Republic of Cuba
Republic of Cuba
República de Cuba
and largest city
|Government||Marxist-Leninist socialist state|
• First Secretary of the Communist Party
• Victory of the Cuban Revolution
|1 January 1959|
• 2019 estimate
Cuba, officially the Republic of Cuba (Spanish: República de Cuba) is a country comprising the island of Cuba, as well as Isla de la Juventud and several minor archipelagos. Having fought against European and American colonizers and military occupation for its independence, the now-independent state is governed by the Communist Party of Cuba.
Its economy is run within the context of Marxism-Leninism, it began as a Soviet-style planned economy, but having seen the recent economic successes of the People's Republic of China with to Socialism with Chinese Characteristics, the Communist Party of Cuba has recently been liberalizing to attract foreign investment and build up a more prosperous socialist society.
Cuban healthcare is widely renowned throughout the world due to the healthcare diplomacy of sending doctors to poor nations which do not have advanced healthcare systems, as well as impressive innovation in biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.
In 1510, Diego Velázquez, one of the richest settlers in Spain, was in charge of colonizing Cuban territory, beginning the conquest with a prolonged reconnaissance and conquest operation, plagued by bloody incidents. To safeguard trade, Spain decided to organize large fleets that would have the port of Havana as an obligatory stopover point, strategically located at the beginning of the Gulf Stream. It's prime exports were coffee, sugar, and tobacco. The Spanish aristocracy imported a lot of African slaves for this colony.
From 1790, In just thirty years, more African slaves were introduced into Cuba than in the previous century and a half. With a population that in 1841 already exceeded a million and a half inhabitants, the Island harbored a highly polarized society; Between an oligarchy of Creole landowners and Spanish merchants and the slave masses. Slavery was an important source of social instability, not only because of the frequent rebellion by slaves - both individually and in groups - but also because the repudiation of the said institution gave rise to conspiracies with abolitionist purposes, none of which were indigenous-led.
Around 1850 the colony received an influx of lower-class Spanish immigrants, but even they were treated poorly by the aristocracy: sixteen or eighteen-hour workdays, seven days weekly, were common, and work conditions in for example the tobacco industry were rife with poor pay, monotony, and health hazards.
After the Spanish–American War, Spain and the United States signed the Treaty of Paris (1898), by which Spain ceded Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam to the United States for the sum of US $20 million and Cuba became a protectorate of the United States.
The Popular Socialist Party of Cuba was formed in Havana in 1925. It was later renamed the "Communist Revolutionary Union". In 1961 the party merged into the Integrated Revolutionary Organizations (ORI), the precursor of the current Communist Party of Cuba.
The Batista Era
Before learning about the achievements of Cuban socialism, we should take a moment to examine what life was like before the revolution. Fulgencio Batista's defenders will typically claim that living standards were better before the revolution. However, a quick examination of the facts will show this to be nonsense. It is true that Batista's reign saw relatively high GDP growth; however, human development indicators paint a far bleaker picture. According to a paper from Cornell University:
Opinions aside, although Cuba ranked as one of the most prosperous developing countries in the 1950s based on gross domestic product (GDP), social indicators for this period portray dismal social conditions, particularly among the rural peasants.
Batista's regime left the Cuban people (especially the large rural population) mired in poverty and illness. According to the aforementioned paper, contemporary studies reported a 91% malnutrition rate among agricultural workers. Though some commentators consider this figure to be too high, "it nonetheless conveys the magnitude of rural impoverishment." Health conditions are summarized by a study in the West Indian Medical Journal:
Poor hygiene, inefficient sanitation and malnutrition [contributed] to the infant mortality rate of 60 per 1000 lives, maternal mortality rate of 125.3 per 1000, [and] a general mortality rate of 6.4 per 1000.
The rural population in particular suffered from dismal health conditions; according to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health:
Cuba had only 1 rural hospital, only 11% of farm worker families drank milk, and rural infant mortality stood at 100 per 1000 live births.
Infrastructure was also pitifully underdeveloped under Batista. According to the aforementioned Cornell paper:
According to the 1953 census, 54.1 percent of rural homes had no toilets of any kind. Only 2.3 percent of rural homes had indoor plumbing, compared with 54.6 of urban homes. In rural areas, 9.1 percent of houses had electricity, compared with 87 percent of houses in urban areas.
Illiteracy and unemployment were widespread under Batista:
Nearly one-quarter of people 10 years of age and older could not read or write, and the unemployment rate was 25 percent.
The high illiteracy rate is hardly surprising when one remembers the shoddy state of education in pre-revolutionary Cuba. According to an article in the Guardian:
In 1958, under the Batista dictatorship, half of Cuba's children did not attend school.
All of this is not even mentioning the imperialist domination, organized crime, and rampant exploitation that the Cuban people endured throughout Batista's reign. With all of this in mind, let us move on to examining the Cuban revolution and its achievements.
Revolutionary movement 1953–1958
Due to the inertia and inability to govern of the bourgeois political parties, a movement of a new type was born, headed by Fidel Castro, a young lawyer whose first political activities had developed in the university environment and the ranks of orthodoxy. On July 26, 1953, a crew of revolutionaries, including Fidel Castro, assaulted Fort Moncada but failed. Nonetheless, the Cuban working classes were growing increasingly restless, and consequently, the neocolonial government (headed by Fulgencio Batista) suppressed trade unions, strikes, and censored much of the press. The failed attack inspired the creation of The 26th of July Movement, a Cuban vanguard revolutionary organization and later a political party led by Fidel Castro.
In 1955, Fidel Castro was introduced to Che Guevara. During a long conversation with Fidel on the night of their first meeting, Guevara concluded that the Cuban's cause was the one for which he had been searching and before daybreak, he had signed up as a member of the July 26 Movement.
On 2 December 1956, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara along with 82 men landed in Cuba, having sailed in the boat Granma from Tuxpan, Veracruz, ready to organize and lead a revolution. Attacked by Batista's military soon after landing, many of the 82 men were either killed in the attack or executed upon capture; only 22 regrouped in the Sierra Maestra mountain range. While in the Sierra Maestra mountains the guerrilla forces attracted hundreds of Cuban volunteers and won several battles against the Cuban Army. By January of 1959, the Cuban masses had successfully overthrown the neocolonial government and Batista fled to Europe.
Having discussed the revolutionary war itself, we may now move on to discussing the achievements of the Cuban socialist state.
Economic and Nutritional Indicators After the Revolution
Since the very beginning, the Cuban revolution has been committed to the improvement of life for the people in both the economic and social spheres. According to a report from Oxfam America:
When Cuba’s revolution came to power in 1959, its model of development aimed to link economic growth with advances in social justice. From the start, transforming economic changes were accompanied by equally transforming social initiatives. For example, in 1959, Cuba carried out a profound agrarian reform which ended latifundia [the land estate system] in the island and distributed land to thousands of formerly landless small farmers.
Despite economic pressure, Cuba has largely succeeded in providing a decent quality of life for its people. According to United Nations data, the unemployment rate in Cuba remains below 2% as it has for many years. Unofficial rates may be slightly higher, but even twice this rate would still place Cuba well below the regional average (and far lower than under Batista).
According to the 2019 Global Hunger Index, Cuba is one of only seventeen nations on Earth (and only four in Latin America) to have a score lower than 5, signifying impressively low levels of hunger. Cuba's rate of undernourishment is below 2.5%.
According to a report from Our World in Data (based at the University of Oxford), Americans are more than twice as likely as Cubans to die from malnutrition.
According to a report from the FAO, "remarkably low percentages of child malnutrition put Cuba at the forefront of developing countries."
According to a report from the United States Department of Agriculture, the average Cuban consumes approx. 3300 calories per day, far above the Latin American and Caribbean average, and only slightly lower than in the United States. Approx. 2/3 of nutritional needs are met by monthly food rations, while the rest is bought independently. The report also states:
The Cuban economy has made remarkable progress toward recovery from the economic disaster generated by the collapse of the Soviet Bloc.
In its report on Cuba, the World Food Program (the food-assistance branch of the United Nations) states the following:
Over the last 50 years, comprehensive social protection programs have largely eradicated poverty and hunger. Food-based social safety nets include a monthly food basket for the entire population, school feeding programs, and mother-and-child health care programs.
This is especially impressive when Cuba is compared to other developing countries, and considering the decades of economic blockade that the nation has endured. The report also states:
The largest island in the Caribbean, Cuba ranks 72th out of 189 countries in the 2019 Human Development Index and is one of the most successful in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
An article in the Guardian addresses this topic:
...the evidence suggests that Cuba has made excellent progress towards the MDGs in the last decade, building on what are already universally acknowledged to be outstanding achievements in equitable health and education standards. According to a new MDG Report Card by the Overseas Development Institute, Cuba is among the 20 best performing countries in the world.
The article also includes a statement from a Cuban economist on how this progress is made:
The Cuban economy is planned and we redistribute income from the most dynamic sectors, which generate most foreign exchange, towards those that are less dynamic but necessary for the country. That's how we maintain a budget to keep health and education high quality and free of charge to the user.
The revolution greatly improved the housing situation in Cuba, and also brought significant urban development. According to Oxfam America:
Initiatives in the cities were no less ambitious. Urban reform brought a halving of rents for Cuban tenants, opportunities for tenants to own their housing, and an ambitious program of housing construction for those living in marginal shantytowns. New housing, along with the implementation of measures to create jobs and reduce unemployment, especially among women, rapidly transformed the former shantytowns.
Finally, the social security and pensions system in Cuba has drastically improved since the revolution, as evidenced by this statement from the aforementioned Oxfam America report:
Both coverage and distribution have improved significantly since the revolution. With a pension system since the 1930's, Cuba was one of the first Latin American countries to establish one. It consisted of independent pension funds and by 1959 covered about 63% of workers, but the system varied greatly in terms of benefits and relied almost exclusively on workers' contributions. Since 1959, the program has been funded completely by the government. In 1958, about 63% of the labor force was covered for old age, disability, and survivors insurance; today, the coverage is universal.
All in all, living standards have improved greatly since the revolution.
Sustainable Development and Environmental Preservation
According to a study in the journal Ecological Economics, Cuba is the most sustainably developed country in the world. This is based on the Sustainable Development Index, which measures a nation's human development outcomes (health and education, per-capita income, etc.) and factors in the country's environmental impact. This result was confirmed in a separate report from the World Wildlife Fund.
Cuba is also one of the only nations to meet conditions for sustainable development, and has been praised by the WWF for its "enlightened environmental policies." Considering the increasingly urgent threat posed by climate change and environmental catastrophe, Cuba provides a model for the rest of the world to aspire to.
Cuba's healthcare system is one of its most impressive and well-known achievements. According to the aforementioned paper from Cornell University:
Cuba’s superior health indicators—highly ranked both regionally and globally—are attributed to the country’s universal primary healthcare services.
The Cuban health system is based on public investment and universal provision. According to a report from the National Association of Social Workers:
Cuba has the largest number of doctors per capita of any country in the world... the country devotes almost a quarter of its gross domestic product (GDP) to education and health care—nearly twice the percentage of U.S. GDP allotted to the same expenses. As a result, the country guarantees free education and health care for all citizens, and women receive six weeks of paid prenatal maternity leave and up to one year of paid leave after giving birth.
According to a 2019 study published in the Journal of Developing Societies, Cuba's health indicators surpass those of developed nations, despite far lower expenditures:
While Cuba spends about one-twentieth per capita on healthcare compared to the USA... people in Cuba nevertheless enjoy longer life expectancy (79 years) than do people in the USA (78 years)... Cuba also has a superior childhood mortality rate (the number of deaths to age 5 per 1,000 live births per year) of six, compared to eight in the USA.
According to data from the World Bank, Cuba's life expectancy is slightly longer than that of the United States. Compare this to the pre-revolutionary era, when the Cuban life expectancy was approximately six years shorter than the American life expectancy.
Also, according to data from the World Bank, Cuba's infant mortality rate is approximately one-third lower than that of the United States. Compare this to the pre-revolutionary era, when the Cuban infant mortality rate was nearly double that of the USA.
Cuba has also made some amazing healthcare developments. According to the WHO, Cuba is the first nation in the world to eliminate mother-to-child HIV and syphilis transmission.
According to the Washington Post, Cuba has developed a potential vaccine against lung cancer, which has shown very promising results, and is being tested in the USA.
The Cuban experience provides an important model for other nations to follow. According to a study in the International Journal of Epidemiology:
Cuba represents an important alternative example where modest infrastructure investments combined with a well-developed public health strategy have generated health status measures comparable with those of industrialized countries... If the Cuban experience were generalized to other poor and middle-income countries human health would be transformed.
An article in the Guardian summarizes this topic quite well:
Whether it is a consultation, dentures or open heart surgery, citizens are entitled to free treatment. As a result the impoverished island boasts better health indicators than its exponentially richer neighbour 90 miles across the Florida straits.
As one aforementioned study put it:
Cuba is an anomaly, a poor nation that has very good public healthcare... Cuba’s public healthcare system, all in all, provides a strong example of progress, an inspiration for other less developed nations to emulate.
This is an enormously impressive achievement.
Since the revolution, enormous strides have been made in education. One of the most significant developments was the National Literacy Campaign, spearheaded by Che Guevara. According to a report from Oxfam America:
The National Literacy Campaign of 1961, recognized as one of the most successful initiatives of its kind, mobilized teachers, workers, and secondary school students to teach more than 700,000 persons how to read. This campaign reduced the illiteracy rate from 23% to 4% in the space of one year.
Before the revolution, literacy in Cuba was between 60% and 76%, depending on the estimates used. Today, the CIA World Factbook gives Cuba's literacy rate as 99.8%.
In addition, Cuba spends a higher percentage of GDP on education than any other nation in the world. This has resulted in impressive results; according to a 2014 study from the World Bank, Cuba has the only "high quality" educational system in Latin America.
In 1959, approx. 50% of Cuban households had access to electricity. According to a report from the Environmental Defense Fund, by 1989, more than 95% of households had access to electricity, including in rural areas, which had previously been almost entirely deprived. Cuba also surpassed many of its neighbors in terms of electricity generation:
By 1990 Cuba had roughly 1.8 times more generating capacity per person than the Dominican Republic and 1.3 times more than Jamaica.
In Cuba, access to clean water and sanitation has greatly improved since the revolution. According to United Nations data, as of 2018, 96.4% of the urban population and 89.8% of the rural population had access to clean drinking water, while 94.4% of the urban population and 89.1% of the rural population had access to improved sanitation services: An excellent article in the Independent discussed this issue quite well:
This is Fidel’s legacy. Clean water and electricity for all. And universal free education and healthcare. Cubans often joke that they’re healthier and better educated than Americans despite the 50-year-plus US blockade. So for me, rural Cuba is Fidel’s Cuba. His ideals live on here – and the rural poor of Cuba have benefited the most from his cradle-to-grave policies. Here, the grandchildren of peasants really do go on to become consultant surgeons and commercial airline pilots.
This is an enormous credit to the revolution.
The Cuban revolution has also made great strides in eliminating discrimination and inequality. As the report from Oxfam America states:
Social policy has also favored the development of equity across society, including the equitable distribution of benefits across all sectors of the population, sometimes favoring the most vulnerable. In the last 40 years Cubans have greatly reduced differences in income between the lowest and the highest paid persons. Women have benefited significantly from the revolution as they have educated themselves and entered the labor force in large numbers. The differences among Cubans of different races have also been reduced.
Considering the widespread racial and gender discrimination that existed before the revolution, these achievements must be admired.
Popular Opinion in Cuba
According to an article published in the New Republic, Cubans are significantly more satisfied with their political system than Americans are with theirs. The same holds true for the healthcare and education systems:
More than two-thirds of Cubans—68 percent—are satisfied with their health care system. About 66 percent of Americans said the same in a November 2014 Gallup poll. Seventy-two percent of Cubans are satisfied with their education system, while an August 2014 Gallup poll found that less than half of Americans—48 percent—are “completely” or “somewhat” satisfied with the quality of K-12 education.
The Cuban people also recently ratified a new constitution, which reasserts the role of the Communist Party, and affirms that Cuba is a socialist state advancing towards communism. The constitution also includes some political and economic reforms, such as the recognition of small businesses, and the presumption of innocence in the court system. According to an article from Reuters, independent evidence supports the official vote tally (approx. 90% support):
The independent online newspaper El Toque asked readers to send in local tallies, a dozen of which showed overwhelming support for ratification.
Yoani Sanchez, "Cuba's best-known dissident," witnessed the count at her local polling station, reporting the results as "400 yes votes, 25 no votes and 4 blank ballots." This suggests that the official results were correct, and the Cuban people did overwhelmingly support the new constitution. An aforementioned article in the Independent, written by an author whose family lives in Cuba, sums this issue up well:
Most Cubans I speak to support the reshaping of the economy and the greater ties with the US. Just like us, they want to better their lives, they want a better mobile phone, a bigger house, they want to travel. But none of them would want to live in a Cuba, no matter how rich, without universal free education, free healthcare, cheap public transport and the lowest rates of violent crime in the Americas. None of them. This is Fidel's legacy.
While the Cuban people largely support economic reform and normalization of relations with the USA, their overall support for the achievements of their socialist system remains high. As the New Republic puts it:
Objective indicators, like the country's low infant mortality and illiteracy rates, have long shown that Cuba has relatively strong social services. This new polling data suggests that Cubans are well aware of it.
This is an important credit to the revolution.
"But What About the Cuban Exiles?"
The most common argument against Cuban socialism is that the Cuban exile population (and their strong distaste for socialism) somehow "proves" that socialist Cuba is terrible. However, this omits a key fact: the exiles come primarily from the wealthy class of Cuba. According to a study in the journal Social Problems:
Comparison of the occupational, age, and educational composition of the community with the Cuban population indicates that the refugees are better educated and come from higher status occupations than the population from which they have exiled themselves... more recent exiles are more representative of the Cuban population, but the rural worker is still vastly underrepresented.
Another thing to consider is that the exile took place during a time of conflict and difficulty for Cuba; the revolution was still very new, and the government had not entirely established itself yet. This likely explains why there were some outliers (i.e. exiles from the working-class population), although the majority were still from the wealthy sectors of Cuban society.
Cuba is a nation with many problems; the economy has slowed since the fall of the Soviet Union (losing your only major trading partner tends to hurt a nation's economy), and international pressure from the USA continues to place Cuba under strain. However, the enormous achievements of the revolution cannot be overlooked; Cuba has provided first-world health and educational standards on a third-world budget, as well as above-average nutrition and infrastructure, all while standing up to the world's most powerful imperialist force, only ninety miles off its shores.
One struggles to find a proper statement with which to sum up the achievements of the Cuban revolution. Perhaps this one, from former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan (from April 11, 2000):
Cuba’s achievements in social development are impressive given the size of its gross domestic product per capita. As the human development index of the United Nations makes clear year after year, Cuba should be the envy of many other nations, ostensibly far richer. [Cuba] demonstrates how much nations can do with the resources they have if they focus on the right priorities – health, education, and literacy.
Perhaps the best statement is given by Aviva Chomsky in her book A History of the Cuban Revolution:
The Revolution has been wildly audacious, experimental, and diverse. It has evolved under often adverse circumstances. It created unprecedented socioeconomic equality, and showed the world that it is indeed possible for a poor, Third World country to feed, educate, and provide health care for its population... If we want to imagine a better world for all of us, I can think of no better place to start than by studying the Cuban Revolution.
That's something which we can all appreciate.
You can use information from these resources below to improve this page
- Wikipedia (about)
- Leftypedia (about)
- EcuRed (Spanish, English auto translated) (about)
- The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (Russian), (English auto translated)
- Cornell University | Cuba's Food-Rationing System and Alternatives
- West Indian Medical Journal | Cuba: Healthcare and the Revolution
- American Journal of Public Health | The Curious Case of Cuba
- The Guardian | Cuba: A Development Model That Proved the Doubters Wrong
- Oxfam America | Cuba: Social Policy at the Crossroads
- UNdata | Country Profiles: Cuba
- 2019 Global Hunger Index | Cuba
- Our World in Data | Deaths by Malnutrition in the USA and Cuba
- Food and Agricultural Organization (United Nations) | Report on Nutrition in Cuba
- USDA | Cuba Food and Agricultural Situation
- World Food Program USA (United Nations) | Cuba Has "Largely Eliminated Hunger and Poverty"
- The Guardian | Why We Should Applaud Cuba's Progress Towards the Millennium Development Goals
- Ecological Economics | The Sustainable Development Index: Measuring the Ecological Efficiency of Human Development in the Anthropocene
- Forbes | Every Country in the World is Developing, According to the New Sustainable Development Index
- Telesur | As World Burns, Cuba Number One for Sustainable Development
- Global Footprint Network | Only Eight Countries Meet Two Key Conditions for Sustainable Development, as United Nations Adopts Sustainable Development Goals
- World Wildlife Fund | The Other Cuban Revolution
- National Association of Social Workers | Social Services in Cuba
- Journal of Developing Societies | Cuban Public Healthcare: A Model of Success for Developing Nations
- World Bank | Life Expectancy in the USA and Cuba
- World Bank | Infant Mortality in the USA and Cuba
- World Health Organization (United Nations) | Cuba First Country in the World to Eliminate Mother-to-Child HIV Transmissions
- The Washington Post | USA to Test Cuban Lung-Cancer Vaccine
- International Journal of Epidemiology | Health in Cuba
- The Guardian | Healthcare in Cuba
- CIA World Factbook | Cuba
- CIA World Factbook | Country Comparison: Educational Expenditures by Nation
- World Bank | Great Teachers: How to Raise Student Learning in Latin America and the Caribbean
- HuffPost | World Bank: Cuba Has the Best Education System in Latin America and the Caribbean
- Environmental Defense Fund | The Cuban Electric Grid
- UNdata | Country Profiles: Cuba
- New Republic | Polls Show Cubans Have Higher Political Satisfaction Than Americans
- Reuters | Cubans Overwhelmingly Ratify New Socialist Constitution
- The Independent | My Family Live in Cuba - The People May Be Poor, But Fidel Castro's Legacy Will Live On
- Social Problems | Cubans in Exile: A Demographic Analysis
- "A History of the Cuban Revolution" by Aviva Chomsky