By Elio Delgado Legon. First published in Havana Times
The story of children in Cuba during the revolutionary period begins with a dark chapter: “Operation Peter Pan” Based on one of many invented lies against the revolution, this was an operation organized and financed by the CIA and implemented with the complicity of some Catholic priests and Falangists. They invented the lie that the revolution was going to take away the parental rights of parents and that their children were going to be sent to Russia. They then drafted and circulated a supposed law that was “signed” but allegedly had not yet been announced. In this way they deceived many parents who sent their children to the United States. These mothers and fathers also believed in the promise that the Revolution wouldn’t last long and that the children would soon return. As a result of this operation, 14,000 children were removed from the country without their parents, many of them never to see their families again. I won’t dwell on the suffering and trauma caused to those children and their parents because that’s not my aim here and these details are widely known. What I want to emphasize is that everything was organized on the basis of several lies.
Other lies about Cuban children have been invented over the past 50 years.
At other times the situation has been distorted, such as when it was said that children were forced to work, when in reality what existed was a system of work-study that was part of their instruction. This was for students in junior and senior high school. They would go to boarding schools in the countryside where they would receive everything for free (food, clothing and shoes, books and medical care). There, they would work part-time, along with their teachers, and take classes the other half of the day. Although this rural boarding school program is almost gone, the method — although it was slandered — was not incorrect.
Such slandering was similar to another allegation that have been used for over 50 years by the US and its pawns in the war against the island: That Cuba promotes sex tourism and child prostitution. Nothing could be more foreign to the ethics and morality of the Cuban Revolution, which since its inception eradicated prostitution and began treating women as deserving human beings. These media sources that defame Cuba fail to say, however, that there is no child in Cuba who doesn’t go to school or has to work to help their family to survive, like in many countries – including developed ones. Nor do they admit that Cuba has one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world and the lowest in the Americas, matched only by Canada: 4.9 per thousand live births. Nor do they say that the blockade — maintained by the US against Cuba for over 50 years — keeps the country from buying some medicines for children suffering from cancer, for example. To Washington, it doesn’t matter who dies because of their absurd blockade policy. Nor do they report that the Cuban government is forced to seek these drugs in any country, wherever they are, paying tremendously high prices in order to save the lives of these children.
But I won’t give any more of my own arguments. I prefer to cite statements by Jose Juan Ortiz, the UNICEF representative in Cuba. In an interview he was quoted as saying:
“For years I had a strong desire to work here because this is a country that internationally receives more attacks against it than defenses."
“The advantage of being here is that the government’s priority for children is clear. We can discuss nuances with the authorities, but we can see very clearly what the objectives are."
“The quality of protection and the work with children in unquestionable, which have been actions taken by Cuba historically since the beginning of the revolution."
“The education and health indicators published by UNICEF each year are comparable or even better than some highly developed countries."
“At those levels, there’s nothing we have to do. Here, we don’t have to do what we do in other countries – working, for example, for the incorporation of girls in school as equals with boys. That’s something your country succeeded at many years ago,” said Ortiz.
These are not words of a member of the Cuban government, but a UN official, one very interested in the issue of children and therefore knowledgeable about the treatment of Cuban children – who are undoubtedly the happiest in the world.