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Cuba is 'no country for old men,' and Castroism has rendered them a burden

While in other countries they continue to generate wealth, on the island retirees have no choice but to depend on others.

La Habana
A senior citizen in a Havana park.
A senior citizen in a Havana park. Diario de Cuba

For six decades attempts have been made to administrate the Cuban economy and the country’s society by means of centralized, rational planning, this being a "more adequate" structure according to the allegedly enlightened - and always self-interested - analysis of the country’s planning authority, be it Fidel Castro, the Communist Party of Cuba, or the shadowy political-military elite.

The attempt to control everything has backfired, yielding a tremendous lack of control, leading to inconsistencies in the use of resources and opportunities, which has generated a bizarre society racked by imbalances. The most extreme of these is having turned Cuba into a Third World economy, on the verge of bankruptcy, but with demographic statistics like those of Canada.

If aging and population contraction are a cause for concern in that country, in today’s Cuba it will be the trigger for a catastrophe of which the population seems to be oblivious, since the Government never transmits the need for the urgent changes that the demographic data warrants.
One of the most important cornerstones of the social contract - as an abstract idea - that allows a society to function is that, among those members that have ceased to be productive, those who need help are supported by the working members, thus creating a pyramid; the broader its working base, and the smaller its inactive apex, the more viable this scheme is.

As is too often the case with Cuban phenomena, its population pyramid is upside down. On the island the only population group that is growing is that of those over 60 years of age, which already exceeds 20% of the population; and the birth rate (births per 1,000 inhabitants) is the lowest in Latin America.

Cuba, thus, is the "oldest" and the least fecund country in the entire third world. The trend is so pressing that in total terms, and even without taking into account those who emigrate, the country’s population is, in addition to aging, decreasing, as 8,000 fewer people were born last year than died.

Other countries alleviate this situation by attracting immigrants, but who would want to work in Cuba? Cubans themselves are ceasing to do so, as today there are almost 200,000 fewer people working than five years ago. Hence, the mere three million Cubans in the productive sector are supporting the entire country.

In places like Canada, a significant portion of the elderly have managed to accumulate wealth thanks to Social Security, savings accounts, insurance investments, securities, participation in business ownership, or real estate. As a result, a significant percentage of the elderly, even retirees, does not depend - up to a certain point – upon the country’s younger people.

In fact, the elderly in these countries form a social stratum with its own personality, whose savings largely finance the ventures of young people, and that also has a significant consumption capacity, which fuels a specialized industry; that is, although they are retired, withdrawn from direct production, the capital of these citizens continues to generate wealth.

In Cuba all those heading into retirement have only worked under Castroism’s stifling economic conditions, characterized by a state monopoly on production and property, so they never had the capacity to save, or the opportunity to invest, or to create or own companies. To top it all off, any properties they own are often dilapidated.

Hence, these people in Cuba who are no longer producing are a burden on today’s productive generations, who only inherit scant and obsolete capital, often suffering from technological deterioration.

Once retired Cubans stop creating wealth, their economic contributions cease, and they become sources of net spending. As they do not have any accumulated capital, they cannot finance current ventures - which continue to be hampered by the Government - nor can they be a group exhibiting significant consumption or generating aggregate demand strong enough for a sector to arise to satisfy it. Elderly Cubans are reduced to going around poorly dressed, eating bad bread, and knowing that the only trip they will be taking is to their local market.

They do have medical care that would be the envy of many of their Third World counterparts, which allows them to live almost to age 80, on average, but, as we can see, when there is a lack of freedom, even good results end up constituting a misfortune.

Of course, this situation is not the fault of that old man who, with a hunched back, walks around in the sun selling peanuts, or the lady who suffers through her joint pain to mend other people’s clothes. The blame lies with those who, even today, force young people to choose between living close to their parents, and struggling to support them, or living far away so that they can send them what they need to stop at a Freely Convertible Currency store.

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