HAVANA TIMES, Jan 20 — A certain gentleman commented about one of my recent posts suggesting that I review the statistics relating to high incidence of poverty in the rest of the Third World compared to the low rates experienced here in Cuba.
In general terms, he spoke about the superior results achieved by the island’s social system.
I of course guaranteed him that the statistics used both here and in his country are not always reliable.
In fact, this science is defined by sets of numerical data obtained from deductions based on the calculation of the probabilities of certain events or manifestations. This means that nothing is absolute; statistics are always approximate and, as such, they can always be used to overstate or understate situations.
Social statistics provided for our country reveal very low rates of poverty, or none at all; this latter I cannot assure because, again, I’m not inclined to consult government figures.
This gentleman lives in the United States and is familiar with Cuba through figures and diagrams. I know the Cuba in the flesh, and I am witnessing the increasing instances of begging in the streets (and please, in advance, I ask anyone who tries to do, not to mention Cuba as it was before 1959).
It’s depressing to see the number of people panhandling, harassing tourists, invading anyone’s space with outstretched hands with the classic lines: “A little help please” or “can you help me to get some medicine” or “I need something to eat.”
I don’t think the hard figures approach gentleman would like to know how certain statistical dictates are constructed here.
For example, a few years ago a person very close to me had to participate in gathering population and housing statistics for the United Nations. They had to fill out forms on a clipboard, recording all types of data such as people’s occupations, their employment, and so on. These were essential data that needed to be reflected.
In a rather small area, one city block, it was found that three people were civilian employees of the military (the Revolutionary Armed Forces, or FAR), another was an actual FAR officer and yet another was a police officer.
When the census taker started filling out forms for employment, none of those people agreed that they should be listed as FAR or domestic security employees. They only agreed to be recorded as simple government employees, not as individuals affiliated with the military or state security.
Needless to say, it would be alarming to discover the true figures for those who work for or in the military, police departments or the Ministry of the Interior – branches that are disproportionately large compared to the size of the country.
Therefore, when someone tells me about how official data is created, when I see people sleeping in parks and begging — I can only conclude that there are two Cubas: the one of statistics and the real one, the one that hurts.
By no means am I denying the high rates of health care and educational services that we’ve achieved despite being a Third World country, but nor should we deny the true problems that have been generated or what has been lost.
We’re more than numbers.