We’ve all heard the justifications for Cuba’s socialist dictatorship, starting with the “astonishing literacy gains” under Fidel Castro. Lately Bernie Sanders has backed off his full-throated support for Castro, Inc. but continues to claim that there are good things about it, namely Cuba’s literacy rate.
So, here’s the truth. Using data compiled by the University of Oxford, from 1900 (roughly the time of Cuba’s independence) to 1960 (roughly the start of the Castro socialist dictatorship) Cuba’s literacy rate went from 46% to 79%, an increase of 72%. So, before Castro, 4 out of 5 Cubans were literate.
But let’s compare Cuba to other countries in 1960. Cuba was 5th in Latin America literacy, with the aforementioned 79%. Costa Rica was 4th with 83% and Panama was 6th at 73%.
Now, let’s fast forward 20 years. Cuba, if you believe the statistics, made impressive gains, going from 79% literacy to 93%, but Costa Rica went from 83% to 92% and Panama went from 73% to 88%. Neither Costa Rica nor Panama had the “benefit” of a socialist dictator, firing squads, etc. So, what explains their rise in literacy? Well, there was a general rise in literacy in the region and the world.
And speaking of the world, remember that 79% literacy rate in Cuba, pre-Castro? Well that was almost double the global average which sat at just above 40% in 1960.
And lastly, the same source says Cuba had a 100% literacy rate in 2015. I think that’s laughable based on the Spanish spelling and grammar I see on Facebook posts by recent Cuban arrivals. In any case, Costa Rica and Panama, the two countries closest to Cuba in 1960, had literacy rates of 98% and 95% respectively in 2015, again proving you don’t need a socialist dictatorship to educate the masses.
In sum, before Castro, Cuba had a literacy rate almost double the global average, and Cuba’s alleged literacy gains during the last 60 years are comparable with those of other countries that haven’t had to suffer the hemisphere’s longest-running and most brutal dictatorship.
Now you know the rest of the story.