Monday, December 15, 2014

Death Panel Alert: Rapidly Aging Population Poses Challenge to Cuba’s Future


HAVANA – Cuba must deal with the challenges posed by a rapidly aging population, a trend that poses a threat to its future comparable to an economic crisis or climate change.

The demographic figures have been around for years, pointing to a shrinking population, a low fertility rate, a high life expectancy of 78 years and the negative effects of emigration.

Some 18.3 percent of the island’s 11.1 million people are over the age of 60, with that figure expected to rise to 30 percent by 2030, making Cuba the oldest country in the Americas.

“We prepared for everything except for this,” Pilar Suarez, a Havana microbiologist who had to take early retirement to care for her 99-year-old father and 89-year-old mother, told Efe.

“I had to give up science to be a daughter,” the 60-year-old Suarez said.

Between 1953 and 2012, according to a National Statistics Office, or ONE, study based on the latest census figures, the number of people 60 and older quadrupled on the island, a situation not seen before “in any other country in the world.”

“The demographic aging in Cuba is only comparable in statistical terms to the most developed countries,” but it occurred “in less than 50 years,” while it took two centuries in the European countries, the ONE study said.

President Raul Castro’s administration has had to deal with the problem without having similar cases to draw on and amid a challenging global economic and social environment in which it is trying to “update” Cuban socialism.

The Council of Ministers approved a new demographic policy in October aimed at improving the fertility rate and improving care for the elderly, but no details were released.

In recent years, the government has taken some measures, including raising the retirement age, increasing pensions and allowing retirees to work in some sectors, such as education, in an effort to deal with the problem.

Cuba, however, faces chronic shortages in different areas – public transportation, housing, infrastructure and consumer products – that multiply the effects of an aging population.


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