Cuba, Then and Now
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"We suspect that overall health-care outcomes would not have been much different given the remarkably low levels of infant mortality in Republican Cuba."
"Since current living standards appear to be below the levels of the late republic, it is hard to visualize any scenario where the republic would not have out-performed the revolutionary economy by a considerable margin in terms of living standards."
Marianne Ward-Peradoza, John Devereux, researchers
|By the late 1950s, Cuban drove American cars, owned TVs, watched Hollywood movies and shopped at Woolworth's Department Store [Cuba today]. All the while, though, a revolution brewed. Teresa Eng|
These [above] two researchers put together a comprehension picture of social development for Cuba after the Cuban revolution, using data relating to Costa Rica and Argentina for comparison. They calculated that consumption levels in 2000 for Cuba were 52 percent of 1955 levels at a time when Cuba was reeling from the collapse of the Soviet Union and suffered a significant loss of support, as a result. Cuba's per-capita consumption by 2007 arrived at 72 percent of its 1955 pre-revolution level.
Cuba was known to be close to the top of development in its geographic region before the revolution. It, in fact, led the region in low infant mortality from 1953 to 1958, according to data gathered by Carmelo Mesa-Lago, Cuba specialist and professor emeritus, University of Pittsburgh. As for life expectancy, Cuba was in fourth place in the mid-1950s, advancing to third place from 2005 to 2007. Literacy was high; in the 1950s it stood in fourth place, advancing to second place from 2005 to 2007.
"Cuba probably has the best-educated population in the region, but the considerable investment in human resources is partly lost due to the low wages paid and lack of incentives that force professionals to emigrate or stay but abandon their state work and shift to private non-professional activities that allow them to survive", wrote Mesa-Lago.
Published in the Journal of Economic History in 2012, a research paper found that Cuba lagged significantly behind its counterparts in the region during the rule of Fidel Castro. Roads, railways and hotels were built with U.S. investments, pre-revolution. The per capita income in 1955 was between 50 to 60 percent of western European levels, roughly equal to Italy's per capita income at the time. As a share of gross domestic product, Cuba's consumption was rated fairly high.
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Income and wealth gaps between the rich and the poor after the revolution were narrowed. There was an expansion, not a new introduction, of free national public education and the same held true for the already-existing free public-health system with the number of rural hospitals increasing from one to 62, a substantial improvement. Cubans enjoy opportunities for regular health check-ups thanks to the emphasis that the Cuban health-care system places on preventive medicine.
But capital formation, industrial production and key measures such as cars per person, for example, saw Cuba falling from the top ranks to last place in terms of GDP, post-revolution. Cuban hospitals are ill-equipped and pharmacies have sparse stock, with antibiotics available only through the black market. Reality reflects that Cuba's revolutionary education and health care were already well established before Fidel Castro came to power. Greater access has been given to the poor.
But another reality that cannot be overlooked is that without resorting to dictatorship or communism, other Latin American countries succeeded in establishing even more dramatic improvements in their societies in the past six decades. Overall living standards, measured by GDP, calorie consumption and allied measures declined notably under Cuba's communist rule.
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