HAVANA TIMES — I read in the Cuban press that the island has already met the “Millennium Development Goals,” set by the UN with a target for 2015. I didn’t pay too much attention to the article; I figured it was more of the optimism that characterizes the official media here.
However, a few days later my curiosity was aroused when I came across statements by the Secretary-General of the United Nations concerning these accomplishments. I then took on the task of putting Cuba through the filter with respect to those goals.
I tried to go beyond the official statistics, and found UNICEF’s assurance that there’s no child malnutrition in Cuba, which is a sure sign of its addressing “hunger or extreme poverty,” the first of the Millennium Development Goals.
My walks through the countryside have allowed me to meet Cubans who live without electricity, and I’ve visited more than one shantytown. But I must admit, in Cuba I’ve never seen the destitution and abject poverty of that in the slums of Uruguay, in the Mayan communities of Mexico, or in the streets of Rio.
Wages are lower than those proposed in the Millennium Development Goals, but these are compensated for with free and subsidized services, including health care, education, food allocations, transportation, telephone service, water and home repair goods and services.
They also created a system of Social Security that dedicates its resources to funding retiree diners and providing clothing, furniture and cleaning supplies to at-risk families and maintaining temporary shelters for orphans.
The protection policy for minors without parental protection is precisely one of the reasons why there are no street children here. In all my years in Cuba, I’ve never run into a youngster sleeping in a park or in a doorway.
The UN proposes “universal primary education,” something that Cuba achieved many years ago, extending this mandatorily to the ninth grade…and education benefits children living in the remotest of mountains.
One can debate for hours about the quality of the teaching, its material problems and the training of teachers – I’ve written about all this. But it would be foolish to deny the success represented by the fact that all Cuban children go to school.
Speaking of teaching, another of the objectives is that girls have access to school for there to be advancement towards “gender equality and the empowerment of women” through their professional training and their incorporation into the workforce.
In Cuba the figures speak for themselves. Women are half of the population but make up 63 percent of university enrollment. In the sphere of work, between 1970 and 2008 the number of women supervisors grew seven times and the number of female technicians multiplied by six (1).
And this isn’t just from Cuban data. The World Economic Forum ranks Trinidad-Tobago and Cuba as the Latin American countries with the greatest degree of gender equity – ranking far ahead of Colombia, Brazil and Mexico.(2)
The fourth millennium objective is Cuban health care’s greatest success story: “Reducing child mortality.” On the island, less than five children die per one thousand live births – a rate comparable to only a few developed countries.
Likewise, an issue that goes hand in hand with this is “improving maternal health,” another area where encouraging results have been achieved. Pregnant women receive free and on-going medical care starting in the first month of their pregnancy.
Not long ago I did a story that reflects that entire system, from maternity homes (where women confronting risky pregnancies stay for extended periods) to neonatal clinics (specialized in attending to the most difficult cases).
“Combating HIV/AIDS and Malaria” is another one of the global targets. Cuba is one of a few countries where all virus carriers have access to an anti-retroviral treatment, known here as a “cocktail.”
Cuban laboratories produce generic packets of the medication, which are provided for free at neighborhood pharmacies. Thanks to this, in recent years the numbers of AIDS patients and deaths have declined substantially.
Those patients have permanent outpatient care, which allows them to lead normal lives. Where women are carriers of the virus, they can even bear healthy children (3) under the care of specialized doctors.
The need for changes in Cuba is something agreed upon by citizens, dissidents, exiles and even the government itself. But whatever the future society, the Millennium Development Goals already achieved should be protected as one of the greatest treasures of the nation.
(1) Oficina Nacional de Estadisticas (Oficina Nacional de Estadísticas.)
(*) An authorized translation by Havana Times (from the Spanish original) published by BBC Mundo.