In Cuba today, misery is a vague memory for the middle-aged. People do not look down when spoken to, nor do they speak in timid voices; buses do not harbor revolting smells of flatulence, indicative of sickness and malnutrition - common in underdeveloped countries.
There are no beggars for food, no drug addicts; no one is homeless; race is not a matter of discrimination. Women have 18 weeks' maternity leave with full pay; they earn the same as men and make up 40 percent of the work force.
Cuba is balancing its state budget by cutting out subsidies to state firms that do not perform well and by converting some into worker-run cooperatives. It is increasing revenues in other ways. But it has avoided one budget-cutting method used by most governments, including that of the United States - decreasing social security and welfare benefits.
The state has actually increased social service expenditures by 2 percent this year, after a 4 percent increase last year. Social spending makes up 60 percent of all state spending:
Free education and medical care - 22 percent.
Social security and social assistance - 11 percent.
Culture and science - 21 percent.
Community services and housing - 7 percent; this includes constructing 50,000 residential units this year, sold at cost.
Defense spending has steadily declined from 10 percent in 1990 to a current 5.75 percent of state expenditures.
The welfare policies have paid off over the years since the 1959 revolution.
There is no illiteracy, compared with 23 percent in 1959.
Infant mortality has fallen to 9.4 per 1,000 live births, compared with 79 per 1,000 in 1959.
Average life span has risen from the early 60s to the mid-70s.
There is now one doctor per 180 inhabitants, compared to one per 1,076 in 1959.
Cuba's leaders could afford to add to the public pie this year because its economic reforms are paying off with self-employment measures, free agricultural and industrial products markets at supply-demand prices, cooperative farm ownership and legal usage of dollars in all areas. People are motivated to produce more and better.
After four years of steady decline, the economy began to recover last year with a 25 percent upturn. Economic ministers forecast 5 percent growth for this year, despite the Helms-Burton "Cuban Liberty and …