The Cuban revolution was followed by a commitment to social security for all. Equality and the right to education, jobs and health care were guiding principles for the Communist Party’s policies. The system has now started to loosen up and the gaps in society are widening.
All Cubans have the right to free schooling, free medical care and free access to sports facilities. Electricity and water are free and the rents are very low. The state social insurance system is comprehensive and covers everything from sickness and accident insurance to maternity benefits and pensions. However, the remuneration is modest and not far enough. The pressured state economy of recent years has also led to cuts in certain grants. The retirement age has been raised to 65 for men and 60 for women.
- Countryaah Official Site: Official statistics for population in Cuba, including population growth, density, and estimation in next 50 years.
Health care is well developed and Cuban health care is of a high standard. Diseases such as malaria and typhoid have been eradicated through improved hygiene and vaccination programs. Average life expectancy is the highest in Latin America and infant mortality is as low as in the West.
The availability of doctors is good. There are almost twice as many doctors per inhabitant in Cuba as in Sweden. Preventive care is important. Virtually all Cubans have a GP who lives in the neighborhood and regularly comes to check on family health.
However, there is a shortage of medicines and medical equipment, and other parts of the health care have been affected by cuts. There are queues for some care.
Welfare in the swing
While the Cubans have been given greater freedom and can now start their own businesses, take out loans and have the right to go abroad, the uncertainty has increased as the government began to upset the previously granted benefits. Work is no longer a right and the state has laid off hundreds of thousands of public employees, more than the emerging private sector has been able to absorb (see Labor Market). Furthermore, Cubans have been given the right to sell their homes, which is to the advantage of those who own a contract but creates uncertainty for someone who is inherent in someone else, which is often the case due to a general shortage of housing.
The reforms have created a gap between those who have access to dollars from relatives abroad, which facilitates home buying and business and those who do not have it. The gap is also widening between employees in the state sector, where wages are low, and private employees who have greater opportunities to earn more.
Many Cubans have fared worse than before the deep economic crisis in the early 1990s (see Modern History). The majority of household money goes to food. All households have a ration book (libreta) that gives the right to buy basic foods at low prices. Purchases are dotted by the local dealer who records everything that is sold and makes sure that it is in accordance with the state directive. The rations include rice, sugar, beans, oil and smaller quantities of eggs, fish or chicken and spaghetti. It is difficult to get the rationing products to last a whole month. Anyone with money can supplement with purchases at higher prices in regular stores or in the black market.
The government has announced plans to abolish the rationing system, but the plans have so far not been implemented.
Women and minorities
Women have a strong position. The law gives women the same rights as men when it comes to divorce, custody of children and ownership. There are also laws designed to protect women and children from domestic violence. Women and men should have equal pay when they do the same work and as a rule they have it.
The state is advocating that all ethnic groups should be treated equally, but Cubans with African backgrounds state that they are subject to police discrimination. Blacks are also over-represented in poor areas. As descendants of slaves, they usually do not have relatives abroad and thus do not receive the same support and opportunities as the Spanish-born.
There are laws that prevent discrimination against sexual minorities in the labor and housing markets, as well as in education and health care. The government runs LGBTQ issues in an international context but opposes the Cuban NGOs working on the same issues. However, LGBT organizations are not harassed not because of the issues but because they are independent and outside the system.
Crime, especially violent crime, is at a low level, although the number of crimes has increased over the past decade. When it comes to action against drug trafficking, Cuba cooperates with the United States.
Sources for this text: Bertelmann Stiftung, Freedom House, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2017, World Bank, articles in US press
FACTS – SOCIAL CONDITIONS
Infant Mortality: 4 per 1000 births (2018)
Percentage of HIV infected: 0.4 percent (2018)
Proportion of HIV infected among young women
0.1 percent (2018)
Proportion of HIV infected among young men: 0.1 percent (2018)
Proportion of population with access to clean water: 95.2 percent (2015)
Proportion of the population having access to toilets: 92.8 percent (2017)
Public expenditure on health care per person: US $ 971 (2016)
Proportion of women in parliament: 53 percent (2018)
The road network is developed around a large highway that extends across the country in an east-west direction. But maintenance is neglected and only half of all roads are paved. Rural roads can be difficult to access when it rains.
Private motoring is limited. Most private cars date from the pre-revolution era and have been repaired numerous times. The main means of transport is bus, but local traffic is not always reliable and the roads are bordered by lifts.
Cuba is the only country in the Caribbean that has a real railroad. Trains are used for both freight and passenger transport. The rail network is partly in poor condition, but a refurbishment is underway with financial support from Russia.
Havana has so far been the most significant of the country’s many ports, but that role is scheduled to be taken over by a new port inaugurated in early 2014 in Mariel a few miles west of the capital. The port of Mariel, built in collaboration with Brazil, can accommodate larger and more in-depth vessels than Havana’s old port. This makes Mariel an important transhipment port once the expansion of the Panama Canal connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans has been completed. In Mariel, there is also a free trade zone linked to the port to which the government is trying to attract foreign companies to establish themselves.
There are a large number of airports, of which ten can handle international traffic, including Havana, Santiago, Holguín, Camagüey and Matanzas (Varadero). Direct flights between Cuba and the US have resumed following the approach between the countries in 2014–2015 (see Foreign Policy and Defense).