Cuba's centrally planned economy has long been stunted by its relative isolation from the rest of the world, and the country has relied on its partners to support its citizens.
"The economy of Cuba would've collapsed under its own weight long ago, as a consequence of population growth and an economy that couldn't really accommodate that growth, had it not been for the state-sponsors — first the Soviet Union and then Venezuela — and now both of those are essentially out of the picture." John Weeks, a professor of geography at the San Diego State University, said on a recent late-November edition of the Understanding Latin American Politics podcast.
But any effort to support the economy with local production or to expand it with foreign investment is likely to be hamstrung by a significant and deep-seated issue: Cuba's anemic population growth.
"So Cuba faces what we might call ... a very certain future of disaster if something doesn't happen, because the population has reached a peak of about 11 million. UN demographers project that it's going to go down," said Weeks, who is the director of the International Population Center at SDSU.
"The population size is going to go down, because the population is aging, and the birth rate had been below replacement level for quite a while," Weeks added.
Castro, in his remarks to the National Assembly, said achieving GDP growth in the coming year would require three steps: "guarantee exports and their opportune collection, increase national production to substitute imports, reduce all dispensable expenses and use available resources rationally and efficiently."
On the first point, as noted by UNC Charlotte professor Greg Weeks, "opportune collection" is unlikely to be forthcoming from Venezuela. And "reducing all dispensable expenses" is a phrase that may suggest unwelcome policies like rationing or other steps to limit domestic consumption.
"So it's not sure exactly what Raul is going to do, but he's got to do something," said John Weeks, of SDSU, "because the Cuban economy and its demographics paint a picture that, unless people come in, particularly American investors come in and rebuild the island, it's going to crash."Now, I obviously cherry-picked a bit, and there's more in the article, providing a good and useful summary of where things stand with Cuba.