Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Of Toilet Paper and Misleading Statistics: Is Cuba Next?

You did not read about it in the New York Times—which prefers op-ed pieces extolling the virtues of Cuba’s health care system to wasting ink exposing the rot and decay beneath the surface of El Maximo Lider’s dictatorship—but for the first time in 46 years there was, last week, a gathering in Havana of dissidents working to undermine the dictatorship of Fidel Castro.

Typically, Cuba tried to keep things under control by barring European legislators, of the recently-freed countries Czech Republic and Poland, from attending the rally. While disappointing behavior for a dictatorship which for some bizarre reason enthralls so much of the Hollywood treat-Saddam-nicely crowd, it’s a lot better than the beatings Cuban citizens get when they try to protest in public.

In any event, Times let the modest gathering of Cuban dissidents pass without comment, which is too bad, because it might be the sign of something happening that could have terrific consequences, not only for human rights, but for investors as well.

I have a theory that much of the good will towards Castro is based entirely on the fact that Cuba’s infant mortality rate is lower than the United States’ infant mortality rate.

It’s true: the U.S. rate of infant mortality is 7 per 1,000 live births; Cuba’s is 6. Cuba touts the number every chance it gets, because it’s really about the only good news coming out of Fidel’s 46 years of oppressive rule.

And it is a damning statistic, given our country’s great wealth and vast resources, on the surface.

However, anyone who has looked at the data knows that the U.S. suffers an even greater deficiency in comparison to every fully-developed nation in the world. Austria, Belgium, Finland and France—just to go down the list alphabetically—each have 4 infant deaths per 1,000. Sweden has 3. The U.K. has 5.

Why the gap between the U.S. and the others? The key is immigration and diversity of population.

The U.S. has a far higher immigration rate than any comparable country, and is, consequently, a more heterogeneous population than any of its Western European peers (despite looming immigration pressures in France, Holland and the U.K.). And Cuba is about as homogeneous as a country can get.

Heterogeneous populations, as might be expected, have widely varying infant health care patterns related to different ethnic groups and their living standards. Infant mortality rates in New York City, for example, averaged 6 per 1,000 live births in recent statistics. However, “children born to black non-Hispanic mothers have an infant mortality rate of 10.0, more than twice the rate of those born to white non-Hispanic mothers (4.2),” according to the New York Department of Health and Hygiene.

That’s a despicable gap—two to one, black to white. But given that gap, is the fact that Cuba (population 11 million) has an infant mortality rate equivalent to New York City (population 8 million), really all that special?

There are, after all, no immigrants going to Cuba. In fact, Cuba’s population growth is negative 0.1%, despite a modest 0.1% rate of natural growth. The difference, of course, being people fleeing on boats.

Why bother at all, here, with Cuba’s infant mortality rate and its modest, barely-noticed gathering of dissidents? Two reasons: the first is personal, the second is business.

For starters, I know one of the Cubans who fled the country. His name is Manny, he lives a block away from us, and he is quite an amazing guy. He came to America in 1978 on a boat, speaking no English; he settled in our town, met a girl and married her and now runs a hair salon. Manny’s a home-owner, a tax-payer, and an employer.

Over the years, Manny has helped several of his brothers escape Cuba—although one died in the straits off Florida. Our daughters grew up together. Manny’s house is a mad, wonderful cacophony of Cuban English and Cuban Spanish, with food cooking and kids running in and out, and—every time a new relative flees Cuba—a young Cuban refugee looking for work and adjusting to a new life in America.

Manny roasts a pig in the back yard on special days—such as the day his daughter, Jeanette, graduated from high school. I helped Manny invest his savings for Jeanette’s college education when she was in second grade. Jeanette will graduate from college next year.

Tell Manny about Castro’s great health care system, as reported in the January New York Times op-ed blather by non-Cuban-health-care-system-user Nicholas Kristof, and Manny will snort and ask why, if it’s so great, does his wife have to bring toilet paper with her when she visits his family in Cuba? (Manny is not allowed back to see his relatives.)

It’s a great question, but you won’t see it asked in the Times, and I suspect—like the atrocities in Iraq—the bad news of Castro’s rule will not be fully revealed until he is gone.

The second reason I bother with Cuba relates to making money. Specifically, what happens if Castro goes?

It’s only 112 miles across the Florida Straits to Cuba. Cruise ships, casinos, home builders, construction material companies—all would likely benefit if Castro goes.

It’s worth thinking about, worth asking companies in those businesses what they might be planning, and worth putting together a list.

After many years of speculation on the end of Castro’s regime, the time may be coming sooner rather than later.

Manny, for one, certainly hopes so.

Jeff Matthews
I Am Not Making This Up


cdub said...

Good points indeed. I visited Cuba two years ago, and had the opportunity to meet with many locals and government officials. The levels of propaganda and denial were astonishing. And I didn't run into many locals who were happy with the status quo. But it is a beautiful place, albeit one in which time stopped several decades ago. The Donald must be frothing at the mouth thinking about Trump Havana.

ikedim said...

Hmmm ... I'll stipulate that the Castro regime is bad, and whoever replaces it will likely be an improvement. But, given that he hasn't been dislodged by the tremendous economic hardship of the last ten years, what makes you think he's ripe to fall now that he's found a new sugar daddy in Chavez?

As far as investments in casino/construction companies, I think there are much more obvious plays that don't require depending on the trustworthiness of whatever leftist or rightist regime replaces Castro - I'm not sure if you want commenters to discuss individual companies but I'd be willing to do so.

Neil said...

Sugar supply is likely to take a hit on turmoil in Cuba - an interesting non stock idea. Sugar is interesting for many other reasons too (especially bio fuel).

Its_strange said...

Like vintage american cars ? Cuba has its share. ....And Gitmo is a deep water port and it has a airport .

Its_strange said...

When Castro dies watch the power struggle inside Jorge Mas Canosa's Cuban American National Foundation. And while Jorga is dead the people who run CANF ( His son, i think ) have been dividing up Cuba for years and years . Some want the power, some want the money. ...Hey Jorga can't close down the internet with dog droppings like you did the newspapers machine in south Fl if you read something you don't like.....And by the way, Cuba was a old slave state. Castro's support comes from the blacks in the country side. ...Its unclear how Cuba will react once Castro dies and its unclear if money can be made. .....Perhaps Fl realestate ? ...Jeff might want to call on some Canadian gold mining company for some ideas ??? Perhaps a Candian hotel company ?

dthorn said...

The higher infant mortality rate in the US is actually an example of our superior healthcare. For example, when my wife was in the hospital for a routine check up on her pregnancy, her doctor mentioned that she had just that day delivered a baby at 24 weeks. Amazingly the baby is more than likely to survive while weighing in at less than a pound. Now the efforts to save difficult pregnancies obviously result in higher infant deaths while at the same time miraculously saving many babies. Why have I never read the story in the Times on the premature babies that have successfully joined the Cuban revolution?

Lesa said...

Jeff Matthews has some of his facts wrong regarding infant mortality (how many babies die) rates. I work in the Maternal and Child Health field and there's been lots of work looking at the differences between rates of immigrants and those born and raised here. What we've seen is something called the Latino Paradox. That despite the fact that new immigrants (Latino and Asian) have poor or no health care and may not receive prenatal care, they tend to have better birth outcomes (lower mortality rates - i.e. fewer babies dying) than 1st and 2nd generation Americans (those of us born in this country). The assumption is that pregnant immigrants still practice the habits of their villages and haven't yet been exposed to American lifestyle factors (fast food, smoking, drinking and drugs). Once immigrants have lived in this country for over 5 years, their mortality rates increase to match our own.

Jeff Matthews said...

"lesa"--which of my facts are wrong? I'm not challenging your data, I'm looking for the correct answers, but I can't glean them from your post.

You seem to be saying that immigrants have better infant mortality owing to better lifestyles--lack of smoking, fast foods and drugs--yet how does this affect infant mortality?

Furthermore, if Latino immigrants have low infant mortality rates in their first generation here, why is infant mortality so high in Mexico (20 per 1,000)?

gvtucker said...

I have no idea whether or not Lesa's data is correct, but it is pretty easy to see why a lack of smoking and drug ingestion by the mother would lead to a lower mortality rate among infants.

Its_strange said...

I believe the CIA has infant death rate in Cuba at 7.19 per 1,000 .

Its_strange said...

Nope, i read it wrong . The CIA has it at 6.33 per 1,000

Lesa said...

I don't know why infant mortality rates are so high in Mexico and so low here. All I know is that when we separate out mortality by nationality or ethnicity, immigrants who are here for their first 5 years do better than whites. After that, they're the same.

phonaesthetics said...

I'm a newcomer to your blog, but my interest was piqued with this entry. The majority of your comments here seem to focus on your remarks regarding infant mortality, but
I find your ideas regarding the development of Cuba most disturbing.
I am a blonde-haired, green-eyed, US-born Cuban-American. Looks like quite a few hyphens, no? I'm the kind of Latina they write sociology articles about these days: a soon-to-be Law student, "Spanglish" speaking Roman Catholic Democrat, from an impoverished urban background, with an income steadily on the rise, a result of my family's persistence, my belief in the power of education, and faith in the fundamental principles outlined in the Constitution of this federal republic. In short, the epitome of the immigrant's American Dream. More hypens.
But, for all my success, my heart is fettered to this tiny island, and in much the same way it is typically American, it is also undeniably Cuban.
It is here I grapple with the biggest hypen of them all: I, the bleeding heart liberal, am STRONGLY opposed to Castro's regime, and those that would support and mimic him (that's you, Chavez, you pimp), and was sipping a dedal in celebration with my Mom at the prospect of his death, and the opportunities it would afford our people. I'm a native Philadelphian, but I called every cousin in Miami, all of us shouting "Cuba Libre!"
The hyphen: Please don't AMERICANIZE Cuba! I cringe at the idea of Starbucks Havana. Can we spread democracy without spreading the crap that comes with it? Is it possible for us, the US, to go to Cuba, truly altruistically, and not leave behind a McDonald's and no real self-sustainable economy? Perhaps this is our chance for that kinder, gentler globalization. Perhaps we c an leave the footprints of American democratic ideals (in question these days, yes), but take with us the garbage and oppertunism it often breeds.
Perhaps not. But a thought nonetheless.

Gracias. Cuba Libre.