Second Declaration of Havana and an ashtray. Every guest in the hotel got this treat, so it shows they do believe in Santa Claus. The night before I had been out shopping and I enquired what the line-ups were for. They said everybody was buying gifts for exchange day — I saw hundreds of bicycles being bought for children. In Cuba today people have lots of money but the shelves are very bare.
But now I want to tell you more about this state farm. The people on this farm had lived in bohios as I said before. They had nothing. No schooling, couldn't read or write, didn't even know where their meals were coming from. Now they have jobs, they have homes, they have schools and they have hospitals. For the first time in the history of Cuba people in the country have all this. Before, what facilities there were of this kind were all concentrated in the cities. We went to a dairy farm and there the situation was quite similar. Except that people who know very little about dairying are trying to operate it. They need the help of Michael Kornisoff down there. That's the man they need down in Cuba — a man who's won the first prize in Canada for five years in a row — teaching them how to do it . .
From this state farm I went to a mining camp in Pinar del Rio by the name of Matahambre. Now it's quite a story — the way we got to this camp. We had been touring through this province, and we stayed at a hotel called Bonelis for the night. We were told to be sure to be up at 8:30 in the morning as the bus would be ready between 9 and 10 to take us to Matahambre, because, the miners have invited us for lunch. Well, along came 10 o'clock and no bus. Then they told us that the bus had broken down and would be along in an hour. But of course, knowing this was Cuban time, we thought we would be lucky if we were out of here by noon. As it was, we did not get out until 3 — two hours later than the time that our lunch was scheduled for at Matahambre. So we started off for Matahambre. We got there at 8 o'clock at night. Now I can just imagine all this happening in a mining camp in British Columbia. The miners' wives would have the meal all prepared. The miners would have been there at 1 o'clock in the afternoon. And if the guests hadn't shown up by 3, and certainly by 5 o'clock, they would have said they're not coming and thrown in the sponge. But we arrived there at 8 o'clock at night and they pinned corsages on the women in our party, handed each of us a bottle of beer and a sandwich, and said "In half an hour the banquet will be ready." (Laughter)
The Enthusiasm of the People
Now, here's another thing, we lost six hours that morning. Well, these Cuban people are determined people. They're just as determined in showing you the country as they are in winning the revolution. They weren't going to let us lose six hours, so at 10:30 at night we climbed in the bus again at Matahambre. Well, I thought, I'm going to get back to that hotel and get a good sleep anyway. But no sooner did we get seated in the bus than they said: "We're going to take you to our new copper refinery." We got to the copper refinery. Here we were touring a copper refinery at midnight.
So they made sure they showed us everything there was to see, anyway. They don't waste a minute. If you lose time in the morning they make sure you make it up by night. Well, the next day we started back for Havana. This was just a two and a half day trip. And on the way back we stopped at another state farm.
This state farm is producing tomatoes. Now you may think — what's so significant about producing tomatoes? We produce tomatoes here in Canada. But in Cuba they have never produced a tomato before. Most of their green stuffs and tomatoes came from the United States. U.S. mining corporations and fruit companies there were only in Cuba to exploit the people. They weren't in there for anything else. United States Fruit was interested in the bananas, in the papayas and all the natural fruits growing on the land, and the sugar cane. They weren't interested in letting the people plant tomatoes and greens so that they could have a decent standard of living. No. The Cubans had to buy all this from Miami. They brought it over and the Cubans had to buy it from them. But, now they're growing all their own green stuffs.
The beds on this tomato farm are about four feet wide and they stretch, oh, for a couple of hundred yards in length. There are about six buildings the size of this one here, all of concrete. The plants are embedded in pebbles, just small rocks inside these buildings. The farm is a plant — it's a fertilizing plant with water. And through these pebbles, circulating steadily, is fertilized water. That's all there is. No earth in these beds at all. The plants are growing in rock and water, fertilized water. They get anywhere from three to five crops a year off the plants.
Before very long if we can establish a situation where the people of Cuba can work in peace, Cuba will be exporting tomatoes to all the rest of the world. Now when I said Cuba can be a paradise in ten years, it really can be a paradise in ten years. You must realize at the present time, right now, about a third of the population of Cuba is in arms, in the militia, and in the army. They are having to work to till the soil with one hand, point the other with a revolver in it in the direction of Uncle Sam. That's exactly how they're having to work now. (Applause)
Facing the Threat of Invasion
Every day, right on the horizon off the shore of Cuba, you see the Oxford cruising back and forth. The Oxford has been there for eight months, intimidating the people of Cuba, letting them know that Big Brother is out there — watching. That's exactly how the people of Cuba are being intimidated, having to live under the threat of invasion, not knowing if it's coming today or tomorrow. They know that the battleship is out there. They can see it every day. They know there's Guantanamo Bay at the southern end of the island out of which US forces can start pouring any day. Yet these people are progressing, and progressing a lot faster than we here in Canada. (Applause)
In Cuba they have a complete comprehensive medical plan. Since the revolution they have built over 100 hospitals. There are hospitals in Cuba in districts where they never thought they would have hospitals in the next hundred years. Under Batista, under that type of government, they never would have had them. Before, people in the rural areas, if they ever took sick or died, they would have to be brought into the city. The hospitals are not big hospitals — they're small. But in the city of Havana itself I saw three brand-new hospitals. I went through one that was just completed last year. Beautifully new hospitals for a population of just over six million people. We talk here, we hear Eric Martin talk about British Columbia's hospital expansion. Well he should go down to Cuba and see what these people are doing. (Applause)
I went through new housing projects, beautiful, beautiful apartment suites. With three and four bedrooms — absolutely modern — as modern as any apartment building you'll find here in the city of Vancouver. What rent did they pay? Ten per cent of their salary. After twenty years it is theirs — they don't pay anything after that. If by any chance you happen to be renting an older house that was built before 1945, you pay ten per cent of your salary for five years and then it's yours and you don't pay any more — it's yours. If it's a house that was built in 1950 you pay ten per cent of your salary and in seven and a half years it's yours — you do not pay any more on it. If it's a new one you pay for twenty years and then it's yours.
Where does all the money come from? They have one tax — 11.9 percent of your salary goes to taxes. This is the only tax there is. But don't forget this, do not forget that this country is a socialist country. All of the profits attained from these copper mines, all of the profits that come from the oil and everything else is now going into the government's hands. They are not going into the pockets of the United Fruit Company. They are going into the government's hands. They are not going over to Miami. Castro is working the mines himself. Castro is exporting the ore to Poland, selling the copper ore throughout the world. He's getting the money himself. This is what you can do in a socialist country.
The people are not being exploited and neither is the country. For a hundred years before this they were being exploited by the United States. The mines of Matahambre are fifty years old and all that the miners got out of it was wages. The government got nothing. The United States just went in and said they wanted it. You will recall all the criticism of the nationalization of the oil refineries in Cuba. Castro wasn't anxious to expropriate them. He was willing to buy them out. He had made an arrangement with Venezuela to get oil at a cheaper price than Standard Oil was selling it to them. Standard Oil declared they wouldn't supply the tankers to go to Venezuela to bring in this oil. So Castro said, "In that case", he said, "I'll bring in oil from Russia. We don't need to use your tankers." Then Standard Oil said, "Well you can bring in all the oil you want to from Russia, but we won't refine it!" "Oh you won't, eh!" said Castro. Twenty four hours later Standard Oil and, the rest of them were out of there. (Applause)
The United Fruit said "Oh, those people living in the bohios. They don't know anything about growing fruit, or looking after fruit." Well, they may not know anything about it but by God there's a lot of fruit down there. You can eat a lot of it. And as I say, let's have a peaceful economy in Cuba and we'll have a paradise. We will be able to eat Cuban fruit then.
A revolution has taken place in Cuba and it is still in revolution. Every day there's a threat. Yet under this revolution, gasoline for your car there is 32¢ per gallon. What is it in Vancouver? We workers of British Columbia are paying 10¢ a gallon more and we've got our own oil here in British Columbia.
What are the wages there? An electrician's wages are $300 a month, that's for linesmen. For the inside electrician? Well the only concession the linesman gets is that he works for six hours a day, a five day week. The inside electrician works eight hours a day. So he gets a concession of two hours a day for the risk of having to work on high tension wires. That's a good differential. He gets the same pay but he's home much more. I think that's a good deal. I would much sooner that we in BC had that, than what we have today — all these differences in rates of pay.
Electricians are one of the most needed tradesmen in the country because they have to look after all of the electric systems. The whole country is on a thermal-electric system. The electricians were offered two weeks more holidays than anyone else gets — making in all six weeks with pay a year. They turned it down. They said that they're building a free Cuba, that they did not want to build a Cuba with different classes of people. They wanted Cuba, when it was finished, to be one class. (Applause)
The Struggle for Equality
Now if you want, I can give you miners' rates of pay too. It is the same as the Matahambre miners' rates of pay before the revolution. Then, they were 10 to 15 dollars. Now they are 10 to 12 dollars — a $3 cut. The union voted a $3 cut. Why did they vote for a $3 cut? One of the reasons is that the previous owners had exploited the mine, and left it unsafe. The miners put the suggestion to Fidel Castro that if he would put the mine in safe order they were willing to work for less wages. Fidel Castro put the mine in safe working order so that now there's less chance of accidents. The men are much happier going into a mine, knowing that it's a safe mine, than they were going into one not knowing whether it was safe or not. Of course, now the miners get their month's holiday with pay. If you work 11 months, you will get one month off with pay. If you work 3 months you get one week. If you work six months you get 2 weeks. If you work nine months you get 3 weeks. That is what everybody working in Cuba gets as their holiday. If you are a miner and get injured — you get 100% of your pay as compensation for the first year. If your injury is such that it takes longer than a year for you to get back on the job your compensation is reduced to 70% of your previous wages plus 5 % for every child, not in excess of 100%. That is better than any contract in the province of British Columbia or anywhere else in Canada.
Silicosis? If you have silicosis you get 100% compensation for the rest of your life. Much better than we have right here in Canada. You can do this in a socialist regime. But you can not do this in a capitalist regime where the capitalists control the purse strings. You can only do it where the people themselves control the economy of the country. (Applause)
Now I am going to go back to the housing situation again. I went to another project where the people had never worked before, never had a job and had lived in bohios. Now they are living in completely new homes. What the government did was to supply the materials. Then they paid the men to build their own homes. Put them to work for the first time in their life. These people have homes. They had a bohio before, but now they have a decent home to live in and have some money in their pockets, after building their homes. They've got farms started up and they can work on these farms. They're much better off than they ever were before. Whether there'll ever come a time when they're employed one hundred per cent of the year I don't know. A lot of these people have been able to get by before and I do not know that they are worrying too much whether they work the full year or not. That is why I think the holiday scale is based on three, six, and nine months. Many of these people are not interested in working too long — just as long as they can get by.
I went to the old Batista camp — Camp Columbia. It used to be a military camp. Today there are thousands of school children being educated, ten thousand school children being educated and housed out in the country As for these schools — children who never had an opportunity to be educated before can now read and write. One of the criticisms I have heard is — yes — but they are not educated by qualified school teachers! No, there are not enough school teachers in Cuba. That's granted. They are sending their high school and junior high school students into districts to teach these children and I say what is wrong with sending a high school student to start to teach adults or anybody else if they can't read or write? A high school student can pass on the knowledge to them — can at least get them to lift a pen and write a name and read a little. You don't have to be a school teacher to get them started. As this regime progresses they will have school teachers. All the districts will have school teachers.
I am very proud to say that British Columbia is doing its part. I ran into a British Columbia school teacher. She is down there to help the Revolution — working in Cuba. I ran into a doctor who quit the clinic at Trail. He's down there doing his part — helping the revolution. He said Trail has a good standard of living. He told me he thinks it is more humanitarian to come to Cuba and help the people who really need help. I think a lot of praise should go to men like that. (Applause)
In the next part of my talk I will answer the question: was there anything bad that you ran into? I would not say I ran into anything really bad, but I did come across people who did not support the government. I didn't meet anyone who I would say was a counter-revolutionary. But I did run into a fair number of people who are not at all happy about the Castro regime. They are not happy because they have been hurt.
One man I spoke to — he had twelve apartment blocks before Castro took eleven of them and left him with one. (Laughter) He knows full well that within a few short years all that he is going to have of that one is his own suite because the apartment was built around 1950. This man will be able to collect rent for only seven and a half years at 10% of the tenants' salaries and then he is going to lose all of the suites except the one he lives in. So you can't blame the man for being mad, he has lost eleven apartments already and he is going to lose the twelfth one before long. This is part of the revolution in that revolutionary state. Well that's it — Cuba's got such people. They just won't back the revolution. They were the ones who were bucking it and have to suffer the consequences.
I ran into a man who owned a store before. What is he doing now? He is black-marketing money. I took all of my badges off and nobody knew who I was. I was just smart enough to keep my identification ticket in my pocket in case I was picked up — otherwise they would have taken me some place and I wouldn't have returned. But I was told to wander if I wanted to see things. That's the way to see things — wander, mix with the people, so I did. I was walking down the street when I was approached. The former store-owner wanted to find out if I wanted to exchange any money. I asked what is the rate, what will you give me? He said twelve to one. For every American dollar he would give me twelve pesos. Some people say that's nothing. I got twelve to one in Mexico City. That's the going rate in Mexico City. But Castro, I have got to admire the man, he's got his peso at the same value as the American dollar. One peso for one American dollar.
Castro, every time he speaks to them, he lets them know, "This is your country". He takes every problem to them. Whenever he has a problem he holds a mass meeting and asks them "What should we do? We are in trouble here. This is your country. We need help. What should we do?"
They go out picking chupa beans. Are they glad to sweat! Boy it's just pouring off them. They're glad to see how many things they can do in a day, because it's their country they're doing it for.
Sugar cane — how do they get the workers to go out in the fields to cut sugar cane? I went to the annual meeting of the Electrical Workers. Lazaro Pena — I think that is his name — is the head of the trade union movement in Cuba. During Batista's time he was imprisoned and exiled. He was there at the Electrical workers' meeting to make an appeal to them, to the locals, to get so many volunteer workers. He asked them how many were going to volunteer because a week before they had started cutting cane. Every local representative came up and said so many men have volunteered for so many days to go into the sugar fields. When they go this is completely voluntary. They don't get paid for it. They just take their machete and they go to work.
You will say — well, how do they live? How does the factory where they usually work keep going? The men who remain back in the factory who were normally going home at the end of an eight hour shift — they put in extra hours to take care of the job that their companero has gone out into the fields to do. The pay for those extra hours they're putting in goes into the pocket of their companero for cutting the sugar cane. That's the way they're cutting the sugar — a real cooperative effort. (Applause) And the sugar cane is being cut.
Can you imagine us doing that here? Working for a capitalist boss! Are you going to go and volunteer to do something for a capitalist boss? No! But if the country is yours and you are being educated to the fact that the country is yours — you're willing to do anything for it — like these people are willing to work for it — and willing to die for it. And they don't mind telling you that. They'll tell you that they are going to die in the streets before they'll let the Americans take over. And I believe them! (Applause)
I went through a sugar mill and met the workers. All these men had come from another job to work in the sugar mill while the sugar season is on. The men back at their plant are having to work that much harder to take care of the plant and handle the jobs that they were doing. There is a real cooperative spirit — something that I have never seen before in my life. I've seen other people cooperate but I've never seen them cooperate like these people.
Support the Castro Regime
I only wish that more of us could visit Cuba, because you have to go down there to see, you have to go down there to talk to these people to get the real feel of the situation. When you talk to them you realize just how far-fetched the stories in our papers are. In some ways we all know they are because you'll read a story about Cuba on one page and on the next page there is a conflicting story. You don't know who to believe. These impressions are my impressions of what I think of Cuba. I think the people of Cuba are very happy. I think that close to 75 % of the people are backing Fidel Castro, about 20% are sitting on the fence and about 5% are absolutely opposed.
Now I did run into a man working right in the Riviera Hotel who was opposed to the regime — working right there — and the people he is working with kid him about it. They ask him, why? He says because before he used to be able to get a lot of tips and he liked working for the capitalist boss. But when the crisis came, this man joined the militia.
I asked him, "Why did you join the militia if you don't believe m the regime? I would have thought you would have been happy to step aside and let somebody else fill in." He said, "The only reason I did, Mr. Cox, is I remember the old regime. Under the old regime," he said, "I couldn't take my wife for a walk down the street. Some American `gangster' would come along and grab my wife and I couldn't put up a fight at all. If I did anything, the Batista police would grab me as though I were the criminal, not the American. Today", he said, "I can walk down the streets of Cuba and my wife is safe. My wife is safe in Cuba even if she is walking down the street by herself" And that is the truth.
In Cuba there is close to two million people under arms, not all at one time. They all have to do their stint. But close to two million people have arms. They keep them in their homes but every so many days they are on duty with them. You meet girls everywhere carrying revolvers and if they haven't a revolver they have a machine gun. Can you just imagine any fellow going up to a girl and (rest of sentence drowned out by laughter). You'd think twice, boy. You'd think twice. (Voice from audience, referring to a new device being used by Vancouver police to break up picket lines — "What about police dogs?") I didn't see any — they may have them but I didn't see any.
In the time of Batista, Havana was known as the brothel of North America. There were more red light districts in Havana than in any other city in the whole Western Hemisphere. There was one area alone — five square blocks — filled with girls from the age of nine years and up, where American millionaires could come over and have a good time. An American millionaire would go to Cuba and have a good time with a native over there but when he went home he wouldn't even let the same type of native ride in the same bus with him. That's the type of American who used to go to Cuba. (Loud applause)
Well — what's happened to these girls? There are two rehabilitation centers in Cuba for these girls. They are being taught to read and write — many of them didn't even know how to read and write. They are very pretty girls. Under the old regime when a farmer had a very pretty daughter and he knew he couldn't feed her because he didn't have a job, he would take her into the city and sell her to these houses to let the American millionaires and gangsters play with her. Do you know the ages of these girls in these rehabilitation centers? The youngest is thirteen and the oldest is forty five now. There's the proof that nine year old girls were in these houses four years ago. And I think a lot of credit should go to Fidel Castro for cleaning this rat's nest out of Cuba. (Loud long applause)
Well — I'm not going to say much more, other than I am very happy that I went to Cuba. The Cuban people are determined to build an independent Cuba and if we as Canadians will only help, by trying to force our government to trade more with them, force our government, force the British government, to ignore United States policy — make the United States see the light, make them realize that the people of Cuba are still human beings and that they have a right to their own way of life, a right to look at the sun the same as you and I. If we can only do that for the Cuban people, ten years from now you will be happy to go to this paradise. It will be a paradise if the American State Department will only give them the opportunity. The Cuban people are my friends. The ones I met I loved. I'm telling you right now it just about broke my heart to leave them knowing full well I may never see them again or have the opportunity to see them again — in fact they may even be killed in a war. I only hope that with my visit to Cuba, and I intend to travel and do a lot of talking about my trip, I hope that I can convince a lot of people in Canada that the Cubans are not our enemies, that the Cubans are our friends, and they deserve the same privileges and rights as you and I. Thank you. (Ovation, whistling cheering, loud applause).
An article that appeared in the Educational Courier, Nov, Dec. 1962 — official publication of the Public School Men Teachers and the Federation of Women Teachers Associations of Ontario.
On July 26, which is a national holiday in Cuba, I visited Arbalio Raminez Institute. This is a school on the level of our collegiate institutes. When I arrived the students were just finishing a rally to celebrate this holiday. Here I met Dr. Manuel Barrecios, a history teacher, and three students, Dulce Guzman, Maritza Corrales and Rosalia Plesencia. I was able to arrange an interview with Dr. Barrecios using Maritza and Rosalia as interpreters. In this interview we covered the field of education in Cuba.
GLENN: What were the conditions of the public elementary and secondary schools in comparison to private and parochial schools of the same level?
BARRECIOS: Before the revolution in Cuba there were more private and parochial schools than there were public schools. In the cities there were some elementary schools but rurally there were none. In the non-public schools there was segregation. The public secondary school situation was worse. Less than 5 per cent finished secondary school. There was only 1 university for 7 million people.
Since the revolution we have built and are still building more public elementary and secondary schools. We have built 2 more universities.
GLENN: In Canada we have read of many professors and teachers leaving Cuba. Will you comment on this?
BARRECIOS: This occurred mainly at the secondary and university level. Teachers in these private schools were very highly paid. Their standard of living was close to that of the rich Cubans. Hence teaching became a very profitable business rather than a profession.
GLENN: What has the attitude of western nations been towards assisting Cuban people to train in various fields?
BARRECIOS: In most cases it has only been verbal. They have offered no money or means of transportation. At present we are receiving aid from socialist countries who are teaching trades, not politics or culture.
GLENN: What is the status of the teacher in the community?
BARRECIOS: The teacher is part of the community. They are highly esteemed. They are able to put forth their ideas for education.
GLENN: What is the Cuban government's attitude towards religious education in the schools?
BARRECIOS: We feel that religion is the work of the churches. Religion can be practised much better there than in a school.
GLENN: How is the curriculum determined?
BARRECIOS: Here we take a scientific position. We plan our curriculum so as to provide interest. Therefore students will demand further investigation and knowledge.
GLENN: What role do various groups in the community play in planning this curriculum?
BARRECIOS: At the present there is very little participation because before the revolution adults were poorly educated. However, we hope that, because adults in the future will be better educated, there will be greater participation.
GLENN: What is the role of the students in running the school such as curriculum and administration? Do they have any say in the every-day life of education?
BARRECIOS: In administration the teachers put forth suggestions for the students to accept or decline. The students do the same for the teaching staff. As for curriculum it is planned for the future when all will have a great interest for learning.
GLENN: Are the student councils and journals under any censorship board or overseer who is not a member of the student body?
BARRECIOS: There is a member of the teaching staff available to advise and assist in their projects. The final decision is left to the students.
GLENN: Who determines the qualifications necessary to become a lawyer, a teacher and a doctor?
BARRECIOS: The students and professors determine the necessary and useful subjects for each field of work.
GLENN: What are the qualifications necessary to become an elementary school teacher and a secondary school teacher?
BARRECIOS: An elementary teacher must graduate from secondary school and complete a 2 year intensive course at teachers college. This is necessary because of the immense number of new elementary schools. In the future we plan a 4 year course. At present they receive a certificate.
For secondary school the teacher requires a 4 year degree course at university.
GLENN: How does a teacher go about applying for a position?
BARRECIOS: The teacher goes to the National Syndicate of Education. This group handles employment of teachers and caretakers.
GLENN: How are wages established for teachers?
BARRECIOS: This is determined by the ministry of education and the National Syndicate of Education. The pay for teachers at present is very good. We are planning a wage scale for the future. Also teachers receive overtime for extra work.
GLENN: Can a teacher take part in politics?
BARRECIOS: This is all voluntary. If he or she is interested they can run or take part in political seminars.
GLENN: How are examinations used in Cuba to determine promotion?
BARRECIOS: We have several examinations which account for so many points. We are working towards the eventual elimination of examinations. We also take into consideration the student's character and conduct.
GLENN: How do you determine what field of study a person will study in university?
BARRECIOS: The student has complete liberty to choose which field he or she wishes to enter. The teacher acts as an advisor and guide. Before entering university he enters a 3 month indoctrination course which determines whether the student is really able or desires to take this course.
GLENN: Are there day nurseries for children of farm and factory workers?
BARRECIOS: Yes we have built many and we are building more.
GLENN: What qualifications do the teachers for these nurseries have?
BARRECIOS: They are kindergarten teachers and trained primary specialists.
GLENN: Do students have the opportunity to work in various fields such as factories and laboratories to gain a more practical and social experience?
BARRECIOS: At the present we are visiting these places, we are planning to go more intensively in the future. At present we are assisting in sugar, coffee and cotton harvesting.
GLENN: Do sports and athletics give all Cubans a chance to participate?
BARRECIOS: In Cuba we have as many teams as needed for those who wished to play.
GLENN: What is your opinion of corporal punishment in Cuban schools?
BARRECIOS: We feel that as socialists we should not do this. We should endeavour to help and guide students. It is necessary to do this in certain countries because their system does not stimulate a desire for education.
GLENN: What is the opinion of sex education in Cuba?
BARRECIOS: We have a course planned which has 5 Encyclopedia Britannica films. All teachers are able to help or render assistance to students with problems. Each school has a psychologist.
GLENN: What, in your opinion, is the chief difficulty facing education in Latin America?
BARRECIOS: The situation of education in Latin America is similar in various degrees to that of Cuba prior to the revolution. So by explaining the Cuban situation you will get an insight into other countries of Latin America. In Cuba there were very few schools. Forty per cent of the children in urban centres and 12-1/2% in rural sectors attended schools. Illiteracy was rampant. There were few teachers because of the shortage of schools. Teachers in public schools were poorly treated. The salaries were so poor that many found it impossible to continue. Thus they had to seek other kinds of employment. There was hardly enough material because money that was allotted for education mostly went for graft for senior and secondary government officials.
After my interview with Dr. Barrecios, I was invited to dinner with them at the school cafeteria.
After a very nice dinner, I visited their dormitories. The rooms housed 4 students each and had large bookshelves and a large table for studying. The highlight of my visit was being shown Batista's home, which is now used as an administrative building.
The students seemed very eager for education. Some seemed very old for their grade level. When I inquired I found out that these girls and boys returned to school after the revolution because before they found it necessary to work after a few years of schooling. The students in their spare time held rallies, parties, gardening or beautifying the dormitories with revolutionary and educational murals.
Dr. Barrecios stated that they were drawing from all philosophies of education; however the philosophy of the progressive American educationalist, John Dewey, seemed the most dominant.
With permission of the author and the Prairie New Democrat where it appeared on December 12, 1962.
It is necessary to face the issue and