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During the recent Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) summit, Cuban president Raúl Castro expressed that Latin American and Caribbean leaders all have the ability and resources to end poverty, but merely lack the political willpower.

Approximately 26 percent of Cuba’s population is living in poverty, which is the equivalent of 11.2 million people. Over the last five years, Castro has made multiple changes in an attempt to better income gaps. But very few of these changes (such as allowing Cubans to work more than one job at a time) have made a positive impact on the economy and have actually increased poverty in Cuba.

Cuba had a thriving health care system not too long ago, but multiple hospitals and emergency clinics have recently been shut down due to scarce medicine and a reduction in government spending.

Cuba’s elderly population has been especially affected by Castro’s recent economic reforms. In terms of medical care, which is free, an increasing number of Cubans claim that in order to received proper attention they need to “give doctors under-the-table gifts.”

With the growing Cuban population aging 65 years and over, Cuba is on the verge of bankruptcy. The government cost to support health care is skyrocketing since the population of senior citizens is continuing to double.

On the 200 pesos ($8 per month) pension given to 1.6 million retirees, medicine can cost upwards of “70 pesos per month,” says Maximiliano Sánchez, a senior citizen, allowing him only “to survive, not to live.”

Sánchez explained that electricity costs him up to 40 pesos and his telephone costs him up to 20 pesos per month. With Fidel Castro’s 2005 energy reduction campaign, which forced residents to update old appliances to energy efficient ones, Sánchez now has to pay 65 pesos to the government each month. He states there is very little money left to spend on food.

Public education spending has also been reduced, but because much of the younger generation is leaving the country, there has not been a dramatic affect on the population. Without younger and physically capable people, however, Cuba does struggle with housing maintenance and hurricane damage repair. Although the birth rate is relatively low, providing housing for Cuba’s public has been difficult, and this contributes to poverty in Cuba and homelessness. Only about 21,000 houses were constructed in 2013, compared to the 111,400 erected in 2006.

– Becka Felcon

Sources: The Guardian, Poverties.org
Photo: Travel Adventures