Academic journal article The International Journal of Cuban Studies

Older Persons and the Cuban Reform Process

Academic journal article The International Journal of Cuban Studies

Older Persons and the Cuban Reform Process

Article excerpt


Cubans are living longer, which, combined with a low birth rate, has reduced the proportion of the population in the workforce. This adversely affects the economy, which is one reason government has introduced major structural reforms that are transforming the economic life of the country (Sánchez Egozcue 2012). The reforms involve a mixed economy, a reconfiguration of the social contract, a gradual reduction of massive social benefits based on subsidies and a movement away from excessive paternalism, idealism and egalitarianism by means of official guidelines (Draft Economic and Social Policy Guidelines for the Party and the Revolution 2010).

This article presents data from a qualitative study of 35 older Cubans (persons 60+ years of age) who were asked their views about the reform process and its impact on their lives. This process has important implications for the country's fast growing and vulnerable older population many of whom are disproportion- ately affected by the hardships of life, receive pensions on which they cannot live, reside in overcrowded homes and suffer shortages in food and transport (Strug 2009). Older persons receive social protection in the form of food subsidies, health-care and social assistance.

The question of how older persons view the reform process emerged from a qualitative study I conducted in January 2012 and January 2013 with 35 older individuals in Havana. This article presents data from that investigation. The study questions were the following: (1) How do older persons view the reforms? and (2) What impact, if any, are they having on their lives? I wondered whether older persons might be opposed to the reform process, because it involves a reduction in social benefits and has raised the retirement age. The Appendix discusses the methods used in this investigation, the study sample and the need for future research.


Economic problems and the reform process

Cuba's economic problems and the attempt by its leaders to address them have received widespread attention (Chase 2011; Mesa-Lago and Vidal-Alejandro 2010; Pujol 2011). These problems include a deteriorating trade imbalance and foreign debt, low productivity and stagnation in growth of the population, reflected in the growing ageing sector (Farber 2011).

Cuba's leaders state they can no longer sustain the high costs for some of the expensive services it gives to the overall population, including health-care and social services. They have reduced somewhat the share of social services in total expenditures. According to one expert on the Cuban economy, Carmelo Mesa-Lago, social expenditures as a percentage of the state budget fell from 55.3 per cent to 53.1 per cent between 2007 and 2010, and as a percentage of GDP they peaked at 36.4 per cent in 2009 and fell to 34 per cent in 2010 (Mesa-Lago and Pérez-López 2013: 140). The reform process involves a reconfiguration of the social contract to reduce these expenditures (Sánchez Egozcue 2012).

The Communist Party of Cuba drafted economic and policy guidelines that call for a gradual elimination of the ration book or libreta that Cubans use (Draft Economic and Social Policy Guidelines for the Party and the Revolution 2010). Government recently halved the number of eggs it delivers through the ration book (Havana 2013). It has closed many state-subsidised cafeterias for workers. It plans to reduce the size of its budget for the health sector and the state labour force by 35 per cent by 2014 to lower expenditures (Latin American Herald Tribune 2012). The state has issued business licenses to over 400,000 individuals (cuentapropistas) to start small businesses in its effort to reduce the size of state employment. Cuba has announced tax laws to generate income to enable it to continue to finance pensions, social assistance and other programmes (Rainsford 2012). Reforms introduced in 2012 allowed citizens to travel abroad without applying for a permit (García 2013), extended credit facilities to permit the use of personal collateral to obtain loans, allowed state-owned firms to offer worker incentives and approved a law of cooperatives. …

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