Top Ten Facts About Human Rights in CubaCuba’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 CubaIn 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

Top Ten Facts About Hunger in Cuba
The Republic of Cuba is home to nearly 11.5 million people and has lasted through a communist regime for more than 50 years. U.S. sanctions were designed to dislodge the leader, Fidel Castro, and his regime; surprisingly, the island of Cuba has survived long after the collapse of its biggest supporter, the Soviet Union.

During the last 50 years, the government of Cuba has worked to eliminate poverty and hunger; however, many analysts argue that the economic system envisioned by Fidel Castro has not lived up to its plans. The Revolution was centered around the idea of eliminating a class structure, yet, the country has been left poor.

Nevertheless, the government of Cuba has continued its support of Castro’s ideology and is now working to eradicate issues such as hunger. To learn more about the country’s shortcomings and successes, here are the top 10 facts about hunger in Cuba.

Facts About Hunger in Cuba

  1. Social protection programs implemented within the last 50 years have greatly helped Cuba reduce hunger. The government of Cuba provides monthly food baskets, mother-and-child health care and school feeding programs. These programs are reliant on food imports and are dependent on the national budget.
  2. Guided by the government’s commitment to leave no Cuban unprotected, the leadership of Cuba reformed its economic model. This process began in 2011 and had the goals to reduce costs, increase the viability of social programs and boost overall efficiency. Food scarcity was recognized as one of the nation’s top priorities.
  3. In 2015, about 3.5 million people visited Cuba, causing a surge in the demand for food. Food scarcity was in part due to the U.S. embargo, as well as poor planning by the Cuban government. The foods that many families relied on went instead to restaurants that catered to the increase in tourism. The prices of essential food have risen exuberantly, leaving the average Cuban at a big loss.
  4. The typical Cuban family has poor nutrition as there is often very little food diversity, and Cubans traditionally eat very few vegetables. In 2011, the government began its attempts to implement its National Plan for the Prevention and Control of Anemia. Children under the age of five are specifically targeted in this effort; however, by the end of 2015, it was reported that 31.6 percent of children aged two, and as many as 39.6 percent of children six months or younger, suffer from anemia.
  5. There are still periods of food shortage in Cuba. Maria Julia, a single mother from Santiago de Cuba, described the food shortages that occurred in December 2014 and January 2015. She and countless other Cuban families had no access to chicken — the main protein in Cuban cuisine. Schools could not provide lunch or snacks for the children during these periods, further challenging struggling parents.
  6. The Cuban government covers half of an individual’s nutritional needs at a very low cost. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization recently honored Cuba for its low levels of malnutrition and hunger. Although unable to provide an average Cuban with all their nutritional needs, the government has managed to provide supplements and extra rationed items for the elderly, children and those suffering from chronic illnesses.
  7. Food scarcity has caused families to struggle to create main meals; often by the end of the month, most Cuban families have usually already eaten their ration. This results in difficulty finding sustainable meals, and families tend to rely on social networks to acquire their essential food items.
  8. In dealing with food scarcity, Cubans had to adapt to different food than their traditional preferences. Many refuse to accept available food as viable, yet, they continue to consume the food out of necessity. The food available through the government does not reach cultural standards, so the Cuban people’s disdain is a sort of symbolic rejection.
  9. Nitza Villapol, one of the main Cuban food authorities, has encouraged the change in the traditional Cuban diet through cookbooks aimed at the average Cuban. The cookbooks and state-approved television shows teach Cubans to cook without staple foods. Food scarcity made traditional ingredients like pork, milk, butter and bread extremely difficult to attain.
  10. After the crash of the Soviet Union in 1991, Cuba’s sugar economy plummeted for nearly a decade. The government ordered the shutdown of 71 out of 156 sugar refineries in Cuba. Farming land that was once used for sugar is now used to supplement the monthly rations given by the state. Farmers generate cooperatives so that locals can survive off state-sponsored food in conjunction with local farming.

Independence and Eliminating Hunger

Currently, the small island of Cuba imports 60-80 percent of its food. State officials are encouraging the continuation of cooperative farming to avoid dependency on other nations. Additionally, urban farming started in the 1990s and is regarded by the government as an acceptable mean to supplement the monthly rations.

The island of Cuba is working very hard to eliminate hunger. These top ten facts about hunger in Cuba demonstrate both the areas in which the goals of the regime have fallen short, as well as the successes of Castro’s vision.

– Stefanie Babb
Photo: Unsplash

Food Crisis in Cuba

Many strides have been made in recent years to help poverty-stricken Cubans receive the basic necessities for life, but with a strenuous historical background and strict governmental policies, citizens are still in a fight for food. Missionaries and aid from other countries are currently offering assistance to help end the food crisis in Cuba.

The History of Poverty in Cuba

During the 1950s, Cuba was a small, third-world island country that was not big enough to produce its own goods and did not have enough farms to support the hungry population. Further complicating things was an enormous income gap between the rich and the poor.

In 1959, the country underwent a revolution during which Prime Minister and President Fidel Castro came to power, changing the state of the island’s economy for the worse. At this point, Cuba still relied mainly on imports from other countries for food and supplies. The Soviet Union was Cuba’s main supplier of food, but after the Cold War, the communist nation was no longer able to support Cuba’s hungry population, which made things even worse for hungry citizens.

Being one of the only communist countries in the world, the government in Cuba still has a tight hold on its citizens. Many of these same issues still exist today, making it difficult for people in poverty to obtain substantial food in Cuba.

The Food Crisis in Cuba Today

In 2018, Cuba still does not have enough land to grow agriculture to feed its population and does not produce enough of its own products. It relies on importing up to 80 percent of its food, according to the World Food Programme. The average diet of a Cuban household lacks an adequate amount of vegetables and protein-rich foods needed to promote a healthy lifestyle. Around 36 percent of infants suffer from anemia because of the lack of a proper diet.

In 1959, the Cuban government instituted a food rationing system that is still in use today, making households pay high prices for foods only sold in government-run supermarkets. The rationing system ensures enough food for families to just survive.

Each family receives a rations book that they take to the grocery store, allowing them to buy a certain amount of rice, sugar, coffee, cooking oil and chicken, according to The Guardian. Because of unemployment and low paying jobs, this system has made it even more challenging for citizens in poverty to pay for food in Cuba.

In the past few years, the U.S. has lifted some of its various bans on Cuba and has restored peace with the Caribbean nation, which means that more U.S. citizens are entering the country for leisure and vacation. The increase in tourism has had a negative impact on the food scarcity problem, according to The New York Times, as the food is now used for tourists instead of hungry citizens and has made the price of food in Cuba rise.

The Good News About the Cuban Food Crisis

During his presidency, President Obama loosened the U.S. ban on trading with Cuba, which has provided the growth of trade with Cuba and allowed the island nation’s farmers to obtain better farming equipment. American trade officials hope to create a food import market that could be worth billions if the Cuban economy boosts, which would help end the food crisis in Cuba.

Because of the recent peace between Cuba and the United States, missionaries have entered the country in the hopes of helping with the food shortage problem. A Georgia Southern University student, sophomore Olivia Folds, participated in a mission trip in 2017 to assist with the food crisis in Cuba. Folds’ group was stationed in the city of Camaguey and each missionary was assigned a family where he or she made supply bags for the family in need.

These bags included clothes, shoes, toiletries and food that Cuban citizens were not able to get for themselves. Children received bags filled with basic necessities along with crayons and candy, which were small luxuries they were not used to, Folds told The Borgen Project. She also commented that, if any of the missionaries offered the families money, they were “supposed to only give them like $50,” because “the government only allows them certain amounts of money each month.”

The Cuban government is still attempting to improve the food shortage problem for its citizens. With a new president that stepped into power this year, new policies being put into place and missionaries being able to come into the country more often, Cuban citizens are slowly but surely on a path to better nutrition.

– McKenzie Hamby
Photo: Flickr

credit access in CubaCuentapropistas, small and medium-sized Cuban private enterprises, do not have access to the assets they need in order to continue to prosper in Cuba. Since the initiation of President Raúl Castro, the amount of private business owners has tripled and the number of nonagricultural co-ops and individuals renting property has also continued to grow. For a continuous trajectory, credit access in Cuba for these cooperative enterprises and individuals needs investments and working capital.

There are over half a million legally registered cuentapropistas in Cuba and the numbers are still rising. These Meso, Small and Micro Enterprises (MSMEs) are an important economic asset to both Cubans and travelers, providing them with a wide variety of goods and services, creating employment and generating income.

Although microfinance lending has widened, it is still very limited. Statistics collected from the Central Bank of Cuba showed that in the wake of the government banking reform in 2011, 378,011 people received financing worth $135 million between the years 2012 and 2014. Only 34 percent of lending went to sole farmers and small enterprises, while micro enterprises accounted for about 2.6 percent. 63 percent of the loans that were lent went toward financing the construction of homes and renovating businesses.

Microcredit has been available in Cuba solely through local banks, as opposed to international banks or NGOs, which has presented a number of disadvantages to its success. Many Cubans lack a credit history, which has ruined the credibility and creditworthiness of borrowers. Another obstacle hindering credit access in Cuba is the lack of knowledge of the usage of credit among business owners primarily due to the many years of the nation’s state-owned and-operated political and economic system.

However, this has not stopped Credit4Cuba, a nonprofit foundation established in the year 2015 in the Netherlands by Marije Oosterhek and Dennis Schmidt. This organization is making a difference for cuentapropistas by supporting small and growing enterprise development in Cuba. Credit4Cuba works closely with existing groups in Cuba by providing the proper practical training and coaching assistance to entrepreneurs hoping to enter the world of cuentapropistas in order to expand their existing business.

Aside from offering training and coaching, Credit4Cuba aims to set up a social impact hub in Havana. It hopes to create a social community where entrepreneurs can meet to interchange experiences and collaborate on ideas in order to create opportunities and join efforts toward developing their businesses. In the near future, Credit4Cuba will work to connect cuentapropistas with social investors, entrepreneurs and trainers worldwide, provided that all participants will contribute toward the Sustainable Development Goals and work to create a positive influence in Cuba.

Microfinance organizations similar to Credit4Cuba, like the Grameen Bank and Kiva, are not only helping the economy for developing countries to prosper, but they are also contributing to the reduction of poverty. Credit access in Cuba for small business owners is slowly moving in the right direction.

– Zainab Adebayo

Photo: Pixabay

The Success of Humanitarian Aid to Cuba
Spending an entire day flooding over northern regions of the island, the harshest storm since 1932 destroyed over 4,000 homes, obliterated acres of cane sugar, engulfed Havana and ravaged Cuba as well as several other Caribbean islands.

And the entire world took notice — Russian, Japanese, Bolivian and Colombian governments all sent vessels of humanitarian aid to Cuba; in fact, the United States seemed to be the only direct assistance absent. Over the years, humanitarian aid to Cuba has been mixed with a rather substantial amount of political hesitations.

For instance, the United States Agency for International Development offers humanitarian aid — such as food, vitamins, medicines and toiletries — to Cuba in regard to their families, but also to political prisoners and politically ostracized individuals.

President of Engage Cuba, James Williams, stated that “politics playing the dominant role in humanitarian relief unfortunately has been with us far too long.”

A possibility considered by members of Congress was to provide Cuba with tools and supplies to repair public infrastructure like schools, hospitals, roads, and bridges, aside from direct humanitarian aid.

“If the U.S. were to do something magnanimous like this, it would go a long way to further U.S. interests in Cuba and generally support a group of people who are in dire need of help,” said Williams.

However, this plan would also require efforts from Congress to briefly, and temporarily, remove parts of the economic ban on Cuba to allow delivery of construction material to state entities that own the roads and other infrastructure. But as of now, the ban permits such deliveries only to private parties.

While America found loopholes to support the island’s direst needs, the Russian Emergencies Ministry sent humanitarian aid to Cuba that consisted of over 1,000 tons of cargo, including construction materials and medicines.

Three aircrafts from Japan, Bolivia and Colombia delivered humanitarian aid to Cuba in the form of an eight-ton load of cargo composed of rice, water, milk, sheets and hygienic items. Along with these nations, the governments of Argentina, Canada, Costa Rica, China, Dominica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Spain, Mexico, Nicaragua, Uruguay, Venezuela and Vietnam also articulated their unity with Cuba and readiness to support their salvage.

– Jalil Perry

Photo: Flickr

The Future of Infrastructure in CubaCuba has always been a land of intrigue. The communist island nation in the Caribbean is at the same time considered to be a tropical paradise and an inaccessible third-world nation with high poverty. Infrastructure in Cuba is infamous for its state of decay and disrepair.

In 1810, Cuba’s capital, Havana, had the same number of residents as New York City and nearly three times the population of Boston. It is home to countless historical colonial buildings as well as Soviet-style architecture built after Fidel Castro took power. In general, many of the buildings, historic or contemporary, are not well-maintained.

One of the constant threats to infrastructure in Cuba is natural disasters, especially hurricanes. Hurricane Irma, a Category 5 storm, devastated Cuba in September. The damage caused by the storm was compounded by the structural unsoundness of many of the buildings in Cuba. Of the 10 fatalities from the storm, seven were in Havana and were caused by unsafe buildings collapsing. Some people have continued living in parts of these buildings even after the storm.

Irma left longer-lasting damage as well. Millions of people were left without power and thousands of hectares of sugarcane, a major Cuban crop, were destroyed.

Tourism has always been a huge part of the Cuban economy, but increased tourism has put a strain on infrastructure in Cuba. The Obama administration eased travel restrictions on U.S. citizens visiting Cuba so that one can now visit the country individually, as opposed to doing so with a tour group. However, both the United States and Cuban governments, as well as the tourism industry, have expressed concerns about the ability of the infrastructure in Cuba to accommodate a large influx of tourists.

There is no doubt that the infrastructure in Cuba needs a major overhaul, but there are some positive points. The easing of restrictions on Cuba during the previous administration indicates a future of increased foreign tourism and business, and the Cuban government has acknowledged this reality.

Ultimately, lifting the U.S. embargo on Cuba would be a positive step, as it prevents the country from joining the IMF and scares away major U.S. banks from doing business in Cuba. It will require major foreign investments for Cuba’s economy to right itself, which in turn will lead to better infrastructure.  

The future of the country and infrastructure in Cuba are still in question, but there is no doubt that there is a desire for a bigger foreign presence in Cuba, and with it, major changes. Cuba, once a leader in infrastructure, has good reason to build itself up.

– Andrew Revord

Photo: Flickr

Water Supply in CubaAlthough Cuba is known for its water-filled landscapes, like the many rivers and turquoise springs that bubble up from time to time, the country faces issues with the water quality and supply. The water supply in Cuba has been affected due to a recent drought, resulting in a struggle to provide clean, fresh water to its citizens.

Over the past three years, Cuba has been facing one of the worst droughts of the century. This drought is affecting nearly 50 percent of the land in Cuba, and it is caused by a climate pattern known as “El Niño”. The El Niño phenomenon is when trade winds off the Pacific Ocean bring warm weather that quickly heats surface water. This effect has occurred in previous years but has increased drastically over the past three years.

Water reservoirs and dams have been affected, with some dams even falling below 50 percent capacity. Out of the 168 municipalities in Cuba, 141 have been directly affected by the effects of this drought. Havana, Cuba’s capital city, relied on tanker trucks from neighboring areas to help provide water to 120,000 people that were in desperate need in mid-2016.

Not many people consider how this drought is affecting day to day life for Cubans. Many families must purchase filtered water since the water supply in Cuba has decreased due to the drought, and this filtered water is not cheap. The average cost for 5 liters of filtered water is 15 Cuban pesos, which is equivalent to $15. This can be a financial burden on a family who has to ration this water for drinking among all its members, as well as to clean vegetables and fruits to eat.

The high price of water also means that many families can’t provide enough water for their pets or livestock, so animals are dying and getting sick all throughout the country.

The soil itself has become damaged as well, with some reports saying that nearly 75 percent of the soil is drier than desired. This has greatly affected the agricultural production, with many farms producing less than 50 percent of what they usually grow. This now means that not only is there a limit on water, but on food as well.

Cuba and the European Union have been working on a solution to not only solve the current drought problem but also to stop future droughts from becoming this large of an issue. The World Food Programme, the United Nations Development Programme, and the Mivimiento por la Paz have all partnered with the European Union and Cuba to develop these solutions.

Currently, the European Union is providing €600,000 in funding for two projects being developed in Cuba. The first project’s goal is to strengthen the preparedness plans in Cuba as well as the response and early warning systems.

The second project will focus more on a technical solution, by increasing the hydrological networks to increase the water supply in Cuba, as well as increasing its meteorological capacity so they can anticipate these patterns sooner.

Scott Kesselring

Photo: Flickr