Why Aren’t Cubans Having More Babies? / Dimas Castellanos

One of Cuba's increasingly rare babies and a member of its growing number of elderly, get acquainted

A report issued by the NGO Save the Children, which states that Cuba ranks first among Latin American countries with regards to the conditions to be a mother, followed by Argentina and Uruguay, was reproduced in part on the first page of the newspaper Granma on 10 May.

Such information, which the official press presents as a great achievement, hides other data related to demographics that should move Cubans to reflect. It turns out that in Cuba the falling birth rate is causing a steady decline in population.

The adjustments made in 1998 by the Population Division of the United Nations in its projections for the year 2050, suggest that the fertility rate of less developed countries could decline to 2.1 children per woman, while for the more developed rates could fall to between 1.7 and 1.9. However, the total fertility rate in Cuba — which is not exactly in line with the developed countries — has been declining since the mid-1970’s and has now reached 1.7 children per woman in 2009, four decades before forecast made by the United Nations.

According to information provided by the National Statistics Office of Cuba, the island’s population declined again in 2010 by 1,467 people, representing an annual rate of negative growth (-0.13%), confirming the sustained decline in recent years.

Why is Cuba experiencing a phenomenon that characterizes developed countries? The deteriorating living conditions due to economic inefficiency, are leading a lot of Cuban youth to postpone having children, while many others have decided to limit their childbearing in view of the lack of opportunities. This is having a strong influence on the dramatic decline in the fertility rate, which contradicts not only the continued state propaganda about motherhood, but also the roots of the Cuban women’s movement, which since the nineteenth century had figures distinguished figures such as Mari Blanca Sabas Alomá, who adopted the original principles of humanism as the basis of maternal feminism; or such as Ofelia Dominguez Navarro who, in the First National Women’s Congress in 1923, filed a motion on the redefinition of family to include illegitimate children.

As the population projection scenarios are constructed mainly from the relationship between fertility, mortality and migration, it is difficult to predict the effects of reduced fertility in the medium and long term relative to its effects on the depressed economy.

The sustained and growing exodus, which since 1959 has seen about 2 million compatriots leave for lives outside the national borders, represents approximately 18% of the population. In the five years between 2004 and 2009, more than 210,000 Cubans migrated, a trend confirmed by data published by the National Bureau of Statistics, which yields in 2010 a record negative balance of 38,165 migrants.

If to this is added a life expectancy above 75 years, it is understood that the inactive, that is non-working, population in the age groups of 0-14 and of 60-65 years and older will grow, while the active population will decrease, between these two age groups. This creates a dependency relationship that is unsustainable over time, and that exacerbates such things as the cost of social security, health care and other elements that an aging population requires in Cuba, and that is precisely what is missing: an efficient economy.

If this trend is maintained, and there is no indication that it will change, the Cuban population, which in December 1998 exceeded 11 million people, will never reach 12 million inhabitants, which has placed Cuba among the oldest populations of continent. The worst thing is that this phenomenon occurs in a nation which, by its very low productivity, is compelled to buy abroad a large part of what it consumes. Therefore, the demographic transition in Cuba, to a context characterized by the capitalization of the economy and a huge foreign debt, predicts a worsening, with severe repercussions on the economic, political and social environment.

These data reveal a reality: the radical differences between the Cuban demographic transition and that which occurs in developed countries, results from the decision of Cuban women to have fewer children and the high rate of emigration, particularly of young people, which, combined with increased life expectancy, is dragging us toward a rapidly aging society. This population decline is not an isolated or casual event, it is nothing more nor less than one of the multiple effects of the structural crisis whose cause lies in the inability of the existing system to ensure economic growth capable of meeting the minimum needs of the population.

The solution of this painful situation is a sustained increase in productivity and efficiency, something that has not been nor will be possible with the present attempt to update the current economic model without including any changes in civil liberties. Moreover, in any case, there needs to be a radical reform of immigration policy, so as to allow Cubans to leave and to return with full rights, as existed in Cuba in the past and as it is the case, with rare exceptions, everywhere in the world.

From Diario de Cuba.

13 May 2012