University of Minnesota

Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Cuba, Inter-Am. C.H.R., OEA/Ser.L/V/II.61, Doc. 29 rev. 1 (1983).






1. The American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of man establishes:

Article XVI. Every person has the right to social security which will protect him from the consequences of unemployment, old age, and disabilities arising from causes beyond his control that makes it physically or mentally impossible for him to earn a living.

2. Article 22 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights establishes that “every person.. has the right to social security”, and Article 25 goes yet further in stating that this right includes “insurance in the case of unemployment, illness, disability, death of a spouse, old age and other causes beyond his control that make it impossible for him to earn a living”.

3. The Constitution of Cuba contains several provisions with respect to this right:

Article 8. The socialist state:

b. As the power of the people and for the people, guarantees

- that no disabled person be left without adequate means of subsistence;

4. In reference to the equal rights of women, Article 43 provides that the State “grants them paid maternity leave, before and after giving birth¼:”. In addition, the Constitution establishes

Article 46. The state social security system assures adequate protection to every worker who is unable to work because of age, illness or disability.

In case of death similar protection shall be extended to his family.

Article 47. The state social aid protects aged persons lacking financial resources or personal assistance and those who are unable to work and have no relatives to help them.

5. Article 48, for its part, provides that:

He who suffers an accident on the job or is affected by an occupational disease has the right to medical care and to compensation or retirement in those cases in which temporary or permanent work disability ensues.

6. Article 49 of the Constitution, in referring to the right to health and to free health services, partially covers the right to social security.

7. The above-mentioned constitutional provisions reflect the legal evolution that has taken place in Cuba in the course of the current political process. The principal characteristics of the laws enacted are presented below.

1. Legislation from 1963 to 1976

8. On March 27, 1963, a general social security law was enacted (Law no. 1100), that provided coverage to all paid workers and which also recognized work performed in any sector of the economy at any time. The law guaranteed cash pensions in the case of death, disability, maternity retirement and work-related accidents or injuries. Workers did not have to contribute to the retirement fund; instead, taxes were levied on production units for that purpose.

9. This law has been described by the International Labor Organization in its report to the Eighth Conference of American States as “one of the most advanced laws on social security”.

a. Benefits in case of illness

10. Services are provided in the period of illness and recovery up to one year, or until retirement “in those cases in which the worker has been fully disabled”. Workers receive up to 40% of their wages if they are hospitalized, and 50% if they remain at home.

b. Retirement benefits

11. The law establishes several eligibility conditions for a retirement pension: a. to complete 60 years of age, in the case of men, and 55, in the case of women; b. to be employed at the time the request is submitted; c. to have worked for at least 25 years. Up to 50% of the average wage received over 25 working years may be obtained. A person who has worked more than 25 years would receive an increase of 1 – 1.5% per year. Persons employed in dangerous occupations have the right to retire five years early.

c. Disability benefits

12. In the case of disability, the legislation of 1963 established that a person could receive no less than 50% of his annual wages. When the disability is job related, the rate is 60%, and when the disability occurs in performance of police or military service, the person is awarded 100% of his annual wages.[1]

d. Survivors´ Benefits

13. In the case of death, the law of 1963 awarded 60% of the wages if there is one dependent, 80% if there are two and 100% if there are three.

e. Maternity Benefits

14. The law also granted twelve weeks of pre- and post-natal leave to all pregnant working women, both in the private and public sectors. Likewise, every working mother was guaranteed one hour daily from her working schedule to nurse and take care of the child. If a working mother gave birth without entering a State hospital, she received a cash subsidy. Finally, the State provided pregnant mothers any material assistance or services that she and child may have required during pregnancy and until the mother and child were sent home from the hospital.[2]

15. In January of 1974, Cuba enacted a Maternity Law that improved on that of 1963 with respect to social security. The new law established that “every pregnant working woman, independently of the kind of work she performs, is obligated to cease work in the 34th week of pregnancy, and has the right to a temporary leave of 18 weeks, six weeks before childbirth and twelve weeks following it”. The temporary leave is with pay; financial assistance is “equal to the weekly average of wages and subsidies” that she receives during the twelve months prior to taking leave. However, “to guarantee care and rearing of the child in its first year of life”, the working mother has the right to have her child examined by a pediatrician, and may take one day of leave for that purpose.[3]

f. Supplementary Benefits

16. Since 1967, the system has provided “supplementary assistance” to workers who attend university; the worker receives financial assistance while he attends school and is not receiving a salary; financial assistance is non-reimbursable. Young workers in military service enjoy the same right. Since 1970, low-income workers are not required to pay rent for their housing.[4]

17. The 1963 legislation did not cover single mothers who did not work, nor the elderly who had no income or relatives, nor the disabled who had not worked.[5] However, measures were taken in 1964 to extend coverage to such persons, and such measures were improved in the course of the seventies.[6]

18. In 1976, the Cuban government approved law 1323 which provides that the Ministry of Public Health shall organize social assistance services for the elderly and the disabled, as well as for the physically or mentally handicapped.

2. Social Security Law of 1979

19. The law of March, 1963 was repealed by a new law on social security which came into force on August 28, 1979. The new provisions on social security protect workers and their families, and include medical assistance and cash benefits in cases of temporary or permanent disability due to illness or injury, whether or not they are work related. Coverage is also extended to cover old age or death. The provisions on maternity remain unchanged from the previous law.

a. Disability

20. The new law provides free benefits in kind (medical care, rehabilitation, artificial limbs). Cash payments are proportionate to the prior wages of the worker, up to 90% of the average wage for a given period of time. In the case of illness or injury that occurs while not on the job, the person affected has the right to 50% of his wage if he is hospitalized, and 60% if not. If the illness or injury is work-related, the worker can receive 70% of his salary if he is hospitalized and 80% if not. In no case may the daily benefit be less than $1.50.

21. When a worker is permanently disabled, he is entitled to a pension if he meets certain requirements: “a. if he was actively working at the time of the disabling illness or injury, and b. except in the cases of illness or injury on the job, if he has completed the required number of years, which ranges form 1 to 15 years for workers between 24 and 60 years of age.”[7] When a person has worked for up to 9 years, and suffers a disability that is not job related, the pension is equivalent to 30% of his wage; if the disability is job-related, it is 40% of the wage. When the person has worked from 9-14 years, he receives up to 40% of his salary if the disability is not job related, and 50% if it is job related. In cases of over 14 years of service, the percentages rise to 50% and 60% respectively. The pension is increased by 1% for each year of service beyond 25 years. Both benefits for temporary disability and the pension for disability are increased by 20% if the illness or injury is due to an act of exceptional valor which saved human lives or protected property of social value.

b. Retirement Benefits

22. The provisions for old age pensions are similar to those in the law of 1963. However, when application for pension is postponed past the normal age, the regular pension rises according to a special rate for each year of service, up to a maximum of five years beyond the retirement age. If a worker has completed only 15 years of service, but has reached retirement age, he receives a pension of 40% of his wage, plus 1% for each year of service over fifteen years.

c. Survivors Benefits

23. In the case of the death of a worker, the law stipulates that the widow (if she has been married for at least one year before the death of her husband) or the widower (only when he is a dependent, is at least 60 years of age, or is disabled), children under 17 years of age or who are disabled) and single at any age (including adopted children), and the dependent father or mother, are entitled to survivors benefits for two years. The pension awarded to survivors is equivalent to a percentage of the pension for old age or disability that the deceased worker was receiving or to which he would have been entitled.

d. Social Welfare Benefits

24. The law of 1979 provides social welfare to the elderly, the disabled, those who cannot work, single mothers, working mothers taking leave without pay to take care of sick children, persons “who do not meet the requirements of eligibility for social security benefits or whose benefits have expired”, orphans who continue their studies after 17 years of age, members of a family whose children are in military service, and “any needy person”. Benefits include a monthly cash payment, lodging in homes for the elderly, homes for the handicapped, insurance for workers and nay other special treatment that may be required [8]

25. It should be pointed out that the new legislation provides social welfare to everyone on the basis of need. In addition, the law goes beyond provision of financial assistance, as it creates the legal framework for physical retraining of workers. It encourages workers of advanced age to remain in their jobs while also allowing them to retire if they have completed 15 years of service and have reached retirement age.


26. Prior to 1959, Cuba possessed a relatively advanced social security system; however, it has been estimated that from 37% to 47% of the labor force was not covered by any kind of social security program.[9] Health insurance benefits covered a small proportion of the labor force and only a few workers received insurance benefits for unemployment.[10] Survivors insurance and pensions for disability and old age were numerous and differed greatly with respect to benefits; however, the system covered very few workers.

27. Every worker had to contribute to a particular fund, depending on his occupation and its sector of the economy. Benefits were granted on the basis of financial contribution and seniority, and contributions were not transferable in cases of changes of occupation or economic sector.[11]

28. The Economic Commission for Latin America has observed that in practice the efficacy of the social system was limited, since illness and accident insurance covered only a sector of the labor force, and left part of it “outside the system”.[12] To this sector should be added the unemployed, who were likewise not covered by social security.

29. In cases of job-related injuries, it was necessary to go through “a lengthy proceeding, the cost of which was borne by the plaintiff, thus diminishing the income that would be received as compensation”.[13]

30. Protection for disability, old age and for survivors covered approximately 50% of the workers, most of them men. Only those who worked for the State had income insurance in the case of illness, and that for only two months (100% of wages the first month and 50% in the second). Workers in the private sector could, by law, receive up to 3 days pay in case of illness, but could not exceed nine days per year. In practice, even this benefit was not very common.

31. It has been observed that the Cuban revolution “notably improved” the social security system.[14] The State became solely responsible for social security. The entire administrative structure was coordinated and centralized, legislation was standardized, differences among the various sectors of the economy in terms of benefits were eliminated, and measures were taken to establish a universal system applicable to every worker.

32. The number of pension recipients has increased approximately 14.95% per year, from 1959 to 1981. In the first year of the Cuban revolution there were 154,000 pension recipients. Twenty-two years later, the number reached 662,000.[15]

33. In 1978, 798,294 people received some kind of social welfare. Of that number 92% received a pension and 8% enjoyed some kind of social welfare. Most of those receiving welfare benefits were the elderly who had neither income nor someone to care for them. They represented 68% of the total, followed by the handicapped (20%), single mothers (5%), widows unable to work and with children (3%), relatives of prisoners (3%) and other unspecified groups (1%).[16]

34. The amount of pension varies. One author has written that “pensions are set as a proportion of salaries and time of service, but extreme differences in pensions are reduced by a minimum and maximum pension”.[17] The monthly per capita pension (determined by dividing the amounts in the fund by the number of pensioners) has remained almost constant since 1959. In the first year of the revolution, a pensioner received an average of $61.80 pesos; in 1978 the average figure was $64.83. Apparently, this amount is insufficient for women pensioners, who may have no other source of income. In 1975, the newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba stated: “It should not be forgotten that the minimum wage in the country is still 75 pesos per month and that the family burden for active workers, as a general rule, is greater than for those who have retired, so that to raise the minimum pension to $100 monthly pesos is completely out of the question”.[18] The average received by those on welfare was $17.21 pesos per month in 1978.[19]

35. At this time, there are 59 homes for the elderly throughout the country. In 1982, there were 7,255 people living in these homes, where they received free housing, food, clothing, shoes, medical care, medicine, recreation and a monthly allowance.[20]

36. Present coverage of the social security system, based on available figures, indicates that in 1978, of the total population at retirement age, 56.4% received a pension.[21] At that time there were 2,027,741 families in the country as a whole. Presuming that those who are retired did not live alone and that there was one per family, 32.6% of all families received some benefit from the social security system.[22] As the population’s life expectancy increases and the fertility rate falls, the ratio of workers to pension recipients may decline notably in the future. At this time, there are 3.7 workers for every pensioner.[23]

37. The above presentation indicates that in both legal and practical terms, social security and welfare are universal rights available to the Cuban population. In the case of unemployment, disability, illness, death of spouse, advanced age or any other reason, Cubans are entitled to receive welfare benefits from the state. Without question, this constitutes notable progress. Those who receive social security and welfare do not have to directly contribute to a national fund to be entitled to that assistance, since the system is financed by the state budget. The system in unified and is uniformly applied throughout the country, in accordance with universal guidelines. There is no apparent discrimination on the basis of sex, race, place of residence or any other category. The average welfare payment has been quite low; as a rule, it has been below the minimum wage.



[1] Comisión Económica para América Latina (CEPAL), Cuba: Estilo de Desarrollo y Políticas Sociales, Mexico, Siglo XXI Ed., 1980, p. 150.

[2] Gaceta Oficial, January 165, 1974.

[3] Ibid.

[4] CEPAL, “Cuba¼” op. Cit., p. 151.

[5] Ibid, p. 150

[6] Ibid., pp. 150-151.

[7] Gaceta Oficial, August 29, 1979

[8] Gaceta Oficial, August 29, 1979.

[9] Statement of Orlando Peñate Rivero, Director of Social Security for the State Committee on labor and Social Security in “La Seguridad Social en Cuba”, Granma Resumen Semanal (La Habana), September 14, 1980, supplement, page 2. There is disagreement with respect to the coverage figure of 53%. Carmelo Mesa-Lago affirms that “In 1958, approximately 63% of the labor force was covered by insurance for old age, disability and for survivors”. See: Mesa-Lago, Carmelo, The Economy of Socialist Cuba, A two Decade Appraisal, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1981, p. 169.

[10] “Labor and Revolution” in Rolando E. Bonachea and Nelson P. Valdés, eds., Cuba in Revolution, New York: Doubleday, 1972, p. 362; Granma (Havana), September 12, 1982, p. 8.

[11] Granma Resumen Semanal, September 24, 1980, Supplement, p. 2, Mesa-Lago, Carmelo, “The Economy¼” op. Cit., p. 169.

[12] CEPAL, “Cuba¼” op. Cit., p. 147.

[13] Ibid, p. 148.

[14] Mesa-Lago, C., “The Economy¼” op. Cit., p. 169

[15] Mesa-Lago, C., “The Economy¼” op. Cit., p. 171 and Bohemia, Havana, December 18, 1981, p. 48.

[16] Bohemia, Havana, July 6, 1979, pp. 16-23.

[17] Mesa-Lago, C., “The Economy¼” op. Cit., p. 170.

[18] Granma, September 19, 1975, p. 4.

[19] Bohemia, July 6, 1979, pp. 16-23

[20] Granma Resumen Semanal, October 3, 1982, p. 6.

[21] Comité Estatal de Estadísticas, Dirección de Demografía, Anuario Demográfico de Cuba, 1979, Havana, May 1981, p. 15.

[22] Ibid, p. 215.

[23] This estimate is based on a projected active labor force of 2,440,000 wokers in 1978 and 652,000 pensioners. See: Comité Estatal de Estadística, Anuario Estadístico de Cuba, 1978, Havana, 1980, p. 58.


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