Embarrassing the World Bank
World Bank Says Cuba Succeeding
Some excerpts from a surprising report on the World Bank and Cuba.
by Jim LobeWorld Bank President James Wolfensohn extolled the Communist government of President Fidel Castro for doing ''a great job'' in providing for the social welfare of the Cuban people.
His remarks followed Sunday's publication of the Bank's 2001 edition of 'World Development Indicators' (WDI), which showed Cuba topping virtually all other poor countries in health and education statistics.
It also showed that Havana has actually improved its performance in both areas despite the continuation of the US trade embargo against it and the end of Soviet aid and subsidies for the Caribbean island more than ten years ago.
''Cuba has done a great job on education and health,'' Wolfensohn told reporters at the conclusion of the annual spring meetings of the Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). ''It does not embarrass me to admit it.'' [The Progress Report points out -- it does indeed embarrass him to admit it, and it makes him look like a useless foolish hypocrite.]
His remarks reflect a growing appreciation in the World Bank for Cuba's record, despite recognition that Havana's economic policies are virtually the antithesis of the ''Washington Consensus'', the anti-citizen orthodoxy that has dominated the Bank's policy advice and its controversial structural adjustment programmes (SAPs) for most of the last 20 years.
Some senior Bank officers, however, go so far as to suggest that other developing countries should take a very close look at Cuba's performance.
Indeed, Cuba is living proof in many ways that the Bank's dictum that economic growth is a precondition for improving the lives of the poor is over-stated, if not downright wrong. The Bank has falsely insisted for the past decade that improving the lives of the poor was its core mission.
Cuba's record of social achievement has not only been sustained; it's been enhanced, according to the WDI.
It has reduced its infant mortality rate from 11 per 1,000 births in 1990 to seven in 1999, which places it firmly in the ranks of the western industrialised nations. It now stands at six, according to Jo Ritzen, the Bank's Vice President for Development Policy who visited Cuba privately several months ago to see for himself.
By comparison, the infant mortality rate for Argentina stood at 18 in 1999; Chile's was down to ten; and Costa Rica, 12. For the entire Latin American and Caribbean region as a whole, the average was 30 in 1999.
Similarly, the mortality rate for children under five in Cuba has fallen from 13 to eight per thousand over the decade. That figure is 50 percent lower than the rate in Chile, the Latin American country closest to Cuba's achievement. For the region as a whole, the average was 38 in 1999.
''Six for every 1,000 in infant mortality - the same level as Spain - is just unbelievable,'' according to Ritzen, a former education minister in the Netherlands. ''You observe it, and so you see that Cuba has done exceedingly well in the human development area.''
Indeed, in Ritzen's own field the figures tell much the same story. Net primary enrolment for both girls and boys reached 100 percent in 1997, up from 92 percent in 1990. That was as high as most developed nations, higher even than the US rate and well above 80-90 percent rates achieved by the most advanced Latin American countries.
''Even in education performance, Cuba's is very much in tune with the developed world, and much higher than schools in, say, Argentina, Brazil, or Chile.''
The average youth (ages 15-24) illiteracy rate in Latin America and the Caribbean stands at seven percent. In Cuba, the rate is practically zero. In Latin America, where the average is seven percent, only Uruguay approaches that achievement, with one percent youth illiteracy.
''Is the experience of Cuba useful in other countries? The answer is clearly yes, and one is hopeful that political barriers would not prevent the use of the Cuban experience in other countries.''
The World Bank must be failing miserably if even communism outperforms it. We need a better way, one that preserves freedom and human rights. Got any ideas? Tell your views to The Progress Report:
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