We Cubans Are More than Numbers

Dariela Aquique

Photo: Caridad

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.

Dariela Aquique

Dariela Aquique: I remember my years as a high school student, especially that teacher who would interrupt the reading of works and who with surprising histrionics spoke of the real possibilities of knowing more about the truth of a country through its writers than through historical chronicles. From there came my passion for writing and literature. I had excellent teachers (sure, those were not the days of the Fast-track Teachers) and extemporization and the non-mastery of subjects was not tolerated. With humble pretenses, I want to contribute to revealing the truth about my country, where reality always overcomes fiction, but where a novel style shrouds its existence.


6 thoughts on “We Cubans Are More than Numbers

  • January 22, 2012 at 10:45 pm
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    It’s not usual for me to put my hands in the fire for anybody, but you twisted John’s affirmation from “Statistics are twisted by most governments” to “it’s OK for the Cuban regime to do so”.

    How it’s this called again? Oh yes, “Straw Man”…

  • January 21, 2012 at 3:51 pm
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    So John let me see if we can follow your logic.

    Your claim is that because most governments twist their Statistics including the US then is OK for the Cuban regime to do so?

    Well I think if some government twist their statistics is wrong no matter who.
    But Dariela’s case is about the Cuban regime twisting theirs, so why should she not point it out?

    You can also make the same case and prove it for the US if you think our statistics are wrong. I find more likely that Cuban statistics are as Dariela mentioned as for the US government there is no real reason to lie since the government is our government a government of the people, something that does not happen for Cuba.

  • January 21, 2012 at 1:51 pm
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    If your claim is that mainstream media (especially television) often gives superficial coverage to complex social issues like unemployment and poverty, I agree. But this is not the result of a coordinated government and media effort to hide the truth from the American people.

    A 9% unemployment rate is not an outright lie. It represents the proportion of Americans 16 years of age and older who have been actively looking for work in the prior 4 weeks but have not been able to find a job. If discouraged (and involuntary part-time workers) are added, the true unemployment (and underemployment) rate would be higher.

    No one is hiding this information from the American people. For example, just now when googling ‘true US unemployment rate’ I got 158,000,000 results, many of them stories appearing in mainstream media.

  • January 21, 2012 at 11:39 am
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    Mark G,
    If you get unemployment info from any of the U.S. corporate media including NPR the statistic you get is that 9% which is an outright lie.

    The preponderance of the U.S public does not ever look any deeper into these statistics and that figure is what most believe to be accurate.

    True the government knows all about the underemployed, the people who are no longer listed as unemployed because they have run out of benefits, the underground economy workers etc., BUT they do not publish these figures on any sort of regular basis which would alarm the public and the stenographic media is complicit in also rarely talking about the full picture.

    The result on the public is the same as the carefully cherry picked intelligence info which the government used and which the public largely believed to war on Iraq.

    A dumbed down populace is necessary for the U.S to maintain the abhorrent foreign policies of the last century and the immiserating domestic policies that have so many in deep poverty in the richest country in the world.

    It may be decades old now but Chomsky and Herman’s ” Manufacturing Consent” explains precisely just how the U.S public is led to believe the lies of our leaders.

    Of course, if your source of information is the corporate media you would believe the convenient lies rather than the uncomfortable truth.

    The government and the media is counting on that.

    Two good sources for alternatives to those lies can be found at Znet and the new website, the New York Times Examiner.

  • January 21, 2012 at 9:45 am
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    Dariela, I couldn’t agree more. Statistics are essential for reasons of both accountability and informed decision making.

    The political spin often put on statistics can be misleading, as is amply demonstrated in John Goodrich’s reply above. However, the statistics collected by the US and other democratic countries are generally accurate and of high quality. This includes US unemployment statistics.

    Contrary to Goodrich’s assertion, The US Bureau of Labour Statistics does report on involuntary part-time, marginally attached and discouraged workers who don’t show up in the official unemployment rate (Tables A-8 and A-16). Not that it’s likely to work in Cuba but here’s the link: http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.nr0.htm

  • January 20, 2012 at 3:07 pm
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    Thank you Dariela,

    Statistics are twisted by most governments and those dealing with poverty which directly reflects on the systems of both economic and government at a much higher rate.

    The U.S has an official poverty rate of around 12% which is not so much a twisting of reality but an outright lie.

    That poverty rate is based on figures set up many decades ago and is basically a multiple of the food budget needed for a family of four.

    The official poverty rate in the U.S is set at about US$22,000.00 per year for a family of four which while sounding like a fortune to Cubans or other Third Worlders, is in error by a factor between two and three.

    Those original figures never took in the expense of an automobile which most people did not have or need back when those statistics were first set up and autos cost around $20,000. just to buy. Then you need insurance ($500.00-$2000. a year) , gas at $3.75 a gallon at appx 20 miles to the gallon at present, repairs.

    Secondly rent in the Boston area or in many larger metropolitan areas is in excess of $1200.00 for a two-bedroom apartment not counting heat ( maybe $2-3000.00 per season in the northern states).

    Health insurance varies widely and runs between say $300.00 a month to over $1000.00 a month depending on whether you have a job or not and whether your employer pays into it or not. That health insurance does not cover dental care and 1/3 of the U.S elderly have no teeth because of this fact.

    About 20% ( again, official figures so probably the reality is much higher ) of children suffer from lack of food.

    The unemployment rate officially at about 9% is, in reality closer to 20% when you count in those who have run out of the totally inadequate unemployment insurance . those working underground/off the market , those underemployed -in part-time work because they cannot find full time work.

    At least half the country is at or very close to the official poverty level and that means that a great many more people actually live in poverty and what is called deep poverty (less than $10,000 per year) than the government is willing to admit to.

    This in a country that is the richest on Earth.

    This in a country where Mitt Romney, the likely Republican Party candidate said recently that he didn’t make much money this year in giving paid speeches since he only made US$374,000.00.
    This amount of money that is just a small part of his annual income puts him in the top 1% of all U.S citizens.

    He pays about 15% on his income while the average worker pays about 35%.

    I’ll stop the statistics here because I could go on for quite a few pages on the falsity and deception into which statistics fall when presented by officials who would have you believe that things are better than they are but in the event that you and others are not familiar with the information I provided, I hope this gives everyone some comparison so you can know that there is bad and then there is worse.

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