The Caribbean's geriatric facility
MIGUEL SALES | Málaga | 19 Mayo 2016 - 11:48 am.
In recent weeks some media outlets have once again underscored Cuba's
surprising demographic trends, pointing out that the country features
demographic characteristics of a developed nation, but saddled by a
Third-World economy. In that vein, the daily Granma, the Communist Party
of Cuba's (PCC) official publication, recently published figures updated
since the last census (2012), generated in 2015 by the National Bureau
of Statistics and Information's Population and Development Studies Centre.
As the regime often does, its statistics contain certain adjustments and
a little makeup to keep them from straying too far from the ideal they
wish to project. Just to mention the most glaring example: the document
states that the migration balance in 2015 was less than 25,000; that is,
just over 25,000 more people abandoned the island than moved to it.
It is difficult to reconcile this figure with the migration figures from
the United States, Ecuador, Panama, Mexico, Spain and other countries
that regularly receive Cuban exiles/emigrants. I have not seen exact
statistics in this regard, but the numbers consulted suggest that the
exodus last year was at least double what the authorities in Havana report.
The statistical manipulation involved a change in the emigrants'
classification, the result of Cuba's latest immigration reform: before
2013 those who left the island without intending to return were classed
under "indefinite leave permit" if the Government authorized them to
travel, or "illegal exit" if they left at their own risk. Now those
people are simply termed "residents living abroad" who, in theory, can
return to the country in the following two years without losing their
status as citizens under the regime. In this way they do not count as
migrants, nor are they subtracted from calculations of the total
As reality is one thing, and demographic analysis another, the negative
forecasts seem to be confirmed sooner and sooner. A decade ago it was
estimated that by 2025 the number of retirees would equal that of active
workers. Today it is believed that this parity could materialize in 2021.
While the 2012 census indicated that 18.3% of the Cuban population was
60 or over (2,041,392 citizens) and exceeded by more than one percentage
point those ages 0-14, today almost 20% of Cubans are 60 or older,
accounting for some 2,200,000 people, while the population age 0 to 14
represents only 16% of the total population. A change so sudden (three
and a half percentage points in just three years) indicates that
something is very wrong, both in the statistical system and in society
as a whole.
Until recently the official interpretation of the demographic data was
both facile and triumphalist, like almost everything emanating from the
government. The declining birth rate and ageing of the population
provided "irrefutable evidence" of the development and modernization
provided by Communism. In these regards Cuba was on the same level as
the most advanced countries in Europe, etc. And if the number of elderly
grew, it was due to an increase in life expectancy, thanks to the
advances of socialist medicine. If the number of children dropped it was
because, thanks to Castroism, women controlled their sexuality and had
been liberated from domestic slavery.
These arguments served to evade such basic aspects as the causes and
consequences of migration, the incidence of divorce, abortion and
suicide, deteriorating economic conditions, and the absence of measures
to bolster birth rates.
The problem with ideology is that it normally cannot withstand reality's
onslaughts. No matter how they try to manipulate the statistics, or
sweeten their interpretation, it is evident that Cuba is turning into a
kind of giant geriatric facility, and soon the number of pensioners will
exceed that of the economically active.
* * *
One of the first images that jump out at you in Cuban cities is the
great number of elderly who struggle in poverty, many reduced to
begging. They walk about trying to sell anything they can, or provide
some service, in exchange for a few coins. The official press does not
call them beggars, euphemistically referring to them as "vagrants." The
police arrest them and lock them up in shelters for a few days whenever
some VIP is going to visit the island. These measures constitute "a
protocol for the admission, diagnosis, care and social reintegration of
vagrants," according to the high-sounding rhetoric recently published in
the newspaper Juventud Rebelde. According to these arguments
homelessness and begging are "a lifestyle," supposedly caused mainly by
family conflicts, alcoholism, and dementia, and government policy has
not the slightest responsibility for the phenomenon.
Without private pension plans, property, businesses, or the possibility
of working any longer, and in many cases abandoned by children who have
left the country, the fate of thousands of elderly Cubans is to live on
the meager pension provided them by the State (10 dollars a month in
2016), the charity of the Catholic Church, or relatives living abroad.
And their number is growing inexorably, with the consequent increases in
social assistance, pension and health care costs.
In the coming years the situation will worsen, because the demographic
trends are profound and are not going to change overnight. The
population is ageing and emigration is increasing, especially among
young people, who see few prospects for the future under an oppressive
and unproductive regime. And there is no immigration in sight. Although
some exiles have returned, for various reasons, few, whether Cubans or
not, wish to settle permanently in a country where there is no freedom
and the economy is in shambles. Nor are there incentives for young
people to start families and have more children.
The island's demographic crisis entails a potential for poverty,
suffering and social backwardness whose effects are only now being
revealed. The real causes of the phenomenon are not openly discussed,
because doing so would involve a debate about the nature of the regime,
the lack of freedom, the systematic violation of rights and Communism's
productive impotence. And without a discussion of these fundamental
issues, there will emerge no effective solutions in the medium or long term.
The paradox of the situation is that the elderly are both victims of the
system that has plunged them into destitution, and its biggest
defenders. Ageing societies - like Japan, Germany and Uruguay - tend to
be very conservative and averse to sudden changes. Cuban seniors, highly
dependent on the regime's support, in the form of pensions, subsidies
and medical services, however paltry, will serve in the future as
pillars of the same system that reduced them to fearful paupers deprived
of their freedom.
Three generations of Cubans have lived chanting slogans, marching in
squares, cutting sugar cane and serving as informants for the Committees
for the Defense of the Revolution. While the foreign subsidies lasted -
first from the USSR, followed by Venezuela - the propaganda machine
worked well enough, and the regime was able to disguise shortcomings of
all kinds with brand-new schools, fancy hospitals and Olympic medals.
But when the handouts came to an end, the cardboard scenery collapsed.
Today the schools are rotting, the hospitals are falling apart, and lack
even the most basic supplies, and athletes are fleeing abroad in search
of freedom, and to get paid what they are worth.
The metamorphosis of the "fighting people," as extolled by the
propaganda, into the reality of Cuba's indigent masses, captures the
true history of the so-called "Cuban Revolution." And no number of
speeches, or statistical manipulation, or complicity by foreign allies
will be able to mask that failure. And nothing symbolizes this better
than the horde of octogenarian leaders who at the closing of the last
CCP Congress promised, among cheers and applause from their followers,
that the next ten years will bring more of the same.
Source: The Caribbean's geriatric facility | Diario de Cuba -