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Map of Cuba

Leader: Fidel Castro and his brother Raul are President and Vice President; as well as First and second Secretaries of the Communist Party.

Economy: GNP is $1800 per person per year (est.)

Monetary unit: Peso $1.35

Main exports: sugar. tobacco, nickel,’ coffee, tourism.

People: 9.7m (65% urban).

Health: Infant mortality (0-1 yrs) 0.2%. (Sweden 0.1%)

Daily calories availability: 118% All major Third World killer diseases now eradicated.

Concern now being expressed about smoking, fatty diet and sedentary lifestyles.

Culture Religion: Christianity is tolerated. Catholicism (though never as common as elsewhere in Latin America) survives, along with newer Evangelical sects and animistic beliefs originally introduced from West Africa. Ethnic groups: Almost everyone is of mixed blood of Spanish and West African origins that have led to a distinctive ‘mulatto’ culture.

Language: Spanish

Previous colonising power: Spain till 1898— bar a few years of British intervention in the late eighteenth century.

VINTAGE Chevrolets and Ladas plough the pot-holed streets of Havana marginally faster than the wheezing over-laden buses. Many of the buildings are shabby and crumbling and, though UNESCO has contributed to the rehabilitation of Havana Old Town, redecoration has not been a priority.

The outward signs of material affluence in Cuba are conspicuously absent and superficially it looks like many other poor countries. But in reality Cuba is a country which defies comparisons. It has few of the technical facilities of the industralised nations, but few also of the acute social inequalities that plague much of the Third World.

Its free health, education and welfare services set it apart from most of Latin America and there are no official unemployed. There is also considerably greater racial integration in an island which has had only 25 years experience at levelling such differences.

By Western standards, the ownership of consumer goods may be low, though it has increased dramatically over the last five years from 33 to 74 televisions per 100 electrified homes for example. But much of Cuban life is collective: eating in works canteens and washing clothes in public laundries.

In the countryside- sugar is the dominant factor and it is the country’s main export earner. As buyers the two superpowers have virtually changed places. In 1958 the US brought 55 per cent of the harvest whereas in 1981 the USSR bought 68 per cent— at eight times the world price. Indeed the USSR supports Cuba’s economy to the tune of $2,OOOm a year; embargos by the US have done everything to drive the Cubans towards Moscow.

While people freely declare themselves ‘fidelistas’ not all are communists. The Cuban Communist Party remains a relative tiny ‘vanguard’ operation and political control percolates downwards only, despite the recent creation of ‘Peoples Power’ in the first open election in 15 years. But as each of the three government tiers — municipal, provincial and national — elects the next one up, Cuba again defies comparison with Western democracies.

The real organs of popular political expression are the Committees for the Defence of the Revolution and the Federation of Cuban Women, both of whom exist informally in every street or block of flats. There is a trade union movement but it is more closely integrated with the political hierarchy. The Committees have a considerable role in the organisation of everything from evening classes to street processions and the women’s federations have a significant role in the health campaigns.

Cuba really only bears comparison with its own recent history. In 1958, with malnutrition and infectious diseases rife, the entire countryside boasted only one abandoned rural hospital with ten beds. In the last 25 years life expectancy in Cuba has jumped from 53 to 73 years.

Amanda Hopkinson

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All workers are State employees
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Trading is hampered by US economic blockade
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‘Legal equality but domestic exploitation
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[image, unknown] The Cuban Communist Party is the only party permitted.
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96% among 10 – 49 age group
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[image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown] Media State-controlled. Some restrictions on movement and speech but no political prisioners

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‘73 years as for a developed country.

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New Internationalist issue 126 magazine cover This article is from the August 1983 issue of New Internationalist.
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