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UN Chief Praises Cuba For Healthiness, Literacy Rate

by Thalif Deen

Adult literacy rate a hefty 96 percent
(IPS) UNITED NATIONS -- UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has singled out Cuba as one of the few developing nations with "impressive" achievements in social development.

Annan said that Cuba's achievements in health, education and literacy were all the more significant given the size of its domestic product per capita -- and the suffering the country has undergone since the U.S.-imposed economic embargo of July 1963.

As the human development index of the UN makes clear year after year, he said, "Cuba should be the envy of many other nations ostensibly far richer."

With a population of about 11.1 million, Cuba's per capita income is about $1,300, but its life expectancy at birth is a high of 76 and its adult literacy rate a hefty 96 percent.

Annan, who is in Havana for a meeting of Third World leaders of the Group of 77, said Cuba's success does not alleviate the need for a global economic and political environment that is more conducive to the countries of the South.

"But it does demonstrate how much nations can do with the resources they have if they focus on the right priorities -- health, education and literacy," he added. Cuba "has created much to build on when the day comes -- soon, I hope -- for it to play its full part in globalization."

Since the UN considers governance -- including multiparty elections and transparency -- an important element in Third World economic development, Annan made a strong pitch for democracy in developing nations.

"A state that denies itself open democratic processes and institutions will thereby impede the development and progress of its people, denying them the chance to interact fully with the wider world," he told Third World leaders.

Significantly better health conditions than most developed nations
Since the Cuban revolution in 1959, Cuba has had a one-party state led by Pres. Fidel Castro.

In its "State of the World's Children, 2000" released last December, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) said that even in countries that have robust economic growth, poverty is paralyzing ever greater numbers, as in parts of Latin America, where the poorest 20 percent of people share less than three percent of the national income.

But Cuba has been an exception. Along with countries such as Costa Rica, Sri Lanka and Vietnam, Cuba has shown that, even against international political odds, "consistent policies aimed at providing a solid foundation of social services pay off in better health conditions and higher literacy rates than those found in many countries with greater economic resources.

Addressing some of Cuba's leading economists, scientists and academics at the University of Havana April 12, the secretary-general said that Cuba may be among the world's smaller nations in terms of population and size, but its geography and history have given it a special place in the global consciousness.

Annan, who is on his first visit to Cuba since his election as Secretary General in 1998, said that Cuba "knows first hand the ravages of colonialism...Cuba knows the scarcity and hardship that are the plight of so much of humankind."

Recalling his meeting with Cuban President Fidel Castro earlier in the day, Annan said that Castro had urged with passion that in speaking of governance, "we should not overlook those actions of a government which promote the well-being of individuals in society -- such as accessible and affordable education, universal health care, and the availability of various means to fulfil human potential."

Low infant mortality and universal literacy are themselves indicators of successful human development.

"I do not think that any fair minded person would disagree with Pres. Castro on the importance of these factors," he added.

The basic goal of the 1963 U.S. embargo was to isolate Cuba economically and deprive it of U.S. dollars. Under the law, those violating the embargo face penalties of up to 10 years in prison and $1 million in corporate fines and $250,000 in individual fines. The embargo has caused considerable damage to the fragile Cuban economy.

Annan said that if exclusion is one serious failing of globalization as it stands today, another is the imbalance that has emerged between what global markets can and cannot do. Globalization, he argued cannot be regarded or pursued as a solely economic phenomenon, separate from the complex fabric of social and political life.

"It must mean more than creating bigger markets, because market forces alone, shooting off on their own trajectory, will never ensure that the needs of all people and their societies can be met," he asserted.

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Albion Monitor April 17, 2000 (

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