Are Developed Countries Decadent?

Yes, provocatively says Ross Douthat, a conservative New York Times columnist, in a recent lengthy column that deserves reflection by us all. [1}

Introduction

He starts with the assertion that in the 21st century the U.S. and other developed countries “are aging, comfortable and stuck, cut off from the past and no longer optimistic about the future, spurning both memory and ambition while we await some saving innovation or revelation, growing old unhappily together in the light of tiny screens.” In other words, we “really inhabit an era in which repetition is more the norm than invention; in which stalemate rather than revolution stamps our politics; in which sclerosis afflicts public institutions and private life alike; in which new developments in science, new exploratory projects, consistently underdeliver.”

This is an overall depiction of “decadence,” which Douthat defines as “economic stagnation, institutional decay and cultural and intellectual exhaustion at a high level of material prosperity and technological development .” This “stagnation is often a consequence of previous development.”

He then expands upon this opinion by examining current economic, social and political factors.

Economics

“The decadent economy is not an impoverished one. The United States [for example] is an extraordinarily wealthy country, its middle class prosperous beyond the dreams of centuries past, its welfare state effective at easing the pain of recessions, and the last decade of growth has (slowly) raised our living standard to a new high after the losses from the Great Recession.”

But, Douthat says, the U.S. and other developed canopies are not dynamic. “American entrepreneurship has been declining since the 1970s. . . . [There is] a slowdown, a mounting difficulty in achieving breakthroughs [in science and technology].”

One of the sources for this assertion was a 2017 paper by a group of economists, “Are Ideas Getting Harder to Find?” These economists asserted, ““We present a wide range of evidence from various industries, products, and firms showing that research effort is rising substantially while research productivity is declining sharply.”

Another source was Northwestern University economist, Robert Gordon, whom Douthat describes as “one of the most persuasive theorist of stagnation.” Gordon had concluded, “the period from 1840 to 1970 featured dramatic growth and innovation across multiple arenas — energy and transportation and medicine and agriculture and communication and the built environment. Whereas in the last two generations, progress has become increasingly monodimensional — all tech and nothing more.”

Society

“America is a more peaceable country than it was in 1970 or 1990, with lower crime rates and safer streets and better-behaved kids. But it’s also a country where that supposedly most American of qualities, wanderlust, has markedly declined: Americans no longer “go west” (or east or north or south) in search of opportunity the way they did 50 years ago; the rate at which people move between states has fallen from 3.5 percent in the early 1970s to 1.4 percent in 2010. . . . Nor do Americans change jobs as often as they once did.”

“Those well-behaved young people are more depressed than prior cohorts, less likely to drive drunk or get pregnant but more tempted toward self-harm. They are also the most medicated generation in history, from the drugs prescribed for A.D.H.D. to the antidepressants offered to anxious teens, and most of the medications are designed to be calming, offering a smoothed-out experience rather than a spiky high.”

“[P]eople are also less likely to invest in the future in the most literal of ways. The United States birthrate was once an outlier among developed countries, but since the Great Recession, it has descended rapidly, converging with the wealthy world’s general below-replacement norm. This demographic decline worsens economic stagnation; economists reckoning with its impact keep finding stark effects. A 2016 analysis found that a 10 percent increase in the fraction of the population over 60 decreased the growth rate of states’ per capita G.D.P. by 5.5 percent. A 2018 paper found that companies in younger labor markets are more innovative; another found that the aging of society helped explain the growth of monopolies and the declining rate of start-ups.”

“Sterility feeds stagnation, which further discourages childbearing, which sinks society ever-deeper into old age — makes demographic decline a clear example of how decadence overtakes a civilization. For much of Western history, declining birthrates reflected straightforward gains to human welfare: victories over infant mortality, over backbreaking agrarian economies, over confining expectations for young women. But once we crossed over into permanent below-replacement territory, the birth dearth began undercutting the very forces (youth, risk -taking, dynamism) necessary for continued growth, meaning that any further gains to individual welfare are coming at the future’s expense.”

        Politics

“From Trump’s Washington to the capitals of Europe, Western politics is now polarized between anti-establishment forces that are unprepared to competently govern and an establishment that’s too disliked to effectively rule.”

“The structures of the Western system, the United States Constitution and administrative state, the half-built federalism of the European Union, are everywhere creaking and everywhere critiqued. But our stalemates make them impervious to substantial reform, let alone to revolution. The most strident European nationalists don’t even want to leave the European Union, and Trump’s first term has actually been much like Obama’s second, with failed legislation and contested executive orders, and policy made mostly by negotiation between the bureaucracy and the courts.”

        Douthat’s Conclusion

“Complaining about decadence is a luxury good — a feature of societies where the mail is delivered, the crime rate is relatively low, and there is plenty of entertainment at your fingertips. Human beings can still live vigorously amid a general stagnation, be fruitful amid sterility, be creative amid repetition. And the decadent society, unlike the full dystopia, allows those signs of contradictions to exist, which means that it’s always possible to imagine and work toward renewal and renaissance.”

“So you can even build a case for decadence, not as a falling-off or disappointing end, but as a healthy balance between the misery of poverty and the dangers of growth for growth’s sake. A sustainable decadence, if you will, in which the crucial task for 21st-century humanity would be making the most of a prosperous stagnation: learning to temper our expectations and live within limits; making sure existing resources are distributed more justly; using education to lift people into the sunlit uplands of the creative class; and doing everything we can to help poorer countries transition successfully into our current position. Not because meliorism can cure every ill, but because the more revolutionary alternatives are too dangerous, and a simple greatest-good-for-the-greatest-number calculus requires that we just keep the existing system running and give up more ambitious dreams.”

“The longer a period of stagnation continues, the narrower the space for fecundity and piety, memory and invention, creativity and daring. The unresisted drift of decadence can lead into a territory of darkness, whose sleekness covers over a sickness unto death.”

“So decadence must be critiqued and resisted . . . . by the hope that where there’s stability, there also might eventually be renewal, that decadence need not give way to collapse to be escaped, that the renaissance can happen without the misery of an intervening dark age.”

This Blogger’s Conclusion

The societal facts cited by Douthat are well known, and this blog has commented about the economic challenges presented by lower birth rates and aging populations of the U.S. [2] and of his home state of Minnesota. [3] Therefore, this blogger has been and is an advocate for increasing U.S. welcoming  refugees and other immigrants in accordance with the U.S. history of immigration, which should be an U.S. advantage over other countries. [4] Douthat, however, does not mention immigration. Nor does he mention the high costs of raising children in the U.S. as a deterrent to having children. This blog also has discussed declining birth rates and aging populations in Japan, China and Cuba. [5]

This societal situation is also shown by recent U.S. declines in important international socio-political indices: freedom of the press, human development, level of corruption, income inequality, global peace and social progress. These may well relate to Douthat’s thesis.[6]

I agree with Douthat’s assessment of the political scene at least in the U.S. In fact, I believe that the U.S. Constitution is obsolete in so many ways, especially in its anti-democratic U.S. Senate which gives greater weight to land than to people, its filibuster rule, its Electoral College for electing the president and to the difficulty of amending that document.

Douthat’s discussion of current economic conditions presented new facts and analyses for this blogger. As a result, I will be studying Douthat’s forthcoming book, examining the paper by Robert Gordon that is hyperlinked in the column; finding and reading the paper by an unnamed group of economists that is discussed in the column; reading the over 1,000 comments on the column published by the Times; and searching for other opinions on these issues.

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[1] Douthat. The Age of Decadence, N.Y. Times (Feb. 9, 2020). He will expand on this topic in his book: The Age of Decadence: How We Became Victims of Our Own Success (to be released Feb. 25, 2020). An earlier column provided a slice of his analysis in discussing the second decade of our current century: The Decade of Disillusionment, N.Y. Times ( Dec. 28, 2019).      

[2] ] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: More Warnings of the Problems Facing U.S. Aging, Declining Population (Aug. 14, 2019); Implications of Reduced U.S. Population Growth (Jan. 10, 2020); U.S. Needs Immigration To Keep Growing and Maintain Prosperity (Feb.16, 2020).

[3] ] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Minnesota’s Challenges of Declining, Aging Population (Oct. 2, 2019); Slower Growth Projected for Minnesota Population in the 2020’s (Dec. 29, 2019).

[4] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Another Report About U.S. Need for More Immigrants (Aug. 25, 2019); Japan Shows Why U.S. Needs More Immigrants (Sept. 1, 2019); Prominent Economist Says Cuts in U.S. immigration Threaten U.S. Economy and Innovation (Oct. 12, 2019); Immigrants Come to U.S. To Work (Jan. 31, 2020); U.S. State Governments Celebrate Refugees’ Accomplishments (Feb. 2, 2020); U.S. Needs Immigrants To Keep Growing and Maintain Prosperity (Feb. 16, 2020).

[5] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Japan Shows Why U.S. Needs More Immigrants (Sept. 1, 2019); Japan Implements New Law Allowing Increased Immigration (Sept. 15, 2019); Cuba’s Aging and Declining Population Continues (Dec. 13, 2019); Continued Demographic Squeeze on Japan (Dec. 26, 2019); “The Chinese Population Crisis” (Jan. 21, 2020); Cuba’s Low Birth Rate, Increasing Emigration and Declining Population (Feb. 3, 2020).

[6] Declining U.S. Rankings in Important Socio-Poltical Indices, dwkcommentaries.com (Aug. 19, 2019).

Cuba Response to  U.S. Campaign Against Cuba’s Medical Missions

During 2019, the U.S. has engaged in verbal attacks on Cuban medical missions around the world while Cuba withdrew thousands of its medical personnel from Brazil, Ecuador and Bolivia, resulting in major financial losses for the Cuban government. [1]

On December 18, Cuba’s “Johana Tablada, deputy director of North American affairs for Cuba’s Foreign Ministry, said Trump administration officials have pressured Latin American governments to end the medical support programs, hurting health care in those countries.”[2]

Such U.S. actions, said Tablada, have “crossed the red line of decency by taking the foreign relations of the United States to levels of hypocrisy and double standards that none of his predecessors have done.” He also accused the U.S. of trying to destabilize Cuba in order to distract attention from the impeachment process against Trump.

As has been explained several times in this blog, one of the most outrageous and invalid U.S. allegations against the program is the assertion that the Cuban doctors and other medical personnel serving in various countries around the world are engaged in illegal forced labor or “modern day slavery.” The U.S. immediately should cease such accusations. Mere repetition does not make them valid.

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[1] Cuba Ministry Foreign Affairs, U.S. Crusade Against Cuban international medical cooperation, Granma (Dec. 6, 2019).

[2] Assoc. Press, Cuba Blasts US Over End of Medical Missions in Some Nations, (Dec. 18, 2019).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

U.S. Litigation Over Cuba Medical Mission Program

On November 30, 2018, five Cuban doctors who had been on Cuban medical missions in Brazil filed a class action against PAHO alleging that it had “collected over $75 million since 2013 by enabling, managing, and enforcing illegal human trafficking [in Brazil] of Cuban medical professionals,” who were paid “10% or less of the fees the Brazilian Government paid PAHO for their services, while PAHO paid at least 85% to the Cuban Government” and retained 5% for its services. The 85-page complaint alleges violations of the U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act (18 U.S.C. sec. 1589 and 1590); and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”), 18 U.S.C. sec. 1962).[1]

On December 25, 2019, PAHO filed a motion to transfer the case from the U.S. District court for the Southern District of Florida to the U.S. District Court for the District of Colombia, which was denied by the U.S. Magistrate on May 23, 2019, and without explanation the docket sheet ends on July 2, 2019 with an entry for an Order setting the hearing on the transfer motion for July 18, 2019.

That status of the case is correct, according to a January 22, 2020, report by the Cuba Money Project, because plaintiffs’ counsel has not attempted to serve process on PAHO under 28 U.S.C. sec. 1330(b), 1608.[2]

Although PAHO never responded to the Complaint or Amended Compliant in the federal court in Miami, its motion to transfer the case to the federal court in the District of Colombia stated that after transfer it would file a motion to dismiss the complaint and amended complaint on the ground that PAHO is immune from this lawsuit. In addition, PAHO summarized the bases for its immunity claim as follows: [3]

  • The U.S. Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act’s section 1330(b) “is the exclusive venue provision for cases against foreign states and, by extension via the International Organizations Immunities Act, designated International Organizations such as PAHO. . . [and provides] venue in this case is proper, if anywhere, only in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.”
  •   Moreover, “PAHO enjoys both absolute immunity under international law, 21 U.S.T. 1418 (Convention on Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations), and all of the immunities “from suit and every form of judicial process” enjoyed by foreign governments under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA), 22 U.S.C. § 288a(b).”

More recently the Wall Street Journal’s anti-Cuba columnist, Mary Anastasia O’Grady, focused on Cuba’s now discontinued medical mission to Brazil and to this lawsuit. She merely said this lawsuit is still in the pre-trial stage, and PAHO’s motion to transfer the case to the District of Colombia is pending.[4] That technically is true, but reveals a failure to investigate.

This blogger as a retired attorney has not tried to verify PAHO’s immunity claim or to ask plaintiffs’ counsel why they have not proceeded with the case, but the most plausible explanation is that they concluded that they had little chance of defeating the immunity defense.

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[1] Class Action Complaint, Rodriguez v. Pan American Health Organization, Case 1:18-cv-24995-DPG (S.D. FL Nov. 30, 2018); First Amended Class Action Complaint, Case 1:18-cv-24995-DPG (S.D. FL  Dec. 26, 2018.

[2] Was lawsuit over Cuban doctors a publicity stunt?, Cuba Money Project (Jan. 22, 2020).

[3] Putative Defendant Pan American Health Organization’s Objections to and Appeal from Magistrate Judge’s Denial of Motion To Transfer This Action to the District of Columbia, Rodriguez v. Pan American Health Organization, Case NO. 1-18-cv-24995-DPG (S.D. Fla. June 6, 2019).

[4] O’Grady, The U.N. and Human Trafficking, W.S.J. (Jan. 26, 2020).

 

 

 

U.S. State Department’s Recent Actions on U.S. Policies Regarding Cuba

In two press interviews on January 23, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo addressed questions about Cuba.  Earlier in the month an unnamed “Senior Department Official” also had comments about Cuba and two days later the Administration announced new sanctions. Here is a summary of those developments.

Pompeo’s Interview by El Nuevo Herald/Miami Herald [1]

A reporter for el Nuevo  Herald and the Miami Herald asked, “Is the U.S. considering further sanctions against the Cuban Government?  And if so, how can you assure that those measures won’t hurt Cuban families already affected by some restrictions on visa and air traveling?”

Pompeo responded, “It’s always something that we consider very carefully.  We love the Cuban people.  We wish them enormous success.  Indeed, we expend a lot of energy and time to try and help them have that success.  At the same time, the policies of the previous administration were putting lots of money in the pockets of the regime.  The very leaders, the very dictators, the very communists that have repressed the Cuban people for so many decades now were being bolstered and supported by some of the commercial activity that’s taking place.”

“So our mission set has been to do our best not to harm the Cuban people – indeed, just the opposite of that: to create space where there’ll be an opportunity for democracy and freedom and the economy inside of Cuba to flourish while not lining the pockets of the corrupt leadership there.”

Pompeo Interview by WIOD-AM Miami[2]

The radio host, Jimmy Cafalo, asked, “How . . .[do American values] apply to our part of the world here in south Florida, when we are concerned about Venezuela or concerned about Cuba?”

Secretary Pompeo answered, “So President Trump’s been very realistic about how our foreign policy ought to be conducted.  He’s not about nation-building; he’s about protecting the American people.  When we stare at this problem set . . .with these communist regimes in Cuba, in Nicaragua, in Venezuela, America has always been committed to trying to help those people establish democracies to stamp out communism.  We continue that effort.  It’s good for the region, it’s good for the people of those countries, and it’s important to the citizens of south Florida and people all across the United States.”

Another question from Senor Cafalo, “Do you believe we should move closer to Cuba?  I mean, it seems it’s a vacillating element.  With the previous administration, we were moving much closer, and people with families there were going over and back and forth and trading a lot of things.  And now that seems to have just all but shut down.  What’s your take on Cuba?”

The Secretary’s response: “President Trump doesn’t want to see trade taking place with Cuba that is benefiting the regime, benefiting these oppressive communist dictators who are treating their own people so horribly, so terribly.  So our mission set has been to do all that we can to support the people of Cuba, while making sure that money, dollars, trade, all the things that prop up this military, this junta, this set of dictators that have done so much harm to the people of Cuba – you know them so well, they live – so many live in this region.  Our mission set has been to create the conditions where the Cuban people can have the opportunity to throw off the yoke of communism.”

Previous “Senior Department Official” Statement[3]

On January 8, an unnamed “Senior State Department Official” at a Special Briefing at the Department on “2019 Successes in the Western Hemisphere Region,” said the following about Cuba:

  • “The United States will cut off Cuba’s remaining sources of revenue in response to its intervention in Venezuela. We’ve already eliminated visits to Cuba via passenger and recreational vehicles. We suspended U.S. air carriers’ authority to operate scheduled air service between the U.S. and all Cuban airports other than Havana. This will further restrict the Cuban regime from using resources to support its repression of the people of Cuba. Countries in the region have also taken action regarding the Cuban Government’s program which traffics thousands of Cuban doctors around the world in order to enrich the regime. Brazil insisted on paying the doctors directly at a fair wage. The Cuban regime in response withdrew the doctors from Brazil. Doctors have also now left Ecuador and Bolivia.”

In response to a journalist’s question about whether the U.S. was planning to close the U.S. Embassy in Havana and to cease all diplomatic relations with Cuba, the Official said the following, ”[As] long as the Cubans keep doing what they’re doing, especially in Venezuela – I mean, we’ve had problems with what they do in Cuba forever, but they’re . . . intervening in another country now. We’ve been pretty clear with them that the pressure on them is going to continue to rise. And we haven’t ruled in or out any specific [actions] I [previously] mentioned some of the measures we’ve already taken; there will be more.”

U.S. Additional Restrictions on U.S. Air Travel to Cuba[4]

Only two days after the Senior Official’s Special Briefing, Secretary Pompeo issued a Press Statement announcing that at his request, “the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) suspended until further notice all public charter flights between the United States and Cuban destinations other than Havana’s José Martí International Airport.  Nine Cuban airports currently receiving U.S. public charter flights will be affected.  Public charter flight operators will have a 60-day wind-down period to discontinue all affected flights.  Also, at my request, DOT will impose an appropriate cap on the number of permitted public charter flights to José Martí International Airport.  DOT will issue an order in the near future proposing procedures for implementing the cap.”

U.S. Embassy in Havana said, “Today’s action will prevent the Cuban regime from benefiVenezuelating from expanded charter service in the wake of the October 25, 2019, action suspending scheduled commercial air service to Cuba’s airports other than Havana.  Today’s action will further restrict the Cuban regime’s ability to obtain revenue, which it uses to finance its ongoing repression of the Cuban people and its unconscionable support for dictator Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela.  In suspending public charter flights to these nine Cuban airports, the United States further impedes the Cuban regime from gaining access to hard currency from U.S. travelers.”

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez and other Cuban officials blasted the move, calling it a violation of human rights that would hinder family reunification. As put by his colleague, the foreign ministry’s General Director for U.S. Affairs Carlos Fernandez de Cossio tweeted, this new measure by the U.S. would punish Cubans “on both sides of the Florida Strait.” It also validated the previous prediction by Cuba President Miguel Diaz-Canel, when he said there “is a turn of the screw every seven days to suffocate our economy.” And Cuba’s Ambassador in Washington, D.C. said the new limitation was imposed to “limit the amount of people that see CUBAN reality by themselves.”

A U.S. voice also criticized this move. Engage Cuba, a nonprofit coalition of private companies and organizations advocating for the end of the U.S. embargo, stated in a tweet, “Just tragic. This is heartbreakingly cruel. Cuban families now cannot travel to see their loved ones.”

Conclusion

All of this is “old news” of the Trump Administration’s repeated desires to increase sanctions against Cuba supposedly to induce Cuba to change many of its policies. Needless to say, that premise is unfounded. Instead, these U.S. measures make life harder for Cubans on the island as well as Cuban-Americans with relatives back home on the island. These U.S. measures also harm the emerging private sector on the island, which presumably should be encouraged by a Republican administration. (In contrast, the Obama Administration from December 2014 until its last days in January 2017, engaged in respectful discussions and negotiations over many issues that had accumulated over the prior 50-plus years and sought to encourage the Cuban private sector. That is the legitimate way to seek to resolve these matters.) [5]

Of special note is the U.S. campaign against Cuba’s foreign medical mission program. Recently Cuba filed a statement with the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland that asserted the program was “committed to the principles of altruism, humanism, and international solidarity, which have guided it for more than 55 years” and that allegations that doctors are forced to participate are “absolutely false. It’s unacceptable to mix Cuba’s medical collaboration with the horrid crime of human trafficking, modern slavery or forced labor.” [6]

It also should be mentioned that this blog repeatedly has denounced the specious rationale for the Trump Administration’s hostility towards Cuba’s foreign medical mission program, especially the allegation that it is engaged in illegal forced labor.[7]  However, recent allegations that some of the individuals on these missions were not health professionals, but instead were engaged in political activities, and that some Cuban doctors were forced to create false patient records are more troublesome. Cuba denies these allegations, but no independent investigation and analysis of these claims has been found by this blogger. [8]

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[1] State Dep’t, Secretary Michael R. Pompeo With Nora Gomez Torres of El Nuevo Herald and Miami Herald (Jan. 23, 2020).

[2] State Dep’t, Secretary Michael R. Pompeo With Jimmy Cefalo of South Florida’s First News, WIOD-AM Miami (Jan. 23, 2020).

[3] State Dep’t, Senior State Department Official On State Department 2019 Successes in the Western Hemisphere Region (Jan. 8, 2020).

[4] State Dep’t, United States Further Restricts Air Travel to Cuba (Jan. 10, 2020); Reuters, U.S. Seeks to Squeeze Cuba by Further Curbing Flights to Island, N.Y. Times (Jan. 10, 2020); Finnegan, U.S. further restricts air travel to Cuba to increase pressure, abcNews (Jan. 10, 2020).

[5] See posts listed in the sections on “U.S. (Obama) & Cuba Relations (Normalization)” for 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 in the List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

[6] Krygien, The U.S. is pushing Latin American allies to send their Cuban doctors packing—and some have, Wash. Post (Jan. 21, 2020).

[7] Here are just two of the posts criticizing the Trump Administration’s campaign against Cuba’s medical mission program:U.S. Unjustified Campaign Against Cuba’s Foreign Medical Mission Program (Sept. 4, 2019); More U.S. Actions Against Cuba (Sept. 30, 2019).

[8] E.g., 80% of what Bolivia paid to Havana for doctors was going to ‘finance castrocomunismo,’ Diario de Cuba (Jan. 22, 2020); Gamez Torres, Bolivia severs relations with Cuba over dispute about controversial medical program, Miami Herlad (Jan. 24, 2020).

Cuba’s Low Birth Rate, Increasing Emigration and Declining Population

Cuba is facing three demographic challenges: low birth rate, increasing emigration and declining and aging population. Underlying all of these are poor economic conditions on the island.

Low Birth Rate[1]

Cuba “has experienced a progressive decline in its birth figures since the beginning of this century {in 2000]. . . [In] 2000 the number of people born on the island stood at 143,528, and in 2018 the figure had dropped to 116,333…. This data ranks Cuba as one of the countries in the world with the lowest gross birth rates: 10.4 per thousand (compared to the 33.4 per thousand registered in 1965).”

Moreover, in 2019, “ infant mortality increased to 5.0 deaths per 1,000 live births.” For preschoolers (between one and four years), the mortality rate . . . also increased from 3.0 to 3.5 per 10,000. The main causes were accidents, acute respiratory infections and malignant tumors.” In addition, Cuba has one of the highest abortion rates: 72.8 for every 100 births.

“it is clear to all that these birth trends are owing to a wide range of very heterogeneous factors and causes, but the really important thing is that it has very specific consequences, especially financial and economic. In the specific case of Cuba the low birth rate is compounded by an increase in life expectancy, at 78.4 years, which represents a demographic time bomb for any country while representing a massive challenge to the financial sustainability of an economy based on a model like Castroist Cuba’s, in which everything depends on the State.”

This data can be explained, in part, by “the current economic situation (the average monthly salary barely reaches $30)” and the inability to accumulate wealth.” In addition, “the challenges that people face, especially women, regarding work, finances, and the raising of children. . . . In short, the social and economic conditions racking Cuban society are the main damper on birth rates.”

“The Communist authorities have refused to realize that in order to solve the birth-rate problem in Cuba, existing compensatory and allocative policies do not work.” Instead, “policies should be aimed at effectively promoting economic growth, prosperity, higher standards of living for all Cubans, the accumulation of capital and wealth, savings and investment.” In short, “the Communist authorities have refused to realize that in order to solve the birth rate problem in Cuba, existing compensatory and allocative policies do not work. In Cuba, to date, adequate policies have not been implemented to counteract the trends observed.”

“Policies should be aimed at effectively promoting economic growth, prosperity, higher standards of living for all Cubans, the accumulation of capital and wealth, savings and investment.”

Increasing Emigration[2]

Lisette Poole, who has Cuban heritage, but was born and raised in the U.S., decided to live in Cuba after the December 2014 announcement of the two countries’ move towards  normalization of relations. However, in May 2016, she decided to return to the U.S. after she had observed that “most [Cubans] were struggling to get by and felt frustrated” and that “neither education nor employment can guarantee a living wage.” This situation became even worse with the Trump Administration’s sanctions and reduced support from reeling Venezuela.

She left with a Cuban woman who hoped to arrive at the U.S. while the U.S. “wet foot/dry foot” policy that would allow them to enter the U.S. on foot was still in effect. They first flew from Cuba to Georgetown, Guyana; then they went by canoe to Brazil, then through Peru to Colombia. The next stage was on a fishing boat to the Darien Gap in Colombia and afterwards by hiking to Panama, by bus to Costa Rica (with a coyote), by walking through Nicaragua and Mexico to the border crossing at Laredo, Texas, where she with “dry feet” was admitted to the U.S. (The U.S. policy that allowed that entry was terminated on January 12, 2017)[3]

The Cuban woman that year (2016) was one of 56,406 Cubans who entered the U.S. via ports of entry. Previously in Fiscal 2014 and 2015 there were  24,278 and 43,159 such entrants.

An author in Diario de Cuba, Roberto Alverez Quinones, asserts that “from the Crisis de los Balseros (Rafter Crisis) in 1994 until 2015 some 660,000 Cubans emigrated, but experts consider believe that the figure actually ascends to one million people.” Now the total “Cuban diaspora currently totals over two million emigrants, meaning that 18% of Cuba’s total population has left it.” “Today, those who emigrate are young people who make up the economically active population (EAP), the driving force that makes the world go around.”

“No one knows [how many will emigrate in 2020.] What is known is that the exodus of Cubans will continue until more pressure is placed on the military gerontocracy that rules the country, it is driven from power, and the constrained power of the Cuban people is finally unleashed.”

On December 11, 2019, the Cuban Government announced that in April 2020 it would hold a conference in Havana about emigration. The stated purpose is to strengthen relations with the emigrants although the Government’s statement emphasized improving relations with Cubans born abroad and those “who do not have a position that is openly against the island’s government.”

Cuba’s Aging, Declining Population[4]

While the number of younger Cubans declines due to low birth rate and increasing emigration, the number of older Cubans increases due to increased life expectancy. The result, Cuba is experiencing an aging, declining population.

 Poor Economic Conditions in Cuba [5]

Underlying all of the above circumstances is the poor economic conditions on the island.

Comparisons with other Latin American countries show the island’s poor economic conditions. “The minimum wage in Cuba today is a quarter of that in Haiti” while  the Cuban average salary is only one-half of that in Haiti. Similar comparisons exist for Chili, Ecuador, Peru, Colombia and even poor countries of Nicaragua and El Salvador.

Poverty in Cuba is aggravated by unemployment, despite the government’s erroneous statistics. According to statistics published by different official media, in June of 2018 there were 6.2 million Cubans of working age in Cuba, and 1.7 million of them were not working or studying. This means a technical unemployment rate of 27%. Today, with the worsening economic crisis, it might exceed 30%, and may even be at 33%.

Another contributing factor to Cuba’s poor economic conditions is the ramped-up sanctions by the Trump Administration.[6]

Sociologist’s Comments on the Situation

Elaine Acosta, a sociologist and specialist in population aging, international migration and welfare policies, recently commented on the Cuban government’s new National Survey on Population Aging.[7]

She said it “reaffirms the speed and magnitude with which the process of population aging . . . [is occurring] in Cuban society . . .[putting] the Island at the forefront of aging processes throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. The only population group that . . . [is growing] is 60 years and older, especially 75 years and older.”

The projected continuation of this trend will make “the care crisis” deeper and more complex. On the one hand, the demand for Geriatrics, Gerontology services will inevitably continue to increase [along with] Security, Social Assistance and Care. In turn, [this will have] a great impact on the economy . . ., taking into account the decrease in the population potential with capacity for employment and the demand for education at all levels.”

These consequences will have a greater effect on older women due to “the feminization of aging on the Island. Women are not only the majority among the elderly (46.6% of men and 53.4% ​​of women), but also have a greater life expectancy than men.” More generally these consequences will disadvantage “historically disadvantaged groups: women, elderly people, blacks, people with disabilities or street situations, as well as communities in larger territories.”

All of these consequences will  “require important political, economic and cultural changes at different levels (normative, political and programmatic) of social policy. It is a process that, given its complexity and size, will require competition and integration of new social actors (NGOs, churches, the market, etc.), as well as the elderly themselves and their families. ”

In summary, she said, “the problems presented raise the need for a reform of the Cuban social welfare regime in such a way that it can meet the economic, social and health needs of the advanced aging of the population, the population bleeding caused by migration as well as the new demands and social problems that result from these processes and their inadequate management and intervention. ”

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[1] Amor, New Policies Are Needed to Resolve Cuba’s Birth Rate Crisis, Diario de Cuba (Dec. 16, 2019); The numbers are no longer coming to the Government: child mortality rises, births plummet, Diario de Cuba (Jan. 3, 2020); Cuba’s Aging, Declining Population Continues, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec. 13, 2019) .

[2] Id; Krogstad, Surge in Cuban immigration to U.S. continued through 2016, Pew Research Center (Jan. 13, 2017); Poole, Two Women, 11 Countries; A Long Strange Trip From Havana to the U.S., N.Y. Times (Dec. 18, 2019); Alvarez Quińones, How Many Cubans Will Emigrate in 2020? Diario de Cuba (Jan. 14, 2020); Why do young Cuban professionals emigrate to Mexico? (video), Diario de Cuba (Jan. 28, 2020).

[3] U.S. Ends Special Immigration Benefits for Cubans, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 13, 2017).

4] Cuba’s Success and Problems with an Aging, Declining Population, dwkcommentaries.com (Mar. 10, 2019);  70% of Cuban elders live deprivation and deprivation, recognizes and official survey,  Diario de Cuba (Dec. 11, 2020); Cuba’s Aging, Declining Population, dwkcommentaries. com ( Jan. 13, 2020).

[5] Alvarez Quińones, Poverty Decreasing Around the World, But Rising in Cuba Diario de Cuba (Nov. 29, 2019).

[6] See, e.g., these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Young Cuban Discusses the Many Problems of His Country (July 5, 2019); Cuba’s Suffering from Continued U.S. Hostility (Aug. 17, 2019); Decline of U.S. Visitors to Cuba (Aug. 22, 2019);        Dwindling Hope in Cuba (Dec. 18, 2019); President Trump Proclaims His “Success” on Cuba  (Jan. 13, 2020).

[7] The current panorama in Cuba ‘is discouraging to project a dignified old age,’ Diario de Cuba (Jan. 27, 2020).

 

 

Former Cuban Judge Criticizes Cuban Legal System   

On January 13,  Edel González Jiménez, a former high-ranking Cuban judge who left the island in 2018 and now lives in Peru, told a press conference in Madrid, Spain about the many problems in Cuba’s legal system. Other details were added by Javier Larrondo, the president of Prisoners Defenders and a longtime anti- Castro activist.[1]

González Jiménez’s Comments

Based upon recently released Cuban government secret documents, González said the Cuban government is holding thousands of inmates on dubious charges and has the highest incarceration rate in the world. These records show that Cuba’s prison system holds more than 90,000 prisoners. (Previously the Cuban government had only publicly released the figure once, in 2012, when it claimed that 57,000 people were jailed.)

“What is important is what is behind those numbers,” Mr. González said. “People are in prison for stealing flour, because they are pizza makers and the government has set up a system where the only way to get flour is by buying in the black market from someone who stole it from the state.”

González said that Cuba’s judiciary was often controlled by state security forces that can manufacture cases against political opponents. “What happens, for example, when an issue has a political nature? Well then there is fear [by the judges of losing their jobs]. And that fear . . .can have a negative impact on justice” by “judges, fearful of losing their jobs, go along with evidence that is often flagrantly concocted.”

In ordinary criminal cases, however, judges are independent and free of government influence. González added, “I never received, in 17 years, any interference from either the [Communist Party of Cuba] or the Government.”

“The repression that I am seeing against some of my people is not what I want for my people. I have a lot of fear about the future. Every day Cubans face more fear. I don’t want blood on the streets of Cuba, I don’t want these imprisonments.”

González Jiménez also said that the majority of the Cuban people “unconditionally had accepted the system implemented by Havana more than 60 years ago.” Therefore, “the only thing we are asking for is that in the field of human rights, whether through mercy, it is understood that we have to work on the issue and that we have to take steps forward.” Indeed, “there are countless government officials who have a high sensitivity, who know that these human rights issues are hitting them and are delegitimizing even the country’s own image.” Such officials, however, are held back by their “own internal fear.”

González also raised a proposal for “national internal inclusive dialogue” between the State, opponents, dissidents and social sectors for the regulation of fundamental rights in the Cuban legal system.

Still, Mr. González insisted that there was time for Cuba to resolve its problems internally, and he warned against any outside interference. “We will not allow anybody to impose anything, that should be clear to all countries. Cubans can manage this alone without any kind of interference,” he said. This process “must be “sovereign, free and transparent.”

Mr. González also cautioned against coming to the conclusion that the high number of prisoners in Cuba was proof of a failed society and judiciary. Other countries, he said, had fewer prisoners, but that reflected a high level of “impunity” and failure to prosecute common and violent crime, while Cuba instead “maintains social order.”

Javier Larrondo’s Comments

Another participant in the press conference was Javier Larrondo, who runs an organization called Prisoners Defenders in Madrid, and who publicly announced his call for the Cuban government to respect civil rights.

“This [press conference] is an important blow to the regime,” Mr. Larrondo said.

Mr. Larrondo released Cuban court documents showing that dozens of men received sentences between two and four years in prison for offenses falling broadly under the category of “antisocial” — a phrase that can be applied to people who are unemployed, who do not belong to civic organizations associated with the state, who behave disorderly and harass tourists, and who associate with similarly “antisocial” people. In case after case, the description of the crime is identical, said Larrondo, suggesting that the police cut and pasted the language in the investigative report.

Cuban Prisoners Defenders and Civil Right Defenders reported that more than 90,000 people were in prison on the Island , where about 99% of the citizens tried are found guilty. In addition, Larrondo and Erik Jennische, director for Latin America of Civil Rights Defenders, said that in Cuba there are 37,458 people “in other situations of judicial and police control,” which gives a total of 127,458 convicted. That  is an imposing number of people who, as their “first criminal sanction, are being deprived of liberty, something of extreme rigor, and really unusual in most criminal systems” and who are less likely go obtain early release.

This analysis of the data showed that Cuba is “the first country for (number of) persons deprived of liberty in the world”, taking into account its population of 11 million inhabitants. The Island would be ahead of the U.S., El Salvador and Turkmenistan, whose data has been published by the World Prison Institute for Crime and Justice Policy Research.

In the files of prisoners obtained and published by the organizations (with the identity of the condemned hidden) elements are repeated such as lack of labor ties with the so-called mass organizations (controlled by the regime), being “prone to crime” for associating with “similar people,” practicing the “siege of tourism” and altering public order, as arguments to condemn citizens to sentences of up to three years in prison for an alleged “danger index. “This formula, known as “pre-criminal social danger,” frequently has been applied to opponents and other critical citizens of the Government to remove them from the streets.

This accusatory procedure “is frequently used for its speed and efficiency against dissidents, entrepreneurs and any type of person who is considered an urgent danger to the regime, which entails not only preventive detention, but very summary processes that prevent the proper exercise of the defense.”

The previously mentioned documents, according to the New York Times, showed that approximately 92 percent of those accused in the more than 32,000 cases that go to trial in Cuba every year are found guilty. Nearly 4,000 people every year are accused of being “antisocial” or “dangerous,” terms the Cuban government uses to jail people who pose a risk to the status quo, without having a committed a crime.

Conclusion

Last year, Mr. González’s former boss, Rubén Remigio Ferro, president of the Cuban Supreme Court, told the state newspaper, Granma that although the administration of justice on the island is improving, “deficiencies” still exist, such as trial delays, misguided decisions and a lack of professionalism. More recently President Miguel Díaz-Canel told judges while inaugurating the new judicial calendar that the courts must “remain a system that is distinguished first and foremost by its ethics, its transparency and the honest behavior of its members.”

From this blogger’s U.S. perspective, González’s career as a judge and his professed support for the Cuban Revolution should give these criticisms greater weight for Cuban officials. On the other hand, it was surprising there was no mention of at least a partial explanation of Cuban prosecution of individuals for “antisocial” behavior. Cuba knows that the much more powerful U.S. has a long history of hostility towards Cuba and has recruited some Cubans to engage in activities critical of the Cuban regime. Therefore, it arguably could be a matter of self-defense for the regime to arrest at least some of these individuals.

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[1] Robles, Ex-Judge Reveals Secrets of How Cuba Suppresses Dissent, N.Y. times (Jan. 13,   2020); 8,400 Cubans Serve Time for “Pre-Criminal Social Dangerousness,” Civil Rights Defenders (Jan. 13, 2020); In Cuba ‘the fear’ of judges threatens justice, says a lawyer, Diario de Cuba (Jan. 14, 2020); Cuba’s police state exposed:’an important blow to the regime,’ Democracy Digest (Jan. 14, 2020);  González: “Many high-ranking officials of the Cuban government are hurt by repression against dissent,” Archyde (Jan. 13, 2020). González also gave an extensive interview to ABC International, but the English translation is difficult to follow. (Gavińa, Edel González: “Many high-ranking officials of the Cuban government are hurt by repression against dissent,” ABC International (Jan. 14, 2020).)

 

 

 President Trump Proclaims His “Success” on Cuba  

On December 31 President Trump released a lengthy recital of his administration’s alleged successes over its first three years and as an obvious prelude to his re-election campaign.[1]

In that recital President Trump said the following about Cuba:

“President Trump has promoted democracy throughout the Western Hemisphere and imposed heavy sanctions on the regimes in Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua.”

“The President reversed the previous Administration’s disastrous Cuba policy.”

“President Trump has enacted a new policy aimed at stopping any revenues from reaching the Cuban military or intelligence services, imposed stricter travel restrictions, and reaffirmed the focus ensuring the Cuban regime does not profit from U.S. dollars.”

“Earlier this year, the Trump Administration put a cap on remittances to Cuba.”

“President Trump is enabling Americans to file lawsuits against persons and entities that traffic in property confiscated by the Cuban regime, the first time that these kind of claims have been available for Americans under the Helms-Burton Act.”

Conclusion

These statements are correct if one ignores the self-congratulatory evaluation of the administration’s actions. For those like this blogger, they are deplorable actions.[2]

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[1] White House, President Donald J. Trump Has Delivered Record Breaking Results For The American People In His First Three Years in Office (Dec. 31, 2019).

[2] See List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: Cuba.