According to Statistics from the United Nations, the World Health Organization and the International Labor Organization
From the first few days following the revolutionary victory of 1959 in Cuba, after the hasty departure of dictator Fulgencio Batista, the new government initiated a progressive control of all the media, an act that went hand in hand with a propaganda campaign unprecedented in the history of the island.
As can be seen 38 years later, the purpose of the campaign was and has been to create an unfavorable image of pre-revolutionary Cuba, an image that would justify the subsequent political conduct of the dictatorship of Fidel Castro.
Some people believe that to disseminate information that demonstrates that pre-Castro Cuba was truly a developing country is to justify the acts of Batista. The truth is that the Cuban progress of that time was fundamentally a result of the efforts of all sectors of that society during 57 years of republic, after almost five centuries of life as a nation.
Because of it, in 1950, two years before Batista's second access to power, the Cuban peso had the same value as the U.S. dollar.
Given impetus not only by the official press within the island, but also by Radio Havana Cuba, a state-run radio station that broadcasts to the rest of the world in dozens of languages, and by the official news agency Prensa Latina, the campaign made special emphasis on the economic misery under which the island supposedly lived, and on the economic control that the United States had exerted over it.
In the eyes of those who did not have concrete and accurate information at their disposal, Cuba was little more that a bordello managed by Washington.
This part of the campaign was meant to help justify the existence of a Communist regime whose goal, supposedly, was to bring about deep social transformations in a nation "destroyed by poverty."
If one were to believe the Castroist propaganda, one would have the impression that Cuba was a country with a 40% illiteracy rate, with the greedy hands of multi-national US conglomerates controlling every facet of the national economy; a country without doctors,where workers and farmers were horribly exploited, with a high level of unemployment, and with houses of prostitution and gambling casinos on each corner.
Of course, Cuba was not a fully developed country, nor were its resources distributed equally among all its people -nor have they been equitably distributed during Castroism-, but in 1958 only 14% of the capital invested in the island came from the US, and there were no more than 10 gambling casinos in the country. At the same time, 62% of sugar mills, the principal sites of sugar production -which itself was the most important component of the Cuban economy- were owned by Cubans.
In 1953, Cuba was 22nd among the world's nations in the number of doctors per capita, with 128.6 for each 100 thousand inhabitants.
The mortality rate was 5.8 -third lowest in the world-, while the mortality rate of the United States was 9.5 and that of Canada 7.6.
Towards the end of the 50s, the island had the lowest infant mortality rate of Latin America, with 3.76, followed by Argentina with 6.11, Venezuela with 6.56, and Uruguay with 7.30, as per data provided by the World Health Organization.
Cuba was number 33 among 112 nations in the world as far as the level of daily reading, with 101 newspaper copies published per 1,000 inhabitants, which also contradicts the argument that the country was inhabited by a great number of illiterates.
Even as far as so-called luxury items, in 1959 Cuba had one radio per each five inhabitants, one television set for each 28, one telephone for each 38, and one automobile for each 40 inhabitants, according to the Annual Statistical Report of the United Nations.
As a matter of fact, even the greatest and most world-renowned Cuban writers and artists had already created their most important works before Castro's arrival to power. Among them, their politics notwithstanding, were José Lezama Lima, probably the most outstanding Cuban man of letters of this century; poet and dramatist Virgilio Piñera, who revolutionized Cuban theater with the premiere of Electra Garrigó in 1948, two years before French-Romanian Eugene Ionesco, father of the Theater of the Absurd, premiered The Bald Soprano in Paris; the painters Amelia Pelaez, René Portocarrero, Wilfredo Lam and many others; novelist Alejo Carpentier, author of The Century of Lights, poet Nicolás Guillén; the ballerina Alicia Alonso; and, of course, an extraordinary number of composers and interpreters of Cuban popular music, such as Ernesto Lecuona, Amadeo Roldán, Alejandro García Caturla, the Trío Matamoros, Sindo Garay, Eliseo Grenet, Hubert de Blank, Benny Moré, Dámaso Pérez Prado, and many more.
What follows is some data regarding public health, the labor sector, and education:
PUBLIC HEALTH: In 1958, Cuba had a population of six million, six hundred thirty one thousand inhabitants (6,630,921, to be exact). At that time, there were 35 thousand (35,000) hospital beds in the country, an average of one hospital bed per 190 inhabitants, a number which then exceeded the goal of developed countries, which was 200 inhabitants per hospital bed. In 1960, the United States had one hospital bed per 109 inhabitants.
Also in 1958, the Cuban nation had an average of one doctor per 980 inhabitants, a number that was surpassed in Latin America only by Argentina, with one doctor per 760 inhabitants, and Uruguay, with one per each 860. Cuba had one dentist per 2,978 inhabitants then.
This data is found in the archives of the World Health Organization.
LABOR RELATIONS: In 1958, an industrial worker in Cuba earned an average salary of the equivalent of $6 US dollars per each 8-hour work day, while an agricultural worker earned the equivalent of $3 US dollars. Cuba then ranked number eight (8) in the world as far as salaries paid to industrial workers, outperformed only by the following countries:
the United States ($16.80)
Sweden ($ 8.10)
Switzerland ($ 8.00)
New Zealand ($ 6.72)
Denmark ($ 6.46)
Norway ($ 6.10)
As far as salaries for agricultural workers, Cuba was number seven (7) in the world, outperformed only by the following countries:
the United States ($6.80)
New Zealand ($6.72)
This data was published by the International Labor Organization in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1960. In 1958, Cuba had a labor force of two million two hundred four thousand workers (2,204,000). The rate of unemployment at that time was 7.07%, the lowest in Latin America, as per data from the Cuban Labor Ministry.
EDUCATION: That same year, Cuba had three government financed universities and three others that were privately run. There were twenty thousand (20,000) students enrolled in the government run universities.
There were 900 officially recognized private schools, including the three private universities. The total number of students enrolled at these institutions was over one hundred thousand (100,000).
The public school system employed twenty five thousand (25,000) teachers, and the private school system counted with 3,500.
In the middle of the 1950s, there were 1,206 rural school houses in Cuba, as well as a mobile library system which boasted a total of 179,738 books.
Also in 1958, Cuba had 114 institutions of higher education, below the university level; among them were technical institutes, polytechnic and professional schools, which were financed by the government. Just in 1958, these institutions graduated 38,428 students. In 1958, the island's illiteracy rate was 18%.
This data is found in the archives of Cuba's Ministry of Education.
Cuba was the Latin American country with the highest budget for education in 1958, with 23% of the total budget earmarked for this expense. It was followed by Costa Rica (20%), and Guatemala and Chile, each with 16%. This data comes from America in Statistics, published by the Pan American Union.
(Translated by GLADYS P. MARTINEZ)
CONTACTO Magazine, a monthly publication on Cuban issues.
1317 N. San Fernando Blvd.-246, Burbank, CA. 91504
(818) 842-3308 Fax: (818) 557-6251