CUBA FACTS

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CUBA FACTS

Issue 43- December 2008

   


Cuba Facts
is an ongoing series of succinct fact sheets on various topics, including, but not limited to, political structure, health, economy, education, nutrition, labor, business, foreign investment, and demographics, published and updated on a regular basis by the Cuba Transition Project staff.

 

 Socio-Economic Conditions in Pre-Castro Cuba*


Introduction

  • In the 1950's Cuba was, socially and economically, a relatively advanced country, certainly by Latin American standards and, in some areas, by world standards.
  • Cuba's infant mortality rate was the best in Latin America -- and the 13th lowest in the world.
  • Cuba also had an excellent educational system and impressive literacy rates in the 1950's.
  • Pre-Castro Cuba ranked third in Latin America in per capita food consumption.
  • Cuba ranked first in Latin America and fifth in the world in television sets per capita.
  • Pre-Castro Cuba had 58 daily newspapers of differing political hues and ranked eighth in the world in number of radio stations.


Health

  • Cuba's infant mortality rate of 32 per 1,000 live births in 1957 was the lowest in Latin America and the 13th lowest in the world, according to UN data. Cuba ranked ahead of France, Belgium, West Germany, Japan, Austria, Italy, and Spain.
  • In 1955, life expectancy in Cuba was among the highest at 63 years of age; compared to 52 in other Latin American countries, 43 in Asia, and 37 in Africa.
  • In terms of physicians and dentists per capita, Cuba in 1957 ranked third in Latin America, behind only Uruguay and Argentina -- both of which were more advanced than the United States in this measure. Cuba's 128 physicians and dentists per 100,000 people in 1957 was the same as the Netherlands, and ahead of the United Kingdom (122 per 100,000 people) and Finland.

 

Education

Cuba has been among the most literate countries in Latin America since well before the Castro revolution, when it ranked fourth.

Table 1. Latin American Literacy Rates

Country
Latest Data Available
for 1950-53
(Percent)
2000
(Percent)
% Increase
Argentina
87
97
11.5%
Cuba
76
96
26.3%
Chile
81
96
18.5%
Costa Rica
79
96
21.5%
Paraguay
68
93
36.8%
Colombia
62
92
48.4%
Panama
72
92
27.8%
Ecuador
56
92
64.3%
Brazil
49
85
73.5%
Dominican Republic
43
84
95.3%
El Salvador
42
79
88.1%
Guatemala
30
69
130%
Haiti
11
49
345.5%

Source: UN Statistical Yearbook 1957, pp. 600-602; UN Statistical Yearbook 2000, pp. 76-82.
a. Data for 1950-53 are age 10 and over. Data for 1995 are age 15 and over, reflecting a change in common usage over this period.
b. Data for Argentina 1950-53 is current as 1947 data, the latest available, and reflects ages 14 and over.
c. Data for 2000 are age 15 and over.


Consumption

  • The 1960 UN Statistical yearbook ranked pre-Revolutionary Cuba third out of 11 Latin American countries in per capita daily caloric consumption. This was in spite of the fact that the latest available food consumption data for Cuba at the time was from 1948-49, almost a decade before the other Latin American countries' data being used in the comparison.

A closer look at the latest available data on some basic food groups reveals that Cubans now have less access to cereals, tubers, and meats than they had in the late 1940's. According to 1995 UN FAO data, Cuba's per capita supply of cereals has fallen from 106 kg per year in the late 1940's to 100 kg half a century later. Per capita supply of tubers and roots shows an even steeper decline, from 91 kg per year to 56 kg. Meat supplies have fallen from 33 kg per year to 23 kg per year, measured on a per capita basis.

 

 

Table 2. Latin America: Per Capita Food Consumption

Country
Latest Data Available
for 1954-57
(Calories per day)
1995-97
(Calories per day)
% Increase
Mexico
2,420
3,108
28.4%
Argentina
3,100
3,113
0.4%
Brazil
2,540
2,933
15.5%
Uruguay
2,960
2,796
-5.5%
Chile
2,330
2,774
19.1%
Colombia
2,050
2,591
26.4%
Ecuador
2,130
2,660
24.9%
Paraguay
2,690
2,570
-4.5%
Venezuela
1,960
2,388
21.8%
Honduras
2,260
2,366
4.7%
Cuba
2,730
2,417
-11.5%
Source: UN FAO Yearbook 1960, pp. 312-316; UN FAO Yearbook 2000, pp. 102-103.
a. Latest 1954-57 available data for Cuba is actually for 1948-49.

 

Although some would blame Cuba's food problems on the U.S. embargo, the facts suggest that the food shortages are a function of an inefficient collectivized agricultural system -- and a scarcity of foreign exchange resulting from Castro's unwillingness to liberalize Cuba's economy, diversify its export base, and its need to pay off debts owed to its Japanese, European, and Latin American trading partners acquired during the years of abundant Soviet aid. This foreign exchange shortage has severely limited Cuba's ability to purchase readily available food supplies from the U.S., Canada, Latin America, and Europe. The U.S. embargo does not prohibit Cuba from buying food in the U.S.

 

  • The statistics on the consumption of nonfood items tell a similar story. The number of automobiles in Cuba per capita has actually fallen since the 1950's, the only country in the hemisphere for which this is the case. (Unfortunately, due to Castro’s unwillingness to publish unfavorable data, the latest available data for Cuba are from 1988.) UN data show that the number of automobiles per capita in Cuba declined slightly between 1958 and 1988, whereas virtually every other country in the region -- with the possible exception of Nicaragua -- experienced very significant increases in this indicator. Within Latin America, Cuba ranked second only to Venezuela in 1958, but by 1988, had dropped to ninth.

 

 

 

Table 3. Latin America: Passenger Cars per Capita (a)

Country
1958
(Cars per 1,000 inhabitants)
1988
(Cars per 1,000 inhabitants)
Annual Average
Growth (Percent)
Argentina
19
129
6.6
Uruguay
22
114
5.3
Venezuela
27
94
4.3
Brazil
7
73
8.1
Mexico
11
70
6.4
Panama
16
56
4.3
Chile
7
52
6.9
Costa Rica
13
47
4.4
Cuba
24
23
-0.1
Dominican Republic
3
23
7.3
Colombia
6
21
4.3
Paraguay
3
20
6.5
Peru
7
18
3.1
Ecuador
2
15
7
Bolivia
3
12
4.7
Guatemala
6
11
2
El Salvador
7
10
1.2
Nicaragua
7
8
0.5
Honduras
3
6
2.3
(a)-For most countries, excludes police and military cars. (b)-Excludes all government cars. (c)- Includes police cars. (d)-Includes cars no longer in use. (e)-1957 (f)-1956 (g)-1987.


  • Telephones are another case in point. While every other country in the region has seen its teledensity increase at least two fold -- and most have seen even greater improvements. Cuba has remained frozen at 1958 levels. In 1995, Cuba had only 3 telephone lines per 100 people, placing it 16th out of 20 Latin American countries surveyed and far behind countries that were less advanced than Cuba in this measure in 1958, such as Argentina (today 16 lines per 100 inhabitants), Costa Rica (16), Panama (11), Chile (13), and Venezuela (11). More recently, as a result of a joint venture with an Italian firm, there has been considerable investment, but current data is still unavailable from standard sources.
  • Cuba also has not kept pace with the rest of Latin America in terms of radios per capita. During the late 1950's, Cuba ranked second only to Uruguay in Latin America, with 169 radios per 1,000 people. (Worldwide, this put Cuba just ahead of Japan.) At that time, Argentina and Cuba were very similar in terms of this measure. Since then, the number of radios per capita for Argentina has grown three times as fast as for Cuba. Cuba also has been surpassed by Bolivia, Venezuela, El Salvador, Honduras, and Brazil in this indicator.
  • In terms of television sets per capita, 1950's Cuba was far ahead of the rest of Latin America and was among the world's leaders. Cuba had 45 television sets per 1,000 inhabitants in 1957, by far the most in Latin America and fifth in the world, behind only Monaco, the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. In fact, its closest competitor in Latin America was Venezuela, which had only 16 television sets per 1,000 people. By 1997, Cuba had increased from 170 televisions to 239 per thousand, behind Mexico (272 per capita) and tying Uruguay for second place. Of these two countries, Uruguay in 1957 had fewer than one television per 1,000 people.

Production

Post 1959 Cuba falls short in areas of industrial production once prioritized by Soviet client states, such as electricity production. Although Cuba has never been a regional leader in public electricity production per capita, its relative ranking among 20 Latin American countries has fallen from eighth to 11th during the Castro era. In fact, in terms of the rate of growth of electricity production, in 1995 Cuba ranked 9th of 20 countries in the region.

Rice Production
  • Cuba ranked fourth in the region in production of rice in 1958. Two of the countries ranking ahead of Cuba in rice production in 1958, Venezuela and Bolivia, have since seen their rice production grow by more than 28 fold through 2000. Cuba's Caribbean neighbor, the Dominican Republic, has increased its rice production by five fold since 1958. Perhaps even more telling are Cuba's yields per hectare in rice production. Whereas the Dominican Republic has increased rice yields from 2100 kg per hectare in 1958 to 5400 kg per hectare in 1996, Cuba's yields stagnated at 2500 kg per hectare, a negligible increase from the 2400 kg per hectare registered in 1958, according to UN FAO data.


Table 4. Latin America: Rice Production

Country
1958
(1,000 Metric Tons)
2000
(1,000 Metric Tons)
% Increase
Brazil
3,829
11,168
191.7%
Colombia
378
113
-70.1%
Ecuador
176
1,520
763.6%
Peru
285
1,665
484.1%
Argentina
217
858
295.4%
Uruguay
58
1,175
1925.9%
Venezuela
22
737
3250%
Dominican Republic
99
527
432.3%
Mexico
240
450
87.5%
Bolivia
11
310
2718.2%
Panama
86
319
271%
Cuba
261
369
41.3%
Nicaragua
33
285
764.5%
Costa Rica
34
264
677.1%
Chile
102
113
10.8%
Paraguay
20
93
365%
El Salvador
27
48
76.3%
Honduras
41
7
-82.2%
Guatemala
33
39
17.3%
Source: UN FAO Yearbook 1961, p. 50; UN FAO Yearbook 1999 Latin America, Central America, and the Carribean 2000.
a. 2000 Figures for Venezuela, Cuba, Paraguay and Guatemala are unofficial estimates.

 

 

Sugar Production

  • In the 1950s, Cuba milled an average of 43.9 million metric tons of sugarcane at a rate of 507,000 metric tons per day to produce 5.63 million metric tons of sugar per year. Today, Cuba's sugar production ranges from 1 to 1.5 million metric tons per year.


Foreign Trade and Balance of Payments

  • Cuba's exports have not kept pace with other countries of the region. Of the 20 countries in the region for which comparable IMF data are available, Cuba ranks last in terms of export growth -- below even Haiti. Mexico and Cuba had virtually identical export levels in 1958 -- while Mexico's population was five times Cuba's. Since then, Cuba's exports have merely doubled while Mexico's have increased by almost 226 fold, according to IMF statistics for 2000. Cuba's exports in 1958 far exceeded those of Chile and Colombia, countries that have since left Cuba behind. The lack of diversification of Cuba's exports over the past 35 years also is remarkable, when compared with other countries in the region.
  • Cuba's enviable productive base during the 1950's was strengthened by sizable inflows of foreign direct investment. As of 1958, the value of U.S. foreign direct investment in Cuba was $861 million, according to United States government figures published in 1959. Adjusting for inflation, that foreign investment number amounts to more than US 3.6 billion in today's dollars.
  • Cuba also had a very favorable overall balance of payments situation during the 1950's, contrasted with the tenuous situation today. In 1958, Cuba had gold and foreign exchange reserves -- a key measure of a healthy balance of payments--totaling $387 million in 1958 dollars, according to IMF statistics. (That level of reserves would be worth more than 3.6 billion USD in today's dollars.) Cuba's reserves were third in Latin America, behind only Venezuela and Brazil, which was impressive for a small economy with a population of fewer than 7 million people. Unfortunately, Cuba no longer publishes information on its foreign exchange and gold reserves.

Table 5. Latin America: Total Exports

Country
1958
(Million USD)
2000
(Million USD)
Haiti
48
324
Panama
23
772
Nicaragua
71
941
Bolivia
65
1,098
Paraguay
34
1,099
Chile
389
1216
Dominican Republic
136
1,544
Cuba
732
1,544
Uruguay
139
2,295
El Salvador
116
2,973
Honduras
70
4,123
Guatemala
103
4,206
Ecuador
95
5,546
Peru
291
6,920
Costa Rica
92
7,729
Colombia
461
13,115
Argentina
994
26,663
Venezuela
2,319
34,038
Brazil
1,243
56,138
Mexico
736
166,455
Source: IMF Direction of Trade Statistics.

 

Mass Media

During the 1950's, the Cuban people were probably among the most informed in the world, living in an uncharacteristically large media market for such a small country. Cubans had a choice of 58 daily newspapers during the late 1950's, according to the UN statistical yearbook. Despite its small size, this placed Cuba behind only Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico in the region. By 1992, government controls had reduced the number of dailies to only 17.

There has also been a reduction in the number of radio and television broadcasting stations, although the UN no longer reports these statistics. However, it should be noted that in 1957, Cuba had more television stations (23) than any other country in Latin America, easily outdistancing larger countries such as Mexico (12 television stations) and Venezuela (10). It also led Latin America and ranked eighth in the world in number of radio stations (160), ahead of such countries as Austria (83 radio stations), United Kingdom (62), and France (50), according to the UN statistical yearbook.

_________________________________________________

*Unless otherwise indicated, all information is from the UN Statistical Yearbook; the Statistical Abstract for Latin America; and the Bureau of Inter-American Affairs, U.S. Department of State.

 

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