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.”