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Thursday, 4 April, 2002, 03:08 GMT 04:08 UK
Following Cuba's example
Havana skyline
Cuba's excellent healthcare and low fees attract visitors
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Humphrey Hawksley
By Humphrey Hawksley
World Affairs Correspondent
line
Communism in the sun could be seen as picking radishes on a farm co-operative in Cuba.

The Marxist views of the farm manager are precisely those which have made Cuba an enemy of the United States for more than forty years.

"The government is aware of the problems of the people and it supports us in everything, as for the girls working on the farm, they're training to be scientists or senior government officials."

Fidel Castro
Castro started building Cuba's health system back in 1959

And at least while the boss is around, the students sent to work on the Antero Regalado cooperative farm, approximately an hours drive from the capital, Havana, seem to agree.

"I would like to visit but not stay [in the west], says one girl, "I enjoy the peacefulness of my country and over there I believe they're very unrealistic."

A young mind in a bit of a dilemma - the bright and precarious lights of the west against the stultifying straightjacket of socialism.

Not forgetting of course the health care perks they would lose.

"We've been vaccinated against typhoid, meningitis, hepatitis - 13 vaccinations in all," she continues.

Praise

Far from the upheavals of the post Cold War world, Cuba lives in a bygone age.

It is still ruled by Fidel Castro. Market and democratic reform are off the agenda. The press is controlled and political prisoners languish in jail.


For us this system is the best one

Juan Miguel Garcia, Co-operative director

It's banned from getting international loans and aid, yet it has been praised by none other than the World Bank. Praised, in fact, for bringing healthcare and education up to first world levels.

This way of life has now even been praised by the World Bank for delivering basic needs, where other systems have failed.

The debate focusing minds is this. Under an authoritarian system, if you speak out against it, you get punished. But your children will be taught how to read and write. They will be vaccinated against diseases. They will be given basic care.

No change

Of course everybody would like there to be a better balance, but the cold truth is that throughout the developing world this is the awkward choice being faced.

One hundred and five families live off the Antero Regalado cooperative farm, bringing in about $2,000 each a year.

Juan Miguel Garcia is the co-operative director. "For us this system is the best one because they provide us with free education and free health," he enthuses.

"The son in my family, who is a farmer, can study and become a doctor or an agronomist and for this we have all the support of the government and all the institutions."

Given the stories of war, famine and riots elsewhere in the world, this cooperative wants Cuba to stay the way it is.

Ten years ago this system was being ridiculed everywhere. Now, the world is not so sure.

See also:

10 Sep 01 | Americas
Cuba's medical success story
19 Aug 99 | Health
Health tourists head for Cuba
20 Feb 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Cuba
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