Cuba’s Growing Economy and its Effects on Poverty
In 2018, Cuba’s economy was slowly increasing at a GDP growth rate of 2.2%, recovering from the economic instability the country was experiencing at the time. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, however, Cuba’s economy regressed significantly as its industries, such as the service industry (which composes 75% of the national GDP), were drastically affected. The effects of the pandemic were further exacerbated as Cuba’s currency was changed to the Cuban Peso in 2021, leading to hyperinflation at an estimated 500%. The outcomes of these events have drawn attention to Cuba’s growing economy and its effects on poverty.

Despite its economic regression, Cuba’s economy has been revitalized ever since 2021. Inflation has reduced from 500% to 39.07% in 2022 and public debt decreased from 151.1% of Cuban GDP in 2021 to 118.9% of Cuban GDP in 2022. This is largely in part due to the Cuban government opening its economy to private businesses, many of which originate from the U.S. As Cuba welcomes private business, the people of Cuba, especially those in poverty, have significantly benefited. 

US Companies Entering Cuba 

One example of how Cuban industries have been impacted by U.S. companies is the Cuban tourism industry. In January 2021, Cuba had 84,000 tourists, down 80% from January 2020. In January of 2023, however, Cuba recorded 246,000 tourists. This surge is mainly due to companies that have sped up Cuban tourism’s economic recovery. One such company is Airbnb. 

A popular characteristic of Cuba for tourists is the Casas Particulares, which are homes of Cuban residents that are shared with tourists. Airbnb rose to prominence in Cuba because it promotes these casas and makes it easier for tourists to locate them. In Airbnb’s first year in Cuba (2015), the company generated business for more than 4,000 Casas Particulares. Airbnb also significantly increased jobs within Cuba’s tourism industry. 

One case study involves Manuel Fortún Manzano, a 29-year-old employed in a construction company at the time of Airbnb’s entry into Cuba. Through Airbnb, Manuel began to offer a tourist experience (known as the “Havana Whisper”) which allowed Manuel to become a full-time tour guide. Manuel represents one of the thousands of people who have benefitted from a job as a result of Airbnb. 

Besides Airbnb, other American corporations, such as Netflix and American Express, have recently entered Cuba and greatly improved various industries. In doing so, the economic improvements have also benefited much of Cuba’s poor. As such, U.S. companies have contributed to Cuba’s growing economy and its effects on poverty reduction. 

How Cuba’s Growing Economy is Decreasing Poverty

  1. Lower Unemployment Rate: In January 2021, Cuba’s unemployment rate reached 3.87%, jumping 2.8% from the previous year. However, since the conclusion of the COVID-19 pandemic and the start of Cuba’s initiative to open its economy, unemployment rates have declined again. As of 2022, Cuba’s unemployment rate decreased by 1.07%. As the unemployment rate continues to decrease, more people will be able to obtain jobs and a stable source of income, thereby decreasing the number of people in poverty.
  2. Hunger & Nutrition: One of the most influential ways Cuba has reduced poverty levels has been through addressing hunger and malnutrition. The Global Hunger Index (GHI) measures the percentage of a country’s population that suffers from hunger on a 0 (best) to 100 scale (worst). Since 2000, Cuba has not had any GHI score surpassing the “very low” threshold, which is a score of 5 or less. Despite a low GHI score, Cuba has had struggles with agricultural production, mainly due to COVID-19. While the Cuban government continues to invest in its weak agricultural output, Cuba has effectively prevented hunger and, therefore, poverty.
  3. GDP Growth: In 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Cuba’s GDP growth rate hit rock bottom at -10.9%. As Cuba began to open its economy to privatization, however, Cuba’s economy rebounded. A year later, in 2021, Cuba’s GDP grew by 1.3%. This trend is very promising because a higher GDP is known to have a direct correlation with lower poverty rates. 

These three trends represent the importance of Cuba’s growing economy and its effects on poverty reduction.

The Future of Cuba

As Cuba embraces privatization, more businesses will seek to enter the market and stimulate Cuba’s declining economy. As the economy rebounds, Cuba’s poverty rates will continue to fall as people are open to more opportunities. As a result, Cuba’s growing economy and its effects on poverty offer a positive glimpse into the country’s future.  

– Manav Yarlagadda
Photo: Unsplash

Elderly Poverty in Cuba
Elderly poverty in Cuba remains a significant concern as the country faces with economic challenges and limited resources. According to the World Bank, individuals aged 65 and above constituted 16% of Cuba’s population in 2021. Looking ahead, the National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI) projected in 2016 that by the year 2030, 29% of the Cuban population will be aged 60 and above, while only 16.1% will be under the age of 15. This article delves into the impact of meager pensions and economic struggles on the elderly population in Cuba, emphasizing the need for sustainable solutions to alleviate their financial hardships.

Caring for the Elderly Becomes an Important Daily Commitment for Cuban Families

Caring for the elderly has become a crucial daily commitment for Cuban families as the elderly population continues to grow. The Cuban government has responded by assigning caregiving responsibilities to the family unit while preserving cultural traditions. The care of older people has become an important daily commitment for Cuban families.

However, to avoid the care of the elderly becoming an overwhelming family burden, these families receive relevant thematic education and community support. Changes in the structure and functioning of the Cuban family have significantly affected the economic, physical and psychological well-being of older people. Moreover, as the generation of Cuban baby boomers born in the 1960s enters the aging stage in the next decade, the sudden increase in the number of older people will impact the existing mechanisms of family solidarity in Cuba.

In 2021, Cuba’s old age dependency ratio (percentage of working-age population) reached 23%, highlighting the growing importance of taking care of the elderly and addressing elderly poverty in Cuban society.

Insufficient Pension Rates

The issue of insufficient pension rates is one of the key challenges contributing to elderly poverty in Cuba. Retired individuals in the country often receive pensions that fall short of meeting basic living expenses, leaving many elderly individuals in a precarious financial situation.

As of the end of 2022, the Ministry of Finance and Prices reported that 367,887 individuals were receiving social welfare benefits and there were 1,821,000 pensioners in Cuba. The minimum pension, which varies depending on the economic sector, is set at 1,528 pesos, equivalent to less than $10 USD in today’s currency. This limited amount makes it extremely challenging for older adults to cover even basic living expenses, let alone address other financial needs and maintain a decent standard of living. The Cuban Observatory for Human Rights presented a report in 2022 showing that 20% of surveyed adults aged 65 and above were able to access the necessary medicines they require. Additionally, 18% of the elderly were occupying houses that could potentially collapse, highlighting the precarious living conditions that a significant portion of the elderly population in Cuba faces.

Efforts to Fight Elderly Poverty in Cuba

In the context of the aging population, the Integral Program on Healthy Ageing is a project that the European Union and the Municipal Government. The Cuban Society of Gerontology and Geriatrics, a nongovernmental organization in Cuba, coordinates it. It started in January 2018 and the main goal of this project is to enhance the overall quality of life and well-being of the elderly residents in the targeted municipality.

The Integral Program on Healthy Ageing, a project that the European Union and the Municipal Government funded, plays a crucial role. The Cuban Society of Gerontology and Geriatrics, a nongovernmental organization in Cuba, coordinates the project with the main goal of enhancing the overall quality of life and well-being of elderly residents in the targeted municipality. The project adopts an integrated care approach encompassing all environments where individuals grow older, necessitating coordinated efforts at the micro (clinical), meso (service delivery) and macro (system) levels.

Furthermore, the Community Care Program and the National Program for the Comprehensive Care of the Elderly have led to the establishment of Casas del adulto mayor (Houses of the Elderly). These daycare facilities serve as an integrated approach to address the intersection of health and social care for isolated elderly individuals. Over the past decade, there has been an increase in the number of Casas del Adulto mayor, with a growth rate of 37%. In 2005, there were 201 facilities and by 2016, this number had risen to 276.

While the challenge of elderly poverty in Cuba persists, ongoing initiatives demonstrate a dedication to creating a more inclusive and supportive environment for the elderly, with the ultimate goal of reducing poverty and enhancing their overall well-being.

– Yizhi Cao
Photo: Flickr

Mental Health in CubaStudies have identified poverty as a factor that can contribute to poor mental health. Knifton and Inglis detail this by underscoring that “Poverty in childhood and among adults can cause poor mental health through social stresses, stigma and trauma.” This applies to all countries, including Cuba. Here are five factors impacting mental health in Cuba.

5 Factors Impacting Mental Health in Cuba

  1. The Impact of Shift Work. The Havana Times highlights that shift work, often visible in medical and government sectors in Cuba, adversely impacts mental health. For instance, an employee may need to work 24-hour straight shifts coupled with three days off thereafter.  A study by Park and Lee published in 2022 says these types of shifts raise an employee’s susceptibility to depressive and anxiety-related symptoms by 33% and double the risk of suicidal thoughts. This is due to the fact that shift work disturbs the natural circadian cycle and heightens the risk of Shift Work Sleep Disorder (SWSD).  In comparison to workers with standard daytime schedules, suicidal ideation is twice as common in shift employees.
  2. The Impact of Turbulent Housing Circumstances. A lack of stable and secure housing can induce stress that leads to mental turmoil. Oftentimes, large Cuban families in poverty live in constricted, single-room homes provided by the government with insufficient space to accommodate multigenerational families. This limitation in their daily lives can ultimately lead to mental health troubles, says a study on mental illness in Cuba by Laura Nohr and others. In addition, impoverished citizens may lack the resources for the maintenance of their houses, resulting in the deterioration of housing. The inability to maintain long-term homes can enhance levels of mental distress.
  3. The Impact of Stigma. A study by Laura Nohr and others indicates that, in Cuba, there is a high prevalence of stigma surrounding mental health. Yet, despite this stigma, study participants showed a willingness to seek out professional assistance for mental health conditions. The reasoning behind this is that in Cuba mental illness is not perceived as a factor that may jeopardize one’s social status. And, in Cuba, mental illness is generally not considered a risk factor for poverty. Regardless, prejudice toward those who seek treatment remains an issue to address in order to further increase the utilization of mental health care services. 
  4. Cuba Prioritizes Early Interventions. Early diagnosis and intervention for the onset of mental health issues stand as a priority in Cuba, according to a study by Ruiz and Linz. From birth, each Cuban citizen holds the right to free and accessible mental and general health care diagnosis, care and evaluation services by professional health care specialists. Moreover, medical and psychological evaluations are routine and required throughout a Cuban’s lifetime to facilitate the early identification of symptoms.
  5. Support for People with Mental Health Diagnoses. Community and labor institutions in Cuba provide assistance to those undergoing mental health or medical treatment to enable them to maintain their education progress and employment. The institutions conduct evaluations of an individual’s capabilities, training, work experience and environment in order to assign them to a particular job while undergoing treatment. As such,  while undergoing treatment, those with mental health conditions do not need to concern themselves about shifts in their living, economic or educational situation. These potential forms of employment extend beyond manual labor according to the person’s skill set. Similarly, these institutions consider the possibility of a young person continuing their education and provide guidance and support accordingly.

With a commitment to supporting the mental health care needs of struggling Cubans and the prioritization of early interventions, mental health in Cuba can continue improving.

– Katrina Girod
Photo: Flickr

Being Poor in CubaDuring Fidel Castro’s leadership, which lasted from 1959 through 2008, citizens experienced the reality of being poor in Cuba. Despite improved health care and education in the country, as shown by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) recognition of near-universal nationwide literacy, the Cuban economy and people still suffered under Castro’s rule. Meanwhile, the U.S. imposed an embargo on Cuba in 1962, following Castro’s ascension to power and this presented further hardships for Cuban exporters.

The embargo served to prevent the spread of communist ideology by isolating Cuba and restricting communication with the outside world. In an April 1960 memo, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary Lester D. Mallory wrote, “Every possible means should be undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life of Cuba.” The embargo is still active in 2023, with many pressuring President Biden to put an end to the repressive blockade in order to improve the quality of life for those living the reality of being poor in Cuba.

3 Facts About Being Poor in Cuba

  1. Food Scarcity. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Cuba faced a food crisis, particularly due to a combination of diminished food imports and tightened U.S. sanctions. Meanwhile, with an inflation rate of 42% in 2023, Cubans are struggling to put food on their tables. The current food shortage and scarcity issues mean that Cubans have few affordable food options. Even the most basic food items like eggs, milk, bread and toilet paper are becoming increasingly hard to find in local supermarkets.
  2. Employment Problems. For a country with a struggling economy, Cuba has a notably low unemployment rate compared to countries with a similar economic standing. Cuba has no minimum national wage, and in 2022, a report by the Cuban Observatory for Human Rights (OCDH) revealed that more than 72% of Cubans are living below the poverty line. In the same report, 30% of Cubans surveyed claimed to have full-time work, leaving the remaining 70% in precarious and unstable working conditions and heavily reliant on a small proportion of the population for financial support. With such a high number of Cubans working full-time and living in poverty, there is significant pressure on the employed to find additional ways to make ends meet.
  3. Health and Education. Even with the harsh reality of poverty in Cuba, Cubans enjoy free access to health and education. Because primary-level education is compulsory for all Cuban children, the country has a near-nationwide literacy rate. Moreover, preventative care stands as the priority of the Cuban health care system. Cuba also comes in first place in the world’s leaderboard for the number of doctors per 1,000 people at 8.4 in 2018, giving the country an exceptional reputation for an abundance of medical personnel.

CARE’s Work in Cuba

As a British charity operating internationally, CARE works to solve global poverty and eradicate all problems of inequality with a particular focus on women and girls. In 1959, CARE began working in Cuba to provide food security for those with little to no means. In 2019, CARE began making efforts to enable Cuban farmers to develop climate resiliency in the face of changing weather patterns as a means of strengthening food security. CARE also ran programs to improve quality of life, ensure access to clean water and implement sustainable agricultural methods in vulnerable communities. In terms of upholding the right to food, nutrition and water, CARE has run nine programs in Cuba. In 2022, programs of this nature benefited more than 5,500 people.

Looking Ahead

Due to its complicated history and ongoing political difficulties, a large fraction of the Cuban population lives below the poverty line. Also, the U.S. embargo currently makes it challenging for U.S.-based charities to provide aid to Cuba. This leaves the responsibility of providing aid to Cuba to countries and organizations outside the U.S. Despite these struggles, Cuba’s health and education services help to raise the quality of life in the nation.

– Genevieve Lewis
Photo: Flickr

Hurricane Ian
In the midst of the most powerful hurricane in nearly a century, Cuba’s Antonio Guiteras thermo-electric power plant lost power leaving 11 million without electricity. By Monday, October 3, 2022, reports stated that some of the island had regained power, yet large numbers of Cubans were still in the dark. Much of the island has experienced a subsequent water crisis as the plant is responsible for pumping fresh water across the island. Hurricane Ian produced winds upwards of 150 mph, leaving two dead and 20 unaccounted for. As authorities scramble to recoup in the wake of hurricane Ian, many have been wondering what is next, and when the state-run power grid will be up and running for all.

Dismay in the Eye of the Storm

On Tuesday, September 27, 2022, Hurricane Ian hit Cuba as a Category 3. It impacted the city of Pinar del Rio the hardest. Winds of up to 125 mph battered the western part of the island, damaging some of the most important tobacco farms in La Robaina. Agriculture is the main industry in the island nation and damage to this farm could result in further deprivation, as the circulation of goods is already slow. Cuba’s power outages have grown more frequent in the previous months, with a dated electrical power system, and blockage of income from tourism, the country’s stability is teetering.

The country depends on its export of medicine, and medical practitioners, as well as tourism and remittances, to remain somewhat secure. The COVID-19 pandemic left the country in a desperate economic state, with the closure of tourism, and President Trump’s new restrictions on Western Union transfers introduced in November 2020. Now Russia’s war in Ukraine has blocked tourists from dispersing their usual flow of hard currency in the country. Russians made up 40% of the tourists visiting Cuba in 2021, but the war halted flights back to Russia overnight, and along with air travel, a flow of touristic income has ceased to exist.

Upside and Solutions

Luckily, the Cuban model of disaster relief is much more advanced than the U.S. The U.N. has called the Cuban system “A Model in Hurricane Risk Management.” However, the factor that makes this model so advanced is education. Cubans learn how to prepare for a storm from a young age and receive warnings well in advance when a hurricane is approaching. This leads to fewer deaths overall as people flee the area of impact well before the storm arrives. Moreover, people are knowledgeable about how to prepare for hurricanes, and they take absolutely nothing for granted.

The U.N. reported that “All institutions are mobilized 48 hours before the hurricane hits the island, to implement the emergency plan, and measures such as massive evacuation are taken.” Unfortunately, much of this initiative has occurred out of necessity. Due to the authoritarian government, Cuba’s actual poverty data is hard to come by, but in 2020, the population was indirectly estimated to be at a poverty level of 41-50%. With the country in a dire state due to the pandemic, increased sanctions, and now trade issues with its global partner, individuals have often been on their own.

Global Solutions

Cuba is set to receive 1 million Euros in Aid from the EU. The storm damaged an estimated 100,000 homes, leaving many in need of housing. This act of solidarity by the EU will help the island nation recoup in the wake of the disaster. While government sanctions have still been largely hindering the country from receiving donations, Catholic Relief Sevices, in partnership with Caritas Cuba, has found a way around the blockade to get vital, non-perishable goods, water and supplies to people who need them.

– Shane Chase
Photo: Pixnio

U.S. Agricultural Exports to Cuba
With inflation in Cuba soaring to 70% in 2021 and food imports dropping from $2 billion pre-pandemic to $11.2 million post-pandemic, Cubans are dealing with a devastating economic collapse that has a plethora of bleak consequences. These consequences have led to a low annual income per capita of just 627 Cuban pesos (or $25 USD) and the worst food shortage crisis since the 90s, The Economist reported in July 2021. H.R. 8294 is a piece of legislation that bans the “financing of agricultural sales to Cuba.” A proposed amendment to this legislation, amendment 137, calls for the termination of this prohibition. Supporters of the amendment state that expanding U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba “would create thousands of farm jobs in the United States while providing desperately needed food at lower prices for the Cuban people.” Apart from shortening hours-long queues of people lining up to access food in Cuba, the amendment would also address hunger in the nation and help the country stabilize overall.

Food Shortages in Cuba

In 2021, Cubans had to become accustomed to long wait times for perishables, with some food queue waiting times as long as up to 12 hours. These food queues are a consequence of sanctions on Cuba, the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic instability in the country.

Cuba imports nearly 80% of the country’s food, and as a communist nation, the state pays for these shipments. When Cuban officials had less capital to work with during the pandemic, imports fell to levels not visible since 2009. As administrators stretch beyond their capacity, U.S. efforts have become extremely important.

The Cuban government estimates that America’s embargo in its entirety (from 1962 to today) has cost Cuba more than $144 billion. The U.N. estimates this number at closer to $130 billion though. Sanctions and embargoes have stifled economic growth in Cuba, but with a worsening food crisis, U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba are of the utmost importance.

In the 17-year period (1975-1992) when the U.S. allowed Cuba to purchase commodities from “subsidiaries of U.S. companies in third countries,” 90% of the sales each year related to supplies of food and medicine.

U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba served as a major source of the country’s nutritional and medical needs in the past and Cuba still can technically buy food from U.S. companies given an embargo exception made in 2000. But, the U.S. offers no credit for the island nation and only accepts upfront cash payments, making the crucial lifeline of sustenance a mere object of the past. Amendment 137 would offer credit to Cuban consumers so as to make these imports more accessible.

The Possibility of Stability

Supporters of this amendment point toward its potential positive societal impacts as an argument for its adoption. Anti-government protesters marched in Cuba on July 11, 2021, in response to “restrictions on rights, food and medicine scarcity and the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Human Rights Watch reported.

July 2021’s demonstrations are the biggest the country experienced since the 1959 revolution. Police detained more than 1,400 demonstrators and more than 700 of these individuals still endured imprisonment as of July 2022.

U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba will not resolve human rights restrictions or the strict rule of the Cuban government, but it would certainly quell a major upset that citizens have, which is rooted in their unmet basic necessities. The possibility of stabilization thanks to a greater U.S. food supply looks even more promising when considering the catalyst for 2021’s uprising, the failure of authorities to keep the economy at bay.

Amendment Specifics

The previously mentioned Cuban credit line would be open for a year and the termination of existing U.S. agricultural export regulations would complement this. Amendments similar to amendment 137 have been proposed in other pieces of legislation, such as the 2017’s government appropriations bill and the Cuba Agricultural Exports Act, which had bipartisan support. However, this amendment was not adopted in H.R. 8294’s first House passage but the proposal still remains on the table as the bill is still awaiting a vote from the Senate.

Amendment 137 in relation to H.R. 8294 could address a lot of the dilemmas Cubans face, from the unbearably long food queues to the instability plaguing the streets. Cuba has demonstrated in the past that it can gain a lot from U.S. business, especially when offered credit to engage with it as Cuba stood as the “ninth-largest export market” for U.S. agriculture pre-1960.

If nations like the U.S. can add stimulus, the resulting benefits would be instrumental for people who have faced a rapidly deteriorating situation over the last two years. Measures like H.R. 8294’s 137th amendment would increase U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba by deregulating U.S. farm exports into Cuba and by offering Cubans credit to afford these new imports. Its adoption would offer Cubans more nutritious food options and make existing food options more accessible. The amendment would play a significant role in the resolve that protestors are requesting, ushering in much-needed stability and peace.

– Jacob Lawhern
Photo: Flickr

Updates on SDG 8 in Cuba
The United Nations (U.N.) Division for Sustainable Development Goals grades member countries on 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). One can discover the most direct links to potential poverty in a country by analyzing the economy and labor market. The Sustainable Development Report from May 2022 provides updates on SDG 8 in Cuba.

What is SDG 8?

SDG 8 focuses on economic growth and decent work. The factors that influence updates on SDG 8 in Cuba include the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) growth, the unemployment rate, potential victims of modern slavery and “fatal work-related accidents embodied in imports.” Previous updates on SDG 8 in Cuba also showed progress. Both the 2020 and 2021 Sustainable Development Reports showed that Cuba had met SDG 8 and maintained it.

How Did Cuba Do?

The most recent updates on SDG 8 in Cuba come from the 2022 report, which once again, shows Cuba achieving the goal despite economic setbacks in recent years.

In the last decade, Cuba’s gross domestic product (GDP) averaged a growth of about 2% a year, according to the World Bank. The Caribbean island nation’s GDP had not seen negative growth in the 21st century until a slight dip in 2019. Like most countries, the COVID-19 pandemic caused a steep drop in GDP in 2020. After recording a -10.9% GDP in 2020, Cuba rebounded slightly in 2021 with a 2% growth in its economy.

The unemployment rate in Cuba is also relatively low, only hitting 3.87% in 2020.  The 2022 Sustainable Development Report places Cuba’s unemployment rate at 2.5% in 2022. Trading Economics predicts that, by 2023, the unemployment rate will drop to 2.2%.

According to the Sustainable Development Report of 2022, 3.8 out of every 1,000 Cubans fell victim to modern slavery. This number likely links to accusations of modern slavery against Cuba in relation to the nation’s international medical outreach program. The most recent allegations pertain to doctors, with the U.N. Human Rights Council’s rapporteur making an official inquiry in November 2019.

Based on reports from Cuban doctors themselves, the United States alleges that Cuban doctors working in other countries are overworked and endure underpayment in the international medical assistance program that brings billions to Cuba each year. The U.S. also alleges that Cuban doctors have to leave their families behind in Cuba to discourage defection while abroad.

As for the factor of fatal work accidents embodied in imports, the 2022 Sustainable Development Report notes 0.2 per 100,000 Cubans. This data is consistent with the 2020 and 2021 reports, indicating stagnation in work-related fatal accident rates.

Potential Progress on SDG 8 in Cuba

One beacon of hope that Cuba is leaning toward to further its economic growth and recovery is the tourism industry. Despite the United States embargo from the Kennedy administration, Cuba used to welcome about 4 million visitors each year from across the globe before the pandemic.

As pandemic restrictions ease, the tourism industry is seeking to capitalize on increased travel. The Cuban government has dedicated 24% of its 2022 budget to tourism, focusing on building new hotel rooms as well as relying on entrepreneurs in the country to bolster the uptick in tourism to the island.

The United States easing travel restrictions to Cuba will help increase the number of visitors to the country. According to an announcement in May 2022, while U.S. citizens cannot travel to the island for tourism purposes, those traveling to Cuba for research or meetings can enter the country.

The State Department announced on May 17, 2022, that it will allow flights from the U.S. to land at other airports in Cuba going forward, lifting a restriction that only permitted flights to land at the José Martí International Airport in Havana.

Barring any unforeseen setback, Cuba expects to increase its GDP by 4% in 2022, according to Prime Minister Manuel Marrero in a report from December 2021. Cuba could maintain SDG 8 for next year by increasing GDP, keeping unemployment low and maintaining the improvements presented in the 2022 Sustainable Development Report. This would mark a small victory for a nation battered by economic stagnation and sanctions from its neighbor to the north.

– Emma Rushworth
Photo: Flickr

Cuban Doctors
One of the most significant exports that Cuba continually delivers is doctors. Offering quality services at a price that the most vulnerable and impoverished patients can afford, these medical practitioners are changing the world. In 2020, patients worldwide called upon around 800 Cuban doctors and nurses at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, Human Rights Watch, an international NGO that advocates and researches human rights violations and other organizations claim a dark side to the philanthropic efforts that Cuba presents. Moreover, controversy surrounds Cuba’s medical internationalism with claims of Cuban doctors working under repressive regulations that violate their fundamental human rights.

Cuba’s History of Medical Internationalism

After the Cuban Revolution in 1959, the socialist government addressed its main societal concerns: universal health care and free education. As a result, while revamping the health care system in the country through strategic methods, the government achieved its goals of providing free healthcare and quality education. Using these values, the Cuban government began a program to bring humanitarian medical aid worldwide. According to the BBC, Fidel Castro himself described the exported medics as Cuba’s “army of white coats.”

Its history of medical altruism began in 1963 when Cuba sent 56 doctors to replace the French doctors that left Algeria, according to TIME. After Algeria gained independence from France in 1962, one of the newly formed country’s main issues was the mass exodus of French doctors. According to Granma, the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party, more than 3,000 doctors left the nation. Cuba supported the country while it rebuilt its health care system.

Cuba would also help other nations in times of catastrophes, such as Haiti’s 2010 earthquake. With equipment and valuable knowledge, 380 Cuban health care providers were some of the first doctors to respond to the crisis. They operated four clinics in Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince, providing life-saving procedures such as amputations, sutures and antibiotics. In an interview with pharmacist Ildilisa Nunez, a member of the Cuban Miracle Mission, National Public Radio (NPR) reported that 605 people came to the clinic within 12 hours of the earthquake.

In that critical moment, Cuban doctors could provide the aid that the citizens needed, especially during the pandemic.

Cuban Medical Personnel During COVID-19

Forty countries worldwide received the aid of Cuban health care providers during the pandemic. While Cuba is often helping nations with weak health care systems, wealthier nations such as Italy and Andorra have received Cuban aid too. For example, in Lombardy, Italy, the region’s health minister Guilio Gallera asked for the help of Cuban medics in March 2020, according to The Economist. On March 22, 2020, 52 Cuban doctors arrived from Havana to help.

Some host countries, according to NBC, are learning from Cuba how to handle the pandemic effectively. These strategies include “isolating cases, tracing their contacts, screening for sufferers and swiftly applying therapeutic treatments like the antiviral agent interferon.” Even nations that have ended agreements, such as Brazil, have requested aid once more because of the pandemic’s damage. Brazil received 1,012 Cuban doctors that allowed them to practice in “basic primary medicine for two years without having to requalify to practice,” NBC reports.

The pandemic caused nations worldwide to turn to Cuba for aid. Still, there is a darker side to their humanitarian assistance.

A Violation of Human Rights

Human Rights Watch accused the Cuban government of imposing regulations that have violated Cuban medics’ fundamental rights. Some of these liberties included “the right to privacy, freedom of expression and association, liberty and movement, among others,” as Human Rights Watch reported.

Under the Resolution 168 of 2010 that the Ministry of External Commerce and Foreign Investment wrote, it is a disciplinary offense to have any relationships with others who are not consistent with the values that Cuban society holds. In addition, personnel deployed abroad, under the same order, must disclose all “romantic relationships” to their supervisors, Human Rights Watch reports. The government also limited the freedom of expression using regulations that the Human Rights Watch said were “unnecessary and disproportionate to any legitimate government aim.”

Not only do Cuban medics suffer from restrictive bans that limit their freedom, but they also endure threatening situations. Around 41% of Cubans that worked abroad say they experienced sexual assault while at their posts. If the deployed personnel wanted to leave the program, they would face an eight-year ban from Cuba, according to VOA News.

Though, the string of infractions does not stop. Multiple organizations, including Human Rights Watch, accused the Cuban government of exploiting the medical personnel wages. Prisoners Defenders reported that “doctors on average receive between 10% and 25% of the salary from the host countries,” with Cuba’s authorities keeping the rest, according to BBC. With lucrative missions that bring Havana $8.5 billion a year, a large sum of money is continually withheld from Cuban doctors, according to VOA News.

The Future of Cuba’s Medical Internationalism

While Cuban medical aid has helped countries worldwide, there has been a call to question how humanitarian the government has been to its employees. Only the future will tell if Cuba will end up before the International Criminal Court and the United Nations to face their crimes. However, in the end, the world needs the aid that Cuban doctors have provided for over half a century.

– Gaby Mendoza
Photo: Flickr

Anti-government Protests in Cuba
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the country of Cuba has seen tremendous uproar from its citizens. Thousands of people have taken to the streets protesting against the communist regime in the most significant Anti-government revolts in decades. Protesters have spanned across 30 different areas around the island, including Havana. The protesters have thwarted the government’s attempts to keep the protests in Cuba under wraps by showcasing their efforts via social media, making the revolting world-known.

What are the Protests in Cuba About?

The current protests are responding to several issues that emerged during the pandemic. Some problems include an 11% decrease in the nation’s economy, leaving many citizens without food to eat and no medicine to treat their sick. They are protesting against the dictatorship regime and want to fight for more freedom in what they do. They are also protesting against the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has infected over 7,000 people and killed 47.

When the coronavirus hit, Cuba had to close its borders, preventing tourists from visiting the island. The United States imposed sanctions on sugar exports, costing the government $5.5 billion in 2020. As a result, Cuba is experiencing an economic crisis, which has resulted in the loss of many jobs and an increase in unemployment.

In response, citizens have taken over the street, successfully shutting down entire expressways for their cause. Beginning on Sunday, July 11, citizens have taken to social media to express their outrage for their leaders. They were requesting a political change, vandalizing areas in which they operate and attempting to deliver their message.

“It’s time for things to change. The situation is critical,” said 22-year-old construction worker Christian Veliz in an interview with AP News.

The Cuban Government has then reacted to these protests with police authority. So far, the police have dispersed all demonstrations across the country, even going into people’s homes to arrest them. Police arrested and locked up about 100 citizens. Another 150 to 200 people have reportedly gone missing.

“People are dying in the streets at the hand of the police. The government denies help to those hurt,” said Adrian Artega in an interview with Wink News.

The Government’s Response

To stop the protests, the government has even shut down the internet nationwide, making it difficult for people to communicate and continue their efforts on social media. Cubans are now using word-of-mouth and social media to keep the protest going and gain international support.

After a while, the Cuban government softened its stance on the protesters and tried to defuse the situation. Now that Cuba has lifted the internet ban along with food and medicine taxes, all Cubans can access these goods. However, many feel as though it is too little, too late.

“No, we don’t want crumbs. We want Liberty. Blood has not run in Cuban streets to be able to import a few suitcases,” tweeted by government critic Yoani Sanchez.

Local and International Supporters of the Protesting

Along with the lifting of trade restrictions, there has been an answer to Cuban protesters’ calls for help. Several musicians of Cuba, such as Adalberto Alveraz, the Elito Reve Orchestra and more, have voiced their support for what is happening in Cuba.

The U.S. government and President Biden have also lent their support to the protesters and Cuba. They have even stated that they would like to send assistance to Cuba when they are able.

“There are many things we are considering doing to help the people of Cuba, but that would require a different circumstance or a guarantee that they would not be taken advantage of by the government,” said President Biden.

President Biden and Homeland Security have since developed a hardline policy toward Cuba. This has resulted in the fourth round of sanctions against the Cuban government in the hopes of forcing Cuba’s top officials to change their ways and finally appease its citizens. Biden, who sympathizes with the Cuban people, has stated that he will continue to impose sanctions on Cuba until the conflict resolves.

“There will be more [sanctions] unless there’s some drastic change in Cuba, which I don’t anticipate,” said Biden in a meeting with the Cuban American leaders in the White House.

Although protesters have made demands and received support, protests in Cuba are still ongoing as citizens rally for a better government.

– Demetrous Nobles
Photo: Flickr

Protests in CubaJuly is an especially notable month in Cuban history. Cuba witnessed its largest mass protests in July 1994, when thousands protested due to a major economic crisis that the fall of the Soviet Union brought on. Now, on the weened of July 10, 2021, thousands of Cubans protested in the streets of its major cities due to food shortages, extreme inflation and authoritarian communist rule. The COVID-19 pandemic has only made extreme poverty and repressive government rule worse on the island. Many Cubans at the protests spoke out about starving and having no basic survival resources.

How Age Influences Cubans’ Views on the Communist Government

The recent protests in Cuba are much more complicated than they first appear. According to a man who refused to identify himself in fear of retaliation, younger Cubans tend to vehemently oppose the communist regime due to the lack of food, medicine and electricity. A 17-year-old protester said that the population was protesting because they were hungry and poor. The man noted how there is a lack of resources on the island. Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel announced over a nationwide television broadcast that the protests needed to end. He called on the communists to deliver a “revolutionary response” to the destabilization of the island.

In response to Diaz-Canel’s message, older Cubans, in support of the government and the military and police, blocked off young anti-government protesters in their attempt to occupy vital parts of Havana. Pro-government supporters, some armed with wooden clubs, expressed their ties to Cuban patriotism and supported the security officials in quelling the anti-government protests. Pro-government supporters accused the younger protesters of taking a stand against communism by working as paid mercenaries for the United States. The U.S. spends approximately $20 million annually to support “democracy promotion” in Cuba.

How and Why the Protests Happened

Both economic and health crises largely drive the protests in Cuba. The COVID-19 pandemic and economic measures that the communist government took have made many Cubans’ living situations dire. Throughout 2020, Cuba held the pandemic in check, however, recently, virus cases increased rapidly. Cuba reported 6,750 new cases and 31 new deaths on July 11. However, opposition groups note that the true statistics are most likely much worse. Many Cubans have reported that their relatives died at home without receiving the care they needed to have a chance at survival by citing medical negligence.

The Cuban tourism industry has come to a standstill since the beginning of the pandemic, consequently creating a massive hole in the Cuban economy. Hyperinflation, electricity blackouts, food shortages and a lack of everyday necessities are widespread throughout the island. Economic reforms at the start of 2021 increased worker wages while also causing a major spike in prices. Cuban economists, including Pavel Vidal, believe that prices could rise in Cuba by as much as between 500% and 900% within the next few months. Cuban banks additionally stopped accepting cash deposits of U.S. currency. Many economists viewed this as the most severe restriction put on U.S. currency since the rule of Fidel Castro.

Internet access and mobilizing young people through Twitter, Facebook and Instagram were essential in getting the protests started. In 1994, very few Cubans living outside of Havana knew that protests were taking place. Young Cubans have expressed their disdain for the communist regime on social media for years. The Cuban regime has deactivated the internet on the island to stop the unrest.

US Officials’ Response and Cuba’s Future

President Biden called the protests in Cuba a clarion call for freedom and noted that Americans wholeheartedly support Cubans in their fight for freedom. The acting assistant secretary for the state for western hemisphere affairs, Julie Chung, expressed her support in a tweet commending the peaceful protests and Cuban concerns with the multiple crises they face.

Foreign aid to Cuba from the United States and the international community has been minimal in recent years and throughout the islands’ history. This is because the communist leaders would take all of the money and resources for themselves while refusing to distribute them to people in need. The $20 million the U.S. currently spends to support democracy promotion efforts in Cuba is a start. To liberate the Cuban people and end extreme poverty on the island, the United States and the international community need to do whatever they can to help keep the protests going.

– Curtis McGonigle
Photo: Wikipedia Commons