Perhaps we should make this an official series here at Babalu. These days, it appears that there’s an anti-embargo piece written daily somewhere in MSM-land.
This one today comes from the Seattle Times. It’s a pretty standard, by-the-book anti-embargo piece, complete with the de rigueur statements on free healthcare and education.
Here’s the article in full, with links thrown in to counteract a few of the statements made.
Ending U.S. embargo could help this country of contradictions
By Lynn Davison and Judith Clegg
Special to The Times
We were in the city of Trinidad, Sancti Spiritus province, the day that Fidel Castro Ruz officially stepped down as leader of the Cuban revolution. For most of us, the revolution is a historical event; for Cubans it is an ongoing process. Billboards and graffiti proclaiming Viva la Revolution and Viva Fidel pepper cities and the countryside. Despite the dramatic change in leadership (ed. really?), most Cubans do not expect major changes soon, although most would like to see some.
We found Cuba to be a country of contradictions. Most people are poor by any standard; street sweepers, physicians, teachers and most other workers earn about $19 a month. Yet, the population is well-educated and healthy. Cuba’s health status indicators, literacy rates and percentage of the population with college degrees are the envy of most first-world countries.
Heath care is free for all Cubans. Neighborhood-based primary-care physicians are distributed throughout the country at a ratio of 1 per 120 families. While the focus is on preventive and primary care, Cuba also offers excellent specialty and inpatient care and trains doctors and other health workers for all of Latin America. We talked to an obstetrician working in a maternity home in Havana, who described the services available to high-risk mothers and proudly told us of their remarkably low infant-mortality rate.
Education is promoted as the key to the future. All education, including undergraduate and postgraduate studies, is free to Cubans. Many people seem to take advantage of the educational system even though more education is not directly linked to greater incomes.
We saw no people living on the streets or in cars in Cuba. No homeless people in a country where everyone is poor? When we asked people about homelessness, they were mystified by the question. Families take care of their own. Also, while Cubans suffer from mental illnesses and addictions like we do, they have a right to health care and everyone can get outpatient and residential treatment.
Homelessness appears to be prevented by a strong family structure and guaranteed health care rather than exhibited in the streets, jails or prisons.
Make no mistake, living in Cuba is no party. The infrastructure of the whole country is falling apart, there is a massive housing shortage, and the economy is stagnant. Food is rationed. There is a healthy fear of the government. It is one thing to equalize incomes but altogether another to have income levels high enough for everyone to live comfortably and productively.
Cuba has few natural resources, has not yet fully replaced the large subsidy that was provided by the Soviet Union, and remains significantly restricted by the U.S. embargo. It is very hard to imagine an economic turnaround.
For example, our guide Sara, her husband, two sons, sister, mother and grandmother all lived in one room, without a bathroom of their own, from 1990 to 2005. Sara and her husband are college graduates, who were working as a teacher and a marine pilot, and making a combined total of less than $500 a year. There was no other housing option for them until they were approved to join a micro-brigade, which built 16 units of housing. It took 11 years, but now the family lives in one of those units. The government has a goal of 100,000 units of new housing built per year. It is nowhere near that level of production now.
For example, much of the housing is literally falling down in the major cities. There are a few restored buildings that usually house government entities. There are more buildings with scaffolding, but we seldom saw anyone working on them. While the government claims low unemployment, there seemed to be a lot of people on the streets during the day.
Many people we spoke with were very knowledgeable about the United States. We were often asked about the upcoming election. There seemed to be more Barack Obama supporters based on the assumption he would be most likely to lift the embargo. The Bush administration was vilified on billboards, in newspapers, and in regular speech.
We left Cuba very clear that the U.S. should end the embargo. It is one thing we can do that would have a positive impact on the economy of Cuba and the lives of all Cubans. However, lifting the embargo will not solve all the problems. Despite the successes in education and health care, Cuba’s socialist system has not created a sustainable economic engine to support its population.
Lest we be too harsh, our capitalist system has not provided universal health care or ended homelessness. Maybe, we could learn something from one another.
Lynn Davison and Judith Clegg recently traveled to Cuba on an independent professional study trip. Davison is executive director of Common Ground of Washington, a nonprofit housing organization with offices in Seattle and Spokane. Clegg heads a health and human services consulting firm.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company