Cuba Faces Depopulation

Haroldo Dilla Alfonso  

Havana's Plaza Vieja. Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES, July 12 — While skimming the webpage of the National Statistics Office (ONE), I stumbled on all the demographic estimates made in 2009.  I found some information — though incomplete, as with all statistics — that was valuable and professionally organized; it spoke to a very complex Cuban reality.

Above all, it showed that we come from or live on an island that is obviously in a process of depopulation.  The statistics document an absolute reduction of the population, falling to about 11,242,638 residents in 2010.  This meant that last year on the island there lived some 2,500 less Cubans than in 2005.

This is a situation tied in part to a drop in the birth rate, which produces the picture of an aging work force that’s not being replaced.  However it’s also a tragic example of demographic exsanguination, the result of emigration.

From 1994 to date, more than a half million Cubans left the island officially (meaning without counting illegal emigration).  Though it might be supposed that this figure was influenced by the immigration stampede allowed by the Cuban government in 1994, the truth of the matter is different.  In 1994 the number of Cuban migrants leaving in all directions barely reached 50,000, while last year almost 40,000 quietly slipped away.  In fact, between only 2004 and 2009, more than 210,000 Cubans emigrated.

In other words, a daily stampede is underway, though less spectacular than the one that served Cuba’s leaders as a safety valve to reduce the social pressure of the ‘90s crisis.   The data forces us to reflect in two directions.

Population Retention Policies

The first is the imperative of adopting policies for retaining population.  Moreover, that cannot be done — given the ineffectiveness and the immorality — in the way that the Cuban government currently approaches it: by shackling people with arbitrary padlocks that leave migrants with the sole option of non-return and their having to play the role of a supplier of money to their relatives on the island and to the government that banished them.

Cuban society doesn’t need any more controls, but many more openings.  It needs ones sufficient to socialize the expectations of social mobility and personal realization.  Today these expectations remain kidnapped by an elite class that bureaucratically restricts roads and limits lives.

The island also needs a policy to attract people to return.  One fact is elementary: 85 percent of Cuban migrants live in the United States.  There they possess properties whose value is greater than the annual Cuban GDP.  In addition, they show educational indicators superior to all other minorities, even on occasion above Anglo-Americans themselves.

I won’t stop here to discuss the reasons for this strength, it only interests me to highlight that it exists.  What’s more, given its characteristics, this asset could be channeled into human resources, social or economic capital for the takeoff of a decrepit economy presently sustained by Venezuelan subsidies.  But this could only happen if the appropriate policies were directed toward these ends.

Only such policies — and not the small-minded bureaucratic controls that keep nationals in exile,  families separated and citizens caged — can contribute to halting (and reversing) the demographic hemorrhage that we suffer.

Obviously this is second point that I want to observe.  Here we don’t speak of any type of migration, though international migration is composed of all types of people.  It’s undeniable that within these there predominate people of optimum working ages and with superior levels of mental and physical dexterity.

These are people who can imagine themselves as winners in the struggles they anticipate in promised but highly competitive lands.  The few studies carried out in Cuba suggest that our country is not an exception to the rule.  This research consequently shows that emigration produces a reproductive hole, one that is irreparable in terms of human resources.

Havana Hardest Hit

This is evident, for example, in the territorial origins of migrants from the island.  According to ONE, the Cuban province that has been most affected by the demographic drain has been Havana (city).  Nonetheless it is the receptor par excellence of internal migrants (legal and illegal, because we can’t forget that the country suffers a legal norm that impedes free internal movement).  In recent years the capital has suffered a net loss of about 60,000 out of a total of just over two million residents.

But despite harboring only 19 percent of the national population, 47 percent of migrants came from the capital.  On the other hand, Havana receives an influx of less educated eastern migrants – directly or using the outlying municipalities as springboards.

This is to say that the city experiences a drain of human capital that, while guaranteeing it welcomed revenue from greater remittances for short-term survival, dims its long-term prospects.

The Dominican Republic is not an important destination for Cuban migrants, and a large part of those who do come use the island as a place to access the United States, though that may mean finding a way to the jagged coasts of Mona Island (part of Puerto Rico).

But there remains a colony that is small but highly visible due to its presence in the press, in academics, social activism, medicine and in many other activities.  They possess all the immigration classifications imaginable, but one same decision: they are not going to return to the island.

A humorous and successful friend of mine, who by the force of his own labor had just bought a beautiful apartment in Santo Domingo, likes to say: “Cuba? – only from a distance.”  And he says it smiling, while he hangs a painting in his elegant study, a new office that speaks of the pride of being Cuban and of the privilege of being from Havana.

And now, without passion, tell me…who’s losing out?

15 thoughts on “Cuba Faces Depopulation

  • I can understand the genuine desire you all seem to show to fix the issues presented by free capitalism. But proposing cooperativism or state monopoly capitalism (Socialism) But the solutions of Statism or State monopoly capitalism or Socialism is definitely the wrong solution to the problem. None of you have been able to proof that it works. In fact practice has proved amply that it does not work.

    As for Grady’s cooperative socialism is exactly the same thing as state monopoly capitalism. It seems you guys notice problems but think the free capitalist system is the problem and that it can’t be fix. One thing has shown free capitalism is that it can change and it does adapt to new chalenges. State monopoly capitalism as a very restricted copy of capitalism that it is can not compete with the economy of free capitalism.
    So much so that the current leadership in Cuba finally realize these fact. They are letting cubans open up their small business and who knows what the future holds.
    Socialism is a utopian society. It failed to deliver what it promise.
    Why can you guys learn that lesson that have been learn by millions?

    Socialism and any other restricted system will fail. Because they are not adaptable. Nothing new can be created out of static systems. Grady. Your system is exactly the same as State monopoly capitalism but in disguise. I showed some of the issues that could come up on your system and you did not explain them away. So it seems to me you have not thought out the consequences to society of doing such drastic economical changes.
    There is definitely better ways of redistributing income without the destruction of the current functional system of free capitalism. I do think that those people like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs out there have earn their right to make the money they make. They have created what no other have done. Look at what Bill Gates is doing with his money. Helping on health around the world.
    The function of the government should be to level the playing field but not to mess with the economy in fundamental ways.

  • Somewhat related to this issue, I refer you to “Going Down: Russia’s Demographic Crisis,” by Philippe Descamp in the July English language edition of Le Monde Diplomatique (, which has been reprinted in today’s (July 15-17th) on line edition of CounterPunch. As Miguel Angel states above, this phenomenon is well known in other countries, especially in the countries of Western Europe, but seems to be happening with a vengeance under the “pirate capitalism” of Russia. Likewise, Mexico and Central America seem to be emptying out of many of the younger, most energetic, members of their population.

  • Mr. Haroldo Dilla refers Cuban statistics that explain a slightly negative demographic growth with 1) declining birth rate and 2) emigration, especially among the more ressourcefull.

    Both phenomena are wellknown in other countries. Declining birth rate in developed countries, brain-drain emigration in underdeveloped. What makes Cuba a special case is the co-existence of the two trends.

    Mr. Dilla’s considerations on policies to counteract brain-drain emigration may be appealing at first sight, but too far from the reality set by Cuba-US relations.

    Today there are much less control and restrictions in Cuba than back in the Soviet period. The emigration is one of the results, and should not surprise anyone.

  • I agree with you Julio that the gifted entrepreneurial leader with guts is a beneficial asset for a modern economy. The state monopoly socialism dished up by Marxism destroys both the individual entrepreneur and the small entrepreneurial class. This is a major reason state monopoly socialism does not work and cannot work. It is also why Marx and Engels injected the dysfunctional principle of the state owning everything into the socialist movement, in the first place.

    You may not remember it but I have termed modern cooperative socialism both “natural” socialism and “entrepreneurial” socialism. These terms are descriptive and emphasize the role of the gifted enterprise leader, or chance-taking entrepreneur, as essential for workable socialism. But I have also tried to emphasize that the enterprise leader and the entrepreneur must be linked up ownership-wise with those who do the work of the organizations they found or lead. If the business leader does not lead the employees through a shared ownership structure, the inevitable result will be all the evils that capitalism has exhibited through the many decades. In the end it will lead to monopoly capitalism, and this is a point that you just can’t seem to acknowledge.

    As far as the word “capital” is concerned, you define it as money. But money under capitalism is generated by private banks that loan out credit. This credit is not money that the bank has in its vault. It is created electronically according to the fractional reserve principle. Yet, the credit debt is treated as though it is property that the bank owns, and interest is charged on it. This is a problem, because bank credit is based on the latent ability of productive workers to produce use-values in the economy. So, the bank issues credit based on something the working people own by natural right, but charges interest on it as though it is property of the bank.

    The monopoly capitalist banks get politicians into office who borrow vast amounts of this bank credit and governments become interest serfs of the banks. The world monetary system enserfs developing countries with this seemingly magical credit debt, and we see now that the entire world is locked into “debt service” payments where there is nothing left over for anything needed by the people.

    You can’t see any of this Julio because you are starry-eyed about being a successful entrepreneur, and delude yourself that all is well in the world. But it is not, and only a network of socialist cooperative republics can save it.

  • I will also like to add that as long as what you are selling for a profit. Any economical system you setup that sells for a profit is Capitalism or a variant of capitalism. So Grady your cooperative Socialism is still capitalism. Just a restricted Capitalism.
    Let me go back to the analogy of nature. Living organisms in nature have no restrictions except for the natural laws. Many of the natural laws are derive from mathematical facts. So one will say they are a consequence of them. If we create artificial systems like an economy for example. That is a purely practical and theoretical construction that we humans do to be able to distribute goods to different people. Some contribute to society a little some contribute a lot. Some contribute nothing at all. So should we treat each of these people the same?
    Should someone that contributes nothing have the same access as everyone else?
    Money and economy and all of it are artificial constructions in a free capitalist society that mimic nature. They are left to evolve on its own. They are able to inherit good DNA and reproduce and to form better and more fine tune economical entities that are really more productive and better at what they do. That is why free capitalism is so good at what it does. And the miracle is that all of it happens without much intervention.

    That’s the invisible hand of Adam Smith at work here.

    While any other contrive system where you start setting strong limits and strong prohibitions are not natural.

    For example in nature there is no huge huge predator that can eat all of life. The equivalent to a monopoly. The reason why that is probably because of the force of gravity. So there is a limit in nature that abhors monopoly of a life form over every other living organism.
    The same can be translated to economy. Not allowing for Monopoly!
    We need diversity we need multiple economical types of entities and people should be free to innovate and create many more. You can not restrict that. And say that only this type is good. It will be like saying in nature that only humans should be allowed to live and that we should exterminate all other living creatures.
    I think this is a perfect analogy to what your system ask to do on the economic realm, And also to what the State monopoly capitalism (Socialism ) tries to do.

    I think my explanation is transparently clear why we need diversity. We need it to evolve into new and better things. If you do not have diversity your economy will be stagnant.

  • Ok, the Capital word could come from head that is the reason why the main city in any country is called also the capital or head city.

    Let us apply some reasoning here.

    Let us assume I have the money. Obviously the money by itself without investing on something does not produce more money. Right? If we place it in a bank account with a certain interest. That is exactly what a bank does. It loans that money that it borrows from me at a higher interest and they give me a fraction of what they make. So far so good. Money by itself is not capital.

    Is a worker, capital then? If you have no money and no tools to do the work and no knowledge and no idea of what to do you are as bad as the money I was talking about before. You can’t produce anything. So workers are not capital either. They by themselves can not produce.

    If that were true then countries like Cuba or many other third world countries full of able bodies and heads “capital” will be better at the economy than us. Right? So far so good?

    Now let us bring in the mix the capitalist. A person that has the money. He may have inherited the money or even asked for a loan from friends or acquaintance he convinced on investing on the enterprise or he simply stole the money. But for whatever reason he got the money. He also does have a brilliant idea of how to invest that money. How to make that money produce more money. Be producing coin change like that guy in Havana city and he needs also some people to work for him to multiply his efforts. He could possibly do it by himself like that guy but he has now sufficient money to employ people to work for him.

    Now look at it this way. These other people that are working for him did not risk their money, Did not have a job and were producers of nothing before this capitalist got into the equation. They did not even had the idea that produces the money.
    Now do you see all the things that these Capitalist is bringing to the table? On the top of that he also manages or hires someone with the expertise to manage is business and he supervises him.

    The capitalist himself may not even come up with the brilliant idea. And that is the beauty of the system. He can buy the idea from another person or group of persons that dedicate to creating those ideas.

    So imagining these as a recipe. We have place the money the workers and the money producing idea together and here we have that all of these now are producing more money. Boy but this will not had happen if our Capitalist did not act. He is the catalyst for the reaction to happen.
    Le me make an observation. The Cuban regime ejected capitalist from Cuba. An around the 80 they ask Spaniards capitalist and Capitalist from other countries to come back and invest in Cuba. Why do you think that is? They realize they need them. Those hotels that produce money for Cuba where created with the investment of guess who? “CAPITALIST”.

    Now going back to the topic Grady. You have mentioned before about using the scientific method.
    You do come out of the blue and postulate that your system of worker own enterprises is the best. That it is better than state monopoly capitalism what some other people called socialism. And that it is better than free capitalism. I am asking you to prove it. Can you?

    Let me do the following mental experiment with you. For example, let us assume that Apple was one of your economical entities that is owned by workers. We all know they have made billions. They make billions a year. So now all these workers assuming a more or less equal distribution of earnings they will be all at a minimum millionaires and maybe some of the top managements billionaires. This happen because they had made all the right decisions. Now having all these millionaires will increase inflation because there is a limited supply of things to consume. If people do have more money they will increase demand and demand will increase price. Therefore it will conduce to inflation! So you see. Your system produces imbalances on the economy. How would you handle that?

    Now on the same token think of blackberry the company. Because Apple is extremely successful. They start to loose share in the same market. And their employees will start to earn less money. So your system that was suppose to produce some sort of happy medium for everyone will still produce the same issues and even worst it may produce inflation and hyperinflation.

    If the Blackberry jobs then go to Apple then we have that Apple has become a monopoly something we all agree is a really bad thing because now they have no interest in innovate or in producing better since they have no competition.

    Do you see how your system takes you again to the same path of Monopoly?

  • Julio, you just don’t get it. Capital comes from the Latin word for head, and human laborers were counted by and referred to by the head, just as were the livestock. When work had to be done, the question arose as to how many capitals, or heads, were needed to do the work. It was only through time that capital became the monetary instruments that were needed in order to deploy workers. This is why both you and the Marxists cannot understand what is going on in the economy with regard to the theory of “capital.” It is a deliberate trick of semantics to forget about the productive human beings who comprise real capital by defining capital as money and physical plant.

    An exact synonym for capitalism would be worker-ism, because capital is workers, be they industrial, agricultural, artistic, intellectual, managerial or otherwise. Capitalism is the ownership and control of working, productive persons. What the new socialist movement must do is get rid of the Marxist stupidity that capital is money and plant, and develop a viable economic theory that places working human capital, not money, at its center. Only in this way can a socialist cooperative republic establish a new banking, credit and monetary system in which money is generated by cooperative loans that do not bear parasitical interest.

    Chattel slavery deployed human labor by owning the bodies of working people. Feudal serfdom did it by owning the land and binding the laborers to it. Modern wage and salary serfdom does it by ownership of the instruments of production in the private hands of the few monopolists. A socialist cooperative republic will do it by ensuring that most industry and commerce is owned by those who do the work, plus silent state co-ownership to avoid a tax-revenue system. I don’t expect you, Julio, to understand, but perhaps others will.

  • Rob simple because you are contributing capital. Capital is what companies need to expand or to invest in new projects or anything else. Capital is key to any enterprise. Without capital there is nothing.
    Obviously investing capital is risky. It is not a win win situation. You may end up loosing every penny of it if the business is not good. So it is in your best interest to invest in good companies.
    I think it is a selfish concept to have only employees be owners of the shares of a company.
    There is a way to benefit more people if the wealth of companies is spread with more people. How many people here in the US or even other countries own shares of many of these companies? Intel,Disney, IBM, Microsoft, Apple etc? Millions and Millions and they are all benefiting from it. The wealth is spread across a wider range that if it was just owned by employees. That strikes me as really selfish and anti-social!

  • Luis: What I’ve read of Das Kapital indicates that Marx agreed with the bourgeois economists that “capital” is money and plant. But capital is not these things; it is the latent creative potential of laboring human beings. By singing in chorus with the bourgeois economists, Marx helped to solidify bourgeois economic theory, which helps keep the monopoly bourgeois banks and regime in power.

    Also, Marx predicted that the capitalist system was just about to break down, then spent the rest of his life trying to write a three-volume book that analyzed that same system-about-to-collapse. (Engels had to edit and publish the last two volumes because Marx the pudding-head couldn’t even finish it.) I still hold that Marx and his capitalist friend Engels were provocateurs, b/c they injected an ideology that redefined and subverted the socialist movement in exactly the way provocateurs would have done.

    Julio: You continue to impress me in many ways. You are locked into a love of the present capitalist system, and continue to think that cooperative socialism would be the same totalitarian monster as Marxian state monopoly socialism. Let’s keep talking, but for now we’ve probably over-talked this thing.

    rob: I apologize for saying the same thing over and over. I’m trying sincerely and urgently to reach the Left vanguard with a concept that may achieve socialist transformation in the near term, before capitalism destroys the environment and civilization. This concept is what needs to be discussed, not whether I harp on the same thing over and over and annoy comrades like you.

    I radicalized in the late 60s and did the usual busy work of the Left for many years. It always bugged me that we were always so isolated from the people ideologically, and I eventually took leave from my busy work Leftism to raise a family. Now, I’ve taken a new look at Marxism and those Marxism-underpinned state experiments that have failed so miserably and have discredited the socialist movement so thoroughly. My new look has led me to identify the origin of the statist recipe for socialism–Communist Manifesto–and figure out that our movement ought to have been cooperative all along.

    Your comments, rob, indicate that you have the basic sense of modern cooperative socialism. You probably ought to ally with our cooperative republic movement. But perhaps you are still a victim of the Marx personality cult and the quasi-religion of Marxism. In any case, I hope you will exchange with me and our tiny movement, and see if perhaps we agree on the nature of workable socialism, and how to achieve it in the US and other countries.

  • though i sometimes tire of reading gradys responses as they occasionally seem to be cut and pasted from one to another, i am obliged to side with grady here. the difference between employee ownership of shares and the general public being able to own shares is simple. why should i be able to own shares of profit in a company that i have nothing to do with, and contributed no labour whatsoever to produce those profits. that does not seem to me to be all that fair. where as employee ownership simply means that the employees of a given industry are the SOLE OWNERS of the fruits of their labor. not the state. not wall street douche bags. not you. or me. only the employees.

  • Grady but that is just my point.

    A totalitarian regime that tries to control individuals every aspect is never attractive to anyone except to those of the elite on the top. Why? Because they have different set of rules for those people on the elite.
    There should not be an elite. If the elite played by the same set of rules as everyone else then things could be better.

    Let us go exactly to causation.
    Who cause that people have to migrate from their own homeland?
    Is it the Americans or the Cuban regime that restricts freedom, persecutes political dissent and restricts mostly all human rights accepted by all countries and for which the Cuba regime is also a signatory?

    I do not think you take the causality chain on the correct point to start.
    Who started all these issues is the Cuban regime. By setting up and unworkable economical and political system that after 50 years has to function out of handouts from everyone.

    Now you wonder and you blame the American government for people wanting to migrate ?

    It is like osmosis, it is natural for people to flow to where things are better.
    Where life is better and it was their job to supply water every day,
    to supply milk not just for kids but for everyone, to supply housing for everyone etc etc.

    See they got stuck into the so call “free education” and “free health” that I have explained amply here they are not really free but really paid handsomely during a life time of slave work by the people. On the top of all that you have to live your life in constant fear if you decide to express what you really think. Because you may loose your job or not get a promotion or maybe even end up in prison if you go too far on your critical comments or actions.
    You see why people do not want to live there? Who would want to?

    one more thing. When you talk about cooperative I know what you mean about workers working together and sharing profits but why limit to just that? Why does that make it better? What does makes better?
    What if instead of that I create a company and distribute shares of the company not just to the workers of the company but to anyone? Would that not be better? That is exactly what we have here. We can be part owners of any of these publicly trade companies, IBM, Microsoft, Apple etc.
    Why are you to think that just having the workers of Apple for example share the earnings is a good thing when every one else could benefit from their work?
    These companies and their employees also contribute to society by paying taxes That is equivalent to your part state ownership. But it seems to me you are getting stuck in a concept that does translate to what we have. I see no benefits. But the restriction you place of only your type of economical association will take you down the same path of totalitarianism and bureaucrats making decisions.

    Did you miss this article of Regina?

    See the difference an individual with a great idea can make?
    He had the bright idea of solving a problem and on the way he is also making money!!
    Read it. Simple and brilliant!

    How many socialist meeting would we have to go to get the issue of supplying coins to people for paying the buss should we attend until the problem get really solved? And maybe the solution after all the meeting will create different problems!
    That exactly explains why one system fails when the other one is successful.
    free capitalism is a natural economical system. State monopoly capitalism or Socialism is not. It is a forced system.

  • Grady, have you ever read anything from Marx besides the Communist Manifesto? Have you read Das Kapital? His critique of Capitalism is still unsurpassed (ok, ok, maybe Gramsci took a step further). I mean, I agree with you that socialism isn’t the same as statism, but you must consider that the work of Marx and Engels changed through the years…

  • Julio, you miss the point, just as does Haroldo. Cuba needs openness of travel, but why not lambast the US government for its constant, viscous attacks on Cuba that motivate Cuba’s restrictive travel policies?

    Cuba has never organized an invasion of the US. Cuba has never drained the brainpower of the US or any country in the world. She has never embargoed the US or any other country economically, especially a less developed, poorer country like Cuba. She has never made of the US Cuba’s brothel. Every time there is a sliver of openness of travel allowed by the Cuban gov’t, the US CIA and the other arms of the US State Dept. use it to attack Cuba and try to bring down the present gov’t.

    Much of what you say about the bureaucratic regime in Cuba is based on a kernel of truth. Haroldo and other Cuban intellectuals however, you perhaps included, should focus on what is causative–the disease–not on the symptoms–harsh controls and et cetera.

    Any person can see that the Marxist regime in Cuba has a dysfunctional idea of what workable socialism is. The point is the theoretical microbe of statist Marxism that is to blame, not describing the sores and pains that present as symptoms.

    What is the cure, Julio? Capitalism? No! Cooperative, state co-ownership socialism? Yes!

  • Grady you should read the article again.

    Here is the solution he proposed it seems you missed it.

    “Cuban society doesn’t need any more controls, but many more openings. It needs ones sufficient to socialize the expectations of social mobility and personal realization. Today these expectations remain kidnapped by an elite class that bureaucratically restricts roads and limits lives.”

    I agree with him. The Cuban regime should not lock people into what is equivalent to locking people out and in.
    The Cubans in Cuba are locked in the Cubans out of Cuba are locked out. Both need to be eliminated. Cubans should be able to travel freely and migrate freely in and out of Cuba just like any other country.

    To keep people they use the wrong way and they are certainly not attracting many.

  • Interesting article, Haroldo, but you do not critique the depopulation of Cuba from a socialist standpoint. What I mean is, you do not point a finger at the theoretical underpinnings that have led to the present depopulation phenomenon.

    When Engels and Marx penetrated into the socialist movement and re-defined it from cooperative to statist, they implanted the absurd core principle that the state, not the workers, should own the instruments of production. Fidel and Raul followed this idiotic core principle, thinking it “real” socialism. Now that it has been tested in the laboratory of practice for a half-century and has led to economic failure and depopulation, patriotic intellectuals should critique the theoretical underpinnings that have been tested. This sort of critique would be of great value to Cuba and to human kind.

    Your article, Haroldo, does not do this. For the reform of Cuban socialism, and for the rectification of the world socialist movement therefore, this article is of little use. If you are a socialist, please try again.

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