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 said to be 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 been given a raise which gives specialized doctors $67 a month and entry-level nurses $25 a month. If you assume a typical 40-hour workweek, this means that a doctor makes 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 consumed in Havana is grown 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 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 from “cradle to grave.” 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 25CUP per $1 U.S. dollar, 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 which 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 ending Havana’s poverty crisis, but with work being done to change U.S. policies and increase responsible tourism, we 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

Free PrEP in Cuba

In April 2019, news broke that Cuba passed a bill making pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) free. PrEP is a drug that significantly reduces the chances of contracting HIV/Aids. Free PrEP in Cuba could reduce the number of those infected and improve the lives of those most susceptible to the virus. Cuba’s history with HIV is extensive and controversial, with practices considered inhumane, yet Cuba’s desire to “better study” to eliminate the virus has always been prevalent.

Cuba’s History of HIV

In 1988, The Los Angeles Times published an article detailing the quarantine that occurred in Cuba. The article states that “one-third of the nation’s 10.2 million people” were tested for HIV, and 270 Cubans had the virus. Cuban officials supported the quarantine, though many found this tactic controversial.

In 2015, Cuba became the first country in the world to be certified by the World Health Organization for the elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis — elimination defined as only 50 babies per 100,000 live births having HIV. This milestone is a precursor to eradicating the virus for generations to come.

There are currently 234 cases of HIV in Cuba and 30 cases being presented each year. Sixty percent of all HIV cases are derived from Cardenas and the capital city, Matanzas.

What is PrEP?

Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is medication for people who are at very high risk for HIV. If taken daily, the medication could reduce the risk of contracting HIV by 90 percent; for those injecting drugs, the treatment could reduce their risk by 70 percent. Although PrEP reduces the risk of acquiring HIV, it does not erase the need to practice safe sex.

The pill has been 99-percent effective against the virus. In the U.S., there have only been two cases in which people contracted the virus while taking the pill, and the strain of HIV that they had was resistant to treatment.

Present Day Cuba

Free PrEP in Cuba became possible through the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), an agency of the United Nation, partnered with Niura Pérez Castro, who is head of the municipal program for preventions of STDs, HIV, AIDS and hepatitis.

The prevention medication has already been supplied to 28 people in Cardenas and is available to whoever needs it. For those who are HIV negative and wish to partake in the program, the Center for Prevention and Control of STIs, HIV and AIDS in Cárdenas evaluates people’s HIV status to make sure they could take the prevention medication.

Cuba’s battle with HIV has been extensive and controversial, but with strong determination, they have made strides. Free PrEP in Cuba and the end of mother-to-child transmissions promise a brighter future for generations to come.

– Andrew Valdovinos
Photo: Flickr

Trade EmbargoesIn a world dominated by complex international relations, tumultuous geopolitical conflicts and volatile financial climates, the sense of protectionism and the implementation of trade barriers are becoming more widespread. An embargo is a term that can be defined as the complete or partial ban on trade, business activities and relations occurring between two countries. Similar to trade sanctions, trade embargoes are involved when countries seek to establish barriers or constraints often for political motives, purposes and gains. But, do they work?

Cuba and the U.S. Trade Embargo

Countries like Cuba, Libya, North Korea, Venezuela, China and Russia have often been on the receiving end of trade embargoes for decades. In the past, U.S. trade embargoes have resulted in sporadic political changes and dire effects on foreign policy.

For instance, Cuba, in particular, has been adversely impacted by the U.S. trade embargo since the culmination of the Cuban Missile Crisis of the 1960s, particularly in regard to the collapse of the sugar industry. The initial decline was catalyzed by the imposition of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act. Production further declined after the fall of the Soviet Union and a rise in the embargoes by the United States.

Trade Embargoes and Economies

At times, trade embargoes work because they can contribute to more peace and stability, and they can even prevent the debilitation of human rights violations, terrorism, aggression and nuclear threat. However, long term restrictions can be quite damaging and aggravate poverty and the standard of living for civilians. Owing to the sheer level of economic isolation and threat to trading relationships, the effects of trade embargoes can be especially damaging to the business, trade and commerce of a country, impacting a country’s GDP as well.

As a result of the negative effects of trade embargoes, domestic industries and producers often suffer a decline in their export markets and revenues, thereby threatening jobs and livelihoods. Countries that tend to overspecialize in certain commodities, goods and services may be most affected by these constraints as key sectors of the economy may be adversely impacted. Given their level of development, poorer countries are often restricted to producing goods in the primary industry that may have relatively lower returns.

Unintended Consequences

Trade embargoes may lead to grave economic and geopolitical problems like retaliation, such as the Russian counter-embargo after the 2014 EU Energy embargo during the Russian annexation of Crimea. This can result in an escalation in trade and price wars in the long run. Incidentally, the U.S. and China may now also be on the verge of a major trade war due to the new imposition of trade barriers, most recently on steel and China’s HUWEI chip sales.

Due to deficiencies in the country’s power to export goods and services during an embargo, its trade balance will also tend to suffer to a great degree. For instance, a U.N. arms embargo has been placed on North Korea concerning all armaments and related goods. Since December 2017, trade restraints have also been placed on key industries like oil and agriculture. This has created issues for the North Korean economy, but it has done little to deter the government from nuclear testing.

Open Trade Benefits Economies

According to the IMF, there is significant evidence that countries with open economies are more likely to achieve higher levels of economic growth. With new levels of trade liberalization and globalization, expanding economies are benefitting from massive inflows of capital and investment from stakeholder groups around the world. Moreover, in recent years, burgeoning and fast-paced economies like China are graduating to an open trade policy so that they can bolster trading ties with other key trading players.

In the year 2014, members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) agreed to sign the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA). In order to ensure greater ease, competitiveness, and efficiency in trade in the future, trade facilitation measures are now being implemented so that weak bureaucracy and productivity issues may be addressed. TFA will also aid developing economies to boost their exports and have greater access to markets.

The answer is not simple. Trade embargos can work under the right circumstances, but they are not always as effective as one would hope. Furthermore, they can have unexpected consequences. Given the vast scope and potential of free trade and development in a dynamically changing world, eliminating barriers and encouraging greater economic integration may provide a more effective way to address important social and economic issues and have profoundly positive impacts in the long term.

Shivani Ekkanath
Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Cuba
Cuba is a large island located in the center of the Caribbean Sea. The country has made a tremendous effort in improving healthcare and, therefore, increasing the average life expectancy for its residents. There is still room for improvement though, as the average life expectancy is less than those in first world countries. The following are 10 facts about the average life expectancy in Cuba that sheds light on the issues and improvements Cuba has made to increase the average lifespan.

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Cuba

  1. Cuba’s estimated average life expectancy was 78.9 years in 2018 while the U.S. is just above their rank at 80.1. This puts Cuba at number 56 in the world for life expectancy. The U.S.’s rank is 45 in comparison. Cuba’s average life expectancy is excellent compared to most developing countries and has increased substantially in the last 50 years. The average life expectancy in Cuba was 63.8 in 1960.
  2. Smoking is prevalent in Cuba. At least 40 percent of men and 33 percent of women smoke tobacco in Cuba. Reducing this number would increase the average life expectancy as smoking tends to increase respiratory diseases. In one study, 41 percent of all deaths in Cuba in 2002 were from heart disease, stroke and “other unspecified diseases of the heart and veins,” and one such cause is due to frequent cigarette smoking.
  3. The prevalence of abnormally high blood pressure, or hypertension, is estimated to be around 25 percent in Cuba. About 70 percent of people who experience a heart attack have high blood pressure as do about 80 percent who suffer a stroke. The good news is that Cuba has been effective in treating patients with high blood pressure. In 2002, about 39 percent of Cubans aged 35 to 60 with high blood pressure were taking medication that successfully lowered their blood pressure to normal levels. These results are the highest in the world. To compare, the U.S. has a 29 percent rate for successfully treating hypertension patients in that age range.
  4. Since 2012, Cuba has had only one to two cases of pediatric HIV per year. Pediatric HIV is the spread of HIV from the mother to the baby. The World Health Organization recognized Cuba as the first country to eliminate the mother-to-child transmission of HIV and congenital syphilis.
  5. Despite Cuba being a developing country, their health care is exceptional. Cuba has universal healthcare, and infant and maternal mortality rates are less than most developing countries. The infant mortality rate is at four out of 1,000 children and maternal mortality is 39 out of every 100,000 births. There’s still space for improvement, but these numbers often decline as a country develops and improves things such as healthcare technology. This is still an impressive number when considering the infant mortality rate was 32 in 2015.
  6. The 1990s, the U.S. embargo against Cuba led to a reduction of medicine being sent to Cuba, which put lives at risk. In 2000, the Trade Sanction Reform and Export Enhancement Act allowed trade to resume, allowing the needed medications to enter the country. Cuba’s major importer for medications is the U.S. With medicine imported from the U.S. and other countries, Cubans have a higher average life expectancy than the rest of Latin America. Medication shortages let to a 48 percent increase in deaths from tuberculosis from 1992 to 1993.  After the act was passed, deaths from tuberculosis decreased from .7 in 1997 to .2 in 2007 for every 100,000 Cubans.
  7. The United Nations Population Fund began in 1971 and seeks to extend reproductive and healthcare services in Cuba. The UNPF has reached more than 140,000 people. In 2017, the UNPF spent more than $300,000 in integrated sexual and reproductive health services, which included maternal health and HIV.
  8. According to the Cienfuegos survey referenced in the National Center for Biotechnology Information, only 30 percent of the people engaged in vigorous activity, but 93 percent engaged in some kind of moderate physical activity at least three days a week. In one study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, participants who engaged in regular physical activity at least three times a week reduced their risk of mortality by 30 to 35 percent.
  9. One nongovernment organization called CARE began operating in 1995 during the Special Period in Cuba, an economic crisis caused by the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Most recently, in 2017, Hurricane Irma ravaged Cuba. Care was on site helping to provide clean water and sanitation as well as assistance with shelter for more than 20,000 people. One issue CARE worked on was disaster risk reduction by improving buildings so as to save lives whenever the next hurricane strikes. As an isolated island, Cubans along the coastline have a high chance of their homes being completely destroyed from deadly hurricanes, such as Hurricane Gustav in 2008.
  10. Cuba boasts the highest ratio of doctors-to-patients in the world. In 2006, for every 10,000 people, there were 59 doctors. By 2010, Cuba still held the number one spot, far above the U.S. and Great Britan. Cuba also sends its doctors to more than 40 countries across the world to assist in health care programs.

These 10 facts about life expectancy in Cuba explain why the average lifespan is currently at 78.9. The average life expectancy, although excellent compared to other developing countries, can still be improved by continuing their focus on high-quality healthcare. Another way to increase the average life span is by reducing the amount of Cubans that smoke tobacco.

Lucas Schmidt
Photo: Flickr