Thursday, November 10, 2016

The power of the people

The power of the people
BORIS GONZÁLEZ ARENAS | La Habana | 10 de Noviembre de 2016 - 11:03 CET.

At the end of the last decade Raúl Castro's government agreed to reform
education in order to slash costs. Obsessed with balances of payments,
deficits and inflation, reductions in social security and education
outlays seemed to be the best remedy.

Carmelo Mesa-Lago stated in an article published in Issue 81-82 of the
Havana magazine Temas that during these years "Thousands of municipal
university centers were closed, along with rural secondary schools,
workplace cafeterias, and 42% of the hospitals and clinics; half of the
family doctors were sent elsewhere, and 16% of health workers were let
go."("Cubanólogos o cubanistas? ").

If public health cutbacks yielded as initial results the disgraceful
death of some 30 psychiatric patients, who froze to death in the winter
of 2010, in the area of Education the austerity offensive claimed an
undetermined number of rural schools in the same year. While pictures of
the corpses at the Psychiatric Hospital bore witness to the abandonment
of it patients, the fate of Sirley Ávila is a clear indicator of the
neglect of our rural schools.

Sirley Ávila was a government delegate in the district of Limones, in
Majibacoa, in the province of Las Tunas, when in 2010-2011 a significant
number of rural schools were closed and their students transferred to
more distant facilities. From that point forward students were forced to
walk long distances just to get to school.

Sirley, who acted immediately to prevent the closures, because the small
rural school in Limones was also closed, said: "I was very upset when
they got rid of the schools for peasants' children, those centers with
for or five students. Suddenly the kids had to walk more than seven
kilometers. For me it was a very big shock, as a delegate, when
Education Minister Ena Elsa Velázquez stated at a round table that the
measure had saved the country more than 30 million pesos; 30 million,
sacrificing the people for whom the Revolution was carried out."

Sirley then began to make a long series of unfruitful entreaties to
authorities at the highest echelons of State power. When she got no
results the delegate decided to decry the situation on Radio Marti,
pronouncing words that swept across the country, condemning the cover-up
of the consequences of the State's reforms. The Government took note of
Sirley's audacity and in the next elections, in 2012, the district of
Limones, for which she was a delegate, was divided into several parts
and added to neighboring districts in such a way that her supporters
were dispersed and she was removed as a delegate.

There didn´t seem to be much more to say about that period until, in
Issue 83 of Temas, there appeared the article "That school was ours. A
defensive mobilization experience in Cuba" by sociologist Luis Emilio
Aybar Toledo.

According to its author the Antonio Maceo primary school was located in
the Consejo Popular Libertad, in the Havana municipality of Marianao, on
102nd Street between 37th and 39th. In the 2010-2011 school year the
center was closed without the consent of the residents who had their
children there, and despite their open mobilization and opposition. The
reason they mobilized, according to Aybar Toledo, was that the school
was an outstanding educational center, recognized as a "leading school,"
visited by international delegations, and the winner of a prized given
by the Minister to the principal, who at the time of these events was
working in Venezuela.

Rumors of the school's closing began to circulate in around April 2010,
towards the end of what for many rural schools was their last year.
Though from the outset mothers (the author of the article emphasizes the
predominantly feminine make-up of the mobilization) had demanded more
information about it, no one at the Ministry of Education, or the
Municipal Government, or the Party's Municipal Committee, knew about or
wanted to provide the people involved ("the people," as Sirley rightly
calls them) with the information they requested.

"The interim principal and teachers avoided the issue and getting
involved in the mobilization. Government officials denied the measure,
alleged ignorance, or did not receive them," the article says.

When the news was announced the closure was already a fait accompli, and
neither the mothers' indignation, nor the letters sent to the National
Assembly of Popular Power and the Council of State, were able to prevent
the closure of the facility and its conversion into a trade school. One
mother said: "Everywhere we went, I felt that we were unwelcome."

The actions taken by Sirley Ávila, like that of the mothers at the
Antonio Maceo school, illustrate that for some time now the power of the
people has been supplanted by government institutions, from local to
national bodies.

Aybar Toledo, the author of "That school was ours," offers a superb
analysis of the event, his work containing a cogent description of the
negative consequences of the "Raulist reforms," denounced by Sirley
Ávila in her role as a political activist, from a social sciences

Source: The power of the people | Diario de Cuba -

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