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    How Expensive is having a Child in Cuba?
    May 17, 2013
    By Fabián Flores (Café Fuerte)

    HAVANA TIMES — For the second consecutive year, the London-based
    organization Save the Children has identified Cuba as the best country
    in Latin America to be a mother. Reading this, I cannot but think that
    the author of the report must have visited a Cuba located on another
    planet and not the country where the mother of my children has to get up
    every morning.

    Thinking about her and the millions of Cuban women who celebrated
    Mother’s Day this past Sunday, caught up in the heroic task of raising
    their children in a country that is in economic shambles, I took on the
    task of finding out how much bringing a child into the world on this
    Caribbean isle actually costs.

    The results of my study explain, in part, why Cuba’s population remains
    more or less static at around 11 million people, with an annual growth
    rate which, in 2011, was of 0.6, the first positive figure reported by
    the National Statistics Bureau (ONE) since 2006. Statistical predictions
    show that the population will continue to grow little and that the
    number of inhabitants on the island will be below 12 million in 2025.


    In Cuba, all pregnant women enjoy a planned care program as of the
    moment of their pregnancy is officially registered, and every expectant
    woman is given a daily dose of ferrous fumarate (iron, that is) and a
    vitamin supplement called Prenatal.

    However, these vitamins are generally made available to women as of the
    second trimester of their pregnancy, not before, much later than is
    accustomed in most countries with an advanced healthcare system. Cuban
    doctors themselves usually tell pregnant women the following: “If you
    can get your hands on prenatal vitamins from abroad, throw away the ones
    you get here,” something which casts some doubts on the quality of the
    pills made available to Cuban women.

    As holders of a libreta, or ration booklet, pregnant women are
    “entitled” to three or four pounds of beef and the same amount of fish a

    Labor becomes something of a nightmare for Cuban women, given the
    disastrous conditions that most hospitals around the country are in.

    Last year, I was surprised to read a comment that was posted on
    Cubadebate when this official Cuban government website published the
    Save the Children report which praised the country’s prenatal care
    system, a comment that had somehow made it past the site’s filter. The
    person who posted the comment, who identified himself as MG, wrote:

    “Has anyone paid a visit to the Fe del Valle Maternity Hospital in
    Manzanillo, Granma? Anyone who sets foot in this hospital, anyone who
    has to suffer the condition it’s in, anyone who has to spend even a
    fraction of the time a woman who has just given birth has to there, will
    realize this article makes absolutely no sense.

    “My twin daughters were born this past October at this hospital, where,
    owing to shortages, they would put TWO pregnant women in each bed (I
    know some people won’t believe me, but it’s true), where pregnant women
    don’t even have a sink they can brush their teeth in in the morning,
    where they have to carry buckets of water to the bathroom in order to
    flush the toilets, because the flushing mechanisms in these aren’t
    working, where the sight of the bathrooms makes your stomach turn, where
    the lobby and cafeterias were turned into maternity wards due to lack of
    space, where those who accompany women who have undergone caesareans do
    not have a chair to sit in, not even in the recovery area where these
    women are placed after the operation, and must remain standing for the 6
    hours of the recovery process.”

    Maternity Baskets

    Mothers-to-be are also “entitled” to a basket which includes a blanket
    and a handful of items. A typical maternity basket includes three
    mattress cases, two mid-sized towels, two pacifiers, a rubber toy, a
    pair of panties, a T-shirt, four bars of soap, a bottle of cologne, one
    body lotion, one body oil, ten gauze diapers, ten meters of antiseptic
    fabric (to make diapers out of) and a pair of socks, all of which is
    sold at 85 Cuban pesos (just over 4 USD).

    A Maternity Basket from the Cuban State

    If the pregnant woman works somewhere where employees belong to the
    country’s official union (the Cuban Workers Federation) or at any of the
    ministries, she will receive a more “generous” one time maternity basket
    for her first birth.
    The basic products provided by the State.

    How will this woman get her hands on all the other products she needs to
    care for her baby during his or her first year of life? A Cuban’s
    average monthly salary is about 455 CUPs, the equivalent of 20 dollars
    or Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUCs).

    The two most important items, the diapers and milk, are sold at
    exorbitant prices. Cuba does not produce disposable diapers and the
    prices of this imported product in the market, in CUCs, are beyond the
    possibilities of the immense majority of families: a package of diapers
    costs anywhere from 4 to 12 CUCs.

    Milk with vitamin supplements is only sold to women who are unable to
    breastfeed (and can offer medical proof of this), and the assigned quota
    is limited. At hard currency stores, a can of NAN-brand supplemented
    milk costs a little over 4 CUCs. Other brands are sold at around 5 CUCs.

    Exorbitant Prices

    At the very few State stores that sell articles for newborns, the prices
    far exceed what a person living on an average salary can afford.

    “Most people don’t buy baby articles at State stores, they use the
    maternity baskets they get from relatives abroad,” said Marinela
    Frometa, a housewife living in Havana’s neighborhood of Centro Habana.

    At Cuba’s State stores, a blanket for a crib costs somewhere between 8
    and 10 CUCs, and the price of a crib, as such, is between 100 and 120
    CUCs. The mattress one needs to buy also is around 50 CUCs. A stroller
    can cost between 50 and 180 CUCs, depending on the characteristics of
    the product.

    This “heavy artillery” isn’t the only thing that’s expensive in Cuba,
    however. The little “one-size” overalls for babies (“one-piece suits”,
    as they are called in Cuba) cost anywhere from 3 to 7 CUCs. Underwear
    for both genders can cost as much as 10 CUCs.

    The stress felt by parents grows as the baby’s first birthday nears,
    for, depending on the size and brand, the baby sneakers can cost as much
    as 20 CUCs.

    “I put together my own maternity basket from items I bought at private
    kiosks and stuff they sent me, plus the clothes I ordered from
    seamstresses. We wouldn’t have been able to afford it otherwise,” said
    Marlom Silvera, a factory worker.

    Parallel Markets

    One of ways parents can secure what they need for their newborns at
    lower prices is to purchase these items at Cuba’s parallel markets. One
    of the most frequented is located on Calle 21, between 4 and 6, in
    Vedado, Havana. It is a privately-run establishment where prices, though
    still high for Cubans living on State salaries, are less prohibitive
    than those one comes across at State stores.

    “Most of our products come from people who no longer need them and sell
    them to us, and from business people that bring them from Ecuador, the
    United States or Venezuela. Seamstresses also bring us homemade products
    for which there is a high demand,” we were told by the store owner, who
    did not want us to reveal her identity.

    The deals customers get at this store, according to the owner, are

    “At State stores, a milk bottle can cost anywhere from 1.50 to 5 CUCs.
    The ones we carry here have a flat price of 2 CUCs. This is why we have
    more customers. We also carry products that are hard to find, like
    pacifiers, corrals and other accessories,” she added.

    In Cuba’s interior, mosquito nets are sold at 300 CUPs (12 CUCs) and
    gauze diapers at 6 CUPs a piece at these parallel markets.

    The Drama of Nutrition

    This is one of the most serious problems surrounding the care of a baby
    during his or her first months of life. The availability of cereals is
    extremely limited and, when you can find the product, it costs anywhere
    from 5 to 10 CUCs a box.

    “I believe the most expensive part of having a child in Cuba is buying
    the food. The products you buy at the vegetable and meat market “eat up”
    what one earns in a month at lightning speed,” said Joel Gutierrez, the
    owner of small private business.

    “At the ration store,” he added, “you get fairly poor-quality milk and
    some baby food that you feel bad giving your kid. From time to time,
    they give you these weird things called “Fortachon”, a cereal imitation,
    but that’s hardly enough. And what should you do when you run out of
    these things?”

    The comments posted by MG at Cubadebate backed this opinion: “I am the
    father of twins and earn a basic salary of 432 Cuban pesos a month. Do
    you know how many cans of NAN-PRO milk I can buy with this? Do the math:
    I have to buy these at the hard currency store, each at 5 CUCs (125
    Cuban pesos), because not one pharmacy in the entire province of Granma
    carried the milk assigned to new mothers. The mother of the twins has
    just graduated, she isn’t working, isn’t earning any money, so, I ask
    you, do you think I can support two girls on my salary alone? You go
    through your entire salary just to buy the child’s food for a week or two.”

    Following a quick glance at the basic products one needs for a newborn
    and after visiting several stores, we calculated that the initial cost
    of a birth in Cuba (or caring for a baby during its first six months of
    life) is between 700 and 750 CUCs (a figure that varies in dependence of
    store prices),


    Mosquito net: 30-40 CUCs

    Wash bowl: 5-12 CUCs

    Walker: 18-25 CUCs

    Baby carry-bag: 20-25 CUCs

    Wet towels: 1-3 CUCs

    Large towel: 10-12 CUCs

    Gerber baby sauces: 0.80-1.20 CUCs each

    Nestle cereals: 3-5 CUCs

    Toys: 5-30 CUCs

    Talcum powder: 2-6 CUCs

    Corrals: 15-20 CUCs

    Child medication sold at hard currency pharmacies: 9-15 CUCs

    * This article is the result of a six-month-long journalistic
    investigation conducted with the support of the editors of CaféFuerte.

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