This is a great article. One of the lies of the gusanos (the Cuban exiles of Miami and elsewhere) is that in 1958, before the Revolution, Cuba had one of the most enviable economies in the region, if not in the 3rd World. They throw all sorts of statistics at us to illustrate this. However, this article shows what a lie this is.
It is especially true in the rural areas.
Pre-revolution, 88% of rural residents had no electricity. Now 95% of Cubans have electricity. 85% had no indoor plumbing or access to safe water. Over 95% never ate meat, fish or eggs. 88% never drank milk. Now all Cubans eat even in the rural areas drink milk and eat eggs, fish and meat. Many eat these items every single day. Most Cubans never saw a doctor even once in their lives. Now all have regular doctor visits.
The economy was not diversified. 80% of the economy was sugar-based. The Revolution diversified the economy for the first time ever. 30% of Cubans were illiterate. Now all are literate. 60% of the highways in the land were built after the Revolution. The Revolution simply developed the country, bottom line.
There was terrible inequality in the rural ares. 1.5% of the population owned 41% of the land. This terrible land concentration is typical of Latin America and is the cause of many or even most of the region’s problems. It’s all about land and the hunger for land.
Granted, there are serious problems with the model, but the achievements of the revolution are real.
The truth and the Mirages
By Luis Sexto
From his blog Patria y Humanidad
HAVANA Those who still insist that Cuba had one of the “most enviable” economies in Latin America before 1959 risk suffering the fate of Lot’s wife: they could turn into statues of salt.
Talking is not writing, of course. And sometimes we write what we say. Therefore, in that mechanical transfer from the spoken word to the printed page, we take it for granted that affirming something is enough to ensure that we’re saying the truth: it needs no demonstration.
Myself, I won’t say “I believe” or “it seems to me” to assure you that the Cuban economy in the 1950s and earlier was neither enviable nor envied. And I can claim that based on personal experience: my family was not middle-class, did not read LIFE magazine or the Diario de la Marina, did not go to the Varadero resorts or ate in restaurants. It didn’t even buy a ham-and-pork sandwich “with everything on it.”
If I had an education, it was thanks to a paternal aunt whose connections with the Salesian Brothers enabled her to get a scholarship from the Public Assistance Corporation for her nephew, a devoted reader.
To avoid in my confessions the mirages of subjectivity, I shall go to the fundamental documents, so you may understand why the old days were not better than today. I won’t be original. I shall simply recall what people forget with great ease, because judging the past depends on one’s social standing yesterday and one’s ideology and interests today.
I shall quote from the survey done by the University Catholic Group (ACU) titled “Why the Agrarian Reform Was Applied to the Rural Population of Cuba Between 1956 and 1957.”
I won’t burden you with figures. I’ll take long steps, go to the basics. And the first apodictic statement cited in the ACU survey comes from Dr. José Ignacio Lazaga, whom I knew as a psychologist and, in those years, an outstanding lay Catholic.
At one of the meetings about the survey, he said: “In all my travels through Europe, America and Africa, seldom did I find peasants who lived in worse conditions than the Cuban farmer.”
The preface to the survey (which was done to warn about the danger of communism if the situation of poverty continued) also says:
“The city of Havana is going through an era of extraordinary prosperity, while the countryside especially the farm workers is living under conditions of stagnation, misery and desperation that are hard to believe.”
That situation was illustrated with the following data:
The farm population, which is estimated at 350,000 workers and 2 million 100,000 people, earns only 190 million pesos a year. In other words, despite the fact that farmers constitute 34 percent of the population, they earn only 10 percent of the nation’s revenues.”
The survey’s organizers, many of whom emigrated after the triumph of the Revolution, confirmed their data with those of the 1953 national census of population and housing. For example, the ACU survey said that 89.84 percent of the respondents lit their homes with “glowing light,” i.e. kerosene. The census figure was 85.53 percent. It also said 88.52 percent drank well water, while the census reported 83.59 percent.
In terms of nourishment, the following figures should suffice: “Only 4 percent mention meat as part of the habitual rations. Fish is reported by fewer than 1 percent. Eggs are consumed by 2.12 percent of farm workers; milk, by 11.22 percent.” As to health, “presumably 14 percent suffers from (or has suffered from) tuberculosis.”
So much for the testimony of the University Catholic Group. Readers who are interested in confirming the data or learning more should access here where it appears, edited by José Álvarez, a University of Florida professor. The survey is also in my personal library and in the Library of Congress of the United States.
There is more, because the documents that belie the descriptions of “enviable” and “buoyant” attributed to the Cuban economy before 1959 are not all alike. The “Memorandum of the Agricultural Census of 1946,” and media outlets like the magazine Bohemia blame economic dependence, the concentration of property and foreign interference in our economy.
The 1946 agricultural census shows that “the proprietors of more than 500 hectares represent only 1.5 percent of the number of farms and owned 41.7 percent of the total surface.”
Add to the Cuban economy of the time the single crop that made Cuba a mono-exporting country. In 1948, as expert Raúl Cepero Bonilla wrote in the newspaper Time in Cuba, sugar accounted for 80 percent of Cuba’s exports. In sum, total reliance on one product, with everything that that implied in industrial and farm backwardness, as well as subservience to the United States market, with its sequel in political and economic dependence.
The latest-model cars, luxurious hotels and casinos managed by the U.S. mafia (confirmed by the permanent residence in Cuba of Meyer Lansky, George Raft and even Lucky Luciano for several months) and 100,000 prostitutes servicing sexual appetites throughout the country do not mean a buoyant economy.
Rather, that evaluation is made by the middle and high class, composed of 550 big landowners, according to the book Proprietors in Cuba in 1958, by Guillermo Jiménez (Social Sciences Press, 2008).
They and their employees and the employees of the sugar mills or other foreign companies and the owners of laboratories, shops, advertising companies, stores and small factories could today appraise Cuba with a nostalgia that only misses the individual and familiar space and their comfortable insertion in that distorted economy, basically controlled by foreign capital.
Now then, to talk about politics, in the words of Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff, we must start from an ethical perspective, recognizing the truth. Otherwise, the debate will make no sense.
The Cuban revolution tried to change that picture and did so in part. At least in terms of social justice, it taught reading and writing to the 30 percent of the nation that was illiterate; drew up 60 percent of the highways; raised the average life span to 76 years; eliminated endemic diseases; graduated more than half a million university students; diversified agricultural and industrial production, and electrified 95 percent of the archipelago.
Much deteriorated or was poorly built. I won’t deny that. As viewed from here, the model was wrong, a model imposed by an unavoidable circumstance: because the U.S. raised its fist in a threatening gesture, the Revolutionary Government had to accept the hand stretched out by the Soviet Union.
As I see it, the divorce between those who oppose the persistence of the ideals of the revolution and those who support them boils down to this: on that side, they exalt a past that to them deserves a comeback; to us, preventing that comeback will always be the greatest achievement.
We talk about rebuilding an economy that’s rich in social justice and independence. What do the others want?