Eighty years ago, Cuba was known to many Americans as a dazzlingly stylish tourist destination because of both its appealing proximity to the United States, and the overwhelming romance of the spectacular beaches and culturally rich Havana. Today, the American perspective on Cuba has changed dramatically, and the two most prominent features that characterize Cuba are the current embargo that the United States has placed on it, and the authoritarian government. The effect of Cuban culture within the United States, on the other hand, has been limited primarily to music, food, dance, and other cultural features gleaned from social interaction and integration.
Beyond these stereotypes, Cuba has had incredible progress in many areas, unknown to most people in the world. Obama’s December 2014 announcement to lift restrictions on travel to Cuba was fairly surprising to many Americans, and Cuba’s recent demands of the U.S. (such as removal from the list of terror states) have elicited much interest in this island country, and has brought up the question: What is Cuba?
Beyond the nostalgia of the “old” Cuba, the Cuba of today has demonstrated that progress has been made in several significant areas. Perhaps these developments do not place a focus on where most people would prefer it to be, but progress has nonetheless advanced the country in ways that we haven’t anticipated. The case in point: Cuba’s Healthcare System.
Defying expectations by a storm, Cuba has emerged as a world leader in healthcare despite its rather low economic level of growth. Combined with its surprisingly high ranking on the Human Development Index, Cuba’s achievements are even more admirable due to the fact that 40% of the nation’s budget is dedicated to social development, such as providing universal social services for every citizen of Cuba.
Even more impressive is Cuba’s astoundingly low infant mortality rate. Statistically, an infant born in Cuba has a greater chance of survival than an infant born in the United States. While the mortality rate for infants (per 1000 born) is approximately 5 for both countries, Cuba does edge out the United States with a consistently lower number across nearly every measure of health statistics that has been published in recent years.
Another thing in which Cuba trumps the U.S.? Literacy rate. According to the CIA handbook, while Americans over the age of 15 have a remarkable 99% literacy rate, Cuba has an absolutely unbelievable high literacy rate of 99.8% – one of the highest in the world. This, unlike many other movements in Cuba to improve livelihood, is not new by any means. In 1961, within just 12 months under Ché Guevara’s command, the literacy rate of Cuba rose from approximately 60-70% to 96%. It has steadily increased since then, encouraged by a widely accessible education system.
While many still maintain that Cuba is a “terror state” that remains a threat to not only the United States, but to the entire world, there is ample evidence that suggests that Cuba will eventually break free of the (mostly) negative view that the media has presented of it. Its advancements, while largely unknown, are making differences for Cuban citizens that many of us cannot fathom.
The hope we have for Cuba? That it will one day regain its reputation as a beautiful, hospitable country – but one that that will have much more than just beautiful beaches to entice visitors. With Cuba currently negotiating changes with the U.S. as of January 2015, this change might not be too far off after all.