Ramírez, based in Indonesia, is Cubas ambassador to New Zealand. The primary purpose of his visit was to take part in the launch of a literacy program run by Te Wananga o Aotearoa, a Maori-based university. The assistance of the Cuban government has been essential to the development of this program.
Rongo Wetere, the universitys chief executive officer, in introducing Ramírez to the 60 people present, said that a recent conference in Auckland on job training estimated that 280,000 employees are operating below the minimum level of literacy in the workforce. The Ministry of Education estimates the problem is twice that size . Sixty to 70 percent of Maori and Pacific Islanders are operating below minimum literacy levels.
Wetere paid tribute to the Cuban advisors who have left their families to come here for many months to help set up the program. Three of these Cubans were in the audience, together with Jaime Canfux Gutiérrez, director of the Adult Education Program of the Latin American and Caribbean Pedagogical Institute.
Ramírez described the 1961 literacy campaign in Cuba, in which some 100,000 young people went into the countryside to teach peasant families to read and write, as our first milestone. Pointing to other advances made since the 1959 revolution, he commented, after 44 years weve been proven right. The most important resource in society is the human resource.
A radical revolution in education is under way today, Ramírez said, comparable to 1961. This includes a campaign to ensure all schools have computers, televisions, and videos, not only in cities but the most remote villages, and to increase the number of teachers to one or two for every 15 students. An additional test to enter universities has been brought in so students with lower academic results can be selected to continue their education.
The ambassador outlined the latest events in the ongoing campaign being waged by Washington to overthrow the Cuban Revolution.
He pointed in particular to how Cubas use of the death penalty a few months ago to counter a U.S.-fueled spate of plane and boat hijackings, and its jailing of 75 opponents of the revolution bankrolled by U.S. officials in Cuba to further their campaign of dislocation, had led to stepped-up slanders.
A lot of people dont like the death penaltywe wont argue about thisbut this is the law in my country and it has to be respected. We do it because we are under siege and need this law.
They never mention the executions when [U.S. president George] Bush was governor of Texas, including of minors and the disabled, or those held at Guantánamo Base for over one year with some attempting suicide. We feel a hypocrisy from the United States and Europe when they talk about Cuba, Ramírez said.
After briefly describing the case of the five Cuban revolutionaries imprisoned in the United States on frame-up charges as a result of their efforts to defend Cuba from attack by U.S.-based counterrevolutionary groups, Ramírez encouraged those present to join the campaign to win their freedom.
In reply to a question, Ramírez outlined some of the enormous gains made by Cuban women since the revolution, but added that more was needed. It is still the culture of our society that women are in charge of the house. We have to break with this.
Asked why the United States and not Cuba controls the Guantánamo Base, Ramírez explained the history of U.S. domination of Cuba and how the base had been rented for eternitya disguise for its takeover. We wont provide a provocation for them to attack us by trying to take the base back, he said. We can only highlight that Guantánamo is our territory, but what happens there is the responsibility of the U.S.
We have mines around the Guantánamo Base, Ramírez added. Some countries would like us to sign the anti-mining treaty. How can we do this? Why get rid of the weapons of the poor countries and not nuclear weapons? What if the U.S. decided to invade Cuba from Guantánamo?
A young man in the audience asserted that the majority of the news and cultural influences in New Zealand is from the United States and that this adversely affects youth growing up. He asked if Cuba was similarly affected.
Ramírez responded, We cant go back to the stone age. Were against the imposition of the cultural values of the United States in every country but we dont have the means to stop this.
Our defense is to make our people more cultured, so they can differentiate for themselves what they see and read. The Battle of Ideas is about people being able to judge, opening their eyes to alternatives.
Were westerners, Ramírez added. We show 300 U.S. movies a year on TV. Music played in Cuba encompasses all forms, whether traditional Cuban or hip hop. Its positive.
Ramírez used the example of Saving Private Ryan, a film about U.S. soldiers in World War II. When it was shown in Cuba, it was accompanied by an explanation of some key events of that war, such as the siege of Stalingrad and the 20 million who died in the Soviet Union fighting against the invasion by imperialist Germany.
Jaime Canfux concluded the meeting by explaining more about the literacy program being set up in New Zealand. The program is based on students watching a video, then practicing with a workbook, with a facilitator available to assist them.
In Cuba this happened in a revolutionary context, where all the laws favored the project. In other countries we need to look for a different way to reach more people with less resources, Canfux said.
Canfux named a number of countries where Cuba was helping to set up a similar program to teach reading and writing: Haiti, Nicaragua, Guinea-Bissau, Venezuela, and Mexico.
Some 540 students are currently involved in the pilot stage of the program in New Zealand.
Felicity Coggan contributed to this article.
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