Cuba: The Caribbean’s geriatric facility

By Miguel Sales in Diario de Cuba:

The Caribbean’s geriatric facility


In recent weeks some media outlets have once again underscored Cuba’s surprising demographic trends, pointing out that the country features demographic characteristics of a developed nation, but saddled by a Third-World economy. In that vein, the daily Granma, the Communist Party of Cuba’s (PCC) official publication, recently published figures updated since the last census (2012), generated in 2015 by the National Bureau of Statistics and Information’s Population and Development Studies Centre.

As the regime often does, its statistics contain certain adjustments and a little makeup to keep them from straying too far from the ideal they wish to project. Just to mention the most glaring example: the document states that the migration balance in 2015 was less than 25,000; that is, just over 25,000 more people abandoned the island than moved to it.

It is difficult to reconcile this figure with the migration figures from the United States, Ecuador, Panama, Mexico, Spain and other countries that regularly receive Cuban exiles/emigrants. I have not seen exact statistics in this regard, but the numbers consulted suggest that the exodus last year was at least double what the authorities in Havana report.

The statistical manipulation involved a change in the emigrants’ classification, the result of Cuba’s latest immigration reform: before 2013 those who left the island without intending to return were classed under “indefinite leave permit” if the Government authorized them to travel, or “illegal exit” if they left at their own risk. Now those people are simply termed “residents living abroad” who, in theory, can return to the country in the following two years without losing their status as citizens under the regime. In this way they do not count as migrants, nor are they subtracted from calculations of the total population.

As reality is one thing, and demographic analysis another, the negative forecasts seem to be confirmed sooner and sooner. A decade ago it was estimated that by 2025 the number of retirees would equal that of active workers. Today it is believed that this parity could materialize in 2021.

While the 2012 census indicated that 18.3% of the Cuban population was 60 or over (2,041,392 citizens) and exceeded by more than one percentage point those ages 0-14, today almost 20% of Cubans are 60 or older, accounting for some 2,200,000 people, while the population age 0 to 14 represents only 16% of the total population. A change so sudden (three and a half percentage points in just three years) indicates that something is very wrong, both in the statistical system and in society as a whole.

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