Cuba's population stood at 11.24 million at the end of 2009. The population has largely stabilised, with average annual growth of less than 0.5 percent per year over the past decade, a level which is well below the Latin American average of 1.6 percent. According to official figures, in 2008-09 the population increased slightly, with annual net emigration since 2000 averaging around 30,000 (around 0.3 percent of the population), of whom 20,000 legally migrate every year to the US under a bilateral migration agreement. Both birth and death rates are low compared with the regional average. The demographic profile is one of a rapidly ageing population due to low death rates and emigration, and therefore a rising old age dependency ratio. According to the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the percentage of the population over 65 years rose from 8.4 percent in 1990 to 9.6 percent in 2000, and will rise to 15.8 percent in 2020. The Cuban authorities are concerned with the ageing of the population as well as with the exodus from rural to urban areas. The government is in the process of analysing scenarios of population shifts for the next 15 years.
Cuba’s population replacement rate has not been guaranteed since 1978. In 1975, the number of children born per woman was only 1.5. Approximately 79% of deaths occur among the population aged 60 and older. In Cuba, infant mortality and mortality among child under 5 have markedly decreased. The increase in life expectancy at birth is a faithful reflection of the country’s significant reduction in mortality. At the beginning of the20th century, life expectancy was 40 years. In 2005, life expectancy was more than 77 years.
Since the beginning of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, particular emphasis has been placed on support policies in the social sector, including education, health and social security, as an essential element of the 'social contract' between the Communist government and the Cuban people.
The Human Development Index (HDI) for Cuba is high, at 0.86315, which means that the country ranks 51st out of 182 countries for which data are available. While Cuba ranks second in adult literacy, it comes only 95th in the GDP per capita poverty measure. However, its Human Poverty Index (HPI-1) ranking is 17th among the 135 developing countries for which the index has been calculated.
The emphasis placed by the government on the universal provision of basic health care has made Cuba's health statistics comparable to those of industrialised nations. In 2009, life expectancy at birth was 77.97 years (the highest in Latin America and Caribbean region after Chile and Costa Rica) and the infant-mortality rate was 4.7 per 1,000 live births (the lowest in the region). A preventive health care system, based on family doctors serving small patient groups, was developed in the 1980s. Cuba has the highest ratio of doctors to population in the world (633 per 100,000 in 2007). Since around 20,000 physicians out of a total of 71,000 work abroad, the number available on the island is significantly less, but still high by international standards.
The state is Cuba's main employer, but the share of state employment has fallen since 1990, when it accounted for 95 percent of total employment. By 2000 it had slipped to 77 percent, but since then it has crept back up to over 80 percent. The main non-state jobs are in the agricultural sector, where traditional private small farmers were joined by members of newly created farm co-operatives, which replaced many of the large state landholdings. New categories of self-employment and family businesses that have been legalised since 1993 have had to operate under tight regulation and high taxes.
There are huge disparities in wages between different employment sectors, and especially between those working in tourism with access to Cuban convertible currency (CUC) or other hard-currency, and the rest of the population, which relies on salaries in non-convertible pesos (CUP). A senior specialised physician earns a salary equivalent to €40 per month in CUP, while a parking keeper can earn five times more with tips in CUC. The average monthly salary of a state employee is around the equivalent in United States dollars (USD) of $1533.
The Communist Party of Cuba has been the only legal political party since 1965. The Asamblea Nacional del Poder Popular (the National Assembly of People’s Power) is the paramount state institution, “representing and expressing the sovereign will of the Cuban people”. Elections to the Assembly take place every five years; the most recent ones were held in 2008. Under the current legislature, the Assembly includes 611 members of which 43 percent are women.
Fidel Castro was Head of State and Government from 1959 (marking the date of the revolution that overthrew the regime of General Batista) to February 2008. Raul Castro was elected President of the Council of State by the National Assembly on 24 February 2008. Following his appointment as President of the Council of State, Raul Castro announced a series of reform measures ranging from largely symbolic reforms, such as allowing Cubans to own mobile phones, stay in international hotels or buy DVDs, to farther-reaching reforms such as the lease of agricultural land, the decentralisation of some decision-making in this sector and the liberalisation of private taxi transport.
The Party Congress had not met for 12 years when it finally took place in April 2011. The Congress decided on an important number of economic reforms amongst other the liberalisation of limited form of free enterprise and the reduction of the number of civil servants.
The US sanctions law precludes any major shift in US policy while either Fidel or Raúl Castro is in power. However, in March 2009, Washington lifted Bush-era restrictions on travel and remittances, and relaxed limits on the sale of food and medicine. Washington announced another round of easing restrictions on remittances and travel in late 2010/early 2011. Any more substantive US opening is likely to come very slowly. In 2006 Cuba signed a “'Peoples' Trade Agreement” with Venezuela and Bolivia, and the resultant access to Venezuelan oil on favourable terms is now a critical part of Cuba’s economy. Other countries have also forged closer ties with Cuba in recent years, including Russia, Brazil, China and other Asian countries like Vietnam. Cuba is very wary of heavy dependence on any one relationship.