10 economic facts about Cuba

Editor's note:

For the latest research on Cuba from Brookings experts, visit our Cuba topic page.

On the heels of the announcement of the restoration of U.S.-Cuban diplomatic relations on July 20, Cuba’s removal from the U.S. state sponsors of terrorism list, and the re-opening of embassies in the two countries, we mined the considerably large trove of recent Brookings content to find some of the most interesting facts about Cuba. Read more about Cuba here.

1. Cuba receives almost 100,000 barrels of oil a day from Venezuela.

The easing of diplomatic hostilities between the United States and Cuba may work to lessen Cuban dependence on the Venezuelan regime, Ted Piccone notes. Russian President Vladimir Putin also recently wrote off $32 billion, 90 percent of the debt Cuba owed dating back to the Soviet era.

2. The aggregated gross national income per capita of Cuba is officially $5,539, but the take home salary for most Cubans is around $20 a month.

While there is little publicly available data regarding individual incomes, Richard Feinberg concludes, using a variety of indicators, that 40 percent of the Cuban labor force falls within a broadly defined middle class, though consumption remains depressed due to low government wages.

3. Less than five percent of Cubans have access to the Internet.

While demand is increasing for American cultural and telecommunications products, companies like Netflix and Google are working on long-term plans to find their way into the country’s economy. The first step in this process came in early February, according to Darrell West, when Netflix announced it would begin streaming in the island nation.

4. The Cuban government authorizes only 201 different categories of activities for self-employment.

This creates a problem in forging economic ties, Ted Piccone writes, since “U.S. importers can only engage in transactions with independent Cuban entrepreneurs” while Cuba fails to expand the list, excluding “huge swaths of Cuba’s human capital” from trade with the U.S.

5. More than two-thirds of the 2 million Cubans and Cuban-Americans in the United States live in Florida; 18 percent of Miami residents identify as Cuban.

Audrey Singer explains how these demographic distributions play a key role in normalizing relations with Cuba. Currently, a visa lottery system allows 20,000 Cubans to emigrate every year to the United States, while others try to make the trek by sea—the U.S. Coast Guard stopped 500 such potential immigrants in December 2014 alone. Thousands more cross the border where they can claim asylum and get expedited green card privileges.

6. New Cuban hotspots can process 1 megabit per second, far below the average U.S. speed.

Darrell West examines the growth of Internet access in Cuba, noting that improved relations with the U.S. could relax restrictions on better IT equipment.

7. The dependency ratio* of the Cuban population will increase from 54.7 today to 67.7 in 2025.

*The dependency ratio is defined as the ratio of those not in the labor force (people younger than 15 or older than 60) to the working population (aged 15-60).

Juan Triana Cordoví and Ricardo Torres Pérez note that “most growth in developing countries in the last 50 years has been the exact opposite, spurred by a growing youth population and workforce. Together, these elements coupled with the current economic model make setting Cuba on a sustainable long-term growth path an immense challenge.”

8. 90 percent of Cubans own their own homes.

The high homeownership rate on the island is supported by President Raúl Castro’s economic reform agenda, which attempts to “preserve socialism while introducing new forms of market-based mechanisms,” writes Ted Piccone. In addition to the ability to buy and sell property, Cuban citizens can now open small businesses, have cell phones, and form cooperatives both on and off of farms.

9. Americans are able to bring back $400 worth of goods from Cuba—including $100 in cigars and rum.

Richard Feinberg reacts to the increasingly open ties between the United States and Cuba and discusses the implications for citizens in both counties.

10. 68 percent of Cuban-Americans favor normalized relations between Cuba and the U.S.

Katharine Moon also points out that 90 percent of younger Cuban-Americans favor normalization. The divergence between older hardliners and a conciliatory new generation is key in approaching other diplomatic challenges, such as re-evaluating relations with North Korea, she says.

Nicholas Buchta contributed to this post.