Elio Delgado Legón
HAVANA TIMES — Despite the obstacles they have tried to place in our way, the prevailing economic situation around the world (which, needless to say, directly affects us), the sudden disappearance of trade relations with the former socialist bloc (which spelled a recession of over two decades and forced us to rebuild our foreign trade almost from scratch), the damage caused by natural phenomena (which have caused the country billions of dollars), we can confidently say, without fear of contradiction, that Cuba is making sure and steady progress towards its fundamental objective: development.
That said, we cannot neglect the fact that achieving development in a country without abundant natural resources, whose history, prior to the triumph of the revolution, had been characterized by the plunder of these scant resources and social neglect (first under the yoke of Spanish colonialism and then under neo-colonialism), is a gigantic task that requires many years of work.
We cannot lose from sight of the fact that development should not be measured on the basis of economic indicators alone, that it has many different aspects and that an essential one is social development, for, without social development, one cannot have economic development.
If we look at some of the figures that described the social situation Cubans had before 1959, we can get a clear sense of the progress made since. Back then, unemployment was at 25 percent for a considerable part of the year; women constituted a mere 12 percent of the workforce; 45 percent of children aged 6 to 14 were denied schooling; 23 percent of the population was illiterate; the average level of schooling was under the third grade; more than 10 thousand teachers were unemployed; there was no public health system and the few medical services offered were poor quality.
The situation in rural areas was even more serious. There, 43 percent of the population was illiterate and only 8 percent managed to secure some form of free medical attention, always through connections with politicians who asked for votes in return.
Following the triumph of the revolution on January 1, 1959, human beings became the center of attention of the new government and social development became Cuba’s chief priority. All illiterate persons were taught to read and write and the classrooms needed to provide all children with an education were created. This was the logical first step needed to develop the country.
Whereas Cuba only had three universities before the revolution, today it has 68 higher education institutions. As a result of this, Cuba can boast of high levels of development in the field of science and can point to 200 research centers. In addition, the country produces quality medication and vaccines that can be found even in wealthy and developed countries.
No one can question the fact Cuba is a force to be reckoned with in the field of medicine. The country exports medical services to more than 80 countries around the world and offers free aid to those in need, such as Haiti, to name one example.
Cuba’s infant mortality rate of 4.2 deaths for every one thousand live births, reported this past 2013, is the lowest on the continent, and life expectancy at birth, calculated at 80, is among the highest in the world.
The tourism industry has not ceased to grow since it began to be developed as a means of improving the country’s economy.
It would be impossible to list all of the industries that have been built over the last 55 years. If the country hasn’t managed to achieve greater development, this is because of all the limitations imposed on us by the US economic, commercial and financial blockade.
Cuba has a shipyard industry capable of constructing ever larger vessels, especially the freighters so dearly needed to transport goods in the Caribbean region.
The start of operations of the first stage of the Mariel Special Development Zone, equipped with a port for large-scale vessels, is an important step towards development.
In brief, having consolidated social and human development (something that has been recognized internationally), bolstered science and technology in the country, laid the foundations for a qualitative and quantitative leap forward in agriculture and taken decisive steps in all sectors, Cuba is making steady progress towards its overall development.