In mid-December 2014 President Obama shocked the world by announcing that the U.S. would reestablish a diplomatic relationship with Cuba. Reversing more than six decades of American foreign policy, the decision is expected to have an enormous impact on Cubans living both on the island and abroad. Diplomats are even discussing lifting the trade embargo that the U.S. imposed in the 1960s in response to Cuba’s hostile Communist regime.
Besides opening up channels for travel and trade, the easing of tensions between the U.S. and Cuba could have its greatest effect on the island’s large pool of skilled workers. Education has been a major pillar for the Cuban government since the beginning of Communist rule. In fact, upon assuming power Fidel Castro sent legions of educators into the countryside to battle illiteracy, which at the time effected 50 percent of the population. As the years went by the island nation continued to place a big premium on schooling by establishing educational exchanges with a number of Soviet bloc countries. As a result, an estimated 100,000 Cubans have attended Russian or Ukrainian universities. What’s more, in 2011 eighty percent of college-aged Cubans were enrolled in postsecondary education.
Nevertheless, all this education did little to better the lives of many ordinary Cubans. For instance, Alfonso Morre spent nine years studying applied mathematics and civil engineering only to become a cab driver. That’s not to say his education didn’t serve him well on the job: Cuba’s cobbled streets and Morre’s 26-year-old cab ensured that he was always making repairs. As relations between Cuba and the U.S. improve, however, Morre hopes that he’ll be able to find a more appropriate occupation for his skillset. “Once the U.S. trade opens up, companies will come here looking for engineers,” said Morre. “Once the new cars and spare parts start coming in, you won’t need to be an engineer to run a taxi here.”
- With an educated population, why has Cuba’s economy suffered?
- Can we expect U.S. relations with Cuba to commence soon?
Source: Anatoly Kurmanaev, Eric Martin, and Sabrina Valle, “Cuba’s Highly Trained Workforce Beckons Foreign Investors,” Bloomberg BusinessWeek, January 8, 2015. Photo by: Alfredo Miguel Romero.