The leaders are not the only ones getting old in Cuba
By Silvio Canto, Jr.
For people like me, watching the reality of Cuba is painful. It does not
compare with the Cuba that my parents remember. It was not a perfect
place by any means but it did not have many of the problems that we see
Cuba has a very serious birthrate problem, as we read this week in the
New York Times:
By almost any metric, Cuba’s demographics are in dire straits. Since the
1970s, the birthrate has been in free fall, tilting population figures
into decline, a problem much more common in rich, industrialized
nations, not poor ones.
Cuba already has the oldest population in all of Latin America. Experts
predict that 50 years from now, Cuba’s population will have fallen by a
third. More than 40 percent of the country will be older than 60.
The demographic crisis is both an economic and a political one. The
aging population will require a vast health care system, the likes of
which the state cannot afford. And without a viable work force, the
cycle of flight and wariness about Cuba’s future is even harder to
break, despite the country’s halting steps to open itself up to the
“We are all so excited about the trade and travel that we have
overlooked the demographics problem,” said Hazel Denton, a former World
Bank economist who has studied Cuban demographics. “This is a
Young people are fleeing the island in big numbers, fearful that warming
relations with America will signal the end of a policy that allows
Cubans who make it to the United States to naturalize. Until recently, a
law prohibited Cubans from taking children out of the country, further
discouraging many from having children to avoid the painful choice of
leaving them behind.
Over the last few years, I have spoken to young Cubans who have escaped
the island. They tell me that getting married and having children means
dealing with milk and diaper shortages. As one Cuban young woman told
me: “Why bring a baby into this misery?” They tell me that most young
Cubans want to leave because there is no future and no hope that things
will get better. They refer to “los viejos” or the old men who run the
There are a couple of other reasons for Cuba’s birthrate problems.
The first one is a health care system that provides abortions for
free. I heard from one of these young Cubans that hospitals in Cuba have
more abortions than births. Abortion is hailed as part of a woman’s
health care package. The result is that very few women are choosing to
The second factor is that the regime marginalized faith or the church.
As we see in the U.S., religious young men and women are more likely to
get married and have children. My parents’ Cuba was a very Catholic and
traditional country. Today’s Cuba is nothing like that!
We often talk about the dinosaurs who run Cuba, or the 80-something
Castro brothers and all of those aging members of the political class.
Needless to say, they are not the only ones getting old.
The entire island is a demographic disaster!
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