Learn from Cuba, Says World Bank


Richard Moore

Delivered-To: moderator for •••@••.•••
Date: Tue, 05 Jun 2001 10:26:35 -0700
To: •••@••.•••
From: CyberBrook <•••@••.•••>
Subject: Learn from Cuba, Says World Bank

Learn from Cuba, Says World Bank

By Jim Lobe

WASHINGTON, Apr 30 (IPS) - World Bank President James
Wolfensohn Monday extolled the Communist government of
President Fidel Castro for doing "a great job" in providing
for the social welfare of the Cuban people. His remarks
followed Sunday's publication of the Bank's 2001 edition of 
'World Development Indicators' (WDI), which showed Cuba as
topping virtually all other poor countries in health and
education statistics. It also showed that Havana has
actually improved its performance in both areas despite the
continuation of the US trade embargo against it and the end
of Soviet aid and subsidies for the Caribbean island more
than ten years ago.

"Cuba has done a great job on education and health,"
Wolfensohn told reporters at the conclusion of the annual
spring meetings of the Bank and the International Monetary
Fund (IMF). "They have done a good job, and it does not
embarrass me to admit it." His remarks reflect a growing
appreciation in the Bank for Cuba's social record, despite
recognition that Havana's economic policies are virtually
the antithesis of the "Washington Consensus", the
neo-liberal orthodoxy that has dominated the Bank's policy
advice and its controversial structural adjustment
programmes (SAPs) for most of the last 20 years.

Some senior Bank officers, however, go so far as to suggest
that other developing countries should take a very close
look at Cuba's performance. "It is in some sense almost an
anti-model," according to Eric Swanson, the programme
manager for the Bank's Development Data Group, which
compiled the WDI, a tome of almost 400 pages covering scores
of economic, social, and environmental indicators. Indeed,
Cuba is living proof in many ways that the Bank's dictum
that economic growth is a precondition for improving the
lives of the poor is over-stated, if not downright wrong.

The Bank has insisted for the past decade that improving the
lives of the poor was its core mission. Besides North Korea,
Cuba is the one developing country which, since 1960, has
never received the slightest assistance, either in advice or
in aid, from the Bank. It is not even a member, which means
that Bank officers cannot travel to the island on official
business. The island's economy, which suffered devastating
losses in production after the Soviet Union withdrew its
aid, especially its oil supplies, a decade ago, has yet to
fully recover. Annual economic growth, fuelled in part by a
growing tourism industry and limited foreign investment, has
been halting and, for the most part, anaemic. Moreover, its
economic policies are generally anathema to the Bank. The
government controls virtually the entire economy, permitting
private entrepreneurs the tiniest of spaces. It heavily
subsidises virtually all staples and commodities; its
currency is not convertible to anything. It retains tight
control over all foreign investment, and often changes the
rules abruptly and for political reasons.

At the same time, however, its record of social achievement
has not only been sustained; it's been enhanced, according
to the WDI. It has reduced its infant mortality rate from 11
per 1,000 births in 1990 to seven in 1999, which places it
firmly in the ranks of the western industrialised nations.
It now stands at six, according to Jo Ritzen, the Bank's
Vice President for Development Policy who visited Cuba
privately several months ago to see for himself.

By comparison, the infant mortality rate for Argentina stood
at 18 in 1999; Chile's was down to ten; and Costa Rica, 12.
For the entire Latin American and Caribbean region as a
whole, the average was 30 in 1999.

Similarly, the mortality rate for children under five in
Cuba has fallen from 13 to eight per thousand over the
decade. That figure is 50 percent lower than the rate in
Chile, the Latin American country closest to Cuba's
achievement. For the region as a whole, the average was 38
in 1999. "Six for every 1,000 in infant mortality - the same
level as Spain - is just unbelievable," according to Ritzen,
a former education minister in the Netherlands. "You observe
it, and so you see that Cuba has done exceedingly well in
the human development area."

Indeed, in Ritzen's own field the figures tell much the same
story. Net primary enrolment for both girls and boys reached
100 percent in 1997, up from 92 percent in 1990. That was as
high as most developed nations, higher even than the US rate
and well above 80-90 percent rates achieved by the most
advanced Latin American countries. "Even in education
performance, Cuba's is very much in tune with the developed
world, and much higher than schools in, say, Argentina,
Brazil, or Chile."

It is no wonder, in some ways. Public spending on education
in Cuba amounts to about 6.7 percent of gross national
income, twice the proportion in other Latin America and
Caribbean countries and even Singapore. There were 12
primary pupils for every Cuban teacher in 1997, a ratio that
ranked with Sweden, rather than any other developing
country. The Latin American and East Asian average was twice
as high at 25 to one. The average youth (ages 15-24)
illiteracy rate in Latin America and the Caribbean stands at
seven percent. In Cuba, the rate is zero. In Latin America,
where the average is seven percent, only Uruguay approaches
that achievement, with one percent youth illiteracy. "Cuba
managed to reduce illiteracy from 40 percent to zero within
ten years," said Ritzen. "If Cuba shows that it is possible,
it shifts the burden of proof to those who say it's not

Similarly, Cuba devoted 9.1 percent of its gross domestic
product (GDP) during the 1990s to health care, roughly
equivalent to Canada's rate. Its ratio of 5.3 doctors per
1,000 people was the highest in the world. The question that
these statistics pose, of course, is whether the Cuban
experience can be replicated. The answer given here is
probably not. "What does it is the incredible dedication,"
according to Wayne Smith, who was head of the US Interests
Section in Havana in the late 1970s and early 1980s and has
travelled to the island many times since. "Doctors in Cuba
can make more driving cabs and working in hotels, but they
don't. They're just very dedicated," he said. Ritzen agreed
that the Cuban experience probably cannot be applied
wholesale to another poor country, but insisted that
developing countries can learn a great deal by going to the

"Is the experience of Cuba useful in other countries? The
answer is clearly yes, and one is hopeful that political
barriers would not prevent the use of the Cuban experience
in other countries. "Here, I am pretty hopeful, in that I
see many developing countries taking the Cuban experience
well into account."

But the Cuban experience may not be replicable, he went on,
because its ability to provide so much social support "may
not be easy to sustain in the long run". "It's not so much
that the economy may collapse and be unable to support such
a system, as it is that any transition after Castro passes
from the scene would permit more freedom for people to
pursue their desires for a higher standard of living." The
trade-off, according to Ritzen, may work against the welfare
system which exists now.

"It is a system which on the one hand is extremely
productive in social areas and which, on the other, does not
give people opportunities for more prosperity."

InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS) All rights reserved

Richard K Moore
Wexford, Ireland

    A community will evolve only when
    the people control their means of communication.
    - Frantz Fanon

    "Consensus does not mean agreement.  It means we create a
    forum where all voices can be heard and we can think
    creatively rather than dualistically about how to reconcile
    our different needs and visions."
        - Starhawk, "Lessons from Seattle and Washington D.C.", 
        in "Democratizing the Global Economy", Kevin Danaher, ed.,
        Common Courage Press, Monroe, Maine, 2001.

Permission for non-commercial republishing hereby granted - BUT 
include and observe all restrictions, copyrights, credits,
and notices - including this one.