By CARL ROSENTHAL
The May 30 release of the World Bank’s 2001 edition of “World Development Indicators” (WDI) was the occasion for some raised eyebrows in ruling-class circles when it demonstrated that revolutionary Cuba had topped virtually all other poor countries as well as some of the advanced capitalist nations in health and education indices.
World Bank President James Wolfensohn was compelled to concede that Cuba had done “a good job” in meeting the social welfare needs of its people.
At a time when poverty, disease, and illiteracy are on the rise and as World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) structural adjustment programs demand social cutbacks and profiteering privatizations as a condition for aid, Cuba, with no aid and a nationalized economy designed to meet human needs not profit, has actually improved its performance in both areas.
Aside from North Korea, Cuba is the one developing country that has not received World Bank aid or counsel. Cuba continues to set an example for the world despite a 41-year U.S. economic blockade and continuous U.S. support to Miami-based anti-Cuban terrorists, as well as the cessation a decade ago of favorable trade agreements with Russia and Eastern Europe.
Eric Swanson, the program manager for the Bank’s Development Data Group, which compiled the 400-page 2001 report covering scores of economic, social, and environmental indicators, stated, “Cuba is in some sense almost an anti-model” for the World Bank’s nostrum of progress through private enterprise.
Health care and education are free to all in Cuba; foreign capitalist investors are allowed the minimum of operating room and are under tight government scrutiny; virtually all staples and commodities are subsidized and readily available; rent does not exist for some 90 percent of the population, and no one pays more than 5 percent of their monthly income for rent; and Cuba’s currency is not really convertible.
Cuba’s record of social achievement has not only been sustained; it’s been enhanced, according to the WDI. Infant mortality rate has been reduced from 11 per 1000 births in 1990 to seven in 1999, which places it firmly in the ranks of the Western industrialized nations.
Jo Ritz, the World Bank’s Vice President for Development Policy, who visited Cuba in an unofficial capacity several months ago, noted that Cuba stands sixth in the world in this category.
The infant mortality rate for Argentina stood at 18 in 1999; Chile’s was down to 10; and Costa Rica, 12. For the entire Latin American and Caribbean region as a whole, the average was 30 in 1999.
Similarly, the mortality rate for children under five in Cuba has fallen from 13 to eight per thousand over the decade. That figure is 50 percent lower than the rate in Chile, the Latin American country closest to Cuba’s achievement. For the region as a whole, the average was 38 in 1999.
“Six for every 1000 in infant mortality-the same level as Spain-is just unbelievable,” according to Ritz, a former education minister in the Netherlands. “You observe it, and so you see that Cuba has done exceedingly well in the human development area.”
Indeed, in Ritz’s own field the figures tell much the same story. Net primary enrollment for both girls and boys reached 100 percent in 1997, up from 92 percent in 1990. That was as high as in most developed nations, higher even than the U.S. rate and well above 80-90 percent rates achieved by the most advanced Latin American countries.
“Even in education performance, Cuba’s is very much in tune with the developed world, and much higher than schools in, say, Argentina, Brazil, or Chile,” says Ritz.
Public spending on education in Cuba amounts to about 6.7 percent of gross national income, twice the proportion in other Latin America and Caribbean nations. There were 12 primary pupils for every Cuban teacher in 1997, a ratio that ranked with Sweden, rather than with any other developing country. The Latin American and East Asian average was twice as high, at 25 to one.
The average youth (ages 15-24) illiteracy rate in Latin America and the Caribbean stands at seven percent. In Cuba, the rate is zero. Only Uruguay approaches that rate, with one percent youth illiteracy.
Cuba devoted 9.1 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) during the 1990s to health care, roughly equivalent to Canada’s rate. Its ratio of 5.3 doctors per 1000 people was the highest in the world.
Wayne Smith, who headed the U.S. Interests Section in Havana in the late 1970s and early 1980s and who has traveled to Cuba many times since, noted at the April 30 World Bank/IMF meeting, “Doctors in Cuba can make more driving cabs and working in hotels, but they don’t. They’re just very dedicated.”
On July 26, Cuba will celebrate the 41st anniversary of a social revolution that ended imperialist rule for the first time in Latin America and opened a new chapter in social progress.
Cuba dedicated the first year of its revolution to a program to eliminate illiteracy. Within two years it had nationalized imperialist property and embarked on a socialist course that for the first time in its history placed the satisfaction of human needs on the order of the day.
Under conditions of a U.S.-imposed worldwide blockade and shunned by the Stalinist regimes that preferred to enrich a corrupt bureaucracy seeking the restoration of capitalism, Cuba has set an example for the world.
Statistics and World Bank official quotes were taken from an article by Cuban solidarity activist Jim Lobe.