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New Policies Are Needed to Resolve Cuba's Birth Rate Crisis

Cuba's low birth rate and its ageing population are a time bomb.

A birth in Cuba. 
A birth in Cuba.  CUBADEBATE

The Cuban population has experienced a progressive decline in its birth figures since the beginning of this century. For two decades the authorities have watched the birth rate decline, without anything being done to counteract the trend.

The data speaks for itself: in 2000 the number of people born on the island stood at 143,528, and in 2018 the figure had dropped to 116,333, a 19% reduction in relative terms. In Spain the number of births is also declining, but the drop in the number of births during the same period was only 5%.

This data ranks Cuba as one of the countries in the world with the lowest gross birth rates: 10.4 per thousand (compared to the 33.4 per thousand registered in 1965). These numbers are clearly discouraging, putting the growth of the Cuban population in the foreseeable future in serious doubt, as once these processes are set in motion they are difficult to reverse through economic and social policies.

The birth situation in Cuba is worrisome, and owing to a scenario defined by an economic, social and institutional crisis whose most negative effects are on population dynamics.

The problem is not new. Far from it. The first alarm signals rang in 2006 when the crude birth rate in Cuba fell below 10/1,000 people, and averages since then have been around that figure, which has only further aggravated the situation, with the authorities having been unable to change anything.

It is clear to all that these birth trends are owing to a wide range of very heterogeneous factors and causes, but the really important thing is that it has very specific consequences, especially financial and economic. In the specific case of Cuba the low birth rate is compounded by an increase in life expectancy, at 78.4 years, which represents a demographic time bomb for any country while representing a massive challenge to the financial sustainability of an economy based on a model like Castroist Cuba's, in which everything depends on the State.

The explanation that can be offered for the low number of births in Cuba can be found in an evaluation of the current economic situation (the average monthly salary barely reaches $30) and the forecasts and expectations that the population of tomorrow harbours (in Cuba one cannot accumulate wealth, such that the dynamics of future permanent income are utterly negated).

To all this it is necessary to add the challenges that people face, especially women, regarding work, finances, and the raising of children. Although in Cuba the regime boasts of its state interventionist model, which offers major advantages to reconcile family and work life, as well as free health care and education, and special benefits for maternity and the childbirth, birth rates remain low.

This is an aspect worthy of being underscored. It is clear that, despite all the benefits the Communist regime offers, the economic situation is one of the main reasons why Cuban families have so few children. In short, the social and economic conditions racking Cuban society are the main damper on birth rates.

Unlike in other countries, the Communist authorities have refused to realise that in order to solve the birth rate problem in Cuba, existing compensatory and allocative policies do not work. In Cuba, to date, adequate policies have not been implemented to counteract the trends observed.

Policies should be aimed at effectively promoting economic growth, prosperity, higher standards of living for all Cubans, the accumulation of capital and wealth, savings and investment.

It has already been proven that the benefits extended by the Communist regime, such as those to balance work, health and family care; to facilitate the emancipation of young people, and guaranteed access to employment, and housing, have not bolstered birth rates. The results confirm this.

In the case of Cuba statist policies, which are probably necessary in other countries to stimulate births, do not work because the foundation of the whole economic system is faulty, and the conditions for a prosperous welfare state, like those in other countries, are lacking.

For six decades Cubans have had to harden themselves to levels of rationing, shortages and a lack of the most basic necessities, which explains the demographic decline. A country that has a birth rate like one that might exist during a catastrophe or crisis, and that, in two decades, has failed to bolster it, despite implementing social and welfare policies typical of countries enjoying far higher levels of development, is facing a serious problem for the future.

The problem cannot be solved by throwing more coal in the burner, with more benefits, work/private life conciliation measures, and State protection. Rather, what is needed is real economic reform that actually bolsters the capabilities and potential of Cubans to, through their freedom, increase their living standards and well-being.

In short, the return to a market economy, in which productive capital and wealth, savings and investment, are the linchpins of the economic system. As long as the Communist leaders refuse to face that economic reform constitutes the key to undertaking a sensible and rational demographic policy, one taking into account the challenges of an increasingly ageing society, and allowing for a efficient allocation of State resources, nothing, or very little, can be done.

Cubans should know that other policies are possible.

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