Cuba continues to represent a reality in many ways atypical in the Caribbean and Latin American context: in the face of the good levels reached by some social indicators (in particular in the fields of education and health) serious economic problems remain (v. beyond), despite the timid reforms undertaken in the first half of the 1990s.
Thanks to a low-growth demographic regime (average annual growth rate 8 ‰), the Cuban population has grown moderately in recent years, settling at just over 11.1 million units (1998), an increase also contained by the migratory flow towards the United States.
The distribution of the population was guided by government policy, which supported agrarian colonization and the harmonious development of the urban framework, so that the prevailing character of internal migrations was rural-rural; the urban population, equal to 76 %, grows moderately and is concentrated for about one fifth in the capital. Havana (2. 241. 000 residents In 1995) is by far the largest city in the country: in fact, the urban network, the colonial heritage, consists of a small-medium cities constellation, among which Santiago de Cuba, the main port on the Caribbean Sea, Camagüey and Santa Clara, the main center of the sugar industry.
According to Ebizdir, the nineties did not solve the crisis situation in which the country has suffered since the previous decade, an emergency triggered by the fall in the price of sugar, the main resource of Cuba, and fueled by the repercussions deriving from the dissolution of the USSR, its main resource. trading partner, as well as the heavy embargo implemented permanently by the United States and additional sanctions (repealed in 1998). Since 1991 Moscow has interrupted the supply of oil at a controlled price, with disastrous consequences for Cuban industrial production, drastically reduced due to lack of energy resources, and the same fate has befallen, as a consequence, exports; in the early nineties, then, export products, especially sugar cane and tobacco, fell sharply, and consequently the per capita GDP (of which, however, international sources do not provide the current value or the data necessary to calculate it) has undergone a constant and, at times, drastic decline. All this has had serious repercussions on the standard of living of the population, forced to face the considerable problems posed by the lack of food and other basic necessities (electricity, medicines, fuel). Furthermore, the black market has increased enormously and as much expansion has had phenomena of social degradation, such as prostitution, fueled in particular by the growing development of tourism, the only economic activity that has shown a strong expansion in recent years, a true and the boom it brought between 1990 and 1994to double the presences on the island. This phenomenon has obviously led to an exponential growth of tourist infrastructures, very often built with foreign capital, with interventions in many cases disastrous on the landscape and environmental heritage of Cuba. Recently an ‘ecological’ plan was launched by the government to put a stop to building speculation which has already heavily altered the landscape values of the coast.
The government, pressured by the disastrous economic situation, was forced to legalize the possession of dollars (1993), which currently constitute the Cuban ‘second currency’, as well as to allow investments of foreign capital. Thus a great many joint ventures have arisenin the tourism sector, in the mining sector and in the vital sugar sector. The other government concession, the possibility of setting up privately run commercial, craft and service activities, has favored the proliferation of small family businesses. Furthermore, the rationalization of the state apparatuses has begun, with the reduction of employees in the public administration, as well as monetary and fiscal reforms; the welfare role of the state was downsized, by now unsustainable given the difficult financial situation, and on the foreign trade side there were notable openings to other Latin American countries. The crisis situation between Cuba and the United States culminated in 1994, when the government gave the green light to the many Cubans who tried to leave the country for neighboring Florida; later the question of immigration to the United States was somehow regulated by an agreement between the two governments (see below: History).
The timid liberalization process that began a few years ago has suffered a setback, as the government has passed some laws which, by limiting the freedom of movement of Cubans within the island, contrast in part with the economic micro-reforms enacted in favor of of small private business.