The Privatization of Education in Cuba: Kissing the Right Frog
August 27, 2013
Cuban society is slowly becoming exposed to two visibly different ways
of accessing education
Haroldo Dilla Alfonso*
HAVANA TIMES — An ad for a private day care center in Havana has been
posted on the Internet (including Cuba's classifieds page, Revolico) for
some days now. The owner, Zulema Rosales, is reportedly the daughter of
General Rosales del Toro.
Since I don't know this person, or the general's family, or the general,
for that matter, I can't really confirm this claim. I don't know whether
they are good or bad people, if they are hard-working or lazy, honest or
not. As such, none of this stems from a personal judgment of these
In any event, such judgments are unnecessary here. Whoever her father
is, I think it's reasonable to assume that Zulema Rosales is a rather
fortunate person, as the day care center is housed by a spacious,
two-story home located in Havana's posh neighborhood of Kohly.
The neighborhood has always been privileged, first as the home of an
upper middle-class that found refuge in its pleasant environment,
winding streets and green surroundings, and, later, because its
residences were shared out to the new political class, who would enjoy
the privacy afforded by this community – which would become a segregated
and mysterious part of town – behind the protection of armed guards and
On its web-page (http://guarderiainfantil.webng.com/ ) and other
promotional materials, the day care center advertises a whole range of
products, from regular nursery to per-hour services, announcing that the
center employs highly qualified personnel who will give customers the
"satisfaction of seeing the educational development of their little ones."
Someone mentioned that this nursery charges 85 CUC (95 USD) a month per
child. If this is so, it would place its rate in the high-mid-range for
Latin America (at around four times the average monthly salary in Cuba).
This news have steered my thoughts in two directions.
My first reflection centers on what it means to place the advertised
activities in private hands. What we're talking about, after all, is not
simply looking after children, but of providing them with their earliest
education. Though not obligatory, this type of early education is
advisable and, in Cuba, is aimed at children up to six years old.
For decades, however, education in Cuba has been proclaimed as a public
– or, better, State – domain, and equal, unrestricted and free access to
education has been one of the pillars of the country's social consensus.
Note that I am not objecting to any one particular way of conceiving
educational services. Needless to say, I have my own convictions and
preferences in this regard – but that's not the issue at the moment.
What is important is that parts of the public sphere are being handed
over to the private sector without the slightest bit of transparency,
such that Cubans are unable to decide what they want for their society
in an open and plural debate.
In this connection, Zulema's day care center is one case among many
others, which include private schools maintained by international
organizations, to which the children of Cuba's nouveaux riches flock in
a mad, happy rush. As such, Cuban society is slowly becoming exposed to
two visibly different ways of accessing education.
At the top, we have the children of those who have come out victorious
in the process of capitalist restoration, comfortable in their private
institutions and nurseries. At the very broad base, we have the heirs of
poverty, in an educational system that is in shambles, with badly-paid
teachers and ramshackle facilities. Some go up while others plunge
This shameful process, in which capitalism is secretly restored while
loyalty is demanded to a decrepit system, which the Cuban leadership –
and, curiously enough, neo-liberals – insist on calling "socialism",
that is actually the worst kind of privatization.
The reason for this, among others, is that it is being implemented
without clear norms that set down the infrastructural, ethical, personal
and methodological requirements that someone who wishes to provide
educational services privately must meet.
Rather than regulations, what we are witnessing is total permissiveness:
this day care center, for instance, operates in the shadow of a medieval
legislation that authorizes the private care of children. What would
happen, I wonder, if, availing themselves of a permit to care for the
ill, someone as "fortunate" as Zulema decided to open a private clinic?
My second reflection focuses on Zulema's fortunate circumstances. If
there is something we have to concede here, it is the fact of Zulema's
good fortune. She is fortunate to have a two-story home, surrounded by
gardens, in an upper-class area of Havana, in a country where the more
fortunate of the lot would secure an apartment in the working-class
neighborhood of Alamar after many years of work, in construction
brigades that erected whatever buildings the Comandante deemed
convenient to build.
She is fortunate to have Internet access, a web-page and email account,
in a country where such services, we are told, aren't offered to private
residences. Inherently – and perhaps through inheritance – she is
fortunate to be able to purchase toys, furniture and flat-screen TVs, in
a society gripped by poverty.
She has also been very, very fortunate to have been permitted to operate
a business whose legality is indeed questionable, particularly in a
country where the police clamp down on and fine elderly people who
refill cigarette lighters, and where former government delegate Sirley
Avila was fined for selling mangos that grew in a tree in her own backyard.
We have to acknowledge this is indeed good fortune, but not any kind of
fortune. It is the kind that accompanies the descendants of the
A case like Zulema's shows the true meaning of the "slow but sure"
restructuring process, a process aimed at restoring capitalism in Cuba,
to the benefit of an elite that is slowly becoming the country's new
bourgeoisie – a bourgeoisie that relies on the State to make its initial
profits and, at the same time, protect itself from competitors.
This is the class that Zulema Rosales and her day care center represent.
Again, her good fortune isn't just any old luck. It is the good fortune
inherent to her social position, a position which is increasingly
classist. It is the good fortune which comes with Cuba's new class, its
Posted on one of the walls of the nursery, we see a decorative hanging
which alludes to the Grimm Brother's The Frog Prince. A text, in
English, explains that, before finding the right frog (which turns into
a prince on being touched by true love's kiss), one must first kiss many
Zulema Rosales didn't have to do this. She knew what frog to kiss from
the very beginning.
(*) A Havana Times translation of the original published in Spanish by
Source: "The Privatization of Education in Cuba: Kissing the Right Frog"