updated 12/14/2006 6:35:04 PM ET 2006-12-14T23:35:04

About one-quarter of Cubans interviewed in the island’s two biggest cities are satisfied with their freedom to choose what they do with their lives, according to a poll released Thursday.

When asked about the job performance of Cuba’s leaders, about 40 percent of those surveyed said they disapproved, the Gallup Poll found. Not quite half gave their approval. The poll surveyed 600 people in Havana and 400 in Santiago.

The survey comes as Cuba is at a crossroads. Leader Fidel Castro is ill and questions abound about whether he will recover and what will happen if he does not.

Castro’s autocratic rule has fueled widespread criticism, though he has supporters, including Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Gallup conducted the Cuba survey only in two cities because of the difficulty in getting around the island and because of the absence of a reliable way to buy food and provisions, said Carlos Denton, president of CID Gallup Central America.

The results are not meant to be representative of Cuba’s more than 11 million citizens — only a look at those nearly 3 million people living in Havana and Santiago, Gallup officials said.

According to the survey:

  • When asked about the “ideal partner” for Cuba to increase commercial ties with, the United States was most commonly mentioned, followed by China and Venezuela. The U.S. government maintains a decades-old trade and travel embargo against Cuba.
  • Nearly all of those interviewed said they thought Cuban health care was accessible to any person who needed it, regardless of their economic status.
  • Nearly all said Cubans who wanted to study have access to education, regardless of their economic situation.
  • Only about 40 percent said Cubans can get ahead by working hard.
  • About two-thirds of the respondents who had jobs said they were satisfied with them.

Ten people from other Latin American countries conducted the interviews along with 10 Cubans, mostly college students Gallup had previously dealt with. The workers tried to stay away from the homes of people responsible for reporting on neighborhood activities to the government. Such homes, Gallup said, are on nearly every block.

The interviews were not monitored by the Cuban government, the polling group said, and no incentives to answer questions were given to respondents. Gallup said it did not request governmental permission to conduct the survey.

The poll workers entered their results daily in computers at the Internet cafes that have sprung up to cater to tourists. They burned their data each night to avoid having the results recovered by the government.

Jesus Rios, Gallup’s director of research for Latin America, said that the questions were the same ones his company uses in similar polls all over the world and were not customized for Cuba.

The poll was conducted Sept. 1-15 with residents above the age of 15. The margin of error was plus or minus 3 percentage points for the total sample.

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