How Expensive is having a Child in Cuba?
May 17, 2013
By Fabián Flores (Café Fuerte)
HAVANA TIMES — For the second consecutive year, the London-based
organization Save the Children has identified Cuba as the best country
in Latin America to be a mother. Reading this, I cannot but think that
the author of the report must have visited a Cuba located on another
planet and not the country where the mother of my children has to get up
Thinking about her and the millions of Cuban women who celebrated
Mother’s Day this past Sunday, caught up in the heroic task of raising
their children in a country that is in economic shambles, I took on the
task of finding out how much bringing a child into the world on this
Caribbean isle actually costs.
The results of my study explain, in part, why Cuba’s population remains
more or less static at around 11 million people, with an annual growth
rate which, in 2011, was of 0.6, the first positive figure reported by
the National Statistics Bureau (ONE) since 2006. Statistical predictions
show that the population will continue to grow little and that the
number of inhabitants on the island will be below 12 million in 2025.
In Cuba, all pregnant women enjoy a planned care program as of the
moment of their pregnancy is officially registered, and every expectant
woman is given a daily dose of ferrous fumarate (iron, that is) and a
vitamin supplement called Prenatal.
However, these vitamins are generally made available to women as of the
second trimester of their pregnancy, not before, much later than is
accustomed in most countries with an advanced healthcare system. Cuban
doctors themselves usually tell pregnant women the following: “If you
can get your hands on prenatal vitamins from abroad, throw away the ones
you get here,” something which casts some doubts on the quality of the
pills made available to Cuban women.
As holders of a libreta, or ration booklet, pregnant women are
“entitled” to three or four pounds of beef and the same amount of fish a
Labor becomes something of a nightmare for Cuban women, given the
disastrous conditions that most hospitals around the country are in.
Last year, I was surprised to read a comment that was posted on
Cubadebate when this official Cuban government website published the
Save the Children report which praised the country’s prenatal care
system, a comment that had somehow made it past the site’s filter. The
person who posted the comment, who identified himself as MG, wrote:
“Has anyone paid a visit to the Fe del Valle Maternity Hospital in
Manzanillo, Granma? Anyone who sets foot in this hospital, anyone who
has to suffer the condition it’s in, anyone who has to spend even a
fraction of the time a woman who has just given birth has to there, will
realize this article makes absolutely no sense.
“My twin daughters were born this past October at this hospital, where,
owing to shortages, they would put TWO pregnant women in each bed (I
know some people won’t believe me, but it’s true), where pregnant women
don’t even have a sink they can brush their teeth in in the morning,
where they have to carry buckets of water to the bathroom in order to
flush the toilets, because the flushing mechanisms in these aren’t
working, where the sight of the bathrooms makes your stomach turn, where
the lobby and cafeterias were turned into maternity wards due to lack of
space, where those who accompany women who have undergone caesareans do
not have a chair to sit in, not even in the recovery area where these
women are placed after the operation, and must remain standing for the 6
hours of the recovery process.”
Mothers-to-be are also “entitled” to a basket which includes a blanket
and a handful of items. A typical maternity basket includes three
mattress cases, two mid-sized towels, two pacifiers, a rubber toy, a
pair of panties, a T-shirt, four bars of soap, a bottle of cologne, one
body lotion, one body oil, ten gauze diapers, ten meters of antiseptic
fabric (to make diapers out of) and a pair of socks, all of which is
sold at 85 Cuban pesos (just over 4 USD).
A Maternity Basket from the Cuban State
If the pregnant woman works somewhere where employees belong to the
country’s official union (the Cuban Workers Federation) or at any of the
ministries, she will receive a more “generous” one time maternity basket
for her first birth.
The basic products provided by the State.
How will this woman get her hands on all the other products she needs to
care for her baby during his or her first year of life? A Cuban’s
average monthly salary is about 455 CUPs, the equivalent of 20 dollars
or Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUCs).
The two most important items, the diapers and milk, are sold at
exorbitant prices. Cuba does not produce disposable diapers and the
prices of this imported product in the market, in CUCs, are beyond the
possibilities of the immense majority of families: a package of diapers
costs anywhere from 4 to 12 CUCs.
Milk with vitamin supplements is only sold to women who are unable to
breastfeed (and can offer medical proof of this), and the assigned quota
is limited. At hard currency stores, a can of NAN-brand supplemented
milk costs a little over 4 CUCs. Other brands are sold at around 5 CUCs.
At the very few State stores that sell articles for newborns, the prices
far exceed what a person living on an average salary can afford.
“Most people don’t buy baby articles at State stores, they use the
maternity baskets they get from relatives abroad,” said Marinela
Frometa, a housewife living in Havana’s neighborhood of Centro Habana.
At Cuba’s State stores, a blanket for a crib costs somewhere between 8
and 10 CUCs, and the price of a crib, as such, is between 100 and 120
CUCs. The mattress one needs to buy also is around 50 CUCs. A stroller
can cost between 50 and 180 CUCs, depending on the characteristics of
This “heavy artillery” isn’t the only thing that’s expensive in Cuba,
however. The little “one-size” overalls for babies (“one-piece suits”,
as they are called in Cuba) cost anywhere from 3 to 7 CUCs. Underwear
for both genders can cost as much as 10 CUCs.
The stress felt by parents grows as the baby’s first birthday nears,
for, depending on the size and brand, the baby sneakers can cost as much
as 20 CUCs.
“I put together my own maternity basket from items I bought at private
kiosks and stuff they sent me, plus the clothes I ordered from
seamstresses. We wouldn’t have been able to afford it otherwise,” said
Marlom Silvera, a factory worker.
One of ways parents can secure what they need for their newborns at
lower prices is to purchase these items at Cuba’s parallel markets. One
of the most frequented is located on Calle 21, between 4 and 6, in
Vedado, Havana. It is a privately-run establishment where prices, though
still high for Cubans living on State salaries, are less prohibitive
than those one comes across at State stores.
“Most of our products come from people who no longer need them and sell
them to us, and from business people that bring them from Ecuador, the
United States or Venezuela. Seamstresses also bring us homemade products
for which there is a high demand,” we were told by the store owner, who
did not want us to reveal her identity.
The deals customers get at this store, according to the owner, are
“At State stores, a milk bottle can cost anywhere from 1.50 to 5 CUCs.
The ones we carry here have a flat price of 2 CUCs. This is why we have
more customers. We also carry products that are hard to find, like
pacifiers, corrals and other accessories,” she added.
In Cuba’s interior, mosquito nets are sold at 300 CUPs (12 CUCs) and
gauze diapers at 6 CUPs a piece at these parallel markets.
The Drama of Nutrition
This is one of the most serious problems surrounding the care of a baby
during his or her first months of life. The availability of cereals is
extremely limited and, when you can find the product, it costs anywhere
from 5 to 10 CUCs a box.
“I believe the most expensive part of having a child in Cuba is buying
the food. The products you buy at the vegetable and meat market “eat up”
what one earns in a month at lightning speed,” said Joel Gutierrez, the
owner of small private business.
“At the ration store,” he added, “you get fairly poor-quality milk and
some baby food that you feel bad giving your kid. From time to time,
they give you these weird things called “Fortachon”, a cereal imitation,
but that’s hardly enough. And what should you do when you run out of
The comments posted by MG at Cubadebate backed this opinion: “I am the
father of twins and earn a basic salary of 432 Cuban pesos a month. Do
you know how many cans of NAN-PRO milk I can buy with this? Do the math:
I have to buy these at the hard currency store, each at 5 CUCs (125
Cuban pesos), because not one pharmacy in the entire province of Granma
carried the milk assigned to new mothers. The mother of the twins has
just graduated, she isn’t working, isn’t earning any money, so, I ask
you, do you think I can support two girls on my salary alone? You go
through your entire salary just to buy the child’s food for a week or two.”
Following a quick glance at the basic products one needs for a newborn
and after visiting several stores, we calculated that the initial cost
of a birth in Cuba (or caring for a baby during its first six months of
life) is between 700 and 750 CUCs (a figure that varies in dependence of
OTHER PRICES AT STATE HARD CURRENCY STORES:
Mosquito net: 30-40 CUCs
Wash bowl: 5-12 CUCs
Walker: 18-25 CUCs
Baby carry-bag: 20-25 CUCs
Wet towels: 1-3 CUCs
Large towel: 10-12 CUCs
Gerber baby sauces: 0.80-1.20 CUCs each
Nestle cereals: 3-5 CUCs
Toys: 5-30 CUCs
Talcum powder: 2-6 CUCs
Corrals: 15-20 CUCs
Child medication sold at hard currency pharmacies: 9-15 CUCs
* This article is the result of a six-month-long journalistic
investigation conducted with the support of the editors of CaféFuerte.