Other international institutions publish figures that provide an even more somber picture of today's Cuba.
While the island in 1959 had Latin America's highest number of television sets per household, today only 70 percent of Cuban households have television sets, compared with 97 percent in Argentina, 93 percent in Mexico, 83 percent in El Salvador and 76 percent in the Dominican Republic, according to the World Bank's 2008 World Development Indicators.
When it comes to telephones, only 9 percent of Cubans have access to a fixed telephone line, and only 1 percent of the population subscribes to a mobile phone service, the World Bank figures show. That's one of Latin America's lowest telephone access rates, way behind Honduras.
What's worse, only 2 percent of Cubans have access to the Internet. By comparison, 27 percent of Costa Ricans, 10 percent of Guatemalans and 7 percent of Haitians have access to the Internet, according to the World Bank figures.
The Cuban government blames its economic shortcomings on the U.S. trade embargo. But while some of us consider the U.S. embargo a pretty senseless policy, it has so many loopholes that it can hardly be faulted for Cuba's low standard of living. The United States is already the leading exporter of food products to the island, and many other U.S. goods enter Cuba through third countries.
A DEARTH OF HOPE
Life in Cuba is grim, judging from what I saw on the island and what recent arrivals tell me.
The island is like a huge kindergarten, where you are guaranteed a subsistence-level income, but the government decides what you will study, where you will work, what you can buy, what you are allowed to read, what you can watch on television, and whether you can travel abroad. It's a safe place to live if you are lazy, or inept, but a pretty exasperating place if you are ambitious or have a mind of your own.
I remember an interview I did in Havana with Che Guevara's grandson, Canek Sánchez Guevara, in 1991, when the latter was a heavy metal rock musician in his late teens. Canek, who later emigrated to Mexico, was -- like many Cubans of his age -- very critical of the Cuban revolution.
''This revolution is in ruins,'' he told me. ``There is no food, there's no freedom. People say it's all because of the Yanqui aggression, but that's a myth, as real as dragons and witches, a children's tale.''
There was nothing for young people to do in Cuba, Canek told me. He was studying graphic design at an arts high school but considered it a waste of time.
''There's no paper, no pens and no interest on the part of the teachers to do anything,'' he said. ``And if you graduate, there is no work in your field. They'll ask you to go to the countryside and work in agriculture. This place is hopeless.''
When I asked him what Che Guevara would think of him if he were alive, the Cuban hero's grandson said that ``he would be proud of me. Che Guevara was a rebel. He never would have approved of what has become of this revolution.''
And things haven't changed much in recent years. Not surprisingly, every reporter who travels to Cuba comes back with the same impression: It's a country suspended in time, waiting -- so far in vain -- for something to change.
The part of Che Guevara's family that I met in Cuba is typical of today's generational divide on the island. Older Cubans tend to support the revolution -- they have invested their lives in it -- while middle-aged Cubans tend to be moderately critical of it, and most of the younger ones are against it. As one youngster told me in Havana, ``this revolution has become an institution.''