Fidel Castro is dead, and tensions are high in Miami, where hundreds of thousands of Cuban-Americans view Castro as a brutal dictator who tore apart their families and killed or imprisoned their relatives.
Colin Kaepernick does not view Castro that way. Kaepernick wore a shirt with Castro’s image on it during an August press conference in which he explained why he would not stand for the national anthem. Although that shirt didn’t get much attention at the time, he was asked about it last week by the Miami Herald‘s Armando Salguero, who fled Cuba for the United States when he was a boy and wanted to know why Kaepernick would want Castro’s image on his chest.
Kaepernick at first attempted to dodge Salguero’s questions, but he eventually answered that Castro deserves credit for focusing more on education than prisons.
“One thing Fidel Castro did do is they have the highest literacy rate because they invest more in their education system than they do in their prison system, which we do not do here even though we’re fully capable of doing that,” Kaepernick said.
Kaepernick’s comments about Castro’s Cuba are false.
Although Cuba does have a high literacy rate, it does not have “the highest literacy rate.” A country’s literacy rate can be measured in different ways, but multiple sources find other countries with higher rates than Cuba. World Atlas cites six countries with 100 percent literacy rates, and Cuba is not one of them. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization says 12 countries have a higher literacy rate than Cuba.
His claim that the United States spends more money on its prison system than on its education system is also incorrect. A study by the Brookings Institute found that total spending on prisons and jails in the United States is $80 billion a year. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, total expenditures for public elementary and secondary schools in the United States amounts to $620 billion a year. Add in the $517 billion spent on postsecondary education, and the U.S. actually spends about 14 times as much on its education system as its prison system.
Reliable data on prison spending vs. education spending in Cuba is hard to come by because Cuba doesn’t offer the kind of government transparency that allows its citizens to know how the country’s wealth is being spent. It is true that Cuba spends a relatively high proportion of its gross domestic product on education, probably more than it spends on prisons.
Of course, according to Human Rights Watch, Cuban prisons “are overcrowded, and unhygienic and unhealthy conditions lead to extensive malnutrition and illness. Prisoners are forced to work 12-hour days and punished if they do not meet production quotas, according to former political prisoners. Inmates have no effective complaint mechanism to seek redress, and those who criticize the government, or engage in hunger strikes and other forms of protest, are subjected to extended solitary confinement, beatings, restrictions on family visits, and denial of medical care.” Prisons like that are cheap to maintain. Is Kaepernick really praising Castro’s Cuba for not spending a lot of money on the prisons that are full of malnourished prisoners?
Now, I happen to agree with Kaepernick that the United States imprisons too many people, especially for non-violent drug offenses. In fact, I care enough about the issue that if I lived in California, I would have voted for Proposition 64, which legalized recreational marijuana use in the state and will allow some people currently imprisoned for marijuana possession to get out of jail early. Kaepernick, however, couldn’t be bothered to vote.
All of that is to say why tensions among Cuban-Americans in Miami toward Kaepernick will be so high. It’s not only that Kaepernick wore a shirt. It’s that Kaepernick made false claims in an attempt to make Castro sound better than he was. That will rub people in Miami raw.
So when the 49ers take the field against the Dolphins in Miami today, Kaepernick will likely face louder boos than any NFL player has faced in any visiting stadium this season. And many of those boos will come from people who know far more about Castro’s Cuba than Kaepernick ever could.