Cuba: Actions for the Aging of the Population That Do Not Work

A health worker weighs a child at the Fontaine Hospital Center where the baby got multiple vaccinations during the visit in the Cité Soleil area of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Monday, Jan. 23, 2023. As gangs tighten their grip on Haiti, many medical facilities in the Caribbean nation's most violent areas have closed, leaving Fontaine as one of the last hospitals and social institutions in one of the world's most lawless places. (AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph)
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14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Elías Amor Bravo, Economist, 19 February 2023 — The actions of the Cuban communist regime to face the serious problem of accelerated aging of the population do not work and are based on an ideologized and untechnical analysis of the situation. This is the conclusion that can be obtained from a note published in the state press informing of the update in 2022 of the national policy to address demographic dynamics.

The Cuban population aged 60 and over accounted for about 21.6% at the end of 2022, being the only segment of population that is increasing in the country, with almost 2.4 million people in this category.

And as happens in many other areas of government action, the response of the communist regime to the needs of older adults has resulted in more public spending. Specifically, a state budget for 2023 of 2,113 million pesos ($88,042) has been announced, aimed at supporting actions against the accelerated demographic aging suffered by the country.

Under such conditions, strategies have been announced related to providing resources (that is, spending more) on the production of dental implants and hearing aids, nursing homes, maternal homes and grandparents’ homes.

At the same time, the central government has instructed territorial programs to give priority to sensitive issues such as the decrease in the working-age and economically active populations, the increase in urbanization (despite the decrease in the urban population) and the average number of people per household.

The Cuban demographic situation is explained by the joint evolution of fertility, mortality and internal and external migrations in response to an unproductive, inefficient and collapsed economic system. All of this significantly influences the fall in the birth rate and fertility, and the aging of the population. And here comes the error of the leaders, mixing actions and public policies, which have little to do with each other.

At this point, there are many doubts. What will the care program for the infertile couple or the modernization of equipment for assisted reproduction centers have to do with the accelerated aging of the population? What is the point of territorial governments having to allocate more resources to the construction and maintenance of childcare centers, the construction of homes for mothers with three children or more, as well as housing needs, when the urgency is in a population that is growing older?

There is the impression that the regime mixes policies, actions and resources that should have a different design for more effective execution. It doesn’t know what to do and relegates everything to public spending.

It’s not a matter of complexity of Cuban demographic dynamics, but of correctly interpreting trends and needs and providing effective and efficient solutions. There is a lot of work to do before blaming the embargo, that is what is called the blockade, for the problems of aging, which is what they always end up doing.

Fundamental aspects for the elderly population, such as active aging and unwanted loneliness, are absent and irrelevant in the solutions proposed by the communist regime. And yet, experts indicate that they determine the success of policies aimed at older people in all countries that share the same problem.

Active aging allows people to enjoy more years, with better health and physical condition. And this can happen in Cuba by reorienting the health system towards the elderly, which will require very important investments. The standard of living of older people in Cuba, with pensions of very low purchasing power, compromises the objective of active aging. The elderly are a vulnerable group, living precariously at the expense of the regime’s inefficiencies.

The extension of the working age can alleviate the situation of poverty associated with retirement. Promoting the professional figure of seniors in companies and in education and training can serve to alleviate the negative effects of aging. But there are many more things to do, and in Cuba, these solutions neither exist nor are anticipated.

As for unwanted loneliness, it is a threat that falls on the elderly in a particularly intense way. The situation in Cuba is very bad, because young family members need to leave the country in search of new horizons. They leave behind the elders, who barely survive thanks to the remittances they receive from abroad.

Those elderly who lose their family and friends experience unwanted loneliness that negatively influences their living conditions and introduces great suffering when their immediate relatives are prohibited from returning to the Island due to regime sanctions, as has happened in the recent history of Cuba. That unwanted loneliness is not discussed in the actions designed by the authorities, because offering “parents’ houses” to address this problem means they have no idea what to do.

Let no one be fooled. The Cuban communist regime’s response to the needs of older adults comes too late and is ill-conceived. The effect of the waste of public money will be practically zero, especially considering that their policies to promote the birth rate will be difficult to implement.

The leaders have to recognize the origin of the problem that grips Cuban society and face its solution with appropriate actions that don’t depend on the management of public spending. It’s not possible to allocate public spending to social policies that are directly related to the standard of living and well-being of the population; in short, the economy. The problem is that no matter what they do, it’s too late.

Translated by Regina Anavy 

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