From milk to bulbs, Cas­tro re­shaped Cuba

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

Fidel Cas­tro changed the flavor of the milk Cuban chil­dren drink at break­fast. He filled Cuban kitchens with en­ergy-sav­ing rice cook­ers, and he gave a two-hour les­son in their use live on na­tional tele­vi­sion. He even changed the na­tion’s light­bulbs, launch­ing a na­tion­wide cam­paign to re­place in­can­des­cent bulbs with flu­o­res­cents that cast a pal­lid white light in Cuban homes to this day.

Cas­tro, who died Fri­day night at 90, gained global stature with grand vi­sions: Con­fronting the United States; build­ing univer­sal health­care and ed­u­ca­tion; send­ing Cuba’s doc­tors to heal the Third World’s sick and its sol­diers to fight along­side so­cial­ist al­lies from Viet­nam to An­gola. At home, he ex­pended vast quan­ti­ties of time and en­ergy re­mak­ing the mi­nut­est as­pects of life in the coun­try he ruled for nearly 50 years. Ob­ses­sive, rest­less, fix­ated on de­tails, Cas­tro is be­ing re­mem­bered by many Cubans for his decades of smaller-scale, often quixotic ini­tia­tives to im­plant Soviet-style cen­tral plan­ning on an un­ruly and im­pro­vi­sa­tional Caribbean is­land.

Ten years af­ter Cas­tro turned power over to his brother Raul, the ar­ti­facts of his time in com­mand still fea­ture in the daily lives of av­er­age Cubans, par­tic­u­larly those re­lated to Cas­tro’s pas­sions for agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tiv­ity and en­ergy-sav­ing. Mil­lions of Cubans still de­pend on the pale-blue ra­tion book that once pro­vided a month’s worth of free food, re­duced to­day to about 15 days of rice, beans, eggs, chicken, cook­ing oil, salt and sugar.

In Nov 2005, Cas­tro tried to per­suade his coun­try­men to also feed their chil­dren “choco­latin”, a mix of pow­dered milk and co­coa dis­trib­uted to fam­i­lies in 200-gm bags. “Seven of ev­ery 11 grams are whole milk powder, be­lieve me,” he said. “Check it if you’re skep­ti­cal. Take it to a lab­o­ra­tory and test it. There’s also four grams of co­coa, which is very strong, as strong as it is healthy. I know that our doc­tors over there in the moun­tains of Kash­mir are drink­ing their choco­late ev­ery night.” To this day, it’s hard to find a Cuban child who doesn’t ask for choco­late-fla­vored morn­ing milk, it­self a legacy of Cas­tro’s pledge to give ev­ery Cuban un­der age 7 one liter of milk ev­ery day.

In 1961, two years af­ter Cas­tro’s rev­o­lu­tion won power, the new Cuban gov­ern­ment launched an am­bi­tious cam­paign to stamp out il­lit­er­acy. Some 250,000 vol­un­teer teach­ers, many of them young women, fanned out across the coun­try, es­pe­cially in ru­ral ar­eas where ac­cess to ed­u­ca­tion was spotty and the need was great­est. In the space of a year, about 700,000 peo­ple learned to read and write, said “Maes­tra”, a doc­u­men­tary that ex­plores the ini­tia­tive’s his­tory. To­day, Cuba re­ports a lit­er­acy rate of 99.8 per­cent, on par with the most de­vel­oped na­tions in the world.

In 1960, Cas­tro launched the Com­mit­tees for the De­fense of the Rev­o­lu­tion, neigh­bor­hood watch groups given the job of im­ple­ment­ing so­cial wel­fare projects and nat­u­ral dis­as­ter as­sis­tance, look­ing out for the el­derly and or­ga­niz­ing mod­est block par­ties. They also serve as the gov­ern­ment’s eyes and ears, net­works of in­for­mants that en­force com­pli­ance and watch for sus­pi­cious ac­tiv­ity such as po­lit­i­cal dis­si­dence or an il­le­gal satel­lite hookup. The com­mit­tees are so ubiq­ui­tous that just about ev­ery­one in Cuba, es­pe­cially in the cities, still lives within sight of the home of a com­mit­tee mem­ber.

In 1985, many Cubans stopped smok­ing when Cas­tro aban­doned his ubiq­ui­tous cigars as part of a na­tion­wide cam­paign against to­bacco, which re­mains one of the is­land’s prin­ci­pal ex­ports. Some Cubans fondly re­mem­ber his per­sonal in­volve­ment in the daily prob­lems of in­di­vid­ual cit­i­zens, while oth­ers say he cre­ated a leader-de­pen­dent au­toc­racy that re­mains vir­tu­ally im­mo­bile with­out di­rect com­mands from the pres­i­dent. “A friend of mine solved her hous­ing prob­lem when she got Fidel’s re­sponse to her let­ter seek­ing help,” said Elisa Marquez, a 54-year-old state hu­man re­sources man­ager. “With his sig­na­ture on the let­ter, it got fixed.”

In 2005, Cas­tro’s gov­ern­ment de­cided as part of its “en­ergy rev­o­lu­tion” that the in­can­des­cent light bulb’s time was up. Work­ers went door-to-door across the coun­try as peo­ple handed over old 60watt bulbs and were given en­ergy-ef­fi­cient re­place­ments in the 5- to 18-watt range, with the Com­mit­tees for the De­fense of the Rev­o­lu­tion help­ing keep track of those who com­plied. The switch is still ev­i­dent to­day in mil­lions of dimly lit homes, stores and of­fices. Some peo­ple have com­plained that the light is barely enough to read by or for kids to do home­work af­ter night­fall.

In March 2005, Cas­tro stunned is­lan­ders with the sud­den an­nounce­ment that the gov­ern­ment would hand out 100,000 new pres­sure cook­ers each month un­til some 2.5 mil­lion were dis­trib­uted in all - and that still more would then be made avail­able at sub­si­dized prices, along with Chi­nese-made rice cook­ers. The move “will do away with the rus­tic kitchen”, Cas­tro said in re­marks to the Fed­er­a­tion of Cuban Women. To­day the pres­sur­ized ap­pli­ances re­main a fix­ture in house­holds ev­ery­where. —AP

In this Feb 13, 1961 file photo, Cuba’s leader Fidel Cas­tro cuts sug­ar­cane in an un­known lo­ca­tion in Cuba. —AP

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Kuwait

© PressReader. All rights reserved.