HAVANA TIMES — An article recently published in Granma, Cuba’s major official newspaper, addresses the country’s birth rate crisis and describes the measures being implemented in this connection by the Cuban Ministry of Public Health.
These measures include providing fertile members of the population, particularly teenagers, with more detailed information about family planning methods, so as to discourage the use of abortions as a means of contraception, a practice which can result in low fertility levels in the following years.
Such information is meant to encourage the use of reliable contraceptives, preferably oral or injectable ones (which prove safer than intra-uterine devices). The article also underscores the urgent need for teenagers to assume a responsible attitude towards sex, which includes the use of condoms as a means of preventing the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases.
Such measures are, of course, beyond reproach. What I wonder is how teenagers, or fertile individuals in general, are expected to plan any pregnancy when their financial prospects are as bleak as they are for most people in Cuba.
What I ask myself is how such measures are going to fare in a country whose youth cannot rely on a salary that isn’t a mere formality, a home to start a family after marriage, or a space of their own to raise their children in.
The article seems to suggest that Cuba’s current demographic crisis stems from people’s reckless behavior and nothing more, as though frustration and a sense of hopelessness had no say in it, as though the vast majority of teenagers did not set their gaze on that thin, imaginary line that cuts across the sea and on the promising “beyond”.
I don’t doubt a visit the family planning clinic can restore a couple’s hopeful outlook on life, but, once they step out of this clinic, this couple is going to need much more than hope to build a future for their child.
If people begin to consider how detrimental our schools can be to our children and the dubious prospects that our educational system affords them (whether they complete a university major or not), I fear that assuming a truly responsible attitude will ultimately spell an even lower birth rate for the island.
In fact, the reason birth rates aren’t even lower is because Cubans are for the most part careless daydreamers who have an unwavering confidence in their ability to improvise. Many of the accidental pregnancies that end in the birth of a child result from this naivety.
I recall a little girl I once met who, on being asked what she wanted to study when she was older, surprised her parents by answering: “I want to study ‘foreigner’.” That is to say, she wanted to become a foreigner, for, at the young age of four, she had already perceived the difference between the standard of living of tourists and Cubans.
What a sad (and regrettably irrefutable) observation from a young girl, who begins to become aware of her environment.
It’s no secret a high percentage of married couples become separated because of conflicts arising from having to share a roof with relatives, live in overcrowded living quarters and endure the protracted illusion that their measly salaries can support a family. When poverty comes in through the door, a popular saying goes, love jumps out the window.
As often happens when I watch Cuban television, the Granma article almost managed to convince me I am living in a different country, a country with economic and social conditions that are ideal for starting a family. If only people would come to that realization.