CASTRO WON THE PROPAGANDA WAR
By Dr. Jose Andreu
A worldwide myth is that Cuba was a a backward country prior to Castro's
takeover. Over 27 years of travelling to more than 100 countries for the
World Bank, as well as for private ventures I have heard the same story
everywhere. According to these views, Cuba was a third world country victim
of political, economic, social and racial oppression. Its backwardness was
endemic, and on top of that we were the victims of NorthAmerican
neocolonialism. Havana was the plaything of American gangsters and
prostitution was widespread. I barely heard favorable comments about
republican Cuba, and then mostly from foreigners who had visited the island or
who knew someone who had. It still amazes me that the negative opinions were
shared by communists and capitalists; leftists, centrists and rightists;
whites, blacks and orientals; rich and poor; literate and illiterate alike.
How could these opinions fly in the face of the truth, which was exactly the
In this, the first of three articles, we will only deal with the two critical
areas of health and education. By 1958, and in spite of seven years of a
corrupt dictatorship, Cuba exhibited a remarkable degree of development
explained below. The data are based on World Bank and other United Nations
statistical sources, such as the Statistical Yearbook and the Demographic
Yearbook, all of which are among the most complete and prestigious data
compendiums in the field of development.
According to the above data Cuba was a relatively advanced country in 1958,
certainly by Latin American standards and, in some areas, by world standards.
Health. Universal health care is touted by Castro apologists as one of the
most significant advances of the regime. In realty, the Castro government
inherited an already advanced health sector. In 1957, Cuba's infant mortality
rate (one of the most accurate proxies for overall health conditions in a
country) was only 32 per 1000 livebirths, the lowest in Latin America and the
13th lowest worldwide, ranking ahead of France, Belgium, West Germany, Israel,
Japan, Austria, Italy, Spain and Portugal. Today Cuba stands 24th worldwide,
and this omits mention of the staggering abortion rate of 0.71 abortions per
livebirth in 1991, which reduces infant mortality by terminating high-risk
pregnancies. Cuba had the sad distinction of having more than double the
abortion rate of any industrialized country in that year. In 1957, Cuba's
128 physicians and dentist per 1000 population was at the level of the
Netherlands and ahead of the United States and the United Kingdom.
After 39 years under Castro, Cuba's infant mortality ranking has gone down
from 13th to 24th place worldwide. The number of physicians and dentists per
1000 population has increased, but based on the massive (and unsustainable)
Soviet subsidies to Cuba's overall economy and fiscal resources.
Education. Before Castro, Cuba ranked fourth among Latin American countries
in educational development. Its literacy rate was 76% then, and 96% now.
This improvement looks less impressive when compared to other countries in
Latin America similar to Cuba in the 1950's, such as Panama and Costa Rica,
which have shown similar gains without the above-mentioned massive
subsidization. Additionally, most other Latin countries (including the
poorest among them) also have registered impressive literacy gains over the
last 40 years: Haiti from 11% to 45%; Guatemala, 30% to 56%; El Salvador, 42%
to 72%; Dominican Republic, 43% to 82%; Brazil, 49% to 83%; Ecuador, 56% to
90%; and Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Paraguay, Chile and Argentina all now
in the 90-96% bracket. And they carried out these large improvements with
minimal foreign assistance, and without the "benefits" of socialism and the
dictatorship of the proletariat.