Washington-based Freedom House features Cuba among the “Worst of the Worst” in its list of “The World’s Most Repressive Societies.” Cuba is one of eight nations “whose ratings fall just short of the bottom of Freedom House’s ratings scale.” (Slightly better, in other words, than the likes of North Korea and Sudan). Of Cuba’s system of education, Freedom House reported just this past July: ”The government restricts academic freedom. Teaching materials for subjects including mathematics and literature must contain ideological content.” Freedom House further reports, in an observation of clear relevance to anything resembling modern education, that “Access to the internet remains tightly controlled, and it is difficult for most Cubans to connect from their homes. The estimated internet penetration is less than 3 percent.”
On top of that, under the Castro dictatorship, which has lasted more than 40 years, first under Fidel and now under his brother, Raul, Cuba remains a place where all media are owned or controlled by the state, there is no freedom of assembly (at least not for more than three people at a time), and censorship is the rule. All political organizing outside of the Communist Party of Cuba is illegal… “Political dissent, whether spoken or written, is a punishable offense, and dissidents frequently receive years of imprisonment for seemingly minor infractions”…”Official corruption remains a serious problem.” And, should any students within the Cuban education system aspire to broaden their horizons by traveling abroad, they’d better make sure they have a neat clean record of toeing the Party line, because “Attempting to leave the island without permission is a punishable offense.”
For Bokova, who in an earlier incarnation served as a communist apparatchik at the Bulgarian mission to the UN in New York, the Cuban school system may have a certain familiar allure. But if she comes knocking again on the doors of Capitol Hill, asking U.S. lawmakers to find a way around America’s own laws in order to bankroll UNESCO’s projects, let’s hope those lawmakers take note that the problems with UNESCO are hardly confined to the Palestinians. For UNESCO, it appears that the paragon of education in Latin America and the Caribbean is the system of Cuba — stifled by censorship, drenched in Castroite communist ideology, starved of free access to the Internet, and run by officials who have risen to the top of one of the world’s worst of the worst regimes. Congratulations?