January 28, 2004

Cuban healthcare and education

Philip Greenspun writes: "[in spite of] universal health care and an excellent public education system ... Cubans are dirt poor. ... but really you'd think that the Cubans, being so well educated and blessed with a large and fertile country, would have done better for themselves. Perhaps politics do matter, a sobering thought as Election 2004 sweeps across the U.S."

In spite of the U.S. embargo, and the great distance to USSR and Europe (which effectively increases the cost of Cuban goods dramatically), Cuban standard of living and public safety is higher on average than in other countries of the region. They have been lucky that there was no direct U.S. military influence as in Guatemala, Nikaragua, Colombia, Haiti, Panama...

In the same post, Philip talks about "the [Colon, Panama] city's largely black population lives in rotting buildings". In Cuba, turists can go accross the country and sleep anywhere under the open sky, without fear of being mugged.

Coming from Serbia, and talking to Russian friends, I know that the bulk of the population of the ex-Socialist countries yearns for old days when Coca Cola and Levi's were very expensive, but jobs, healthcare, and schools were stable.

Alas, human beings always yearn for the things they do not have. And rightfully, given the choice of either freedom in poverty or luxurious captivity, they inevitably choose freedom.

Posted by laza at January 28, 2004 01:37 PM

I am not quite sure how you can say that Cuban's have better living standards. Cuban's have nothing.

Them and the Haitians are constantly battling it out at the moment for being the poorest most misserable people in the Americas. Granted Haiti is clearly the worst, but Cuba is gaining rapidly.

People always repeat the old lies about excellent health care and education. The education may still be relatively good, I cant comment on that, however health care is at a very bad state.

In Panama we are also suffering from a badly run universal health care scheme, but at least people can get treatment and medication free or cheaply.

Proponents of Cuba tend to never really bother learning much about other Latin American countries either. You often hear that Cuba is better of than the Dominican Republic, which was definitely true during Trujillo in the 50's who was a way worse dictator than Cuba's Batista. In the '60s I imagine life for your average Cuban was better as well.

However now you have democracy, jobs, supermarkets and a relatively good lifestyle for your average Dominican. It is still poor, but they are generally a lot better off than your average Cuban at the moment.

I have Russian friends as well who say the same as your friends, but people tend to have short memories (of course not counting people in the Balkans ;-) )

I would recommend anyone arguing for a return to a communist Russia, that they read Koba the Dread by Martin Amis about what really went on during Stalin.

PS. I am always open for debate if you want.

Posted by: Pelle at February 12, 2004 02:02 PM

I have seen Az˙car amarga and my parents recently visited Cuba. Yes, Cubans are poor, but I do not believe they suffer from malnutrition. Many westerners measure the quality of life by the number of "supermarkets", as you say - which is also misleading.

You said that Dominicans are much better off than Cuban doctors who have to prostitute themselves in order to survive. A friend just came back from a vacation in the Dominican Republic, and says that it is amazing how widespread prostitution is there.

I need to talk to several more people before I get persuaded that Cubans are much much more worse than Nicaraguans, Guatemalans, and Panamanians. I wish I had money and time to visit all these palces. I might do something about the money, but vacation time is unfortunately much more scarce here in the U.S. than in socialist ex-Yugoslavia :(

Posted by: Zoran Lazarevic at February 12, 2004 05:45 PM

Hey Zoran,
From what I've been told, people are close to starvation at the moment now. Havana has serious food shortages.

A really good book if you want to understand the core of modern Havana life is: "Dirty Havana Trilogy: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0060006897 which according to Cuban friends, some who live there and some who live here in Panama is so exact it is frightening.

I have never been to Cuba myself. I would love to go. But I have been to the Dominican Republic many times. My ex girlfriend was there and I've been just about everywhere there. There is some serious poverty there and there is definitely lots of prostitution in the tourist areas. Just not to quite the same levels as in Cuba.

In Cuba if you are a doctor, a Geo physicist or anyother highly qualified skilled person, you can make 50 times your monthly salary if you sleep with 4 tourists a month, so it's not hard to understand that they do it. In DR you see some of that desperation, but not that intense. It is mainly in certain very poor rural areas that uneducated girls tend to go that way.

In DR like in Panama, just about all the young people you bump into, including from poor backgrounds are studying or planning to study at University. Funding their own way while working. I find it highly positive seeing this.

I know vacation time is a pain in the states, but if you ever have a long weekend grab an American Airlines Net saver fare to Panama and I'll show you around.

Take Care

Posted by: Pelle at February 12, 2004 06:34 PM

There is no end to the adventures we can have if we seek them with our eyes wide open.

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