No One in the Lead is Safe

Janis Hernandez

Enramadas St. in Santiago de Cuba 1950.

HAVANA TIMES — For the longest time, the island of Cuba seemed blessed by God. For the longest time, the name of this small piece of land was heard far and wide thanks to the achievements in different fields of its remarkable men and women.

For several decades now, however, this “miraculous” island appears to go nowhere, as though under a dark spell. It is as though something has gone motionless. The popular phrase that begins with the words “no one in the lead is safe” comes to mind. I should make it clear that I am not bothered by the prosperity of others. It’s just that, sometimes, one can’t help but make comparisons.

According to data compiled by Mario Rivadulla in a text titled “Some Remarkable Facts about Yesterday’s Cuba” (“Datos impresionantes de la Cuba de ayer”), a text I’ve taken from the blog Volver a Cuba en el Corazón (“The Heart’s Journey Back to Cuba”), Cuba was the world’s, or among the world’s top-ranked nations in many social, cultural, economic, civic and other spheres. I’ll share several examples below:

In the 19th century, Havana’s Espada Cemetery became the first cemetery ever to be built outside of church grounds in all of Latin America. Cuba was the first Latin American country, and one of the first countries in the world, ever to use steam-driven machines and steam boats. Cuba was also the first Latin American country, and the world’s third country (after England and the United States), to build and make use of a railway system.

Havana saw the use anesthesia with ether before any other country in Latin America. It was a Cuban scientist, Carlos J. Finlay, who discovered the way in which yellow fever is transmitted. The first electrical street-lamp system known to Latin America was set up in the Cuban capital.

In the first half of the 20th century, Havana was the first place in all of Latin America to see a streetcar and also the first automobile (driven by Cuban writer Rene Mendez Capote, the first Latin American woman ever to drive an automobile). Havana was the first city in the world ever to set up a phone system with direct dialing (which did not require the mediation of an operator).

The first Latin American Olympic champion was Cuban fencer Ramon Fonts. Jose Raul Copablanca, a Cuban, was the first Latin American ever to win an international chess championship. He won all chess championships from 1921 to 1927.

The first international airline flight in Latin America was the feat of Cuban pilots Agustin Parla and Domingo Rosillo. The 2-hour-and-40 minute flight, from Cuba to Cayo Hueso, took place on May 19, 1913.

Cuba was the first country in Latin America to legalize divorce with the drafting of its 1940 Constitution, one of the most progressive in the world at the time. Cuba was the first Latin American country to grant women the right to vote, secure the equality of genders and races, and give women the right to employment under the Law.

In 1937, Cuba became the first Latin American country to establish an eight-hour workday, a minimum wage and the legal autonomy of universities under the Law.

In 1950, Cuba became the second country in the world to produce regular television broadcasts. That year, Cuba also became the first producer, exporter and promoter of soap operas.

In 1954, Cuba had one head of cattle for every inhabitant and was the third country in all of Latin America (beneath Argentina and Uruguay) in terms of per-capita beef consumption (40 kilograms a year).

According to the 1955 World Health Organization report, Cuba had the second lowest infant mortality rate in all of Latin America that year (33.4 for every thousand live births). In 1956, the United Nations reported that Cuba had the second lowest index of illiteracy in all of Latin America (a mere 23.6 %).

In 1957, the UN Annual Report declared Cuba the best country in Latin America in terms of physicians per capita (1 for every 957 inhabitants), the highest percentage of urban homes with electricity (82.9 %) and urban homes equipped with bathrooms (79.9 %). It ranked it second, after Uruguay, in terms of the daily calorie consumption of its inhabitants (2,870).

Cuba was the second country in the world to broadcast television programs in color. The world’s third full-color television station was established in Cuba.

In 1958, Cuba had more automobiles than any other country in Latin America: a total of 160 thousand, one for every 38 inhabitants. It also had the largest number of electrical appliances in all of Latin America and the most railways per square kilometer. It was considered second in terms of radio receptors.

In 1959, with a total of 358 cinemas, Havana had more movie theatres than any other city in the world, more than New York and Paris, which came in second and third place, respectively.

As we can see, not all of the known achievements of Cuba and Cubans are owed to the Revolution.

Let us take a look at Cuba today: the only country in all of Latin America, and perhaps the world, where the general population has no access to the Internet; one of the few counties in the world where television signals are still predominantly analogic…and the list goes on and on. Brings to mind that popular saying indeed: “No one in the lead is safe, when those behind them are running fast.”


18 thoughts on “No One in the Lead is Safe

  • May 10, 2013 at 12:35 am
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    These (see below) are some of the pre Cuban revolution successes? These are all things that are nothing to brag about. Cuba still has a higher infant mortality rate than 97 percent of the world, including the not so good ol” usa.
    Cubans are also better educated than us and have healthcare unlike 200 million of our citizens. Their food shortages are mainly due to our country’s disregard for the impact our bully policies have on the lives of the people who live there. We are an awful nation! Also wonder why our country will not allow us to visit Cuba? Thought we were a free country? We are a nation of idiots and the ex-patriate/wealthy cubans are a big portion of the idiot factor.
    “Cuba also became the first producer, exporter and promoter of soap operas.”

    “In 1954, Cuba had one head of cattle for every inhabitant and was the third country in all of Latin America (beneath Argentina and Uruguay) in terms of per-capital beef consumption (40 kilograms a year).”

    n 1958, Cuba had more automobiles than any other country in Latin America: a total of 160 thousand, one for every 38 inhabitants.

  • May 10, 2013 at 12:25 am
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    yeah, their human rights is as stellar as ours.

  • May 10, 2013 at 12:25 am
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    Aren’t these the wealthy albeit cruel cubans who want their lifestyle back at really cheap rates?

  • May 10, 2013 at 12:22 am
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    Who does america owe theirs to? Viva kkk reagan, bush sr., bush jr.!

  • May 10, 2013 at 12:21 am
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    What is the best of capitalism? This country is in piss poor shape because of the greed of our politicians and ceo’s. Reagan kicked off a feeding frenzy that refuses to die.

  • May 10, 2013 at 12:19 am
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    If they love their country, they should follow what Hugo Chavez did and keep America out!

  • May 10, 2013 at 12:17 am
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    Guess your diatribe makes you an old, white, wealthy and greedy conservative? McDonald’s tried to start a chain in Trinidad and the people there wanted no part of it. It was great to watch an evil corporation peddling crap get shut down. The best thing I ever tasted was a shark sandwich that was caught, cleaned and grilled by the street vendor who sold them for a $1.00 and this was in a 3rd world country. Watch the documentary on Mississippi showing the extremely fat, illiterate poor who can only afford to eat $.99 hamburgers. When their arteries clog and they get sick, guess what? They can’t afford the medicine or surgery they need. Our greedy corporations want to pay their employees as little as possible and not provide benefits. They feed our country crap and lobby against their customers and employees best interests. Live like people in this country do then open your ignorant mouth.

  • May 10, 2013 at 12:04 am
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    You are wrong! What you just described does happen in this country. Funny thing though, everyone in Cuba has access to healthcare and a free college education. Their literacy rate is higher than ours and so is their infant mortality rate. America is a wasteland with the dumbest and heartless rising to the top while advocating tax cuts for the rich, denying a decent minimum wage, race baiting and supporting healthcare for the one percent that can afford it. It is exactly what Che Guevara described as not being human.

  • May 8, 2013 at 11:54 am
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    wow.if I only knew hoe to mix the best of Capitalism with the best of Socialism….but good intenions are always good.

  • May 7, 2013 at 10:15 pm
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    i think buddy you are just wrong, many things happens in America but you gotta know that Cuba is small and America is way bigger, but if you like you can go and live in Cuba to see how it feels to work and earn 14 dollars a month, not having internet or tv networks, not having movies theaters, places to buy food with your own money, clean streets, which people litter and then they walk between the sh*****t , and so on. But if you live in America or Europe think first the good things you have before writing bullshit.

  • May 7, 2013 at 10:09 am
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    QUOTE: “Cuba was also the first Latin American country, and the world’s third
    country (after England and the United States), to build and make use of a
    railway system.”
    Is that so? In 1848 a railway line started operating in Guyana, situated in South America adjoining Venezuela. In what year was Cuba’s railway system established?
    Generally, this article has an abundance of notable facts of which Cubans should be justly proud. Good job!

  • May 7, 2013 at 6:50 am
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    A new Cuba still sleeps…waiting…waiting for the arrival of freedom. Once it begins nothing and no one will stop its blossoming. This New Cuba will take from the best of its history…capitalism and communisim. It will leap from the bottom to the top of so many indicators of peace, prosperity and human rights. Its coming this New Cuba and it will be swifter than the Arab Spring and more spectacular than the American, Fench and RUssian revolutions.

  • May 7, 2013 at 6:43 am
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    According to Wikipedia, both Chile and Suriname rank lower in intentional homicides. So does the US by the way. If you ask CUBANS, they would like to have McDonald’s, Burger King or Starbuck’s in their country. Have you eaten a Cuban hamburger? Yuk! As commentor Griffin so ably writes, education and health care ARE NOT FREE in Cuba. With tax rates at well over 90%, working Cubans pay dearly for these public services. Either you really are Cuban youngster writing your crap to defend the regime or you have not travelled much. Name one country in the world where the people are not ‘dignified’ or ‘creative’. If you don’t think Cubans are competitive, you have not been paying attention. The Castros have prohibited competitions like beauty pageants and dance contests for big money prizes but, believe me, Cubans are as competitive and prone to rivalry as anyone else. Finally, if life in Cuba was as “blessed’ for Cubans as it is for ‘foreigners’ like you and me who can visit and then leave, Cuba would not be losing its young people to migration at a rate faster than the population growth overall. You know something they don’t know?

  • May 6, 2013 at 2:59 pm
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    …and to whom do we owe all of this incontestable rearward progress? Fidel Castro Ruz. Viva la Revolucion!

  • May 6, 2013 at 2:10 pm
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    The island of Cuba still is blessed in many senses. Blessed from not having Mc. Donalds, Burger King and Kentucky fried Chicken together with Starbucks on every corner. Blessed with having the least pollution in all of the Americas, and a quite intact nature. Blessed with people who don`t shoot 20 children or so.. Blessed with a population who does not need to carry arms alredy going to kindergarden . Blessed with having one of the lowest crime rates in Latin America. Blessed with that no one is without a home or food, even though it might be simple. Blessed with a society where concurrence, competing, rivalty etc. plays a much lesser roll than in many other countries. Blessed with the high amount of creativity in all sectors. Blessed with a realively good educational system being for free.. Blessed with free universities. Blessed with free medicare. Blessed with social behaviour and thinking. Blessed above all with dignity and strength which allowed themto resisted for almost 60 years all offenses and hostilities from the ouside. Blessed with having a heart and a soul which is not just filled with money, but filled with love and solidarity.. It is a blessed country. You just have to open your eyes.. To mention just a few things. It´s too easy to make negative seleciions and who pray everything sick. And this is one unfortunately another one of the articles.Measuring social well being by the amount of cars and cinemas. I wonder what the author would say, if there was more access to the internet. There would be even less cinemas, because people would download the movies. I guess he will have to write another article.

  • May 6, 2013 at 2:03 pm
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    These comparasions are as futile as the ‘good ol’ days’ were nothing more than a bunch of money-laundry facades for the US mafia. An US colony, practically.

    Did the GINI coefficient existed back then or are we seeing only the wealthy of those Havana mobsters being “divided” by the majority of miserable Cubans on the outskirts of the capital and the countryside?

    Are you joining the reactionary calls of Berta Soler’s for giving Cuba back to Washington hands?

  • May 6, 2013 at 1:44 pm
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    Equality of the races indeed! Just like the much-trumpeted Brazilian miracle of racial harmony. Gallego-exilio mythology, obfuscation, conflation and propagandizing in all its splendour and long circulated on the internet. What else is new? Let me answer my own question: no blockade ever existed against Cuba! No economic warfare ever was waged against it by its closest economic trading partner and neighbour!! No terrorism against Cuba ever!!!

  • May 6, 2013 at 1:31 pm
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    but remember, Janis, that…”many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.” Matthew 19:30, and “Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and the firt who will be last.” Luke 13:30
    For example, just look at China, which only a couple of decades ago was an agricultural country, but now is one of the fastest growing, most dynamic, economy in the world.

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