To the Editor:

I have a few comments regarding Jocelyn Lippert’s article, “The Fidel Castro you never knew” (4/11). Although it is an admirable attempt at reconciling the competing viewpoints about Cuba, she still suffers from the same illness that plagues Castro sympathizers and appeasers in the United States.

Cuba’s advances in health and education are mere illusions. A 96 percent literacy rate is certainly impressive, but have you any idea what these children are reading in Cuban schools? I can assure you they have never seen a copy of “The Cat in the Hat.” Nor have they studied the true history of the liberation of their country from Spain, including the genuine heroics of icons like Antonio Maceo, Tomas Estrada Palma, and Carlos Manuel de Cespedes. Instead, they only read about the exploits of the Cuban Revolution of 1959, as if their country’s history began with Castro’s rise to power. They read about the legacies of Ernesto “Che” Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos while also accepting their mysterious deaths. Through these methods, Castro’s government brainwashes the country’s youth in an effort to sustain the Communist ideology on the island. What good is a 96 percent literacy rate when it has only yielded false knowledge and a misinformed view about history? What good is it without truth? Historical facts are not relative. Removing a regime and rebuilding a country (as in Iraq) is a tough job, but re-educating an entire population is an overwhelming task.

The health system in Cuba is also nothing but an illusion. The Cuban government talks about its free health care system with such pride as if it were an enormous achievement. However, this system, without the funds supplied from its partnership with the former Soviet Union, has fallen into erosion and disrepair. If the government would adopt an ideology other than communism and create something resembling a free market economy, Cuban citizens might find some incentive to work and inject some sort of cash flow into this system. Absent this solution, the health care system in Cuba is heading toward disaster, if not already. According to Tim Golden’s article, “Health Care in Cuba,” in the anthology “Cuban Communism,” there is a scarcity of basic medicines; patients are told to bring their own sheets to the hospital; ambulances lack fuel and spare parts to run efficiently; and materials for diagnostic tests are nowhere to be found. I think you should not put so much stock into what is said by Cuban citizens, especially the man who claimed he did not have to pay a cent for surgery on his jaw. What else do you think these people are going to say? Anti-Castro propaganda gets you 25 years in prison in Cuba. These people will only have nice things to say about the totalitarian regime that controls them. In addition, say what you want about the statistics, but people in Cuba are not as healthy as before. Diseases like tuberculosis are becoming problematic, and the lack of medication has worsened problems like asthma and diabetes. How can one rank this health care system among the world’s best when it lacks the most basic supplies? Take the simple story in Golden’s article of a boy in Havana who suffered a severe asthma attack at home. He was out of inhalers, and there were no cars with gasoline anywhere nearby. As a result, it took his parents longer than usual to take him to a clinic close by, but the doctors there lacked the proper equipment to treat him. By the time the boy arrived at the local hospital, it was too late.

Education and health care in Cuba are nowhere near the best in the world. Acknowledging them as global models only serves to misinform further the naive conception in the United States that Castro wants the best for his country, that he is not as bad as the Cuban exile community makes him out to be. Unfortunately, Castro is nothing but an opportunist and has only destroyed Cuban society throughout his 44-year reign. He thrives on opinions like Ms. Lippert’s, because they legitimize his rule. Ms. Lippert should think about these considerations next time before addressing the Cuban problem.

Robert M. Fojo

april 13, 2003

The writer is a first-year student at Harvard Law School.