Homelessness in Cuba
The island nation of Cuba has long dealt with the social and urban problem of housing. From shantytowns on the island before the 1950s through the massive construction boom under the Castro Regime beginning in 1959, housing has been an integral part of Cuba’s social and political issues. Here is some information about homelessness in Cuba.

Overview of Cuban Housing Policy

The 1959 Cuban Revolution ushered in the Castro regime. With the rise of Fidel Castro came new social reforms. The regime paid particular attention to reforming housing policy and alleviating homelessness in Cuba which had previously plagued the island. Castro introduced new socialist policies such as high housing subsidies paired with state-owned homes in order to contain housing prices and costs of construction.

According to Cuban architect Dr. Coyula-Cowley, one can attribute much of Cuba’s urban growth and renewal to large scale government building projects under the Castro regime. Coyula-Cowley cited that between 1958 and 1998, both urban and rural housing stock experienced a radical increase in the quality of living conditions. The majority of both urban and rural housing received descriptions of “good” in 1998 as opposed to the majority of units qualifying as “bad” in 1958.

Current Trends

Cuba currently enjoys a near-zero rate of homelessness. This is primarily due to high levels of housing subsidies from the government as well as a cultural tradition of multifamily homes where many members of the extended and nuclear family all share one residency. This social custom causes the vast majority of the Cuban population to be able to list an official address and thus minimize technical homelessness rates.

According to The Conversation U.S. news source, as of 2018, the National Assembly of Cuba approved a reformed draft constitution which includes orders to lower regulations on the market for private residential housing in order to stimulate development. This action could help to stimulate urban growth and renewal throughout Cuba through the use of free market-based mechanisms. This is a departure from previous state-sponsored building projects in order to meet increased housing demand.

Hidden Issues

Despite the near-zero rate of homelessness in Cuba, it is difficult to accurately measure homelessness rates. U.S. intervention and constraints of low-cost construction have created hidden issues. The U.S. embargo on Cuba in the 1990s followed by Cuba’s Special Period due to the collapse of the Soviet Union both constricted the supply for building materials, leading to higher costs and slow-building rates. In addition, the inability of modern Cuba to continue building low-cost homes due to these limitations has led to an increased concentration of multifamily residencies despite the desire for younger generations to live separately.

The elderly are at a particularly high risk of homelessness despite every Cuban having an official address. Retired Cubans live on a fixed pension of 248 Pesos (~10 USD) per month which forces the elderly into a constant state of financial hardship. Given that 10.6% of Cubans are over 65 years of age, a significant part of the population experiences poverty. According to the Havana Times, many elderly Cubans may sleep on public benches or practice “couch surfing” by living with friends as overcrowding makes their own family unable to care for them. The exact percentage of homeless elderly is unknown but social workers are aware of the underreported issue as noted in the Havana Times. Although the elderly may have an official address, the quality of life is reminiscent of homelessness.

Experts have determined that the capital of Havana needs 300,000 housing units in order to meet demand. Thus, with Cuba experiencing an average rate of 4.1 people per living space continues to reinforce the trend of overcrowding. Therefore, official homelessness rates may be low in Cuba, but the quality of Cuban housing can often be below ideal living standards and is often unsafe.

On top of overcrowding, weather-related issues such as hurricanes and tropical storms have also degraded the current housing stock. Weather-related issues cause consistent destruction and inhibit the ability to make repairs, often exposing wiring, poor insulation and leaking rooftops. An official report stated that seven out of 10 homes need repair, with 7% of all houses being unhabitable.

Solutions

There is still a very real housing crisis involving the quantity and quality of Cuba’s housing. Fortunately, the state and local governments of Cuba alongside international NGOs such as Oxfam are working to alleviate this crisis. Oxfam sent workers and aid to Cuba in the wake of Hurricane Sandy in 2012 to assist with rebuilding and maintaining residential homes, 150,000 of which had undergone damage, affecting over 600,000 people.

The state and municipal governments have also implemented the Architect in the Community Programme which provides technical support from architects to homeowners who are undertaking home building and renovations on a self-help basis. The program currently employs 630 architects in 157 of Cuba’s municipalities serving over 500,000 households. This technical assistance empowers individuals to undertake home building and repair work while alleviating the government’s burden of housing due to limited finances.

Homelessness in Cuba remains a complicated and multifaceted issue due to difficulties in recording true homelessness rates and housing shortages as a result of trade limitations. However, despite these issues, multiple government and nonprofit programs exist in order to stimulate building and repairs. They hope to protect against weather-related damage as well in hopes of alleviating both homelessness as well as poor living situations.

– Ian Hawthorne
Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About Sanitation in Cuba
Although the Cuban Communist Party has relaxed some aspects of the nation’s government-directed socialist economic policies, Cuba remains one of the world’s only communist states. Cubans face many economic challenges due to their somewhat politically isolated status, especially since the dissolution of the Soviet Union and subsequent loss of Soviet aid. Despite this, Cuba perseveres and continues to address domestic quality of life concerns. Here are 10 facts about sanitation in Cuba.

10 Facts About Sanitation in Cuba

  1. Water Shortages: The extreme drought in 2017 highlighted the limitations of Cuba’s outdated water infrastructure and revealed the Cuban government’s inability to quickly mitigate water shortages. Urban residents without water could request government water delivery, but the overburdened government struggled to respond adequately. Instead, citizens often turned to the black market to acquire water.
  2. National Hydraulics Program: The second point among these 10 facts about sanitation in Cuba is that the country’s ancient water pipelines are prone to leakage and inconsistent water flow, often resulting in flooded streets and homes without running water. Even in periods of drought, water loss and inefficient water distribution are more of an obstacle than a straight lack of water. To correct these problems, Cuba implemented a national hydraulics program funded with loans from OPEC, Saudi Arabia, China and others. So far, workers have installed 227,000 new water meters and cut water loss by 10 percent.
  3. Water and Sanitation Improvements: As of 2015, access to drinking water and sanitation facilities had improved drastically. Many (94.9 percent) of the population has improved access to drinking water sources in the form of safely piped water, clean public taps and rainwater collection while 93.2 percent have better access to sanitation facilities. These improvements are more apparent in urban settings, as 96.4 percent of city-dwellers and only 89.8 percent of the rural populace have benefited from refurbished water infrastructure. Droughts have disrupted the available and consistent delivery of clean water, but Cuba continues to revamp its water and sanitation infrastructure.
  4. Environmental Challenges and UNESCO: Decades of periodic oil spills and the release of wastewater into the historic Bay of Cienfuegos has harmed Cuba’s fishing industry, damaged the environment and threatened tourism. UNESCO’s designation of the bay as a protected World Heritage site spurred some environmental recovery efforts. Cuba’s government estimates that restoration will cost approximately 1 million pesos.
  5. Class and Demographics: Despite frequent shortages and infrastructure issues, Cuba’s drinking water supply is safe in most parts of the country. However, there are class and demographic divides in water access as the urban poor and rural populations are the most likely to go without, while Cuba often caters to tourists. The goal of Cuba’s hydraulics program is to completely supply the entire population with adequate amounts of clean water so that the Cuban government actively engages itself in fixing these problems.
  6. Water Treatment Facilities: Cuba’s surface water treatment facilities use rapid sand filtration methods, which are not always effective due to a shortage of chemicals and equipment. Consequently, only 62 percent of Cuban citizens have access to clean water. Aiding domestic efforts aimed at fixing Cuba’s water issues, China installed fourteen water purification plants in central Cuba.
  7. Water Affordability: Although clean water is not as readily available as Cubans might desire, it is always affordable. As is the case with most social institutions in Cuba, water utilities receive government subsidies and are therefore cheap. As of 2018, a household of four paid less than $0.25 USD for water service.
  8. Sanitation Infrastructure Improvements: Much of Cuba’s sanitation infrastructure is decades old and does not serve most of the rural population. Cuba is in the process of modernizing its wastewater treatment facilities with assistance from the United Nations Development Program. Additionally, Italy’s TECOFIL is responsible for opening 300 functional and environmentally sustainable wastewater treatment plants.
  9. Benefits of Tourism: Tourism is a critical component of Cuba’s economic activity, so the nation sometimes caters to tourists at the expense of the native populace. While tourists have ready access to clean bottled water, ongoing droughts and other troubles sometimes leave the locals rationing a limited supply of available drinking water. On the bright side, tourism brings international attention to Cuba and may lead to beneficial foreign enterprise along the lines of TECOFIL’s operations.
  10. The EU and UNDP: The EU pledged 600,000 Euros to Cuba in order to combat the effects of the 2017 drought. This fund is to preserve Cuba’s capacity for agricultural production and maintain drinking water supplies. Between 2014 and 2018, the UNDP spent 25.4 million Euros on 46 environmental and biodiversity focused projects in Cuba, including improvements to water quality and quantity. The UNDP plans to intensify its efforts in this regard.

These 10 facts about sanitation show that although the country struggles to provide its citizens with adequate sanitation facilities and consistent clean water supply, the government is taking concrete steps towards improving the status quo. Economic reform and continued foreign investment will contribute to Cuba’s progress.

– Dan Zamarelli
Photo: Flickr

Music and Poverty
Globally, each culture has a connection to music. Numerous Latin American cultures developed music such as salsa and tango,  energizing types of music with trumpets and bongos. Meanwhile, the Middle East produces songs written in Arabic. This style ranges anywhere from traditional Arabic music filled with violins and percussion instruments to Arabic pop including catchy lyrics set to engaging instrumental tunes. Although different cultures produce different types of music, people often view music as a link between cultures and nations. People often do not put music and poverty together, but the study of music is often beneficial and may allow some the chance to escape the poverty line.

The Link Between Music and Poverty

A study at Northwestern University has proven that music lessons can help alleviate the psychological damages that poverty brings. This study observed how learning to read sheet music affected teenager’s brains, aged 14 and 15. By teaching the children how to read musical scales, Kraus, the leader of the study, believes that the world can decrease the bridge between literacy and low socioeconomic status.

Ways Music Can Lift People Out of Poverty

Studying and playing music has proven to affect more than just literacy skills. Studies have observed that individuals who learn how to play music experience increased self-esteem, they believe that they can achieve things that they never thought possible. Also, by learning and studying new skills, individuals develop a new sense of discipline that they might have been lacking, which, in turn, encourages individuals to try new things, like attending college or developing a career.

Organizations Putting Music to Good Use

  1. Global HeartStrings: Started by Rachel Barton Pine, Global HeartStrings’ goal is to help foster classical musicians in developing countries. To achieve this, Pine provides children in impoverished countries with sheet music, basic supplies and even instruments.

  2. Children International: Based out of Kansas City, Missouri, this organization has developed a program called Music for Development in the Dominican Republic and Colombia. Started in the Dominican Republic in 2014 and Colombia in 2015, the program aims to teach children and teenagers life skills through music. By teaching children music, the organization says that they are giving individuals a road out of poverty, self-confidence and the ability to reject negative influences.

  3. System of Youth and Children’s Orchestras of Venezuela: Started in 2002, this organization focuses on individuals aged 3 through 29, and teaches them how to play and perform with musical instruments. Ran by Nehyda Alas, the organization has benefited around 350,000 individuals who live below the country’s poverty line. In Venezuela, around 70 percent of the country’s 30 million citizens live in extreme poverty. Alas, the organization promotes a healthier and more fulfilled life by providing children with new skills and the discipline to learn them. The United Nations Development Programme supports this program and the program aims to end the country’s extreme poverty and hunger crisis.

  4. El Sistema: Founded in Venezuela in 1975 by José Antonio Abreu, people have credited this music-education program with helping individuals rise above the poverty line. It is a cultural, educational and social program that helps empower children and teenagers through music. The organization has opened music learning centers in areas that are easily accessible to children living in poverty. At these centers, children work on learning how to play instruments or learning and performing choral music. Abreu believes that by teaching children music, they not only learn how to read and play music, but they also develop positive self-esteem, mutual respect and cooperating skills. They can then apply these skills to their daily lives. He is a believer in the link between music and poverty and strives to help his students achieve their best.

Musicians Who Came from Poverty

  1. Pedrito Martinez, Edgar Pantoja-Aleman, Jhair Sala and Sebastian Natal — Cuban Jazz Group: People know this Cuban jazz group for its unique blending of Yoruba folkloric music, contemporary beats, piano, bongos and traditional Cuban music. Cuba is one of the poorest countries in the Western hemisphere, and Martinez and Pantoja-Aleman are the only two members of the four-member band that grew up in impoverished areas of the country. Sala is from Peru and grew up in New York City, while Natal is from Uruguay. All four members of the group grew up struggling to make ends meet and they credit music as being both their escape and their success.

  2. Eddie Adams — American Cellist: Adams and his family, his mother and five siblings, lived in a Virginia homeless shelter when he signed up for band class in 10th grade. Although cello was not his first choice of an instrument, Adams grew to enjoy playing and would watch YouTube videos at school to improve his skills. He did not own his own cello, nor could he afford to take formal music lessons. However, after his audition, Adams received a full-tuition scholarship to George Mason University in Virginia where he became the lead cellist.

  3. Rachel Barton Pine — American Violinist: Growing up, Pine lived in a single-income household and, in her own words, her family was always “one missed payment from losing the roof over our heads.” Pine’s family could not afford a house with central heating or cooling. As a result, in order to stay warm in the winter, they used a space heater that they rotated every 10 minutes to keep their house warm. Pine worked her way above the poverty line by playing various shows as often as she could. She started playing as young as 5 years old, and as of today, she travels around the world performing her music and people have regarded her as “one of the most accomplished violinists in the world.”

Music and poverty intertwine more than many have originally thought. Music can greatly benefit individuals living below the poverty line as it provides a sense of culture, a form of education and a means of creative expression. Impoverished individuals who study music greatly benefit from increased literacy skills, along with increased self-esteem and a willingness to learn and develop new skills.

Destinee Smethers
Photo: Flickr

7 Facts About Poverty in Havana
In 1962, the U.S. imposed a full embargo on Cuba which prohibits all trade between the two countries. Since then, Havana, the capital city of Cuba, has become ridden with poverty and inequality. Here are seven facts about poverty in Havana.

7 Facts About Poverty in Havana

  1. Living Conditions: Under the Castro government, the housing deficit in Havana has grown by 20 percent each year since the 1990s. Out of 2.6 million housing units, 1 million are below standards. Most buildings have not been updated or maintained properly since 1959. There are 696 multi-family buildings in a critical state, leaving some Havana residents in fear of having their roofs collapse. In rural areas, Havana residents sometimes live in self-made huts with dirt flooring. The government is working to improve living conditions, but it could take up to 10 years to meet demands.
  2. Economic Classes: The Cuban government has not recently published poverty data for Havana; however, the average salary for those working a government job is around $20 a month. Doctors and nurses have recently received a raise which gives specialized doctors $67 a month and entry-level nurses $25 a month. If a doctor works a typical 40-hour workweek, this means that they would make around 42 cents an hour. Waiters and cashiers in Havana on average earn less than $220 a year, which is four times less than what doctors make.
  3. Hotels and Tourism: Around 26 hotels in Havana are tied to the Cuban military and therefore the money gained from tourism does not benefit the people of Cuba. An alternative option for tourists is Airbnb, as this directly benefits citizens by allowing them to rent out their rooms. Sometimes, the money Cubans earn from Airbnb rentals is more than they would make in an entire month.
  4. Food Rationing: In Havana, the government rations chicken, eggs, rice, beans, soap and other basic goods. Rationing has forced the citizens of Havana to plant their own gardens and farms. Today, over 90 percent of the produce that people consume in Havana grows there. An organization called Proyecto Communitario Conservacion Alimentos (Community Food Preservation Project) helps teach Cubans to grow and preserve their own food. These efforts have helped many people in Havana learn to cook food from the goods they produced themselves.
  5. Social Systems: Despite the fact that the average person in Havana lives on less than $1.20 a day, Cuba boasts having one of the highest literacy rates in the world due to their free education. Health care is also free and considered a human right. People in Havana live just as long as U.S. citizens, regardless of their impoverished living conditions.
  6. Currency: Cubans have two currencies, each with different uses. Local Cubans in Havana use the CUP (Cuban Peso Nacional), which converts as 25 CUP per $1 USD, while tourists use the CUC (Cuban Convertible Currency), which holds the same value as the U.S. dollar. The dual currency system has created large inequalities in Havana because only those working in the tourism industry use CUC. This has created a two-tier class system that benefits only those working in tourism. To remedy this, however, the Cuban government has plans underway to eliminate the dual-currency system.
  7. U.S. Embargo: The embargo between the U.S. and Cuba has been a contributing factor to Havana’s fall from grace. According to NAFSA, resuming American travel and trade will not only boost the Cuban economy but will also empower Cubans to impose change on their government. The NAFSA Cuban Engagement Initiative works on legislation that will end the U.S. embargo on Cuba.

There is a long road ahead to end Havana’s poverty crisis, but with people doing work to change U.S. policies and increase responsible tourism, the world could see Cuba’s capital city return to its once elevated state. The most important step is to spread awareness and mobilize to change government policies that will benefit Havana’s citizens.

Lisa Di Nuzzo
Photo: Flickr

5 Causes of Poverty
Of the population of the world, over 3 billion people live on less than $2.50 a day. This is a staggering number that begs the question, why? What are the causes of global poverty? There is a multitude of reasons as to why poverty devastates countries, but here are the top five causes of global poverty.

5 Causes of Global Poverty

  1. War: A country that goes to war can impact poverty greatly. There are several factors to consider when looking at how war contributes to poverty. There is the destruction of the infrastructure wherever the conflict rages. Fierce fighting can destroy power facilities, buildings and roads and usually take years to rebuild. The disruption of trade can have a devastating impact on the goods that people rely on. The halt to production in factories, growing of crops and work in mines can bring a country’s economy to almost a complete stop. The human cost is the most devastating out of every impact that war can bring. Not only is there the number of dead to consider, but also the number of people fleeing the conflict zones. Large numbers of a country’s workforce are fleeing the conflict zones looking for peace in a different country. Today, 71 million people have been displaced because of war and violence in countries all over the world. Since the creation of organizations such as the United Nations, countries are more willing to talk to each other and keep the peace rather than fight.
  2. Little to No Education: Often, when a country is in poverty, there is very little to no education available for its citizens.  Nearly 1 billion people came into the 21st century not knowing how to write their names or read a book. When a nation lacks in education, they become an untrained workforce for an impoverished nation. Families in these countries often cannot afford to send their children to school, and frequently require them to work to support their families. By the year 2000, it was possible to send every child in the world to school and in order to do that, the world would have only had to spend less than 1 percent of what it does on weapons. However, this obviously did not happen. Even though 1 billion people or 18 percent of the population could not read or write at the start of the century, this statistic is still an improvement from 1980 when the world illiteracy rate was 30 percent.
  3. Corruption: One can blame poverty in a country on the leaders as well as any outside factors. A country with corrupt leadership can have a devastating impact on the well being of its people. Corruption can divert much-needed resources and funds away from those that need them. Every country may have some level of corruption, however, the most poverty-stricken countries often show the most corruption. According to Transparency International’s Corruption Index, out of the 177 nations it ranked, 118 had a score of 50 or less. A score of 100 means that the country is free of corruption. Meanwhile, the least developed nations in the world have a score of 28. Fortunately, many countries are creating offices to hold their leaders accountable. Cuba, for example, has started the Ministry for Auditing and Control that aims to fight corruption within the country.
  4. Inflation: Countries’ economies can fluctuate from extreme highs to lows. Venezuela is a current example of a country going through this type of hardship. The South American country was able to prosper from an economic boom from its oil industry. When that began to regress, the country’s economy began to take a turn for the worse. Inflation ruined the country, making goods almost impossible to afford. There was also a lack of necessary supplies such as food and medicine. The current poverty rate in Venezuela sits at 90 percent out of a population of 32 million. Because of the economic hardship, 4 million people have left Venezuela as refugees. Despite Venezuela’s struggles, there are examples of countries that have faced terrible economic times and turned things around. Norway had one of the worst economies at the turn of the 20th century, but through foreign aid and resources, it is now one of the richest nations in the world.
  5. Natural Disasters: A natural disaster can have an overwhelming impact on a country’s livelihood and the well-being of its people. There is very little that anyone can do to stop natural disasters from happening. Earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, landslides, volcanic eruptions and tornadoes can destroy areas and leave whole regions to pick up the pieces. Countries that are already in poverty struggle to recover and frequently sink deeper into poverty. According to the World Bank, over 26 million people enter poverty each year because of natural disasters. By the end of 2018, the world lost $225 billion as a result of natural disasters globally. As technology improves, countries become better prepared for natural disasters and have more warning.

No matter what the causes of global poverty are, there is always a solution to fix them. Whether it is through international aid or a change in legislation around the world, people can eliminate those causes, or at the very least, limit the devastation of poverty.

– Sam Bostwick
Photo: Pixabay

$10 a Month
While some Cubans work hard their entire lives, outlooks are bleak due to cut assistance from the U.S. and Venezuela. Some seniors living on the country’s monthly retirement pension survive off of $10 a month.

Rationing books are a common item in many Cuban households. Cuba’s $10 a month pension makes it impossible for some seniors to live a normal lifestyle. Ration books help many Cuban seniors ration what food they can buy each month at heavily taxed prices. A majority of retired Cuban seniors do not actually retire. They continue to work out of little shops to try and sell whatever they can to make more money than their pension gives them.

An article for the German website Deutsche Welle talks about Cuban seniors that work after retirement to help alleviate some of the pressure that only $10 a month creates. One local man, Antonio Loreno Lozana, runs a small tobacco farm with one of his sons, which gives them an extra $150 a month when they sell to the state, including extra proceeds from selling coffee to tourists. Another man, Raul Bouza, sells small household products outside of his house. This is to pay for the license to run his business which costs 500 pesos, which is double the 240 pesos he receives from the government each month.

Cuba’s $10 a month pension means some Cubans will never actually have the chance to fully retire. Ebaristo Dia Dia, who is 85-years-old, works in a print shop in Havana where he folds boxes. He makes an extra 300 pesos a month and his boss offers him breakfast and lunch. Some citizens depend on tourists giving them small tips and donations. Some senior citizens are too old to work, so they rely on small donations from helping lost tourists find the right direction.

In Cuba, there is a law in which citizens over 65 can apply for less work-intensive jobs after retirement but many of these jobs require significant pay cuts and they lose certain benefits that help them with medical care and other expenses. Cuba is also unique in the sense that it is a developing country with free education and health care. Yet, many seniors are still working, and some through poor health conditions.

The Elders Care Program

The only English-speaking Protestant church in Cuba provides the Elders Care Program, which offers a bundle of food to people involved with the program each week. This bundle costs about 36 pesos ($1.50 US) and includes a few taro roots, a few bananas, a tomato or two and a pound of black beans. This is where the ration book comes into use, rationing sugar, rice or a daily piece of bread which is vitally important for elderly Cubans to survive.

Cubans that receive this care from the Elders Care Program are extremely grateful. It helps add some form of nutrition and calories to their limited diet. An elderly couple interviewed in the article mentioned above, says they are very appreciative of the efforts the Elders Care Program puts forth. The husband stated that “We have a piece of chicken and five eggs per month. Eggs are a luxury. Sometimes all we have in a day are some beans and a bread bun.” This is an example of what extreme poverty some Cuban citizens are actually experiencing after retirement.

The Cuban Economy

Without economic reform and cheap oil that used to come from Venezuela, the economy has stalled. Population rates are also declining in Cuba, which puts a damper on the Cuban economy even further. The country has essentially frozen pensions while rising inflation continues to eat up their value. The country is facing one of the biggest challenges it has faced in decades. The pension system has proven ineffective, and an economic recession and a huge impact on social services might happen in the near future.

The current impacts on the economy are only the beginning of what is to come in the future years for Cuba. Cuban society should prepare itself for the demographic issues that Cuba is dealing with. One broad solution is to increase the production of all Cuban goods. The second solution is for emigrants to return to Cuba. These solutions could take years to take effect, which is time that Cuba does not necessarily have.

Cuba’s $10 a month pension is not a sustainable, proper solution for any retired Cuban. Although assistance programs exist, none of these programs allow for enough money to flow to each household. There are not enough solutions in order to solidify a plan that the government can follow in order to gain more money for each retiree. The government will most likely require aid from a foreign country and will have to reform many laws that put in place more solid, long-term solutions for Cuba’s retired population. The current programs in place cannot support the growing number of retiring citizens in Cuba at this time. The government needs to take certain measures in order to provide Cuba’s elderly with a solid monthly pension that provides them with funds for many necessities.

– Quinn McClurg
Photo: Flickr

 

 

Corruption in Cuba
Ever since the small Caribbean nation of Cuba became a nation in 1902, corruption at all levels of its society has plagued it. From the face of the nation to the small-time citizen, corruption impacts almost every person in Cuba.

Cuba has suffered over a century of corrupt government officials, businessmen and everyday citizens taking advantage of the already impoverished nation. Cuba has formed policies in an attempt to stop the trends that so many are familiar with, but the country needs to do more. Here are 10 facts about corruption in Cuba including its history and what the country is doing to combat it.

10 Facts About Corruption in Cuba

  1. It was not until the presidency of Jose Miguel Gomes in 1909 that Cuba experienced major public corruption. He earned the nickname of The Shark because of his involvement in several government corruption scandals that became public. The second president of Cuba and his supporters were guilty of embezzlement of funds.
  2. In 1952, Fulgencio Batista and the army led a military coup on the sitting president, Carlos Prio Socarras. Batista subsequently became president and led a corrupt dictatorship that would make millions off of profiteering from foreign investors’ illegal gambling and even criminal organizations. Batista received 30 percent of profits from Cuban casinos and hotels owned by the gangster, Meyer Lansky, alone.
  3. After six years of corruption and exploitation under the dictatorship of Batista, the Cuban people had enough. Fidel Castro led his revolutionary forces to depose Batista from power on January 1, 1959. The style of government that Castro installed did not fix the problem of corruption; it only changed those in charge.
  4. Corrupt officials take bribes from the few foreign companies in Cuba in exchange for lucrative contracts. An incident like this led to the arrest of the Canadian CEO of the Tokmakjian Group in 2011. Cy Tokmakjian was guilty of giving gifts to Cuban officials in exchange for government contracts for his Ontario, Canada-based transportation company.
  5. The police in Cuba often search the vehicles and homes of the Cuban people, and instead of charging individuals with a particular crime, they seek bribes to gain profit for their time. The police have the power to stop and question any citizen and carry out search and seizure operations without a warrant. Officially, in order to search someone’s home, police need a warrant, however, they still confiscate goods without these warrants.
  6.  State employees steal and sell state goods on the black market. As much as 20 percent of goods are stolen and distributed around the country. The Cuban government provides most of the goods for the people; items become very scarce or not seen at all as a result of the overwhelming theft. For example, people have a difficult time locating construction materials, such as paint wood and cement, because people steal them frequently.
  7. The practice of sociolisomo is widespread in the Cuban government and top positions of power. Sociolisomo translates to partner-ism and is the reciprocal exchange of favors by individuals. Those in power and control of the state-run resources often let people gain access to these resources via bribes or some other form of material compensation. For example, hospitals give people preferential treatment if they can supply the hospital with scarce material items, such as pens and paper, or provide other services to the hospital.
  8. Today, Cuba is progressing in the right direction when it comes to corruption. Transparency International has ranked Cuba at 47 out of 100; this is up from the country’s lowest of 35 in 2006. One hundred means that a country is completely free of corruption and zero means the country is very corrupt. Transparency International has ranked Cuba 61 on the list of 180 countries.
  9. When Raul Castro took power in 2008, he promised to crack down on corruption in all of Cuba. In 2009, he created the Office of the Comptroller General, which was tasked with auditing companies and state-run institutions. This was meant to bring to light and put in check the levels of corruption that have run rampant in the highest levels of government for decades. Recently, the office discovered in 2018 Cuba’s economy suffered millions of dollars worth of damage. Investigations found that 369 public enterprises were to blame for corruption including a lack of control of accounts and breach of payments. The office determined that 1,427 people were responsible.
  10. In 2001, the government of Cuba created the Ministry for Auditing and Control to help combat corruption in Cuba. Through auditing and inspections of the Cuban Civil Aviation Institute in 2011, the Cuban government was able to discover millions of dollars in the home of Rogelio Acevedo. The investigation found that Acevedo was leasing state airplanes off the official books and keeping the money for himself.

Despite a long history of corruption in Cuba, the new leadership is taking steps to combat corruption on the island nation. Corruption in Cuba still exists today but data shows that the country is heading in the right direction. Only time will tell if the newly implemented policies will have a positive impact on the Cuban people.

– Sam Bostwick
Photo: Flickr

10 Shocking Facts About Fidel Castro As the political leader of Cuba from 1959 to 2008,  Fidel Castro, nicknamed El Comandante, was the “face of left-wing totalitarianism”. Though Castro’s educational reforms significantly improved the system of education in Cuba, they often came at the hand of communist policies that left its citizens impoverished as well. While most of Castro’s reforms proved harmful, a few paved the way for advances in Cuban health and education. Here are eight shocking facts about Fidel Castro.

8 Shocking Facts about Fidel Castro

  1. Castro eradicated Cuban illiteracy. Through the implementation of the Cuba Literacy Campaign of 1961, Cuba met the Millennium Development Goals set forth by the United Nations and the country’s literacy rate rose from 60 to 100 percent. In one day, the program opened 10,000 classrooms, guaranteeing education for all Cuban citizens. Overall, more than 700,000 Cubans became literate in just one year. Castro’s relentless fight for universal education brought the issue to the forefront of Cuban challenges and successfully improved literacy among its people.
  2. Castro established Cuba’s universal health care system. By nationalizing Cuban health care, Castro’s policies not only expanded public health care but improved it. With the establishment of the Rural Medical Service and the Declaration of Alma-Ata, Castro brought medical services to rural locations, opened family clinics and made free medical care accessible for all. Cuba’s health care successes also include completely blocking the transfer of HIV and syphilis from mother to child and providing the first vaccine for meningitis B, which is still the only available vaccine for the disease today. Castro not only provided health care for the Cuban people by improving prevention, equal coverage and access but his policies also advanced the quality of care as well.
  3. Castro punished those who thought differently than himself. By jailing political opponents and closing down newspapers with alternative political perspectives, those who thought differently than Castro were not safe during his reign. The native-born Cuban leader limited his citizens’ free speech and punished those who valued their voice more than their safety. Castro did not limit his punishments to speech; he also legalized physically abusive tactics on politically divergent individuals. Those who questioned or criticized the way Castro ran his government were often imprisoned, denied access to medical care, suffered beatings and entered solitary confinement. In 2003, Castro executed his methods on a larger scale when 75 people, human rights activists, journalists and trade unionists, received his abusive tactics following their outspoken criticism of the Cuban government.
  4. Castro limited economic freedom. Life under Castro’s rule was economically suffocating. With the creation of The First Agrarian Reform in 1959, Castro intended to improve the economy by redistributing land among the classes. The law, however, was more prohibitive than inclusive. It placed limits on the amount of land individuals could own, abolished private business and nationalized foreign land ownership. With The Second Agrarian Reform of 1963, these limits only became more restrictive. The new law gave Cuba ownership over two-thirds of national farmland, and by 1998, the country owned 82 percent of it. With such limited freedom over their own economic choices, hundreds of thousands of middle-class Cubans fled their homes for a better life in the U.S.
  5. Castro plunged Cuba into an economic downfall. During his rule, Castro made sugar Cuba’s main source of income. The growing of Cuban sugarcane relied on imports of fertilizers, pesticides and technology from the Soviet Union. So when the USSR fell in 1989, Cuba was no longer able to produce its main source of income, and its economy consequently collapsed. As a result, the country’s GDP fell by 35 percent, which propelled Cuba into a time of economic struggle known as the Special Period. Marked by food and housing shortages, increased unemployment and reduced public services, Castro’s economic decisions resulted in the impoverishment of his own people.
  6. Castro did not let human rights organizations enter Cuba. Castro treated many people inhumanely and he refused human rights organizations entry into the country. Without access to the country, organizations, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, were unable to work toward improving the harsh realities of the Cuban people and inhumane practices went on without consequence.
  7. Castro refused to hold elections while in office. Castro remained in power for almost five decades and this was partly due to his refusal to leave power. Nobody was legally able to run against Castro unless they shared his political perspective because he placed a ban on multiparty elections after self-proclaiming himself a socialist. This meant that he was able to enforce his inhumane policies for decades and the economic strain was long-lasting.
  8. The Cuban government still uses Castro’s abusive methods. Abusive tactics introduced during Castro’s reign, such as arbitrary arrest and detention, beating, acts of repudiation and government surveillance, are still used in Cuba today according to the Human Rights Watch. While Raul Castro, Castro’s brother and Cuba’s current leader, has hinted towards reconsidering the country’s abusive methods, he has taken no real action, and the country’s citizens continue to suffer abuse. For example, in 2016, the arrests of 9,940 Cuban citizens led to harassments, beatings and the subjection to acts of repudiation.

These eight shocking facts about Fidel Castro cannot encapsulate 49 years of supremacy, though they can provide a glimpse into Cuban life under his rule. While Castro passed away in 2016, his death cannot erase the influence his policies had on Cuba. However, organizations, such as CARE and the Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba (FHRC) are implementing programs to increase living conditions in Cuba.

Organizations Working to Rebuild Castro’s Cuba

CARE, an organization that began working in Cuba during the Special Period, is doing great work to reinstate the food security Cuba lost during the fall of the Soviet Union. With projects such as the Strengthening Dairy Value Chain Project (SDVC) and the Co-Innovation Project, CARE is working with Cuban farmers to improve agricultural practices. CARE made Cuban food security a national priority by providing rural farmers with access to new farming technologies, helping them in diversifying their food supply and figuring out ways to make food products more accessible at the local level. While Castro’s rule limited non-governmental farmland ownership to 18 percent, Cuba now allows its citizens 66.29 percent of farmland ownership, meaning that Cuba now has the ability and freedom to achieve its food security goals.

FHRC uses non-violence to protect the rights of Cuban citizens. Through the Cuban Repressors Program, the FHRC has created a safe place for Cuban citizens to report violent Cuban government officials. The program provides Cuban activists with cameras and smartphones that allow them to record inhumane activity. It also distributes photos and pamphlets with images of repressive perpetrators to communities and posts identified repressors on the internet. Since the launch of the program, these methods have identified 93 repressors, and with the number of reported repressors decreasing each month, the FHRC is succeeding in attaining justice for the Cuban people.

U.S. Relations with Cuba

Years after Raul Castro took over presidential responsibilities from his brother, President Obama announced that the U.S. and Cuba would restore its diplomatic ties in an effort to normalize relations between the two countries. Obama began to ease U.S. trade and travel restrictions with Cuba that were upheld for decades due to Castro’s abusive policies. However, the Trump Administration is making efforts to roll back Obama’s policies and enforce new economic sanctions on Cuba. With Cuba’s newly elected president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, only time will tell how the U.S.- Cuba relationship will develop.

– Candace Fernandez
Photo: Flickr

Top 10 Facts about Living Conditions in Cuba

The rise of Cuba’s Marxist-Leninist regime is situated in the context of the nation’s history, leadership and government. Cuba remains one of the few one-party socialist government bodies in the world. Living conditions for the people of Cuba were on par with European levels prior to the Cuban revolution of 1959, led by Fidel Castro and his socialist constituents. Following the overthrow of then-Cuban authoritarian President Fulgencio Batista, specific metrics of living conditions from the macroeconomic, sociopolitical and sociological perspectives weakened and consequently placed the people of Cuba under enormous political and financial strain.

Presently, little empirical evidence suggests that the top 10 facts about living conditions in Cuba are contextually related to Cuba post-revolution or pre-revolution. Living standards measure the general wealth, prosperity and quality of life for any given national population. Economic and non-economic factors that contribute to the assessment of living standards include but are not limited to: consumption, GDP per capita, income inequality, regular access to food and water, housing, crime rates, education, healthcare, social services, environmental health and economic freedom.

In assessing the top 10 facts about living conditions in Cuba, the country’s political climate, past and present, plays an important role in understanding living standards and how they affect the people of Cuba every day. Moreover, the normalization of relations between Cuba and the United States insofar as mainstream tourism carries with it the caveat of unreconciled embargoes placed on Cuba’s economy. In addition to living standards, present and planned solutions serve to incentivize U.S. lawmakers to revisit relevant legislation that empowers Cuba to trade, produce and export with more sovereignty. Until the issue of U.S. embargoes is reconciled or at the very least ameliorated, living standards in Cuba will cease to improve. With Cuba’s past and present contexts in mind, here are the top 10 facts about living conditions in Cuba:

  1. Cuba’s GDP has increased each year since its historic low of $5.69 billion in 1970 to a record-setting $87.13 billion in 2015. The country focuses much of its exports on tourism, construction, transport and agriculture. As of 2016, Cuba exported $1.18 billion worth of goods and services and imported only $6.73 billion. This denotes a negative trade balance between Cuba and the rest of the world.
  2. The Human Development Indicators (HDI) rank Cuba 73 in the world with an index of .777 according to the United Nations Development Program. This suggests Cuba has high human development. Cuba maintains a high HDI because of its allegiance to a centrally planned economy. Government ownership of land, labor and capital facilitates total control over goods/services production.
  3. Women in Cuba represent a large and growing faction within politics, labor and education. According to the American Association of University Women, they “make up 66 percent of the labor force in Cuba, and more than 70 percent of professionals in the country are women” (AAUW). Women and girls in Cuba have a long way to go as far as equality is concerned. However, female representation in political office maintains 43.6 percent of the 614 member unicameral legislature.
  4. Women have a significantly higher gross enrollment ratio as a percentage in education compared to their male counterparts. In 2008, women represented nearly 150 percent GER compared to men at just 90 percent. In the years following, women continued to dominate in the field of college enrollment. As of 2016, the parity of gender-based gross enrolment as moved towards equilibrium.
  5. The infant mortality rate has fallen from 80 per 1000 live births in 1950 to 5 per 1000 in the modern-day due to Cuba’s centrally planned government system. In 2015, over 10 percent of Cuba’s GDP, or $9.2 million, went to public health. Specifically, funding went to providing more staff, supplies and medicine to hospitals and clinics across the island. Additionally, Cuban Health Minister Roberto Morales Ojeda focuses his efforts on public health measures, including potable water, adequate diet and food supply and regular free checkups for expecting mothers and children.
  6. The construction of new housing units in Cuba has fallen from 42,940 in 2000 to 31,103 in 2012. This indicates a monumental challenge for Cuban residents to build and reside in safe, structurally sound homes. In response, the Cuban government shifted its focus onto the construction industry in order to attract more foreign investment. They have implemented 10 construction sector projects across Cuba, proposed in the 2016-2017 Foreign Investment Portfolio during the 34th Havana International Trade Fair. This is an economic development program in the works. No data has been released on its return or growth as of yet.
  7. The rapprochement strategy nicknamed “Cuban Thaw,” initiated by former President Barack Obama in 2014, is intended to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba after a half-century of hostility and restricted trade. Eased restrictions on travel and remittances allowed Americans to send unlimited sums of money to Cuba. Additionally, U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba for religious and educational purposes. As a result, the tourism sector strengthened and put more money into the pockets of Cuban business owners. Despite President Donald Trump’s recent attempts to stomp out the Cuban Thaw, more than 4.7 million visitors pumped more than $3 billion into the Cuban economy at the end of 2017, according to U.S. government figures.
  8. Hurricanes remain a threat to Cuba’s agricultural industry. Flash floods destroy coffee bean crops and disrupt communications and citizen access to electricity. In order to address the economic and sociological needs of Cuban citizens, a Spanish NGO named Hombre Nuevo, Tierra Nueva, works to aid farmers in rural areas, provide medicine to dispensaries for children and the sick and improve the food supply for the elderly.
  9. La Libreta, a 50-year-old food rationing system, is still operational in order to control food supply for Cuba’s population. This system allots a certain amount of rice, bread, milk, matches, sugar and oil depending on the individual’s age, gender and income.
  10. There are several subsidized public transport options for tourists and Cuban citizens, owned and operated by the Cuban government. Tourists tend to use Viazul, the premium bus service offered by the Cuban government. Viazul is different than other more mainstream public transport in that it has air conditioning and provides a more comfortable experience for passengers. Meanwhile, more accessible and affordable options leave much to be desired for Cuban citizens.

The top 10 facts about living conditions in Cuba concern the nation’s political history, present leadership and the possibility of civilian intervention insofar as to move the dial in favor of normalizing relations between the U.S. and Cuba. Presently, the U.S. embargo on Cuban trade creates disparate equality on the basis of income, GPD per capita, GDP by nation and GNP.

– Nicholas Maldarelli
Photo: Flickr

Top Ten Facts About Human Rights in Cuba

Cuba’s complicated political history has contributed to the government’s crackdown on free speech and public criticism of the nation. However, protecting political regimes is no excuse for oppression or violent action in any country or political system. Observing and acknowledging the status of human rights in Cuba is essential to improving the living conditions of those who live there. Here are the top nine facts about human rights in Cuba.

Top Nine Facts About Human Rights in Cuba

  1. Political Protest – The first of the top nine facts about human rights in Cuba pertains to Cuba’s political integrity. The Human Rights Watch reported that the Cuban government uses tactics, such as arbitrary detentions, to intimidate critics. These tactics are also intended to prevent political protest and dissent. In fact, the number of arbitrary detentions rose from a monthly average of 172 to 825 between 2010 and 2016. These unreasonable detentions are meant to discourage Cuban citizens from criticizing the government. Additionally, they result in a serious freedom of speech crisis for the Cuban people.
  2. Political Participation – Although dissent against the government is punished harshly, more Cubans are willing to express discontent with their votes now than in previous years. For example, during a constitutional vote in 1976, only 8 percent of the population voted that they were unhappy with their current constitution. However, in the most recent constitutional vote, 14 percent of the population voted they were unhappy. Although this is still a small percentage of the country willing to express discontent, it signifies substantial improvement from previous years.
  3. Freedom House Rating – In 2018, the Freedom House gave Cuba a “not free” rating. This is due to the Cuban government’s use of detentions to restrict political protest and restrain freedom of the press. However, there have been several notable improvements including the reforms “that permit some self-employment.” These economic reforms give Cubans more control over their personal financial growth.
  4. Right to Travel – There have been improvements in Cubans’ overall right to travel throughout their country and beyond. Since 2003, when travel rights were reformed, many who had previously been denied permission to travel have been able to do so. However, the government still restricts the travel rights of Cubans who criticize the government.
  5. Freedom of Religion – The U.S. State Department reported that although the Cuban Constitution allows for freedom of religion, there have been several significant restrictions on freedom of religion in Cuba. Accordingly, the government has used “threats, travel restrictions, detentions and violence against some religious leaders and their followers.” In addition, the Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), considered an illegal organization by the Cuban government, reported 325 violations of freedom of religion in 2017.
  6. Freedom of Media – The internet is limited and expensive in Cuba. Moreover, the Cuban government censors anything made available to the Cuban people. The Human Rights Watch reported that “the government controls virtually all media outlets in Cuba and restricts access to outside information.” While there are a few independent journalists who publish their work online, the Cuban government regularly takes these sites down so they cannot be accessed by the Cuban people.
  7. Access to Healthcare – Access to healthcare remains strong in Cuba. Despite its economic status, the country has a life expectancy of 77 years.  The World Health Organization even reported a drop in child mortality, reporting only seven deaths for every 1,000 children. This is a substantial improvement compared to 40 years ago when there were 46 deaths per 1,000 children. This strong healthcare system is a great success for the country and brings a higher quality of life to its citizens.
  8. Labor Rights – Cuba possesses a corrupt labor climate. As the largest employer in the country, the government has immense control over labor and the economy. Consequently, workers’ ability to organize is very limited. The state is able to dismiss employees at will. This lack of stability and the constant threat to citizens’ jobs enables the state control that restricts citizens’ rights to free speech.
  9. Political Prisoners – The Cuban government has wrongfully imprisoned several political dissidents. For instance, Dr. Eduardo Cardet Concepción was sentenced to three years in prison for criticizing Fidel Castro. In addition, a family was sentenced to prison for leaving their home during the state-mandated mourning period for Fidel Castro. However, the children of the family were released from prison after a prolonged hunger strike.

Although the Cuban government has been very successful at providing its citizens with a high quality of health care and is providing more economic freedoms, there are still huge restrictions on speech and media in the country. The government can threaten dissenters with unemployment, restrict their right to travel and arrest them on false claims. These restrictions are a serious human rights violation. In order to help provide the Cuban people with the opportunity to fully have a say in their government, it is important for those outside of Cuba to advocate and raise awareness for the plight of the Cuban people.

– Alina Patrick
Photo: Flickr