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What were the economic effects of the Cuban Revolution? Were living conditions improved for the average Cuban? I'm looking for objective criteria like average income, wealth distribution, life expectancy, literacy and similar.

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+1. I'd like to know this too. My guess would be that a vast amount of wealth fled the country never to return. Numbers would be better than guesses though. –  T.E.D. Apr 6 '12 at 12:50
@T.E.D. If might be possible that wealth fled the country, but what remained was more evenly distributed. –  ipavlic Apr 6 '12 at 13:10
Not just possible. I'd be shocked if numbers showed something besides that. Sadly, communist countries have not historically been all that great about making economic numbers publicly available. –  T.E.D. Apr 6 '12 at 14:19
Always hard to ask 'what might have happened'. An alternative might be to compare it with nearby countries with a similar area/climate/resources - like Haiti –  none Apr 12 '12 at 15:27
Michael Totten is an investigative journalist who went to Cuba recently. You can read some of his articles, including The Lost World here: part 1 and part 2. –  Sardathrion Jan 27 '14 at 14:57

3 Answers 3

up vote 11 down vote accepted

The economic effects of the Cuban Revolution were somewhat of a mixed bag, and depending on the timeline you are interested in the immediate impact was negative, whereas on a longer timeline it was more positive.

The following paraphrases, and quotes relevant parts from Jose Pérez's work Cuba: Between Reform & Revolution

Initially the revolution resulted in a mass exodus of skilled labor. Out of an estimated 85,000 professionals in Cuba some 20,000 fled the island. Approximately 3000 doctors out of 6000, 270 argonomists out of 300, 700 dentists out of 2000, and half of all teachers emigrated right after the revolution. Generally speaking, from September 1965 to April 1973 nearly 300,000 people fled the island.

The loss of so much skilled labor led to a serious decline in services because of the shortage of expertise that could aid in the central planning undertaken by Castro's government. Additionally, the US trade embargo against Cuba that began in February 1962 did not help the situation.

The Cuban economy was hit terribly hard by the revolution. The following paraphrases and quotes relevant parts from Jan Rogozinski's work A Brief History of the Caribbean

By 1961, the state owned 9/10 of all industry in Cuba. Sugar production was hardest hit by the revolution falling almost by half from 7.4 million tons in 1961, to 4.2 million tons in 1963. Along these lines food production fell to the lowest levels since the 1940s, and rationing became a permanent fixture in the country in March 1962.

The Cuban economy would at first shun sugar and tobacco production as they were seen as relics of the country's colonial past. This led to a huge rise in Cuba's trade deficit, mostly with the USSR and Soviet Bloc nations. Cuba would go back to tobacco and sugar in 1965 out of need. The dismal state of the economy was not good, but as Pérez points out there were some positive outcomes eventually:

The per capita income for the poorest 40% of the population increased from $182 to $865 during the time period 1958 to 1978. However, that was in large part at the expense of the richest 5% of the population who saw their per capita income drop over the same time period from $5,947 to $3,068 dollars. Additionally, infant mortality dropped from 39.6 per 1,000 live births in 1963 to 16 per 1,000 live births in 1984. Life expectancy increased from 57 years during the 1950's to 74 by the mid-1980's.

The caloric intake of the average Cuban increased after the revolution, but since this was due to rationing there was little to no diversity in the diet. Pérez makes the claim that by the 1970's malnutrition had been all but wiped out.

Similarly, education increased so that the percentage of the population completing sixth grade increased from 20% in 1953 to 32% in 1970.

So all in all, there was a large impact. The immediate impact was very negative on the country. This was a combination of the exodus of people, and the hit to the economy. After time the impact became more positive, but is somewhat of a mixed bag. People's life expectancy went up, caloric intake increased, per capita income was redistributed, and literacy went up. These increases were not without cost.

For further reading see:

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-1 There has been no positive effects of the revolution. Although inequality has been lowered and poverty reduced, the same things have happened all over the world, and often to much greater effect. It's easier to get rid of poverty in a rich country. –  Lennart Regebro Jan 26 '14 at 10:22
I cant downvote because the lack of reputation, I lived 25 years in Cuba and the economy always was in crisis, in fact since I have memory in Cuba we leave in a period called by Fidel Castro "Periodo Especial(special period)" que es like a "war economics politics in peace time" and waiting for the US attack, and everything was rationalized see pic –  Emilio Gort Jan 26 '14 at 21:41
@EmilioGort will you please explain what is going on in the picture you posted? Thank you. –  ihtkwot Jan 27 '14 at 3:06
@ihtkwot you can read in wikipedia about Rationing in Cuba –  Emilio Gort Jan 27 '14 at 3:31
@EmilioGort so in the picture you posted the man is holding up his ration card at a store where he can get the supplies he has been allocated. Is that correct? –  ihtkwot Jan 27 '14 at 22:06

I'm Cuban (1984- leave cuba in 2009), and I'll try to be the most unbiased possible.

In Cuba exist two currencies the CUP AND CUC

Local citizens are paid in CUP.

24 CUP = 1 CUC

1 CUC = 1.10 USD

The avg salary is 500 CUP ~ 20 USD by month

The health system and all kind of Education include elemental, Bachelor, Master, etc are free.

1/2 Kg (1 lb.) of chicken breast 25 CUP ~ 1 USD

1 liter (1 qt.) of whole fat milk 20 CUP ~ 0.80 USD

1 pair of Adidas trainers 50 CUC ~ 60 USD

1 liter (1/4 gallon) of gas 1 CUC ~ 1.10 USD

4 rolls of toilet paper 4 CUC ~ 5 USD

2 tickets to the movies 4 CUP ~ 0.20 USD

1 Peugeot 508 (2013) 262,185.50 CUC ~ 288,404.05 USD Google it, shock

The internet access is very retristed, in this link you can see the price of the different packets http://home.enet.cu/informaciones/tarifas.htm

Here another link to the cuban version of craiglist http://www.revolico.com/

The vast majority of Cuban make business in the black market to survive.

The 20% of population have more than 60 years. Reference

Rationing in Cuba

Cuban National Bureau of Statistics


CUBA FACTS Socio-Economic Conditions in Pre-Castro Cuba*

Draw your own conclusion

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You mean 20% are older than 60? I don't understand why this is relevant, can you explain please? –  mart May 5 at 8:35
@mart you can see here, latino.foxnews.com/latino/lifestyle/2014/12/14/… –  Emilio Gort May 5 at 13:36
One of the cause of this ageing is that the young people doesnt want have children –  Emilio Gort May 5 at 13:38

The effects of the Cuban revolution has been wholly negative. Not only was it immediately highly negative for the economy, as any civil war is, the planned economy instigated by the communist government in Cuba has, as all planned economy, stifled the Cuban economy and doomed the country to poverty.

During the early 20th century Cuba was a prosperous country. In the graph below we can see that Cuba post war is richer than for example Italy. It was poorer than UK, France and Sweden, but richer than Spain and Portugal, to give you an idea. Basically, the country was as rich as an average European country, and one of the five most developed countries in the region.

But while the European countries quickly got their economy back on track, and in Italy's case from 1947 begins a steady economic climb for several decades, Cubas economy gets a big drop when the revolution starts in 1953, and another in the end of the revolution. Civil war is never good for the economy.

But what is significant is that after the revolution, Cuban economy does not recuperate. It doesn't start growing until the 70's. This is in a large part because of increased trade with the Soviet Union, who buy things from Cuba at an inflated price, in an effort to make Cuba a socialist success story.

In 1990, when USSR collapses, so does Cuban economy, which falls back into it's pre-revolution levels. Cuban economy has then slowly gotten better, apparently in part because small private companies are now allowed to operate, so the heavy crush of the planned economy has been loosened.

Despite this Cuba today is by all accounts a poor country, with a GDP per capita around the same level as China, a country that in 1960 had only 10% of Cubas GDP, and as late as 1993 had only half of Cubas GDP.

Although you of course can claim that these later economic problems are not an effect of the revolution, but of the economic policies of Castro, I think this is actually what is asked for. Some blame can also fall on the US embargo, but again that embargo is an effect of Castro policies (namely the expropriation of foreign companies by the Castro government), so that is again an effect of the Revolution.

GDP per capita PPP inflation adjusted

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I am suspicious of ideological bias here, due to comments like: "has been wholly negative", and the singleminded focus on GDP where ihtkwot's answer takes a broader view of the economy. –  Guy F-W Jan 27 '14 at 15:43
@GuyF-W And what would it take to remove that suspicion? You can look at any measurement you want. Cubas development will not surpass that of democratic non-communist countries. This goes for all communist dictatorships. That's not ideology, but facts. So pick a measurement. UN's Human Development Index, for example? –  Lennart Regebro Jan 27 '14 at 15:45
@GuyF-W Cuba had industry and infrastructure. And also it's industry and infrastructure had not been bombed to smithereens. Many Latin American countries has suffered civil wars etc. Those who have not, like Chile, has done much better than Cuba. This really is not a matter of ideological bias, but fact: Planned economy does not work. It's been tried in many countries in many places over the 20th century. Never once did it work as well as a market economy. No bias, but fundamental economic fact. –  Lennart Regebro Jan 27 '14 at 16:26
Planned economy and socialism always end bad...look venezuela now –  Emilio Gort Jan 27 '14 at 18:38
@LennartRegebro it is not a fact, it is a large idea formed from instance. So, it does mean that being a planned economy was the only absolute reason for the economy to not progress. There can be many reasons. –  Rohit May 5 at 9:25

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