Human Rights in my life in Cuba

By Yasmira Marisol Calderón Ibargollín*

Good afternoon everybody,

It’s an honor for me to share this afternoon with you all, especially to speak about Human Rights. This year is the 70th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and coincidentally the 40th anniversary of the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowships Program. Thank you for this invitation.

I want to share this quote from the former Vice President of the U.S Hubert H Humphrey.

“It is all too easy for a society to measure itself against some abstract philosophical principle or political slogan. But in the end, there must remain the question: What kind of life is one society providing to the people that live in it? Hubert H. Humphrey

This question has accompanied me during all the preparation of this presentation.

The first time I heard about this event organized by GLUNA, immediately I wanted to participate even though Human Rights is not my field of expertise. I felt that I needed to be involved in, even though at the time I didn’t know why.

Let me tell you a little bit about my life story.

I was raised in one extremely small and very poor citadel; that could collapse in whatever moment due to their severe construction issues. I lived there with my lovely mom who birthed me at the age of 41 in spite of her serious health issues and after some miscarriages. I want to show you some results of the Cuban Health Care System which fortunately allowed me was born:

  • Cuba has the lowest Infant mortality rate in America: 4.4 deaths/1,000 live births
  • Cuba. It is the fourth Latin-American country with lower maternal mortality rate:
  • 39 deaths/100,000 live births (2015)

Then, let’s continuous with my story. Despite our poverty, we were very happy. At the age of 13, I studied and in my free time worked doing manicures and pedicures until I finished my major degree in Psychology. Here I show you others interesting datas:

In Cuba, all education levels even post-doctorate are free of costs. Our level of Literacy is 99, 8%. Cuba is number 10 between of countries with higher percentage. CIA World Factbook

In addition, specialized schools such as sport, art, film makers among others are free of cost as well as all the books and printed materials.

Meanwhile, my mom received minimum financial support and medicines free of cost from the government as a part of the Social Security Program. Which accomplishes with the article 25 (1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights “Everyone has the right to … security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”

Over time, my mother’s health was degenerating. From 1998 to 2005, she was hospitalized at least 4 times a year. Unfortunately, I, also, have been operated on several times, including a cesarean section to have my baby.

Let me show you some meaningful results of our health care system respect the childhood:

  •  A healthy, problem-free pregnancy involves at least 12 pre-natal visits and a battery of regular lab tests and screenings; ultrasounds are including. (MEDICC Review, June 2005)
  • Paid time off from work for pre-natal visits is the law, as is an extensive maternity leave. (MEDICC Review, June 2005)
  • 98% of children under two years of age get all vaccination doses complete. (Ministry of Public Health, Havana 2004)
  • Cuba vaccinates all children against 13 diseases. (Ministry of Public Health, Havana 2004)

Now I ask, Are my mother and I the exception in Cuba among a population of 12 million? What would have been our story or our fate if we had to pay for all these services?

I’m sure it’s not only our story because we have different health programs, all of them free of cost that benefit many Cuban people without any distinction. Here it is some of them:

  • The National Cancer Control Unit (UNCC) which performs: prevent actions, researches, share knowledge, treatments (vaccines and drugs more effective and less toxic).
  •  Cuba is among the world’s leaders in childhood immunization across a broad swath of diseases
  •  WHO validated elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis in Cuba.
  •  Centre of Molecular Immunology (CIM) created anti-cancer drug nimutuzumab

If we read again the Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights mentioned before, we can conclude that Cuba tries to address it as well as it could: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, …”

However, all these achievements of health care and education systems have come with a cost to our population. Here they are some instances in a nutshell:

  • Low wages
  • Lack of food, housing, transportation, clothing and so on.

Specifically, in the health field

  • Issues with work conditions at health institutions
  •  Lack of the right number of doctors in the primary health system
  •  Desertion of doctors who go to international healthcare missions
  •  Overwhelmed health staff
  • Then what can we do? Do we have any kind of solutions?

I think the private sector in Cuba could be one of our several solutions. This is my reason for being here as a Humphrey Fellow to figure out how I can work and support the growth of our private sector.

So, during my stay here in the U.S. I have accumulated more questions than answers, but I think they are a good starting point to move forward to different solutions.

  • How can private and public sectors share the power with transparency, mutual understanding, communication and working together as allies?
  • How can the government encourage our new private sector to be a protagonist for the improvement of the Cuban Economy?
  • How can we prove that the best idea is to maintain one public system of schools and hospitals where everyone supports their improvement and benefits from them at the same time? Rather than creating a divided system of private and public schools and hospitals that may provide services inequitably.
  • After so much material scarcity how can we create a social consciencein the private sector that values pursuing not only increased profits but also contributing to increasing the quality of life of our population?

As a society, we have important achievements related to Human Rights and many challenges to face that today are causes of discouragement, frustration and sometimes feelings of injustice in our population. That’s why it’s so difficult to answer in white or black the question from Hubert H. Humphrey.

What kind of life is one society providing to the people that live in it?

So, why did I finally decide to do this presentation?

I realized that it’s my modest way to thank my doctors, nurses, professors and my folk.

Since after you listened part of my life story I have a last question for you:  Do you really think it would have been possible for me to be here (in the U.S.) and talk to you as a Humphrey Fellow student today without this kind of people who value human rights and who willing to stay and work for it in my country?

Ps. Note this speech is from 2018. Fortunately, some of the previous questions regarding possible solutions are being worked on them by the government; not without many things to fix yet.

In my case, I came back to Cuba and, I am working through education filed to empower people in vulnerable situation who can embrace the entrepreneurship as a life style and a way to get a better individual and collective well-being.

Havana, March 31, 2021.

*Speech about Human Right’s at GLUNA Event for the 70th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. December 2, 2018. East Lansing, Michigan. United State of America.



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