Education is the bedrock of the global outsourcing marketplace, and certainly one of the key pillars around which Latin America hopes to build and sustaining its professional services industry. It is more than a bit ironic that Cuba – a virtual pariah state in global services – however captures the top crown in expenditures (12.9% of its GDP) on education, more than any other country in Latin America, according to data compiled in this Infographic report by Nearshore Americas. For Cuba, this equates to 18.3% of all government expenditure, or $834 per capita.
By way of comparison, the United States spends 5.4% of its GDP on education – more than Mexico but less than Brazil – while Chile, Uruguay and Panama are not even among the ten biggest spenders in Latin America. After Cuba, Brazil spends the next most per capita on education ($666), followed by Argentina ($648) and Mexico ($536).
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The results reflect the greater emphasis that Latin America’s leftist governments tend to place on education. Of the top ten, Cuba, Bolivia, Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador and Nicaragua all have left-leaning governments, ranging from the extreme (Cuba) to the more moderate (Brazil). Of course, not all of Latin America’s leftist governments prioritize education, as Venezuela’s expenditure is just 3.6% of GDP.
But the data does support a general trend in which the countries with more liberal governments spend more on education that those that have been governed by more centrist or right-wing governments in recent years, including some of the larger, wealthier countries in the region, such as Chile, Colombia and Mexico. These nations have shown a propensity to spend less on education, in line with their governments’ neoliberal ideology which favors a greater emphasis on private education.
Putting Health First
Medicine is one of the areas of education that Cuba spends most on. There are now 23 medical schools in Cuba, up from only three prior to the Cuban Revolution in 1959. Among the most notable is the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM) an enormous international school established in 1999 which has over 10,000 students enrolled from 49 countries – the majority from Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa. This prioritization of medicine has contributed to Cuba’s excellent free healthcare system, although the island remains hampered by a lack of medicinal supplies, in large part because of the ongoing U.S. trade embargo.
Easing Business Restrictions
Since President Raul Castro took over from his older brother Fidel in 2011, he has begun to gradually ease some of the restrictions in Cuba’s economic system and allow for some limited, market-oriented policies.
In the last two years, Castro has announced a number of economic reforms aimed at encouraging private initiative and foreign investment, while reducing state spending. Cubans are now permitted to create micro-businesses and employ others, while the government has also removed restrictions against travel, the use of cell phones and the sale of properties. In October, the government also announced that it is to drop the unpopular dual currency system which has created sharp divisions in Cuban society.