In Cuba last week, President Obama offered glowing praise to institutions in that communist country that did not deserve it. Obama called Cuba’s “system of education” an “extraordinary resource” that “values every boy and every girl.”
But there’s nothing “extraordinary” about the Cuban educational system. Children are taught by poorly-paid teachers in dilapidated schools. Cuba has made less educational progress than most Latin American countries over the last 60 years. According to UNESCO, Cuba had about the same literacy rate as Costa Rica and Chile in 1950 (close to 80%). And it has almost the same literacy rate as they do today (close to 100%). Meanwhile, Latin American countries that were largely illiterate in 1950 — like Peru, Brazil, El Salvador, and the Dominican Republic — are largely literate today, closing much of the gap with Cuba. El Salvador had a less than 40% literacy rate in 1950, but has an 88% literacy rate today. Brazil and Peru had a less than 50% literacy rate in 1950, but today, Peru has a 94.5% literacy rate, and Brazil a 92.6% literacy rate. The Dominican Republic’s rate rose from a little over 40% to 91.8%. While Cuba made substantial progress in reducing illiteracy in Castro’s first years in power, its educational system has stagnated since, even as much of Latin America improved. Educational attainment is particularly lackluster among Afro-Cubans, judging from a recent New York Times story.
Obama also promoted the myth that Cuban health care is excellent, saying that the “United States recognizes progress that Cuba has made as a nation, its enormous achievements in education and in health care.”
In reality, Cuba has made less progress in healthcare and life expectancy than most of Latin America in recent years, due to its decrepit health care system. “Hospitals in the island’s capital are literally falling apart.” Sometimes, patients “have to bring everything with them, because the hospital provides nothing. Pillows, sheets, medicine: everything.”
Cuba lost the big edge in life expectancy it once enjoyed over other Latin American countries, as a result of communism. It led virtually all countries in Latin America in life expectancy in 1959, before a communist regime took power in Cuba. But by 2012, Chileans and Costa Ricans lived slightly longer than Cubans. Back in 1960, Chileans had a life span seven years shorter than Cubans, and Costa Ricans lived more than 2 years less than Cubans on average. In 1960, Mexicans lived seven years shorter than Cubans; by 2012, the gap had shrunk to just two years.
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