When UNESCO — the UN’s Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization — admitted the Palestinian Authority as a full member last year, the decision triggered a U.S. law that forbids American funding of any UN outfit that grants the Palestinians membership before they reach a negotiated peace deal with Israel. Since then, UNESCO’s Director-General Irina Bokova has been campaigning, not for UNESCO’s member states to reverse the admission of the Palestinians, but for U.S. authorities to override America’s own laws in order to resume sending upwards of $78 million per year to her UN shop.
With the Palestinian Authority rolling ahead, indifferent to U.S. objections, toward a vote in the UN General Assembly that would upgrade its status on the UN General Assembly’s books from observer to non-member observer state, UNESCO may make a fresh push for the U.S. to find a way around its own laws, in order to reopen the tax dollar spigots for UNESCO’s coffers. There are plenty of good reasons why America should not do this, starting with respect for America’s own laws, versus UNESCO’s appetite for U.S. cash. The Heritage Foundation’s Brett Schaefer makes a sound case (disclaimer: along with his own reporting, he cites some of mine) that the U.S. would do better, a la President Reagan, to simply withdraw from the self-serving, poorly performing UNESCO — which does a much better job of thumbing its nose at U.S. interests and providing for its plushly over-staffed offices in Paris than of serving its erstwhile clientele in the world’s poorer countries.
Here’s one more item for the list. While the U.S. headlines have been focused on such pressing matters as violence in the Middle East, and the domestic wrangle over taxes, UNESCO’s chief, Irina Bokova, has just dropped in on Cuba, whence UNESCO’s media services report she has been lavishing praise on the minister of education. UNESCO reports that Bokova “expressed her appreciation to the Minister for the long-standing state policy to give the highest priority to education.” Bokova also “congratulated the Minister” on Cuba being the only country of the Latin American and Caribbean region to achieve the goal of the UNESCO-led program called Education for All.
That sure sounds commendable. Except, what’s the real condition of schooling in Cuba? What is this system that Bokova has just praised as the educational Eden of Latin America and the Caribbean?
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?