How Expensive is having a Child in Cuba?

By Fabián Flores (Café Fuerte)

Cuban children.  Foto: cafefuerte.com
Cuban children. Foto: cafefuerte.com

HAVANA TIMES — For the second consecutive year, the London-based organization Save the Children has identified Cuba as the best country in Latin America to be a mother. Reading this, I cannot but think that the author of the report must have visited a Cuba located on another planet and not the country where the mother of my children has to get up every morning.

Thinking about her and the millions of Cuban women who celebrated Mother’s Day this past Sunday, caught up in the heroic task of raising their children in a country that is in economic shambles, I took on the task of finding out how much bringing a child into the world on this Caribbean isle actually costs.

The results of my study explain, in part, why Cuba’s population remains more or less static at around 11 million people, with an annual growth rate which, in 2011, was of 0.6, the first positive figure reported by the National Statistics Bureau (ONE)  since 2006. Statistical predictions show that the population will continue to grow little and that the number of inhabitants on the island will be below 12 million in 2025.

Pregnancy

In Cuba, all pregnant women enjoy a planned care program as of the moment of their pregnancy is officially registered, and every expectant woman is given a daily dose of ferrous fumarate (iron, that is) and a vitamin supplement called Prenatal.

However, these vitamins are generally made available to women as of the second trimester of their pregnancy, not before, much later than is accustomed in most countries with an advanced healthcare system. Cuban doctors themselves usually tell pregnant women the following: “If you can get your hands on prenatal vitamins from abroad, throw away the ones you get here,” something which casts some doubts on the quality of the pills made available to Cuban women.

As holders of a libreta, or ration booklet, pregnant women are “entitled” to three or four pounds of beef and the same amount of fish a month.

Labor becomes something of a nightmare for Cuban women, given the disastrous conditions that most hospitals around the country are in.

Last year, I was surprised to read a comment that was posted on Cubadebate when this official Cuban government website published the Save the Children report which praised the country’s prenatal care system, a comment that had somehow made it past the site’s filter. The person who posted the comment, who identified himself as MG, wrote:

“Has anyone paid a visit to the Fe del Valle Maternity Hospital in Manzanillo, Granma? Anyone who sets foot in this hospital, anyone who has to suffer the condition it’s in, anyone who has to spend even a fraction of the time a woman who has just given birth has to there, will realize this article makes absolutely no sense.

“My twin daughters were born this past October at this hospital, where, owing to shortages, they would put TWO pregnant women in each bed (I know some people won’t believe me, but it’s true), where pregnant women don’t even have a sink they can brush their teeth in in the morning, where they have to carry buckets of water to the bathroom in order to flush the toilets, because the flushing mechanisms in these aren’t working, where the sight of the bathrooms makes your stomach turn, where the lobby and cafeterias were turned into maternity wards due to lack of space, where those who accompany women who have undergone caesareans do not have a chair to sit in, not even in the recovery area where these women are placed after the operation, and must remain standing for the 6 hours of the recovery process.”

Maternity Baskets

Mothers-to-be are also “entitled” to a basket which includes a blanket and a handful of items. A typical maternity basket includes three mattress cases, two mid-sized towels, two pacifiers, a rubber toy, a pair of panties, a T-shirt, four bars of soap, a bottle of cologne, one body lotion, one body oil, ten gauze diapers, ten meters of antiseptic fabric (to make diapers out of) and a pair of socks, all of which is sold at 85 Cuban pesos (just over 4 USD).

A Maternity Basket from the Cuban State

If the pregnant woman works somewhere where employees belong to the country’s official union (the Cuban Workers Federation) or at any of the ministries, she will receive a more “generous” one time maternity basket for her first birth.

The basic products provided by the State.
The basic products provided by the State.

How will this woman get her hands on all the other products she needs to care for her baby during his or her first year of life? A Cuban’s average monthly salary is about 455 CUPs, the equivalent of 20 dollars or Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUCs).

The two most important items, the diapers and milk, are sold at exorbitant prices. Cuba does not produce disposable diapers and the prices of this imported product in the market, in CUCs, are beyond the possibilities of the immense majority of families: a package of diapers costs anywhere from 4 to 12 CUCs.

Milk with vitamin supplements is only sold to women who are unable to breastfeed (and can offer medical proof of this), and the assigned quota is limited. At hard currency stores, a can of NAN-brand supplemented milk costs a little over 4 CUCs. Other brands are sold at around 5 CUCs.

Exorbitant Prices

At the very few State stores that sell articles for newborns, the prices far exceed what a person living on an average salary can afford.

“Most people don’t buy baby articles at State stores, they use the maternity baskets they get from relatives abroad,” said Marinela Frometa, a housewife living in Havana’s neighborhood of Centro Habana.

At Cuba’s State stores, a blanket for a crib costs somewhere between 8 and 10 CUCs, and the price of a crib, as such, is between 100 and 120 CUCs. The mattress one needs to buy also is around 50 CUCs. A stroller can cost between 50 and 180 CUCs, depending on the characteristics of the product.

This “heavy artillery” isn’t the only thing that’s expensive in Cuba, however. The little “one-size” overalls for babies (“one-piece suits”, as they are called in Cuba) cost anywhere from 3 to 7 CUCs. Underwear for both genders can cost as much as 10 CUCs.

The stress felt by parents grows as the baby’s first birthday nears, for, depending on the size and brand, the baby sneakers can cost as much as 20 CUCs.

“I put together my own maternity basket from items I bought at private kiosks and stuff they sent me, plus the clothes I ordered from seamstresses. We wouldn’t have been able to afford it otherwise,” said Marlom Silvera, a factory worker.

Parallel Markets

One of ways parents can secure what they need for their newborns at lower prices is to purchase these items at Cuba’s parallel markets. One of the most frequented is located on Calle 21, between 4 and 6, in Vedado, Havana. It is a privately-run establishment where prices, though still high for Cubans living on State salaries, are less prohibitive than those one comes across at State stores.

“Most of our products come from people who no longer need them and sell them to us, and from business people that bring them from Ecuador, the United States or Venezuela. Seamstresses also bring us homemade products for which there is a high demand,” we were told by the store owner, who did not want us to reveal her identity.

The deals customers get at this store, according to the owner, are considerable.

“At State stores, a milk bottle can cost anywhere from 1.50 to 5 CUCs. The ones we carry here have a flat price of 2 CUCs. This is why we have more customers. We also carry products that are hard to find, like pacifiers, corrals and other accessories,” she added.

In Cuba’s interior, mosquito nets are sold at 300 CUPs (12 CUCs) and gauze diapers at 6 CUPs a piece at these parallel markets.

The Drama of Nutrition

This is one of the most serious problems surrounding the care of a baby during his or her first months of life. The availability of cereals is extremely limited and, when you can find the product, it costs anywhere from 5 to 10 CUCs a box.

“I believe the most expensive part of having a child in Cuba is buying the food. The products you buy at the vegetable and meat market “eat up” what one earns in a month at lightning speed,” said Joel Gutierrez, the owner of small private business.

“At the ration store,” he added, “you get fairly poor-quality milk and some baby food that you feel bad giving your kid. From time to time, they give you these weird things called “Fortachon”, a cereal imitation, but that’s hardly enough. And what should you do when you run out of these things?”

The comments posted by MG at Cubadebate backed this opinion: “I am the father of twins and earn a basic salary of 432 Cuban pesos a month. Do you know how many cans of NAN-PRO milk I can buy with this? Do the math: I have to buy these at the hard currency store, each at 5 CUCs (125 Cuban pesos), because not one pharmacy in the entire province of Granma carried the milk assigned to new mothers. The mother of the twins has just graduated, she isn’t working, isn’t earning any money, so, I ask you, do you think I can support two girls on my salary alone? You go through your entire salary just to buy the child’s food for a week or two.”

Following a quick glance at the basic products one needs for a newborn and after visiting several stores, we calculated that the initial cost of a birth in Cuba (or caring for a baby during its first six months of life) is between 700 and 750 CUCs (a figure that varies in dependence of store prices),

OTHER PRICES AT STATE HARD CURRENCY STORES:

Mosquito net: 30-40 CUCs

Wash bowl: 5-12 CUCs

Walker: 18-25 CUCs

Baby carry-bag: 20-25 CUCs

Wet towels: 1-3 CUCs

Large towel: 10-12 CUCs

Gerber baby sauces: 0.80-1.20 CUCs each

Nestle cereals: 3-5 CUCs

Toys: 5-30 CUCs

Talcum powder: 2-6 CUCs

Corrals: 15-20 CUCs

Child medication sold at hard currency pharmacies: 9-15 CUCs

* This article is the result of a six-month-long journalistic investigation conducted with the support of the editors of CaféFuerte.

10 thoughts on “How Expensive is having a Child in Cuba?

  • May 17, 2013 at 5:01 am
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    And have you visited, for example, the rest of Latin America to see the hardships of parenthood in other countries like Haiti, Bolivia or Guatemala in order to claim that the Cuba this NGO visited is ‘from another planet’?

    This ‘here everything is the worst’ syndrome from some Cubans remind me very much of Nelson Rodrigues ‘Stray-dog complex’ (Complexo de vira-lata) that he named after observing this characteristic of Brazilian society, which basically says the same – “Brazil and its people are worth nothing”, “everything from the developed word is good and perfect”, and so on.

    Reply
    • May 17, 2013 at 1:04 pm
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      It is pathetic that the best you can do is to respond this post is to essentially write that “things are tough all over”. Your comment implies that poor Haitians are likely worse off and maybe that some indigenous peoples in Bolivia or Mayas in Guatemala would be happy to trade places with these complaining Cubans. But what you fail or choose not to admit is that the difference between these countries and Cuba is that poverty and shortages affect nearly ALL Cubans, professionals and laborers alike. Not just the lower socio-economic classes as is the case in these other countries. I have no doubt that there are also Indians living in the Amazon forests in your country who also struggle to afford their children. Even up in the favelas in Rio, there is much hardship. But a practicing doctor, or an engineer or architect in Brazil can afford diapers and milk. In Cuba this is likely not the case. In fact, a prostitute in Bayamo who gives birth to a Canadian client’s baby and receives just $100 per month from Canada will live better than the OB/Gyn who delivers the baby. Apologists for the regime like yourself insist upon justifying Castros failures by comparing Cuba to the bottom of eonomic pile. While it make be convenient to say that someone else is worse off, it should not be a comfort or a reason to not look for solutions. Given the level of education and human capital available in Cuba, Cuba should be more productive and with a brighter future. Cubans deserve better than they are getting.

      Reply
  • May 18, 2013 at 7:09 am
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    Pathetic is you misunderstanding of the stray-dog complex and the reversal of ‘things are tough all over’ transforming into ‘things are tougher in Cuba’ and ‘they deserve better than they are getting’. That’s exactly the stray-dog complex.

    Guess what? In Cuba there are people who can afford expensive shit also. If not, nobody would price those things like these as there would be no buyers. You, as a follower of the God Market, should know it better.

    You follow up an example that somebody who gets remittances from abroad will probably live better, and says it so like if it only happens in Cuba. Ask Mexicans, Dominicans, etc.

    And as social disparity is NOT a problem for a capitalist-apologist like yourself, what the heck are you complaining about?

    Your ‘capitalist meritocracy’ is only but a fairy-tale. Here in Brazil a 14-year old ‘funk’ MC can earn as much as $120 THOUSAND per month – http://entretenimento.r7.com/jovem/fotos/garoto-prodigio-aos-14-anos-mc-gui-e-a-nova-sensacao-do-funk-e-fatura-ate-r-120-mil-por-mes-17052013#!/foto/1 Yep he works harder and contributes more to the society than any engineer, doctor, teacher, or farmer.

    Talking about engineers. Well one of my class friends works out as a field technician. He earns good bunch of money lot but works monday-to-monday. He hardly sees his family and was forced to take vacation as his health was being severely damaged in this sugar-cane cutter routine. Is it really worth it? I think he ‘deserves better’ than what he’s getting.

    To end, a quick link for you to wake up upon the crude reality of the world: http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/08/04/where-children-sleep/

    Reply
  • May 18, 2013 at 12:47 pm
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    And those ‘poverty and shortages affect nearly ALL Cubans, professionals and laborers alike’… and you STILL support the US sanctions that prejudices ALL Cubans because these mostly imported products cost this much EXACTLY as a result of those sanctions? You make me sick.

    Reply
    • July 2, 2013 at 8:15 pm
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      Do you actually think the US embargo is the cause of this level of poverty in Cuba? Please! It’s Cubans in the U.S. sending remittances back to family members in Cuba that even keep the Cubans alive as it is! If you think life in Cuba is so great, go live there yourself. And don’t you dare go there with your gringo $$ either, Luis. Go there and live off the rations like a real Cuban. See how far that gets you.

      Reply
  • May 27, 2013 at 6:37 am
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    YES things are hard everywhere but we are not interested in everywhere ONLY CUBA What nerve you have!

    Reply
  • May 30, 2013 at 10:50 am
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    Point is, its a communist country, their government should be providing rather than reaping. Most cubans work in some way or another for the government so they should get what they need (im not talking extravigent, just basic necessities). rations have been decreased to the point where you have to use your measley salary to buy enough food for the month, how are they then supposed to buy baby stuff, materials to fix their dilapidated houses, clothes, and anything else they have to buy.

    Reply
  • November 6, 2017 at 2:26 pm
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    Luis- The fact of the matter is MOST Cubans are poor, yes other countries are poor but thats not what the post is about, it’s about Cuba, why bring other countries into it?

    Reply
  • February 3, 2018 at 11:09 pm
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    if a tourist has a baby with a cuban woman what are his responsibilities according to cuban law?

    Reply
  • February 3, 2018 at 11:15 pm
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    if a tourist wants to become a citizen of cuba and has a baby in cuba how does he do that? and if he has bought the house for the baby and mother does this simplify things??

    Reply

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