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Graham Sowa: I've been living in Cuba for three years now. I would like to blame my obvious hair loss seen in this updated photo on the rigors of life here and medical school, but it is probably just genetic. I've made some of the strongest friendships during my time in Cuba from other writers on this website. The strength of those friendships has almost restored my faith that the online world can lead to offline and real life change. On that same note I've adjusted to using internet one or two hours a month. In the meantime I have rediscovered things like flipping through the pages of books, writing stuff down by hand, and having to admit that I don't know something instead of rapidly looking up the answer on Google while the teacher isn't looking.

Cuba Goes Old-School on the Millennium Goals, What’s Next?

October 10, 2013 | Print Print |

Graham Sowa

MDG goals graphic www.unicef.org.uk

MDG goals graphic www.unicef.org.uk

HAVANA TIMES – I swear everything is slower in the Caribbean. However, my Cubana Airlines wall calendar affirms that time continues its steady countdown to the 2015 due-date of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Cuba will be one of the few countries not asking for extensions on the majority of the United Nation’s homework assignments to the world.

When implementation of the MDGs began in 1990 Cuba was already nearing the finish line.

The first decades of the Revolution saw Cuba move from the best of the worst in Latin America to being on par with Canada and European countries in terms of aggregate health, education, and social development.

The 1980’s came with plenty of foreign aid and solidarity from the Soviet Union, but then all of that went when the decade came to a close.

The Special Period began in earnest right when Cuba should have been showing everyone else how it had already pulled off most of the MDGs.

The MDGs, unlike many foreign development programs, are more insulated from the politics of economics than most of the developing world is used to.

The inclusiveness of the MDGs to solutions originating from various rationalities and ideologies allows for the same thing that is always in vogue for the free-market types:  a marketplace of ideas where solutions are judged by their outputs more than their methods.

Countries are allowed to serve as models to one another in their common pursuit, by different methods, of the same development goals.

Of course, in 1990, the last place most people were looking to advice on the Millennium Development Goals were the ex-Soviet member states and increasingly out-on-a-limb Cuba.

Now, with less than two years left, everyone should probably take another look around the United Nations General Assembly meeting room and assess where they are, and how they got there.

Globally, the economic goal of increased income (I should say increased income for the poor, because the rich seem to have interpreted that this applies to them as well) was met 5 years early.

However goals such as maternal and child mortality, sanitation, and education will remain on the to-do list well past the 2015 due-date.

Cuba has done much better at achieving goals in those last three categories of the MDGs than increasing income and real purchasing power of the Cuban worker, which decreased, and remains stagnate.

On the contrary, the countries that have increased incomes for the rich and poor alike have not translated that income growth into adequate social, health, and education development to meet the MDGs.  Those goals will not be met on a global level.

In a world in which people were not so committed to ideology perhaps there would be an easy way to merge the successes of increased income in some countries with increased social, health and education development in others.

However, in Cuba’s case, the model is further complicated by being largely analogue.

Most other developing countries rely on digital technology that is orders of magnitude more powerful than what Cuba has at its disposal.  These countries are not looking for solutions that make their investment in international information-technology look like poor foresight.

The adolescents of Nigeria are likely to touch a tactile screen to turn the pages of “Things Fall Apart”.

Meanwhile, in Cuba, “La Edad de Oro” will continue to be published in the dead-tree version.

If Cuba wants to make its path to development navigable to other countries it will need to hurry up and digitize.

The next set of development goals is probably not going to leave much room for analogue solutions, no matter how good they are.


What's your opinion?

  • Moses Patterson

    Graham, don’t believe the hype. A number of reputable studies, including the one I have linked here in this comment debunk the Castro propaganda line that Cuba was “the best of the worst in Latin America” before the Revolution as you write in your post. The fact is that Cuban income per capita was fifty to sixty percent of European levels in 1958. It was close to the highest in Latin America and was about thirty percent of the US. (http://econweb.umd.edu/~davis/eventpapers/CUBA.pdf). With regards to social, health and educational indices, Pre-revolution Cuba trailed only Argentina and Uruguay in Latin America and had a quality of life comparable to Italy and higher than most eastern European countries. There is also valid debate regarding the veracity of Cuba’s inarguably high but self-reported infant mortality rates. Ample anecdotal evidence suggests that late-term abortions are encouraged by doctors to avoid or negate reporting stillbirths. Cuba, not surprisingly, reports the highest abortion rates in Latin America. Cuba’s late-entry into the digital world extends throughout Cuban society and increasingly reflects negatively on current quality-of-life measures in Cuba. Of course, if you are one these pathetic foreigners from an industrialized and digitized country who waxes poetic about Cuba’s third world status, you may see the crumbling infrastructure and food shortages in Cuba as an idyllic alternative to life in the ‘real’ world outside of Cuba.

  • Bob Michaels

    Good analysis, thanks. One realizes how much of the economic improvement of other countries is productivity gains directly linked increased digital communications (i.e. internet). Then one must acknowledge the economic ripple effect of the Cuban government’s desire to control information and communication.

    I believe the key people in the Cuban government are intelligent enough to implicitly realize that they and their policies that keep them in control are the constraining factor to economic improvement. What they lack is the strength to openly acknowledge they are the problem and step out of the way.