Cuba’s Demographic Disaster

By Haroldo Dilla Alfonso

Domino game. Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — In the business of lying, spinning arguments, hiding the truth and abusing common sense, Granma newspaper deserves a medal. Now, it is doing the same thing via Juan Carlos Alfonso Fraga, presented as the director of the Population and Development Research Institute belonging to the Office for National Statistics and Information.

Mr. Fraga mentions a particularly tragic fact about our society, which is probably the most tragic thing we have to face: Cuba’s dizzying aging process and the magnitude of demographic replacement. I’ll let Mr. Fraga explain this in his own words, who seems to be celebrating an achievement instead of analyzing a disaster:

“We are an aging country,” he said, “because we have high levels of human development, not because of income, nor GDP per capita, but because of the results we’ve had in education and healthcare… We live longer because we have more healthcare, more education; we have greater social services and greater public safety… this is the result of the social development process that the Revolution has managed to achieve.”

Long live Cuba. Photo: Juan Suarez

There’s no room for doubt: Cuba has a high life expectancy rate. And it has been an achievement that has come about as a result of social policies. However, this achievement was only clearly a result of this until the late ‘70s. After that, this level came to a standstill or increased ever so slightly. This explains, for example, how Cuba currently stands in third place in Latin America (the same position it did in 1961) and how it is closely followed by many other countries which can’t boast about their social policies.

When it comes to the improvement of life expectancy between 1961 and today, Cuba shows a mediocre result: it improved by 14 years between 1961 and 2015, while Costa Rica did the same in 16 years and Chile in 22, just to give you two examples.

Although Fraga can’t imagine this and Granma doesn’t publish it, longevity is no longer only connected, not even fundamentally, on social policies. It’s a rate that depends on a sum of factors which nourish what we call “quality of life”. It includes suitable diets, an environment and social political climate that encourage the free development of subjectivity, eliminating stress factors in the pursuit of daily life, etc. None of which is provided by the ruling system in Cuba, this oppressive and exploitative framework which the Right accuses of being socialism and the Left accuses of neoliberalism in disguise. And in reality, it’s neither one nor the other, but rather a backward regime of Asian tyranny, without any of its only virtues: order and discipline.

The hope. Photo: Juan Suarez

Aging isn’t Cuba’s problem as such, but demographic replacement is. Chile and Costa Rica have longer life expectancy than Cuba, but they aren’t experiencing a demographic alarm. And when there is a vacuum, they do the same thing Europe and the US do: they bring over immigrants and increase their productivity. Two things that Cuba can’t do, because its productive system is in a shambles and because nobody, not even the impoverished Haitian farmhands will be willing to work for a Cuban salary.

Then, we can add the additional problem that Cuba has to face its aging population with a tremendous exodus of its youth. Ever since the ‘90s, 30 and 40,000 Cubans leave the island every year, mainly aged between 20 and 45 years old. Ever since 2000, there has been an increase in women leaving. These young people leave with their determination and knowledge, and have their children in other places, where Cuban communities are growing substantially.

Fraga, by way of Granma, continues his boring speech with an especially cynical solution: families should take care of their elders. In reality that has always taken place.  With the irreplaceable support of an emigre community which has proved the saying that blood is thicker than water, and have taken on the responsibility of providing them with food, medicines and many other things that people left behind need.

Those in Cuba who don’t have this support – or aren’t among the narrow band of those who benefit from the “reforms process” – can only offer their elders – with their symbolic pensions, the chronic shortage of medicines, hospitals without water – the harsh comfort that their misery is shared.

2 thoughts on “Cuba’s Demographic Disaster

  • A great summary Moses.

  • Intellectually dishonest discourse is emblematic of totalitarian regimes. Historically, more so with socialist governments. But given to his own designs, even Donald Trump is given to lying about the facts as they are. The Castros have spent the last 60 years putting lipstick on a pig. The revolution has never lived up to its billing. Propagandizing the aging problem in Cuba fools no one in Cuba. Young people all over the island bemoan the lack of opportunities and openly plan on leaving. Grandparents brag about children and grandchildren who live abroad. Fewer and fewer Cubans are willing to work in agriculture. More and more Seniors are on the street selling peanuts and supplies from their ration libretas. Only the sycophants believe or have hope that the regime has a positive future.

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