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 (mondeplo.com), 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.

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