10 Shocking Facts About Fidel Castro

As the political leader of Cuba from 1959 to 2008,  Fidel Castro, nicknamed El Comandante, was the “face of left-wing totalitarianism”. Though Castro’s educational reforms significantly improved the system of education in Cuba, they often came at the hand of communist policies that left its citizens impoverished as well. While most of Castro’s reforms proved harmful, a few paved the way for advances in Cuban health and education. Here are eight shocking facts about Fidel Castro.

8 Shocking Facts about Fidel Castro

  1. Castro eradicated Cuban illiteracy. Through the implementation of the Cuba Literacy Campaign of 1961, Cuba met the Millennium Development Goals set forth by the United Nations and the country’s literacy rate rose from 60 to 100 percent. In one day, the program opened 10,000 classrooms, guaranteeing education for all Cuban citizens. Overall, more than 700,000 Cubans became literate in just one year. Castro’s relentless fight for universal education brought the issue to the forefront of Cuban challenges and successfully improved literacy among its people.
  2. Castro established Cuba’s universal health care system. By nationalizing Cuban health care, Castro’s policies not only expanded public health care but improved it. With the establishment of the Rural Medical Service and the Declaration of Alma-Ata, Castro brought medical services to rural locations, opened family clinics and made free medical care accessible for all. Cuba’s health care successes also include completely blocking the transfer of HIV and syphilis from mother to child and providing the first vaccine for meningitis B, which is still the only available vaccine for the disease today. Castro not only provided health care for the Cuban people by improving prevention, equal coverage and access but his policies also advanced the quality of care as well.
  3. Castro punished those who thought differently than himself. By jailing political opponents and closing down newspapers with alternative political perspectives, those who thought differently than Castro were not safe during his reign. The native-born Cuban leader limited his citizens’ free speech and punished those who valued their voice more than their safety. Castro did not limit his punishments to speech; he also legalized physically abusive tactics on politically divergent individuals. Those who questioned or criticized the way Castro ran his government were often imprisoned, denied access to medical care, suffered beatings and entered solitary confinement. In 2003, Castro executed his methods on a larger scale when 75 people, human rights activists, journalists and trade unionists, received his abusive tactics following their outspoken criticism of the Cuban government.
  4. Castro limited economic freedom. Life under Castro’s rule was economically suffocating. With the creation of The First Agrarian Reform in 1959, Castro intended to improve the economy by redistributing land among the classes. The law, however, was more prohibitive than inclusive. It placed limits on the amount of land individuals could own, abolished private business and nationalized foreign land ownership. With The Second Agrarian Reform of 1963, these limits only became more restrictive. The new law gave Cuba ownership over two-thirds of national farmland, and by 1998, the country owned 82 percent of it. With such limited freedom over their own economic choices, hundreds of thousands of middle-class Cubans fled their homes for a better life in the U.S.
  5. Castro plunged Cuba into an economic downfall. During his rule, Castro made sugar Cuba’s main source of income. The growing of Cuban sugarcane relied on imports of fertilizers, pesticides and technology from the Soviet Union. So when the USSR fell in 1989, Cuba was no longer able to produce its main source of income, and its economy consequently collapsed. As a result, the country’s GDP fell by 35 percent, which propelled Cuba into a time of economic struggle known as the Special Period. Marked by food and housing shortages, increased unemployment and reduced public services, Castro’s economic decisions resulted in the impoverishment of his own people.
  6. Castro did not let human rights organizations enter Cuba. Castro treated many people inhumanely and he refused human rights organizations entry into the country. Without access to the country, organizations, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, were unable to work toward improving the harsh realities of the Cuban people and inhumane practices went on without consequence.
  7. Castro refused to hold elections while in office. Castro remained in power for almost five decades and this was partly due to his refusal to leave power. Nobody was legally able to run against Castro unless they shared his political perspective because he placed a ban on multiparty elections after self-proclaiming himself a socialist. This meant that he was able to enforce his inhumane policies for decades and the economic strain was long-lasting.
  8. The Cuban government still uses Castro’s abusive methods. Abusive tactics introduced during Castro’s reign, such as arbitrary arrest and detention, beating, acts of repudiation and government surveillance, are still used in Cuba today according to the Human Rights Watch. While Raul Castro, Castro’s brother and Cuba’s current leader, has hinted towards reconsidering the country’s abusive methods, he has taken no real action, and the country’s citizens continue to suffer abuse. For example, in 2016, the arrests of 9,940 Cuban citizens led to harassments, beatings and the subjection to acts of repudiation.

These eight shocking facts about Fidel Castro cannot encapsulate 49 years of supremacy, though they can provide a glimpse into Cuban life under his rule. While Castro passed away in 2016, his death cannot erase the influence his policies had on Cuba. However, organizations, such as CARE and the Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba (FHRC) are implementing programs to increase living conditions in Cuba.

Organizations Working to Rebuild Castro’s Cuba

CARE, an organization that began working in Cuba during the Special Period, is doing great work to reinstate the food security Cuba lost during the fall of the Soviet Union. With projects such as the Strengthening Dairy Value Chain Project (SDVC) and the Co-Innovation Project, CARE is working with Cuban farmers to improve agricultural practices. CARE made Cuban food security a national priority by providing rural farmers with access to new farming technologies, helping them in diversifying their food supply and figuring out ways to make food products more accessible at the local level. While Castro’s rule limited non-governmental farmland ownership to 18 percent, Cuba now allows its citizens 66.29 percent of farmland ownership, meaning that Cuba now has the ability and freedom to achieve its food security goals.

FHRC uses non-violence to protect the rights of Cuban citizens. Through the Cuban Repressors Program, the FHRC has created a safe place for Cuban citizens to report violent Cuban government officials. The program provides Cuban activists with cameras and smartphones that allow them to record inhumane activity. It also distributes photos and pamphlets with images of repressive perpetrators to communities and posts identified repressors on the internet. Since the launch of the program, these methods have identified 93 repressors, and with the number of reported repressors decreasing each month, the FHRC is succeeding in attaining justice for the Cuban people.

U.S. Relations with Cuba

Years after Raul Castro took over presidential responsibilities from his brother, President Obama announced that the U.S. and Cuba would restore its diplomatic ties in an effort to normalize relations between the two countries. Obama began to ease U.S. trade and travel restrictions with Cuba that were upheld for decades due to Castro’s abusive policies. However, the Trump Administration is making efforts to roll back Obama’s policies and enforce new economic sanctions on Cuba. With Cuba’s newly elected president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, only time will tell how the U.S.- Cuba relationship will develop.

– Candace Fernandez
Photo: Flickr

Let Girls Learn Initiative Announces $5 Million in New Commitments
Equality. To some, it is merely a word, and to others, an idea. However, to the millions of girls throughout the world who are prevented simply based on their gender from receiving equal education, it is a movement.

In response to this, many associations, organizations and programs are created to end this unnecessary fight against adolescent girls and their right to attaining a quality education. As each contributes in its own corner of the world, there is one that is determined to assist the entire globe.

On the International Day of the Girl, the U.S. government-led initiative known as Let Girls Learn announced an astounding investment of more than $5 million in new private sector commitments.

Assembled by both President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, the program strives to eliminate the vast barriers and obstacles facing young girls around the world from attaining equal and quality education.

Established in March 2015, Let Girls Learn hopes to accelerate the speed at which all girls obtain a quality education. Since its creation, the program has provided more than $1 billion dollars worth of new and ongoing programming in more than 50 countries.

The platform works directly with a multitude of government departments, including the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), to effectively engage civil society and governments around the world act.

With the assistance of the Peace Corps, volunteers are able to identify obstructions limiting adolescent girls from attending schools, while USAID is focused on increasing access to quality education by empowering girls.

Additional programs, companies and organizations contributing to the fight for equal and quality education for girls everywhere include The World Bank, Girl Starter, Let Girls Lead and more.

Moving forward, Let Girls Learn plans on continuing its efforts until the last girl presently prevented from obtaining equal and quality education is put into school.

Jordan J. Phelan

Photo: Flickr

capital gains taxIt is no secret that Congress is home to some of the wealthiest Americans. The average salary of a congressional member is $174,000 annually, and about 200 members are multimillionaires. Their salary alone puts every congressional member in the top 6 percent of earners in the U.S.

The vast majority of congressional members come from upper-middle class families, where connections to senior political members and other social and religious groups are plentiful.

In his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama addressed higher taxes on the wealthy, which are unpopular and unlikely to pass in Congress. His increase is substantial — raising it from 23.8 to 28 percent on couples making over $500,000. This bill in particular received backlash from Republicans.

“Taxes on capital income, such as the capital gains tax, are among the worst ways to raise revenue from the perspective of economic growth,” said Greg Mankiw, professor of economics at Harvard University.

Tax credits would go toward the middle class and the increase in taxes would raise around $200 billion in the next decade.

Former Rep. Tom Perriello wrote, “During the 2010 lame-duck session, Congress passed an $858 billion tax-cut extension, leaving in place generous [Bush-era] tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans. Why was such an opportunity to address inequality and spur economic growth via our tax code missed? … Most of those who prevented the bill from getting a vote before the election privately argued that the income threshold was too low.”

President Obama recently released a plan for a new tax strategy that would affect the rate of the capital gains tax and close lucrative loopholes that avoid the capital gains tax. In addition, he is proposing to close a loophole that allows heirs to avoid paying taxes on large estates.

The economy has recovered since the economic crisis of 2008, and much of this is due to Obama’s financial politics of raising taxes on the high-income earners in America. These tax increases do benefit the middle class by approximately $320 billion in tax credits that would be allotted.

The tax credits will go toward expanding higher education and providing greater support for child care. In addition, they provide substantial assistance to families in the middle-income classes. They provide about $500 for married couples to curb the cost of child care for working-class Americans.

– Maxine Gordon

Sources: NPR, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, Yahoo News

The newly-elected Republican House and Senate is facing several problems related to foreign aid and other issues dealing with foreign policy and international relations.

For instance in 2014, due to the influx of illegal immigrants from Mexico and Latin America, Republicans proposed to stop sending aid to countries such as El Salvador, Guatamala and Hondouras. Instead of providing foreign aid, Republicans proposed to provide funding for initiatives that would protect the border states.

President Barack Obama’s strategy in congress is “play offense” against the majority GOP Congress. This includes using his veto power to stop legislation of the XL pipeline and increased sanctions on Iran.

“We in the administration believe that, at this time, increasing sanctions would dramatically undermine our efforts to reach this shared goal” of reducing Iran’s nuclear weapon capacity, said Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, at a Louisville event with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) earlier this week.

The situation worsens as Democrats and Republicans further divide over social issues.

The United Nations Population Fund is the branch of the United Nations that supports development of programs and clinics that provide reproductive services for women. This institution needs funding to cut down on unplanned or unexpected pregnancy. The strict policy enacted by Ronald Reagan mandates that non-governmental organizations providing support for women cannot even mention abortion let alone refer them to doctors.

The order was rescinded by Bill Clinton in 1993 and then reinstated during George W. Bush’s administration. The bill is also known as the “gag rule” and is an example of the volatility of bipartisan politics in Washington.

“The global gag rule has had a dire impact on vulnerable women by allowing critical family planning programs in the developing nations to be held hostage by the ping pong game of U.S. partisan polices,” said Brian Dixon.

Obama also stated, “I’m not going to spend the next two years on defense; I’m going to play offense,” he said, at his speech to Democrats. Obama has made it clear that he is not laying down for his last term in office.

– Maxine Gordon

Photo: Politico Fox News Women’s E-News
Photo: The New Yorker

U.S.-Saudi Relations
Amidst deteriorating popularity in the Middle East and the Arab world, United States President Barack plans to meet with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia in Riyadh next month. The March visit will be Obama’s first to the Saudi capital since the outbreak of the Arab Spring in late 2010 and early 2011.

The Obama administration’s support for Egypt’s overthrow of Hosni Mubarak and subsequent rise of the Muslim Brotherhood to power; this is in addition to other policy positions during the series of Arab Spring revolts and uprisings that contributed to the rift that formed in U.S.-Saudi relations.

The meeting with King Abdullah will follow Obama’s attendance at the third Nuclear Security Summit in the Netherlands, a summit meeting in Brussels and a discussion on income inequality with Pope Francis at the Vatican. The sequence of visits serves to highlight the President’s commitment to global security in a religiously charged world.

Discussion topics between President Obama and King Abdullah will inevitably concentrate on peace in the Middle East; the primary focus will be the conflict in Syria. The horrific civil war that began three years ago threatens security in the region as extremism grows an incubator of hopelessness and strife. If either country wishes to play a helpful role in the situation and not leave Syria to the bidding of Russia and Iran, both will need to acknowledge past mistakes and work together for an improved future.

In addition to improving U.S.-Saudi relations, analysts have speculated that the trip to Riyadh may have to do with the question of the Arab Israeli conflict. With Iran and Saudi Arabia competing for ultimate power in the region, Obama recognizes that Saudi Arabia maintains the potential to facilitate the Arab initiative for peace with Israel. By addressing King Abdullah’s stated commitment to Arab Israeli peace, Obama hopes to earn favor in the region for normalization with Israel.

The Arab world in recent years has experienced a surge of civil and political upheaval. Obama’s visit to Riyadh in March could create a reactionary current of improved leverage and relations throughout the region.

– Jaclyn Stutz

Sources: Huffington Post, Jerusalem Post, Washington Post
Photo: Outside the Beltway