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A street stand with books for sale in Havana's city center. Photo: Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Cuba's high literacy rates and the rapid rollout of the campaign that resulted in most residents learning to read and write has been a model for many other countries — even as Cubans continue to experience harsh censorship.

Why it matters: Cuba has a long and rich literary history, but the 1961 campaign that helped get the island to a 99% to 100% literacy rate left an important legacy that fostered literacy worldwide.

Details: After Fidel Castro and his revolutionaries overthrew Fulgencio Batista in 1959, the Castro government launched an 8-month effort in Cuba to abolish illiteracy, headed by Che Guevara.

  • The 1961 campaign sent "literacy brigades," or brigandistas, into the countryside to build schools and teach illiterate guajiros to read and write.
  • The program brought basic literacy skills to 700,000 Cubans in less than one year and gave the Castro government a propaganda victory amid the Cold War.

The intrigue: UNESCO would later honor Cuba for its literacy campaign and its influence on 15 other countries, including Venezuela and Ecuador. Before the campaign, literacy rates in Latin American countries ranged from 44% in Bolivia to 70% in Colombia, UNESCO said.

  • Even teachers from the United States would travel to Cuba to study the groundbreaking literacy campaign.

Yes, but: The communist government of Cuba also imposed strong censorship and punished writers who deviated or challenged Castro, the revolution or his authoritarian regime.

  • Writers like Reinaldo Arenas and Heberto Padilla were imprisoned and beaten for criticizing the Cuban government despite protests from other international writers.
  • Arenas fled to the U.S. as part of the Mariel Boatlift where he continued to criticize the oppressive Castro regime until he was diagnosed with AIDS.

What they're saying: "Due to my delicate state of health and to the terrible depression that causes me not to be able to continue writing and struggling for the freedom of Cuba, I am ending my life," Arenas wrote in 1990 in a suicide note to the public.

  • "I want to encourage the Cuban people abroad as well as on the Island to continue fighting for freedom. ... Cuba will be free. I already am."

Don't forget: Cuban American writers, from the late Pulitzer-prize winning novelist Oscar Hijuelos to Cristina García, have tackled themes of loss and exile to become important links to the literature of the U.S.

Get more news that matters about Latinos in the hemisphere, delivered right to your inbox on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Sign up for the Axios Latino newsletter.

Go deeper

Updated Nov 22, 2021 - Axios Events

Watch: A conversation on financial inclusion

On Monday, November 22nd, Axios co-founder Mike Allen and executive editor Aja Whitaker-Moore discussed how the public and private sectors are expanding access to capital and services for those who’ve been excluded from the financial system, featuring Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Women’s World Banking president and CEO Mary Ellen Iskenderian.

Sen. Tim Scott explained how he came to understand the importance of financial literacy, what the U.S. government can do to promote financial inclusion, and the primary issues that underbanked populations face.

  • On the role of financial literacy in setting up for future success: “Financial literacy has so much to do with your future success and your present opportunities, and having not learned those lessons early in life, I wanted to make sure that a part of my focus is on making sure that Americans today, no matter what their income, they have access to financial literacy.”
  • On helping credit worthy individuals have access to more financial opportunities: “We think about those folks who today are credit worthy, but they are credit invisible, so we want to make sure that more of your information finds itself into the credit scoring agencies’ hands, so that if you’re credit worthy, you have access to more products within the portfolio because you’ve earned it.”

Mary Ellen Iskenderian illustrated which populations are most impacted by divides in economic opportunity, how to reach women and help them gain better access to financial resources, and the rise of digital technology in banking.

  • On how the pandemic impacted economic inclusion for women: “I think one of the really seminal, important takeaways...was just how women in every geography, every age, every economic segment have really been disproportionately affected by both the health aspect of the pandemic...but also in the economic part of the pandemic. We saw unemployment rates across the globe 2 percentage points higher everywhere for women than for men.”
  • On disparities in access to digital banking: “So much of financial inclusion, financial outreach, to underserved populations today is being done through cell phone technology. But still, we’ve got a 15% gender gap in ownership of smartphones in particular.”

Axios VP of Finance and Accounting Abby Clawson hosted a View from the Top segment with TransUnion president and CEO Chris Cartwright, who conveyed ways to help more Americans become full participants in the financial ecosystem.

  • “There are a variety of non-loan financial activities that we believe should be included in the modern credit reporting system in order to expand access to that system for the tens of millions of Americans who currently don’t have it.”

Thank you TransUnion for sponsoring this event.

15 mins ago - World

U.S. announces diplomatic boycott of Beijing Winter Olympics

An Olympic-themed sculpture in Beijing on Dec. 1. Photo: Hou Yu/China News Service via Getty Images

The U.S. announced Monday that it will not send officials to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics in protest of human rights abuses committed by the Chinese Communist Party.

Why it matters: The diplomatic boycott — which won't prevent American athletes from competing — marks a major escalation between the U.S. and China amid already heightened tensions over the CCP's treatment of Muslim minorities, military threats to Taiwan and economic tariffs.

Stuck jet stream brings blowtorch December in Lower 48, frigid Alaska

Short-term climate outlook for Dec. 13-19, 2021, from the Climate Prediction Center at NOAA. (NOAA/CPC)

The Lower 48 states have seen record-shattering warmth so far this December, with temperatures running as high as 35°F above average for this time of year. The warmth has been so pronounced that during the weekend, brush fires broke out in a snowless, unusually mild Denver metro area.

The big picture: The jet stream, which is a river of air that rides at about 30,000 feet along the temperature contrast between air masses, steering storms as it goes, has been stuck in a position well north of the continental U.S., keeping storms and cold weather at bay.