For Immediate Release

January 1, 2012 marks the 53rd anniversary since Fidel Castro overthrew Fulgencio Batista’s regime on New Year’s Day, 1959. On his arrival in Havana, Fidel Castro promised “pan con libertad,” bread with liberty. More than five decades later, many Cubans today live without bread and without liberty, under more repression and violence yet with much less material well-being than many living under Batista’s dictatorship. Here are some facts:

In 2010, Cuba ranked 65th among global economies in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) but 161st in real GDP growth, although it was a leading economy in the Western Hemisphere before 1959. Cuba’s sugar production is just one example of how Cuba has digressed under the Castro’s. Cuba’s sugar crop averaged over six million tons before 1959, making Cuba a major player in the global sugar and sugar by-product markets. Following the 2008-2009 growing season, Cuba produced just 1.4 million tons of sugar and the government has since decreased annual sugar allowances for Cuban citizens.

Deficiencies in Cuba’s infrastructure make it one of the most underdeveloped nations in the Western Hemisphere. In 1958, Cuba had 24 cars per 1,000 inhabitants but that number had dipped to 23 cars per 1,000 inhabitants by 1998. Only 49 percent of Cuba’s roads are paved, whereas by comparison, approximately 65% of roads in the United States are paved. The ability of Cuban citizens to move throughout the country (and overseas) is compounded by severe limitations on movement, a tactic used by only the most restrictive governments in 2011.

Cuba has no more phone lines per capita today than in 1958. It ranks 209th globally for the number of telephone lines per capita with just over 17 lines per 1,000 citizens, the lowest in the Western Hemisphere. By comparison, Somalia ranks 195th with 66 lines per 1,000 inhabitants. There are also as few as 4 out of every 100 Cubans with a cell phone, the lowest rate in the Western Hemisphere.

In 2010, Cuba ranked just above Senegal and Pakistan in household Internet access. Cuba claims there are 1,678,080 citizens connected in some way to the Internet which is 15.12 percent of the Cuban population. Although this number is debatable, even 15% access rate give Cuba one of the lowest Internet access rates in the world and the lowest in the Western Hemisphere. Moreover, the few Cubans with access are subject to extreme censorship and exorbitant costs – access points typically charge $5 an hour but the average Cuban salary is $20 per month.

Cuba’s infant mortality rate stood at 44.4 per 1,000 live births in 1962, one of the lowest in the Western Hemisphere at the time, but the rate dropped to 4.6 deaths per 1,000 live births by 2010 in step with the rest of the world. Life expectancy also improved to 78.26 years by 2007 up from 63 years in 1995. However, Cuban doctors are among the lowest paid doctors in the world, receiving $20 per month which requires them to take bribes from patients in exchange for providing care. The quality of healthcare for common Cuban citizens is well below than that provided to “medical tourists” and the availability of basic prescription drugs for common citizens is almost non-existent.

While Fidel Castro’s fortune is estimated at $900 million, the Cuban government perpetrates forced labor and modern-day slavery in order to compensate for lack of economic development. In 2008, a US District Court awarded three Cuban men $80 million based on “overwhelming and uncontradicted” evidence the Cuban government had sent them to Curacao as forced laborers in order to pay off debts the Cuban government owed to the Curacao Dry-Dock Company. The same is true for Cuban doctors who are given little or no choice when they are sent on “medical missions” to Venezuela and other countries in exchange for Venezuelan oil or raw materials and imported goods.

More broadly, Cuba ranks as one of the “least free” countries in the world with a repressive one-party political system that fails to protect the most basic human rights. Cuba ranks 166th globally in terms of freedom of the press behind Libya, Somalia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tunisia and Vietnam. In 1959, Cuba had 58 daily newspapers in circulation, but that number dwindled to just 17 state controlled publications by 1992 and even fewer today. Despite the release and forced exile of several dozen long-term political prisoners, Cuba is still ranked 1st in the Western Hemisphere in the number of prisoners of conscience and there were more than 3,000 arrests of human rights activists during 2011 alone.

Fifty-three years after the Castro brothers seized power in Cuba, the country remains well behind the rest of the world according to many indicators of human and capital development. Promises of reform and development have been unmet for the majority of the population, while a small ruling elite connected to the Castro brothers maintains a tight grip on cultural, economic, political and social activity.

As the world welcomes 2012, the Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba calls on Cubans, Cuban Americans and the international community to demand fundamental change and progress, including greater freedom and respect for human rights, for ALL Cubans.

Sources Include: Amnesty International, CIA World Fact Book, the Cuban Committee for Human Rights, Forbes Magazine, Freedom House, Human Rights Watch, International Telecommunications Union, Reporters Without Borders, the World Bank, the World Health Organization, and the United Nations Statistical Yearbook

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