The Castro regime in Cuba receives widespread praise for its advances in health care and literacy, and it’s true the country has  life expectancy and literacy rates similar to those that prevail in rich countries, at least according to the official statistics. This is not much of an achievement, however, when one considers Cuba’s position before the 1959 revolution.  Those who accept the Cuban government’s claims  may have fallen for Che Guevara and Fidel chic, or may desperately want to believe that somewhere in the world socialism actually works.

In 1959 Cuba had the 22nd highest per capita income in the world, about the same as Italy’s. It had the lowest infant mortality rate in Latin America and 9th lowest in the world, better than France. It had the world’s third-highest per capita concentration of physicians and dentists, above that of the U.K., and it already had 80% literacy, the third highest in Latin America. There have been incremental improvements since then, as one would expect over 40 years, but it’s an incredible achievement only in the sense that Cuba’s system of political and economic governance since 1959 would have been more likely to lead to sub-Saharan African levels of disease and illiteracy.