Cuba’s Diaper Crisis
February 5, 2015
HAVANA TIMES — “I submitted an application to go work in Ecuador,” a
Cuban university professor tells me, explaining that “I don’t have any
other choice. My mother’s illness has become worse and I need money to
buy her adult diapers. You can’t imagine how big a mess she makes.”
“I’d never thought about leaving Cuba. I occasionally give lectures at
universities in other countries and I managed to make ends meet that
way, but I have no other choice now. My mother goes through 3 diapers a
day, so I need almost a hundred dollars a month just for that.”
I met a 33-year-old Cuban woman who is trying to set up her own
business, to be able to afford having a child. “I won’t get pregnant
until I have an income that will at least give me enough money to buy
disposable diapers,” she tells me.
“I am not going to spend months using cloth diapers that you have to
boil, wash and sun dry and then iron. For that reason, the most
appreciated gift a Cuban who recently gave birth can receive is
disposable diapers. I prefer not to have children if I don’t have an
income that allows me to buy them.”
These two conversations came to mind when I saw government officials
talking about “policies” and “strategies” to increase the country’s
birth rate and take better care of the elderly in Cuba’s Round Table
program – lofty generalizations and very few practical proposals.
The issue of disposable diapers, for instance, is very serious in a
country with a low birth rate and long life expectancy, where nearly 20%
of the population is elderly and many women work for a living. This is
something that Cuba’s importers and retail networks do not seem to
Diapers appear and disappear at stores like many other products. The
difference is that this is an essential product. In addition, there
price (up to one dollar per diaper) is prohibitive for any person living
on an average salary.
The fact of the matter is that, today, one has to do a lot of legwork to
purchase diapers, visit different stores because they don’t always carry
the size you need and, sometimes, they don’t carry any diapers at all.
So people also need money to hoard up on diapers (the more the better)
when these turn up.
If the Cuban government hopes to bring up the country’s birth rate and
continue to extend the life expectancy of the elderly, it should
understand that solving the diaper problem is far more strategically
important than television campaigns.
A government directive calls for “applying all fiscal and price policies
that will favor a higher birth rate and improved care for the elderly.”
They could start by exonerating diapers from the 240% mark-up on
products at their hard currency stores.
The government could even make a certain number of diapers available to
families with elderly members or newborns at cost, a measure which would
profit from the hastening of negotiations with the Vietnamese company
that wants to set up a diaper factory in the town of Mariel.
We must bear in mind that life expectancy in Cuba today leads to
situations in which elderly people are forced to care for their even
more elderly parents. These people, who can be between the ages of 60
and 70, face physical limitations themselves and need society’s help.
From a strictly economic point of view, it is also good business. Cuban
families are so united that, if they were given the resources to look
after their elders, less of them would end up in homes.
Young Cuban women want to have better living conditions before giving
birth, as Cuba’s low birth rate demonstrates. The situation leads
society to a dead-end, as there are less and less people working and
more and more retired persons receiving pensions.
Encouraging Cuban women to have more children may become an issue of
vital importance for the economy in the near future. But that goal will
be reached, not by appealing to women’s consciences, but by giving
mothers the resources they need today.
It’s true there are many other problems behind the country’s low birth
rate, such as the housing shortage and low incomes. The diaper problem,
however, does not call for more money but a decision to profit in a
little less at the government’s retail stores.
Cuban sociologist Mayra Espina believes that the economic reforms should
not postpone “social considerations and must be implemented in a
coherent fashion. It is not a question of increasing social spending but
organizing social spending better.”
This is something that can be achieved through policies that anticipate
the problems that scientists are identifying, concrete measures aimed at
the people’s wellbeing – something which, in the long run, is not at
odds with a prosperous and sustainable economy, but exactly the opposite.
Source: Cuba’s Diaper Crisis – Havana Times.org –