Cuban Youth Comes of Age
Mike Fuller*

Havana, Apr 4 (Prensa Latina) All over Cuba today children sang, performed skits and danced in Conga lines to celebrate another year of youth culture that has been carefully nurtured by this Revolution.

The Jose Marti Pionero Organization (OPJM) was founded in 1977, evolved from the League of Pioneros, 1931, and the Union of Rebel Pioneros in 1961. Its latest adaptation 29 years ago expanded the membership from the first grades all the way to high school.

One of several youth groups in Cuba, it has an action wing called the Pionero Action Forces, from 4th grade up, which carries out voluntary work on key dates like today and World Ecology Day.

A 37 year-old father at Gonzalo de Quesada elementary school in the capital tells Prensa Latina that the most important thing about the group is its collectivity. Alexi Menendez explains that he appreciates what the Pioneros teach his son about making choices in a healthy, free society. "Today is their day," he says.

Eulalia Dusu, a 32 year-old nurse and mother of a 3rd grader, says "The Pioneros have their own culture, and especially in this school that is prioritized. It´s really nourishing for them," she says, as a pack of dancing kids almost fall off the stage.

Even the teachers get in on the action today, and sing a little home-grown number about how Jose Marti´s promises are coming true. The piece is a riot and parents laugh at key lines injected about US politics making it hard to realize those dreams.

Enrique Alonso, a 48 year-old teacher for 30 years, says the best thing about the Pioneros is that it lets children "be the protagonists of their own lives."

He explains how the Union of Young Communists also celebrates its anniversary today and tells how the organization´s structure allows for even individual voices to be heard at its Congresses.

"It´s real democracy," he says, "not the bogus one in the US that we see fail with crises like Katrina." Cuba has received international recognition for its capacity to manage disasters, evident in the zero death toll of hurricane Wilma last October.

Alonso knows nothing of the US Scouting movement, but was impressed with the strength of the OPJM when he worked at a UNESCO associated school years ago.

"I saw these little backwoods schools with sophisticated links to environment and peace studies. Farm schools with fine arts and cultural programs. I think the US government would be impressed to see a solar-powered computer in the middle of nowhere," he says.

"When I was a Pionero it was more linked to the military," he says, and when he first joined they took him to a boot camp. The young soldiers in training tied on the kerchiefs of the younger Pioneros. "We didn´t see any weapons, but we sure did play," he remembers.

* The writer is an American reporter and translator currently residing in Cuba.



Cuba Youth, Pioneers Have Birthdays

Havana, Apr 5 (Prensa Latina) Art, rejoicing and reflection marked the anniversaries of two major youth organizations whose role in the past and present of Cuba has been paramount throughout history.
  • President Fidel Castro addressed the official ceremony on Tuesday evening for the 45th anniversary of the Jose Marti Pioneers´ Organization (OPJM) and the 44th anniversary of the Young Communist League (UJC), where participants highly praised the participation of new generations in the social process.

    In his address, Fidel Castro extolled the active work of youngsters in the struggle waged during the last 50 years, including the literacy campaign and the Bay of Pigs victory.

    The Cuban president referred to their contribution to tasks and programs of the Revolution and the unconditional support of 28,000 social workers "whose endeavors and strength are targeting tasks of great importance and social recognition."

    He highlighted the UJC guidance of the Federation of Junior High Schools and the Federation of University Students, saying almost half of youth of that age are studying for a university degree.

    On the important date, seventh grader Claudia Soto told Prensa Latina that she was very excited about sharing with her schoolmates such a special homage to the 45th anniversary of the OPJM.

    Soto said Cuban students engaged in a series of activities to honor the 4th OPJM Congress, while another youth, Duniel Cabrera, who is presently studying at the Interior Ministry, asserted youth in Cuba signify the present and the future.

    Members of the Cuban national baseball team, runner up at the inaugural World Baseball Classic, were present in the act as guests of honor.

    They were awarded the UJC Flag of Honor -the highest award granted by that political organization- which was conferred on ace second baseman Yulieski Gourriel.

    The OPJM dates back to 1931, when the Cuban Pioneers´ League was founded. The Rebel Pioneers´ Union was created 30 years later (4 April 1961), turning into the Union of Cuban Pioneers twelve months later.

    During the UJC 3rd Congress in 1977, it changes to the OPJM, extending its membership from preschool students to junior high school.

    The UJC was founded on April 4 1962 as a political body to voluntarily and selectively bring together the Cuban youth.

    Its main task is to politically, ideologically and culturally prepare new Cuban generations to safeguard and strengthen the Revolution´s achievements.


    April 5, 2006

    In Search of the Best that a Humane Society Can Strive For

    Fidel Castro Speaks on Accomplishments of Cuba’s Young People

    An address by Cuban President Fidel Castro on occasion of the celebration of the 45th Anniversary of the Jose Marti Pioneers Organization and the 44th Anniversary of the Young Communist League Tuesday evening was broadcasted live on Cuban television.

    In the speech at Havana’s Karl Marx Theater, Fidel Castro said that the Cuban education system is inconceivable without the Pioneers Organization.

    "Today has been a great day for everyone and I am happy to have been able to share in this celebration with the children and young people who have attended today’s event representing their peers from throughout the country," Commander in Chief Fidel Castro said.

    The Cuban president praised the pioneers for their participation in 24 demonstrations in which they marched beside their teachers and parents and gave speeches.

    "The Cuban children participated in the process that reaffirmed the irrevocable socialist character of the Constitution and they signed 150,000 letters to President Bush, telling him about the life and work of Jose Marti. The Cuban children, the pioneers, know that the Cuban Revolution is invincible," said Fidel Castro.

    President Fidel Castro also acknowledged the participation of Cuban children at the World Festival of Youth and Students, held last year in Venezuela; to Social Forums; and to the People’s Summit. He added that they always take with them their own solutions to deal with some of the world’s problems and said that he felt great joy in looking at all the achievements of the past 45 years.

    Speaking about the Cuban education system, Fidel Castro said that every day they are looking for ways to improve it and this will continue with the goal of providing a better education for the future generations who will carry on the work of the Revolution.

    He noted that throughout the country there are 669,000 pioneer detachments that receive classes from over 200,000 teachers. "The work of the teachers, the families and the pioneer organization has resulted in 99.9 percent enrollment and 98.7 percent attendance in classes," Fidel Castro said.

    The Cuban president praised the audiovisual programs that have been implemented in primary and secondary school classes as part of the Education Revolution that the country has embarked on.

    He noted that there are more than 109,000 televisions, 40,000 VCRs, 32,000 computers and 2,000 solar panels (used in remote areas that are not attached to the national power grids) at the disposition of primary and secondary level students.

    "All these resources, without a doubt, are important tools to make our education system one of the most comprehensive and thorough in the world, the fruits of which, are already being seen in the academic levels reached by our children and young people," Fidel said.

    The Cuban president said that for the next school year (that begins in September), 250,000 new 29 inch televisions are slated to be installed in primary classrooms. He added that the new televisions are standardized, energy-saving models.

    As part of the changes coming in September, Fidel Castro said that more than 430,000 students will have guarantied lunches and snacks.

    Speaking of sports and recreation, Fidel Castro noted that children and adolescents have access to magnificent facilities: 126 pioneer complexes, 72 explorer centers and 16 pioneer camps, all venues where pioneers have the opportunity to expand their education while playing and having fun.

    President Castro noted that currently the pioneer organization is immersed in preparations for their upcoming Fourth Congress and that in all the detachments across the country, members are debating on topics of interest, concerns and proposals of how to make school days more productive. He said that this is a real demonstration of genuine democracy.

    "I don’t have the least doubt that the Cuban pioneers are growing up thinking about the future, of a better world and about how to refute any defamation levied against our country," said Fidel Castro.

    He noted that only a socialist society could base an education system on the soundest principles of justice, solidarity, love of one another and humankind’s struggle.

    Fidel Castro referred to the fact that at the moment 12,000 doctors are in training at the Latin American school of Medicine (ELAM) and that in the upcoming school year 30,000 students from Latin America will be studying there.

    The Commander in Chief also spoke about the sad state of affairs that faced the Revolution after their 1959 victory. He said that at the time Cuba only had 3,000 doctors, one faculty of Medicine and one teaching hospital. He noted that today Cuba can speak about the growing importance of polyclinics that have become medical schools.

    He spoke about the pride with which Cuban ophthalmologists are carrying out the Operation Miracle eye surgery and treatment program that has brought so much glory and prestige to the country and said, "Today we are a world power in Medicine, like we already were in sports and education and like we will soon become in informatics."

    Fidel Castro asked whether the powerful US empire could train 100,000 foreign doctors in ten years and answered, "They couldn’t do it."

    The president also acknowledged current efforts to focus on human resources, the importance of new initiatives of the Revolution and the significant work being carried out by the more than 28,000 social workers.

    As an example, Fidel Castro noted the efforts of social workers, along with university students, in the new energy revolution, including the carrying out of energy studies in the state sector as well as at homes and the distribution of energy-saving articles.

    The Cuban president also acknowledged the role of social workers in the Alvaro Reinoso Project related to sugar production; Operation Miracle; and their work in care giving for senior citizens and disabled people.

    "We have to be proud of our younger generations, of their glorious values, their lineage and their courage," Fidel said.

    The Commander in Chief also spoke about the Young Communist League (UJC), about their beginnings and their tireless spirit and courage during some of the first great challenges that faced the Revolution, the National Literacy Campaign and later the Bay of Pigs Invasion.

    "[The UJC] has always been the front line in the epic struggles for the nation’s development, in cultural and sporting battles and in international missions," said Fidel Castro.

    Fidel Castro noted that the UJC has a big influence on the lives of the 2,492,715 Cubans between the ages of 15 and 30. He added that of these, 24 percent are active members of the organization with 3,453 leaders, 57.8 percent of whom are university graduates, 1,328 of whom are university students, and 32 who are currently undergoing Masters, Doctorates and postgraduate studies.

    The Cuban president said that last year, 23,369 UJC activists became members of the Communist Party of Cuba as part of the continuity of the process begun with the Battle of Ideas, which encompasses the many programs implemented by the revolution that stress integral human development as the way to make Cuban society increasingly more just, equal and humane.

    He highlighted that in 1999, the year the Battle of Ideas began, 433,859 young Cubans belonged to the UJC and that this participation has risen to 604,523 today, the largest membership in the organization’s history.

    In elaborating on the various programs being undertaken by the Revolution, with young people playing a major role in them, the Cuban leader made reference to the new art instructors, currently teaching over 700,000 children and teenagers during school hours and over 130,000 in workshops of artistic creation.

    He said that 15,707 young people are currently enrolled in the Schools of Art Instructors. This is a great boost to cultural promotion in the communities, he added. Asked to comment by Fidel, Minister of Culture Abel Prieto, said that the amateur artists movement has grown on the island, thanks to the participation of these instructors.

    Fidel also made reference to the 4,150 children of primary and secondary education, from 784 schools, currently taking classes in ballet workshops.

    Top priority is being accorded to courses of educational upgrading, being attended today by over 100,000 youths, of which 19,328 are taking crash courses so as to be ready to enrol at university. "Some 90,000 who have undergone these courses, are currently studying in universities," stated Fidel.

    Of the currently operating 352 video clubs island-wide, Fidel said they have become a great cultural option acclaimed for their good and varied offers, above all by those of an educational character. Since March 2000 to date, 22 million viewers have attended these facilities. This, he said, does not include statistics from some 2,000 TV Rooms set up in mountainous areas.

    He added that the upcoming launching of a program that will set up a TV station in each of the country’s municipalities will give local artists, writers and technicians an opportunity to show their talent.

    Among the many programs being developed by the Revolution, Fidel highlighted those related to computer sciences, and he affirmed that "Cuba will become a world power in informatics." He said that some 915,015 people have graduated from the Young people’s Clubs for Informatics and Electronics, and that 110,502 currently study in those institutions. By June, he said, by over one million people will have graduated from those facilities.

    He made reference to the options of healthy recreation available for Cuban young people. Among them he mentioned the 84 Popular Camping facilities, which have been attended by over 23 million campers since they were first opened 24 years ago.

    The humanist and solidarity vocation of Cuba’s younger generation was also pointed out by the leader of the Revolution, and he made reference to the unconditional support they have given to internationalist missions in the field of healthcare and education in nations in need.

    "Our youth -- he said--, has been raised under the most genuine revolutionary values and principles, and it has shown how brotherhood and friendship can exist among human beings without conditionings or interests."

    "Our young teachers and doctors have gone as far as the Himalaya mountains, they are present in the most remote areas of Venezuela, Honduras, Bolivia and Guatemala to seed love and knowledge, to save lives, showing their solidarity and humanness towards people who have been deprived of the most basic human rights. Those are young people raised by our Revolution," he added.

    Minutes before concluding his address, Fidel shared some news about Elian Gonzalez, the child who was kidnapped by the Miami-based Cuban American mafia, and was returned to Cuba six years ago thanks to the protests of our people, its youth and particularly its children, as well as the international community.

    He said that Elian is an outstanding member of the Pioneers organization, he is excelling in school results, he has earned the respect and admiration of his fellow classmates and teachers, he has won municipal contests, and he was elected as a delegate to the 4th Congress of the Jose Marti Pioneers Organization, to be held later in the year.


    In another moment of the celebration, Miriam Yanet Martin, president of the Jose Marti Pioneers Organization, said that not even the darkest forces will be able to dim the future we are building.

    "The organization of Cuban children is committed to comprehensively educating our children, while in other parts of the world some 300 million children cannot attend school and hundreds of thousands are victims of wars."

    "This April 4 brings the joy of being sure that we can count on a new generation, that is a fruit born by the Revolution. To those who preceded us we are grateful, because they taught us with the example of virtue."

    Members of the children troupe "La Colmenita" awarded the "Zapaticos de Rosa" recognition, accorded by the Pioneers Organization to people and institutions that have excelled in the education and the healthcare of children.

    The moment was perfect for the awarding of the Julio Antonio Mella Order, and the Jose Antonio Echeverria and Abel Santamaría medals, granted by the Council of State at the behest of the Youth Organization. The Flag of Honor of the organization was also awarded to the staff of work centers that have excelled in their performance: the Young People’s Computer Club of Manicaragua, in Villa Clara province; the School for the disabled "16 de Abril" in Guantanamo province; the Naval Academy of the Ministry of the Armed Forces in Granma province; the Coast Guard Unit 040 of the Ministry of the Interior; and the Cuban national baseball team.

    Cuban President Fidel Castro handed over a diploma with his signature to Miriam Yanet, President of the Pioneers organization in recognition to Cuban pioneers for their role in all these years of ideological battle.

    The meeting was attended by Cuban Communist Party Political Bureau members Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, Esteban Lazo, Carlos Lage, Pedro Ross, Abel Prieto and Pedro Saez, Commander of the Revolution Ramiro Valdes and other leaders of the Party, the State and political and mass organizations.

    Specially invited to the event were Elian’s father Juan Miguel Gonzalez and his family and the relatives of the Cuban Five.