HAVANA TIMES – With daily life increasingly determined by food shortages, power outages, difficulties in the supply of drinking water, and the emigration of young people, the vulnerability of most Cubans worsens day by day.
Currently, 88% of Cubans live in extreme poverty, 13% more than in 2022, according to the 6th Report on the State of Social Rights in Cuba, recently presented in Miami by the Cuban Observatory of Human Rights (OCDH).
The research considers that a household of three members is in extreme poverty if their total income is $1.90 per day or less. 48% of those interviewed admitted to going without meals due to lack of money or resources to obtain food.
In 2023, the impact of the food crisis and inflation has grown in most Cuban households, confirming “the serious state of social rights on the island,” according to the OCDH. The country continues to accumulate structural crises, with no “political will on the part of the authorities to make the necessary changes.”
According to “on-the-street” surveys, “we are facing an increasingly impoverished country, not only when we analyze household income but also when we see that a large number of Cubans have had to skip a daily meal, or that a significant number cannot find medications or take expired ones,” revealed Yaxys Cires, Director of Strategies at OCDH, to El Toque.
Although the government continues to deny poverty as a social problem in Cuban society today, the OCDH study shows that Cubans’ concern about the food crisis (70%) is increasing. It is followed by salaries (50%), inflation (34%), and public healthcare (22%) as the population’s major concerns.
Notably, 86% of those surveyed criticize the economic and social management of the leaders, with 68% rating it as “very negative.” Nearly nine out of ten households barely earn “just enough to survive,” and 65% of them admit to having problems “even buying the most essential items for survival.”
What else does the 6th Report on the State of Social Rights in Cuba say?
The research on social rights, known as second-generation or acquired rights, was conducted between July and August 2023 with just over 1,300 people in 75 municipalities in all Cuban provinces.
The OCDH study revealed that the government’s management is not approved of by any racial group. The most critical are Black Cubans, with 73% rating it as “very negative.” Mulattos and mestizos follow with 71%, and 65% of white Cubans.
Over 80% of the Cubans surveyed believe that public investment in education, housing, agriculture and food, and public health and hospitals is insufficient.
Another worrysome point is that 15% of the population has taken expired medicines, and 32% of those in need of medication couldn’t obtain it, either due to high prices (12%) or scarcity (20%).
Only 6% of those who managed to get medications acquired them from the pharmacies of the Cuban healthcare system. The rest obtained them through churches or charitable organizations, from relatives abroad, or through other means.
At the same time, 15% of homes are at risk of collapsing, a situation that rises to 24% for those over 70 years old. 79% of this elderly population segment also has problems buying essential products.
Political analyst Julio M. Shiling asserts that change on the island is not possible without a dismantling of the system. For the writer and political scientist, it’s clear that in “a totalitarian regime like Cuba’s,” wealth generation translates to increased poverty for the population (who subsist as they can or leave) and strengthens those in power.
Two decades without public data
The Cuban government continues to withhold data on poverty and social inequality, despite evidence that clearly shows that “the quality of life of the Cuban population has significantly deteriorated in all population groups.” This particularly for those over 60 years old (22% of Cubans), which is also “the segment that has grown the most,” noted sociologist Elaine Acosta in an interview with El Toque.
Acosta, also the executive director of the Aging, Care, and Rights Observatory CUIDO60, notes that most independent surveys agree that the most affected subgroup is older adults, and the food crisis is the most worrisome, which “directly influences how people live and access means and services,” including something as basic as food.
Acosta also mentioned that the crisis in Cuba equally affects children and women, with women bearing the burden of reproduction and care and carrying the weight of “the government’s poor management.”
The Spanish newspaper El País highlighted in 2022 that there have been no new official pronouncements “on how the figures (of poverty) have changed, especially due to the impacts of the pandemic.”
The same newspaper pointed out that in 2022, the Cuban authorities did not approve the annual misery index, which ranked the country as the most miserable in the world.
The Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) is a tool of the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative and the United Nations Development Program. In 2022, the MPI calculated a 0.003 incidence of poverty at the national level in Cuba, one of the lowest in the world. This figure was 0.0005% in 2017.
In mid-2021, the study “Research on Poverty, Vulnerability, and Marginalization in Contemporary Cuba: Consensus and Social Policy Proposals” by researcher María del Carmen Zabala pointed out that in the Cuban context, poverty and vulnerability are defined by insufficient income and other assets, primarily housing, as there is still a housing deficit while the existing housing deteriorates progressively.
While vulnerability and marginalization are difficult to measure, Zabala’s analysis, supported by the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences in Cuba and the German Friedrich Ebert Foundation, lamented the absence of updated poverty statistics covering all territories. The last publicly available results are over 20 years old and only address income in urban areas.
In 1996, the National Institute of Economic Research estimated that 14.7% of the urban population lived in “risk situations,” meaning they were at risk of not being able to meet some basic needs. They warned that this mainly affected the elderly, women, individuals with only primary and secondary education, the unemployed, state workers, and larger households. Three years later, the figure had risen to 20%, with women and Afro-descendant families in the lowest income households.
Systematic investigations by Zabala have shown that the highest percentages of the population with deprivations do not have access to or lack items such as radios, televisions, phones, computers, bicycles, or motorcycles in their homes. They also differ in terms of cooking fuel and access to proper sanitation.
It has been shown that some geographical areas have disadvantages compared to others. The regions with the most problems are the eastern region, rural areas (especially dispersed settlements and closed sugar mill towns), and unhealthy neighborhoods in Havana.
Numerous studies have detailed that while universal and free access to social services is theoretically a guarantee for the Cuban population, they do not guarantee equal access, which primarily affects vulnerable groups.
An old crisis
According to Elaine Acosta, the situation in Cuba today is “not accidental or the result of a contingency,” but rather “a reorientation and a change in the policies of the Cuban state,” which goes beyond the mandate of Miguel Díaz-Canel.
Economist Pavel Vidal agrees with the sociologist, recently noting that the National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI) acknowledges that there have been three years of rampant inflation, and that official data underestimates the true Consumer Price Index by five to six times.
“Our calculations show that the inflation is over 200%, not 44%, as the government claims,” emphasized the professor. Furthermore, estimates from the Observatory of Cuban Currencies and Finance (OMFI) indicate that consumer price levels have increased between 11.6 and 19.1 times since the current economic crisis began (2019-2022), doubling the record set in the 1990s.
Among the causes that drive daily poverty rates, Vidal listed factors such as the the crisis in Venezuela, which is Cuba’s primary economic ally, and the tightening of US sanctions during Donald Trump’s presidency, which directly affected tourism and remittances, two of the country’s main sources of foreign exchange.
However, there are other structural problems, much older, such as the general mismanagement of the economy and the reluctance to implement economic reforms to “a model that has clearly demonstrated its inefficiency,” making it even more challenging for an economy that has not even recovered its pre-pandemic levels.
Whenever there is uncontrolled and continuous price inflation, there is an excessive increase in liquidity, that is, the amount of money in circulation. This is almost always associated with financing the fiscal deficit, Vidal added. In other words, the government has more expenses than income due to the almost nonexistent production in sectors such as agriculture and energy, which receive minimal investment.