Child Poverty in Cuba
Cuba is home to an impressive school system that aids the fight against child poverty. This developed as a result of the communist government which made a point of increasing literacy rates and education overall. Despite these efforts, child poverty in Cuba continues to affect the youngest inhabitants of the island.

During the “Special Period” after the fall of the Soviet Union, Cuba experienced widespread food insecurity and a lack of essential materials such as gas for transportation and medicine. Cubans refer to this time period between 1991 and 2000 as the “Special Period” because of the abrupt decline in food security. The situation began to improve when, in 2000, Venezuela began aiding the island. Today, the effects of the “Special Period” continue to affect child poverty in Cuba.

The Health of Children in Cuba

Examining the health of children can be helpful in indicating how severe child poverty is in a country. According to the UNICEF country profile for Cuba, in 2019, 5.1 children per 1,000 live births under the age of 5 died. In comparison to the lowest rates in the world in countries like Iceland and Norway, Cuba has substantial room for improvement. It is important to note that since the year 2000, the under-5 child mortality rate has dropped from 8.769 children per 1,000 live births to the 2019 rate.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has cited the most common causes of under-5 child mortality as infectious diseases, birth anomalies and complications. Notably, infectious diseases are often treatable and preventable. In Cuba, infant mortality is falling but perinatal disorders cause 80% of deaths.

In Cuba, the Global Nutrition Report found that only 17% of children aged 0 months to 59 months received hydration treatment when they had diarrhea. This is concerning considering that WHO cites diarrhea as a leading cause of under-5 child mortality. In 2014, the World Bank reported that 60.9% of children who had diarrhea in the two weeks preceding the survey received treatment. This implies that more than one-third of children who have diarrhea do not receive treatment in Cuba.

Additionally, low birth weights are rising slightly in occurrence in Cuba. A graph in the Global Nutrition Report depicts the trend. Between 2000 and 2010, the prevalence of children with low birth rates dropped. In 2010, 5.2% of children were born underweight and in 2015, reports stated that 5.3% were underweight. This change is small but may signify poor nutrition for expectant mothers, affecting the size of their children upon birth.

Education in Cuba

Education, another measure of the severity of child poverty, provides promising numbers for Cuba. Mass education of the public is a main focus of the Cuban government as a result of its campaign against the U.S. and has been since the 1959 Cuban Revolution. The reported numbers show that this focus has paid off in terms of mass education, though.

Poverty can significantly affect education. A study reported that poverty can affect how ready a child is for school and whether they can succeed academically. Cuban children are generally doing well in schools. UNESCO reported a decrease in illiteracy (the report determined that only 1,933 people aged 15-24 were illiterate in 2012). These rates are a reflection of the education system when those people were learning literacy.

The Novak Djokovic Foundation reported that primary school is compulsory in Cuba. This means that a vast majority (UNICEF reported that 99% of children complete primary school) of Cuban kids attend school. This statistic implies that many kids do not complete primary school.

Despite this effective system, one can see child poverty in Cuba through education as well. UNICEF reported that only 48% of children under the age of 5-years-old have more than three age-appropriate books in their household.

Solutions

Foreign charities are working in Cuba to help meet impoverished children’s needs. Specifically, the organization Inspire Cuba worked on a project called Shoes That Grow, which provided shoes to children in Havana, Cuba. These shoes are adjustable so that a child can use them for up to five years. Meanwhile, the MDG Achievement Fund has been working with the Cuban government to fight anemia in Cuba. The program the MDG Achievement Fund implemented is called the Joint Programme, which has been attempting to increase Cuban people’s access to food filled with micronutrients. Finally, while no in-depth descriptions exist of what social programs the Cuban government enacted to fight food insecurity, organizations such as the World Food Programme (WFP) have cited that social programs largely eradicated hunger and poverty on the island, including the poverty and hunger of children.

As previous reports have noted, Cuba has made advancements in the education and health of its children (decreasing under-5 mortality rate and high literacy rates), overall reducing child poverty in Cuba. It is important to note that while child poverty in the country has improved, holes still exist in the system, such as a lack of diarrhea treatment for sick children and limited educational materials. However, through continued efforts, child poverty in Cuba should become even less prevalent.

– Susan Morales
Photo: Flickr

Cuba's Private Sector
A couple of days after the closing of the Cuban border, 16,000 private workers, upon sensing danger, requested the labor ministry suspend their licenses so they could avoid paying taxes. That number rose to 119,000, 19% of the private workforce, in a few more days and threatened to annihilate the Cuban economy. The implementation of the global travel restrictions had a devasting impact on the country’s tourism sector, which is the second-largest revenue generator for the island nation. As a result, selective private businesses took a massive hit and the government lost a crucial foundation for foreign exchange. By December 2020, Cuban tourism had fallen by 16.5%, followed by an 11% drop in the country’s GDP. Worried by the lingering economic collapse, the government began opening Cuba’s private sector, providing Cubans with self-employment opportunities and allowing them to operate businesses in added sectors.

What Did the Government Do?

Previously, the communist-led government allowed Cubans to participate in merely 127 officially approved private sector activities. Some of the legalized activities included working as a barber, working in gastronomy or transportation or renting rooms to tourists. To expand the private sector, the government eliminated the previous list of 127 activities. Instead, it created a new list of 124 jobs prohibited in the private sector. The rest of the 2,000 legal activities, which the government recognized, will be open to Cubans. In the past, state-owned businesses have always dominated the Cuban economy. However, the private sector has managed to make a mark over recent years. Presently, 635,000 people occupy the private sector, which is roughly 14% of the Cuban workforce. The introduction of the long-awaited economic reform might increase diversification in the private sector and could spur economic growth for Cuba.

The Effects on Cuba and its People

The economic reform will allow Cubans to partake in additional economic activities. It will help eradicate bureaucracy in the governmental arrangements, as the Cubans will no longer have to manipulate their business documentations to fall under the list of legalized activities. Now, they only have to confirm that they are not running any business from the list of prohibited activities.

Further, the liberalization of the private sector will bring about a change in the career patterns of Cubans. Previously, apart from the underpaid state-run jobs, the only other viable option for Cubans were low-skilled jobs. Now, Cubans will have countless other opportunities in technical fields like engineering and economics. Still, professional fields like medicine, law and teaching could open to state employees only. Additionally, the opening of the private sector will increase employment opportunities, which will rapidly develop the private sector. Private business owners currently make up 13% of Cuba’s workforce. This number will spike due to the relaxation of the private sector.

The Future of Cuba’s Economy

Ricardo Torres, a pro-reform economist at the University of Havana’s Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy, stated that the opening up of Cuba’s private sector will diversify jobs and boost the GDP. This, in turn, triggered a shift in economic arrangements in Cuba. But the chances of the private sector dominating the economy soon are bleak, mainly due to the political settings of Cuba. Therefore, expectations have determined that state-owned businesses will direct the economy. Rather than rushing into free-market forces, the Cuban government must seek inspiration from other countries and establish a solid institutional framework. Several European states, the U.S., Japan and other East Asian countries have proved that by focusing on macro and microeconomic policies and planning and investing in citizens, an economic upliftment should be possible.

Cuba’s Relationship with the US

The economy was booming under the Barack Obama Administration. Things, however, took a turn when former President Donald Trump overturned Obama’s agreement to ease travel restrictions on Cuba. Donald Trump also ended the U.S. cruise travel to Cuba, disallowed many Cuban Americans to send remittances back home, pressured a U.S.-run hotel out of Cuba, forced countries not to hire Cuban doctors and nurses during the pandemic and re-enlisted Cuba on the list of countries that sponsor state terrorism. Cuban businesses suffered a great deal due to this. The labor reform could not have been timelier for the Cuban government as it could present a sturdy case for amendments in the U.S. policy.

One of Obama’s main objectives was to expand the private sector in Cuba. Therefore, on the back of the opening of the private sector and the appointment of Joe Biden as President, the Cuban government can look to persuade the U.S. to consider a policy reform. Although Cuban had to wait a long time for labor reform, it is crucial to mend unemployment rates, boost the GDP and restore Cuba’s unsteady economy through Cuba’s private sector.

– Prathamesh Mantri
Photo: Flickr

Baseball and Poverty
The story is almost stereotypical. A young athlete escapes an unpredictable future in their birth country with nothing but their talent and a dream. Then, they climb the ranks to achieve fame and glory. Major League Baseball star Yasiel Puig fits this story. He journeyed from Cienfuegos, Cuba to the Los Angeles Dodgers, Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds – in the most competitive league on Earth.

Such a story is curious if not a reminder that ideological battles between governments hurt citizens most. Also, it shows that American foreign policy must work to cohesively integrate poverty-stricken countries into the global economy, and not only for the benefit of talent exchange. Add the fact that Puig’s reach quickly spanned beyond baseball – to the Wild Horse Children’s Foundation, which has the mission of inspiring “children and families in underserved communities” and one has a picture of how baseball and poverty can interact.

Humble Beginnings

Although Cuba’s poverty statistics are difficult to pin down, Yasiel Puig was born in a challenging environment, to say the least. In fact, his home country had “limited access to food, transportation, electrical power and other necessities.” Meanwhile, most Cuban salaries are around $20 per month.

Puig was born to “an educated but poor family” 150 miles southeast of Havana and began playing baseball at 9 years old. His immense and bombastic talent landed him on the Cienfuegos Camaroneros and the Cuban National B team, which paid him $17 a month. It was here that his story both deviated from that of typical athletes and also melded into the often-told Cuban fairy tale, one where baseball and poverty do not interact as much as fuel one another.

Daring Tracks

During an international tournament in Rotterdam, Puig and teammate Gerardo Concepción attempted to defect. Only Concepción succeeded though and Yasiel entered a kind of patriotic recidivism. Attempted Cuban defectors can experience imprisonment and other perilous actions if authorities catch them.

Puig then set his sights on escaping again (some estimate half a dozen times). He endured a harrowing trip out of Cuba, eventually landing in Mexico and establishing residency. This made him eligible for a Major League Baseball team to sign him. Although the specifics of the path are fascinating, involving the drug cartel Los Zetas, human traffickers and allegations of torture and bribery, they are also distressing. Puig understandably skirts talking about it. Nonetheless, at age 21 he received a rebirth. A Dodger scout signed him to a seven-year, $42 million contract and invited him to the United States to begin his Major League career.

Superstardom

Twelve months later, Puig had one of the most explosive entrances in the history of baseball. Thirty days in, he launched 44 hits, second only to Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio, and ended his rookie season with a .319 batting average, 19 home runs and a .925 OPS. The statistics complimented his style of play, which some describe as ebullient. This led legendary broadcaster Vin Scully to nickname Puig the ‘wild horse’ for his bombastic energy. In his first full year in the big leagues, he was an All-Star and the rest was history. Through talent and extraordinary luck, he was able to establish a sense of security for himself. The story of baseball and poverty indeed offered an impetus for his success.

Giving Back

All of this led to his idea for the Wild Horse Children’s Foundation, which had its first event in the Dominican Republic in 2016. Over 250 families in the Santo Domingo area received food and supplies for the holiday season. Two years later, he sponsored a trip back to Cuba that raised awareness for underserved communities and distributed baseball gear to children. From his humble beginnings in Cienfuegos to auspicious times in the United States, Puig kept kids and their wellbeing through sport in his mind. “I started the foundation because I want to help the people in Los Angeles and Miami and the Dominican Republic.”

Ultimately, Yasiel Puig’s story is only half-written. He has many years left to play baseball and widen his influence with the Wild Horse Children’s Foundation. The circuitous path out of poverty is one that players know well in the Major Leagues, especially players from Cuba. His commitment to helping those in the position he was once is a shining achievement.

Spencer Daniels
Photo: Flickr

Hunger in Cuba
Cuba’s geographic position in the Caribbean leaves it vulnerable to annual natural disasters like hurricanes, earthquakes and heavy rain. Natural disasters have cost Cuba more than 20 billion USD since 2011, a cost that greatly impacts Cuba’s overall food security. Despite this, Cuba has consistently scored “low” (less than 5) on the Global Hunger Index (GHI) since 2005. A GHI score of <5 indicates that less than 10% of the population suffers from hunger, calculated by national rates of undernourishment, child wasting and stunting and child mortality. Hunger in Cuba has stabilized at 2.50% since 2002.

While still under the 10% line and decreasing, Cuba’s child stunting indicators are much higher than its other indicators. In 2005, child stunting was 4.8% higher than the next-highest indicator, child wasting, and still 2.7% higher in 2019. According to Cuba’s Food Security and Nutrition Monitoring System, 31.6% of two-year-olds suffered from anemia in 2015.

Social Programs in Cuba

Many social programs in Cuba rely heavily on food importation and foreign aid from Venezuela and the U.S. Up to 80% of Cuba’s food is imported. The majority of food importation, about 67%, goes toward government social programs. This leads to long distribution lines for basic food products like rice, vegetables, eggs and meat. These lines for individual food products can last up to five hours as people wait to purchase groceries with government-issued ration books. Waiting for one ingredient at a time leads to some households choosing certain food products over others and reducing their nutrient diversity.

Fortunately, international and local organizations are also stepping in to help. Here are four organizations working to addressing hunger in Cuba.

  1. The World Food Programme: The World Food Programme (WFP) is working hard to improve nutrient diversity and reduce Cuban reliance on international imports. The WFP provides nutritional and food safety education programs for pregnant and nursing women, children and seniors. The organization also helps local producers and processors of beans improve the competitive pricing of their products. Additionally, the WFP collaborates with the Cuban government to develop a food security analysis program in conjunction with Cuba’s natural disaster response plan.
  2. The Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere: Smaller organizations strive to help Cuba improve its food security as well. The Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere (CARE), for instance, helps Cuban farmers revive farmland and establish sustainable food production practices, which will improve crop returns and overall food security over time.
  3. The West India Committee: Similar to CARE, the West India Committee provides education and training to farmers to help keep farmland productive and efficient over a longer period of time.
  4. The Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba: The Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba (FHR Cuba) has a different approach. FHR Cuba focuses on creating economic incentives to start and maintain small businesses, including livestock and agricultural farms. FHR Cuba gives out microcredit loans between $100 and $600 to applicants for business supplies. Participants are then required to file a monthly report. So far, the initiative has funded 70 entrepreneurs. All have been able to successfully repay their loan as their businesses take off.

Political and Economic Context

Recent political fighting and economic hardships have led to food shortages and new government-issued rations. These go beyond the already-existing food rations allotted per family. Since 2000, Cuba has relied on Venezuelan oil, but economic collapse in Venezuela caused the aid in oil exports from that region to be cut in half. Cuba relied on selling Venezuelan oil for hard currency to trade internationally for products like food.

Additionally, after Cuba affirmed diplomatic support for Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela, the U.S. imposed strict sanctions. The U.S. sanctions have caused food prices to soar as Cuba seeks new, more expensive suppliers. Additionally, the national production of food fell in response to the economic crisis, exacerbated by COVID-19 and plummeting tourism.

Improving Food Security

Cuba is seeking to improve its future food security by asking citizens to grow their own gardens and produce their own food. Due to how much of food is imported from abroad, very little food is produced in Cuba itself. For example, Cuba missed the mark of 5.7 million domestic demand for eggs by 900,000 eggs in March 2019, while Cuba’s main homegrown agricultural exports are luxuries like sugar and tobacco. Havana reportedly already produces 18% of its agricultural consumption, while other areas are only starting to begin farming and gardening initiatives. As agricultural supplies are also largely imported, Cubans must rely on organic farming techniques like “worm composting, soil conservation and the use of biopesticides.”

In conclusion, while Cuba has a long track record of preventing widespread hunger, the country needs to find new solutions to combat hunger in Cuba in the face of recent challenges like COVID-19 and faltering foreign aid. With the help of economic creativity like microloans and improving competitive bean prices, sustainable farming techniques taught by WFP, CARE and others and measures already in place to reduce Cuba’s reliance on food imports, Cuba has shown that it already has the infrastructure in place to meet these challenges.

Elizabeth Broderick
Photo: Flickr

Facts About Poverty in CubaIn the wake of online activism, social media has become a prominent tool in spreading awareness through videos, graphics and even articles like this one. Online platforms, such as Instagram and Twitter, have proven to be quick and effective ways for younger activists to mobilize.

Recently, posts containing facts about poverty in Cuba have been circulating on apps. However, alongside important information, the truth can also be misconstrued on the internet. Let’s examine the validity of some popular online claims to differentiate the myths from the facts about poverty in Cuba.

5 Myths and Facts About Poverty in Cuba

Myth: Salaries in Cuba do not exceed 1,000 non-convertible pesos a month.

1,000 CUP, which is the equivalent of $37, was rumored to be the top-ranking salary for Cuban professionals in an Instagram post. Although there are contradictory claims about Cuba’s median monthly earnings, a recent Havana Times article reported a national wage increase in 2019. The change is set to bring an 18% increase of the median monthly wage to combat international trade blocks. The Cuban government is also increasing the salary of professors to 1,700 pesos and government journalists to about 1,400 pesos.

In a virtual interview with a Cuban native and Havana resident, Claudia Martínez, this wage increase was confirmed. Martínez, who works as a Historian at the University of Havana, claims, “The median salary of a Cuban is 400 to 500 pesos, a bit more now with the salary augmentation that they did. For example, I used to earn 530 CUP which is equivalent to 21 [U.S.] dollars or CUC monthly. Now, I’m earning 1,500 pesos which is equivalent to 60 CUC[…]”

Fact: Oil sanctions are devastating Cuba.

Amidst a political clash between the U.S. and Venezuela, the U.S. Treasury has sanctioned four companies transporting oil from Venezuela to Cuba. Cuba is now experiencing a shortage of petrol due to these sanctions.

Food production and public transportation have seen major cuts following the deficit. Factories have also shortened work hours as a way to conserve the island’s petrol supply. Cuban citizens fear that the oil shortage will eventually lead to mass power outages.

U.S.-Cuban relations have historically been rocky. However, development in economic partnerships have sprouted programs that bolster a positive relationship between the two countries, such as the Cuba Project by the Center for International Policy. Backed by a code of ethics, the project is dedicated to facilitating sustainable business practices by Cuban citizens to uplift communities out of poverty while being environmentally conscious.

Myth: The national currency is not being accepted in stores.

Cuba’s economic system uniquely includes two currencies: the national coin known as CUP and a convertible currency meant to be compatible with the U.S. dollar known as CUC. In July of 2020, the Cuban government opened stores that solely run on foreign currency as a way to generate revenue and fund social programs. The government stated that despite this addition, regular stores will continue to accept CUP and CUC for the public.

Martínez detailed the function of these MLC stores which stands for “Moneda Libre Convertible,” or freely convertible currency. She differentiates these businesses from regular stores stating, “In [MLC] stores, there are products that are normally expensive in other stores.” Martínez continues, “For example, [MLC stores] carry a 20-liter tank of cooking oil that costs 40 dollars, but other stores don’t carry this because it’s more expensive and it’s not what the average person consumes. But that they don’t accept national currency is not true. In fact, I went and bought cooking oil with national currency at the stores just the other day.”

Fact: There is product scarcity on the island.

With the harshest economic obstructions the country has seen as of late, Cuban citizens are seeing a lack of certain consumer products. Food and hygiene products, such as meat, cheese, soap, and toothpaste, are hard to come by. These shortages are only expected to escalate if trade blocks are not lifted soon.

Caritas Cubana is a nonprofit organization that aims to help Cuba’s most vulnerable populations during times of crisis. In 1991, the Catholic Church established the organization, and its influence has been notable. A Boston-based sister organization called Friends of Caritas Cubana popped up in 2005, growing to be the largest international donor for the charity. With the help of donations from Friends, Caritas Cubanas was able to serve 48,153 people in 2019 with programs for senior citizens, children with disabilities, HIV and AIDS patients as well as those affected by catastrophic natural disasters.

Myth: Boycotting the country will end economic injustice.

Tourists have wondered if avoiding politically-fragile countries, like Cuba, will help resolve corruption within the government. This belief of government exploitation is echoed in this Instagram post.

However, studies show that tourism in Cuba “has the potential to help raise national incomes, increase employment in well-paying jobs, and contribute to Cuba’s greater participation in the world economy.” Considering tourism is one of the country’s most concrete methods to alleviate poverty, it should be protected.

If tourists have any ethical reservations for visiting Cuba, there are alternative measures that can be taken, such as boycotting government industries while traveling. By strictly consuming products and services from local businesses and avoiding extravagant resorts, visitors can invest in citizens while still getting to experience Cuba’s allure.

Usually, local tour guides are hard to come by without personal recommendations. However, the website Toursbylocals.com allows tourists to book private guides while traveling. This is a great start to developing local connections in Cuba so travelers can get introduced to the best restaurants, boarding houses and other locations without government ties.

Exercising Caution When Reading Social Media

Avid social media users should be wary of the framing and intentions of online infographics. With a long history of unresolved political unrest, Cuba has been a target for other states hiding under the veil of “national security.” However, action against poverty should be taken despite political differences.

Generally, the recent global events have made the public is more impressionable than ever, so caution should be taken when interacting with posts. Users should review other media outlets to get the real facts about poverty in Cuba.

Lizt Garcia

Photo: Flickr

Women in CubaWomen have experienced oppression at the hands of men for centuries. The world is continually reminded of this fact in current cultural and societal practices. Different nations have made progress in recent years, but this is still a common and enduring problem. However, the information dispersed regarding this topic is commonly obscured by those in charge. Women in Cuba have faced these issues head-on for decades in their fight for equal rights. The long and complex history of women’s right makes it difficult to distill the reality of the situation. However, there is potential for improvement. Here are the key things to know about this pivotal issue.

Education

Compared to other nations, Cuba may appear to be far more progressive on women’s rights. According to the Havana Times, women comprise 53% of the congressional body, and they account for 60% of college graduates. These numbers portray a clear female dominance in areas of higher education and are much higher compared to other developed nations.

Women’s Organizations

“Women’s organizations” are still not welcome in the nation. A new state constitution took effect after the 1960s Cuban revolution that barred the legalization of women’s organizations. An exception was made for the already established FMC.

The FMC, the Federation of Cuban Women, is a communist-controlled organization intended for the advancement of the women in Cuba. This is not inherently indicative of any corruption. However, women are prevented from assembling themselves and are dependent upon the state-sanctioned organization due to the lack of organizational options.

The Workplace

Societal standards are still oppressive to women. Numbers depict women moving out of their roles in the household to earn degrees and serve in the congressional body. The caveat is that women are still expected to perform all the duties that come with running a household. This includes cooking, cleaning and childcare.

This “machismo” mindset is heavily prevalent in Latin American nations. Essentially, this relegates women to the stereotypical domestic roles. This is even applied to women who are practicing doctors, lawyers and teachers. This societal standard burdens working women as well as those who choose to not enter the workforce or pursue higher education.

Discrimination in the workplace is another struggle women in Cuba must face. Women still face societal barriers in how they are compensated and employed. Female physicians and professors are typically paid the governmental base wage because most hospitals and universities are state-owned. This means that women are usually earning $30/hour in these typically high-paying fields. Further, the congressional body that women composed the majority of does not have any actual legislative power. That power is found within the Communist Party, which is only 7% female.

A Positive Outlook

The situation for women in Cuba is difficult to navigate. However, there are statutes in place to assist women in their quest to achieve equal rights within their society. For example, the constitution has an article that specifically protects maternity leave as a right for mothers in the workforce. Furthermore, the accessibility of higher education promises benefits to women of all classes that will last for generations. In essence, there is a long way to go, but that does not diminish how far the women’s rights movement in Cuba has come already.

Allison Moss
Photo: Flickr

Food Security in Cuba
Since the end of the Cold War, food security in Cuba has been a difficult feat. Though the island country still imports 70 to 80% of food requirements, the implementation of creative farming solutions helped Cuba cope with chronic shortages by becoming more self-sufficient. The growth of these practices coupled with social protection programs helped Cuba nearly eradicate hunger in the last decade.

However, Cuba struggles with food insecurity now more than ever. The COVID-19 pandemic caused shortages in food imports and U.S. sanctions resulted in the inability to produce adequate farming harvests. Facing these challenges, Cubans demonstrate their resilience and their ability to adapt and overcome the struggles they face.

Cuba’s Farming Movement

Cuba’s farming innovation dates back to the end of the Cold War when the collapse of the Soviet Union meant the loss of Cuba’s largest trading partner. At the same time, the U.S. imposed sanctions on Cuba that restricted its food imports even more. These two factors culminated in an 80% loss of international trade, leading to a dangerous food shortage that inspired Cuba’s organic farming movement. To stave off hunger and malnutrition, Cubans turned to organic farming in urban and rural areas. Small and often family-operated urban farms brought nutrients to the inner cities while rural farmers focused on generating a sustainable and high-yield output of staple crops.

To avoid having to rely on imported farming supplies, Cuba’s organic farmers use local supplies in practices like worm compost, biopesticides and soil conservation. Through these measures, Cuba grew its farming sector and became a pioneer in sustainable agriculture, even leading some experts to believe that other countries could successfully apply Cuba’s technique. However, factors such as obsolete farming technology are still limiting Cuba, leading to low productivity and high post-harvest losses, and a minimally diverse diet that contributes to malnutrition. Despite its limitations, Cuba’s organic farming movement has overall contributed to growing food security stability in the last two decades and has become a model for other communities.

US Sanctions and COVID-19

In 2020, food security in Cuba has once again come under intense stress, as the COVID-19 pandemic has coincided with tighter U.S. sanctions. Overall, Cuba’s COVID-19 response has been effective in controlling the virus, but diminished food imports affected food security. To make matters worse, sanctions have disabled Cubans from efficiently producing their own food. The U.S. has held trade embargoes against Cuba since the 1960s, but restrictions have escalated in the last few years. The restriction that is currently impacting Cuba’s food crisis the most is a sanction imposed on companies that transport Venezuela’s oil to Cuba. This oil shortage is making it difficult for farmers to power tractors and other machinery, preventing them from efficiently tending to their crops.

Facing another food crisis, Cubans are once again turning to self-sufficiency and innovation. In an effort to conserve oil, some farmers are returning to traditional methods and utilizing oxen to plow fields. Others are changing the crops they plant and opting for lettuce and cabbage, which are easier to plant and harvest by hand than Cuban staples like rice or black beans. Many residents are repurposing their yards and planting crops like sweet potatoes and other root vegetables to replace staple crops.

Government Reform

The Cuban government has made efforts to support the farming sector and improve food security, but the state’s highly centralized structure is hampering food production by imposing too many controls on farmers. In the past, the Cuban government made efforts to improve food security, such as through social protection programs that include access to monthly food baskets, quality school meals and maternal health care. However, these programs rely on imported foods, causing them to strain the national budget and to be susceptible to disruptions in imports.

It has also made state-owned land easily available to increase the number of farms on the island. However, Cuba’s farming revolution’s strides often go to waste, because the state is responsible for purchasing and distributing food and has received criticism for wasting food and disincentivizing production. As a result of these concerns, Cubans are currently hoping that the current food crisis will push the government to reform its food system, which remains highly centralized.

Cuba has historically struggled with severe food insecurity and frequently has to innovate to feed its residents. Its farming practices have saved Cubans in times of serious need and are doing so now after food supplies have dropped dangerously low due to the COVID-19 pandemic and heightened sanctions. Despite their resilience, Cubans are urging for food system reforms to promote food security in Cuba.

– Angelica Smyrnios
Photo: Flickr

Civil Rights Issues in Cuba
For years, Cubans have experienced severe restrictions in their ability to exercise freedom of speech. While they do not have the same First Amendment liberties as in the United States, Cubans are fiercely fighting for their rights to expression, speech and access to online opinion articles. Change is steadily emerging for Cubans, but the process has been slow. Here are three civil rights issues in Cuba.

3 Civil Rights Issues in Cuba

  1. Freedom of Expression. Cuba has restricted freedom of expression through the media for years. The Cuban government has heavy control over the content media outlets can broadcast, as well as the information citizens can view. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Cuba has the “most restricted climate for the press in the Americas.” Journalists and bloggers routinely write about Cuba without restriction, but the Cuban government has the power to block these websites and other channels from their citizens: websites like 14ymedio, Tremenda Nota, Cibercuba, Diario de Cuba and Cubanet have experienced censorship, according to World Report 2020. The situation is difficult to change due to high internet use costs. When a mere 600 MB of space costs $7, private providers struggle to afford the platforms needed to express their uncensored content.
  2. Freedom of Movement. In Cuba, citizens cannot move freely from one residence to another. They do not have permission to move to a new apartment or house, nor can they change their place of employment. Because private employers are extremely limited in the number of workers they contract, the country experienced unprecedented unemployment numbers in 2019 with 617,974 “self-employed” Cubans. One action that could help secure the freedom of movement for many Cubans is repealing Decree-Law No. 366, which limits non-agricultural cooperatives. Eliminating this legislation would lift restrictions on where Cubans can work and live.
  3. Due Process. Cubans lack the freedom to protest due to legal regulations. Consequences for minor offenses like public disorder, disrespect for authority and aggression stop people from protesting freely. When police forces can use these loose definitions of illegal activity to arrest protesters, freedom of expression and speech suffer. Measures like repealing Law 88 aim to eradicate false policing and reliance on regulations that “criminalize individuals who demonstrate ‘pre-criminal social dangerousness’ (as defined by the state) even before committing an actual crime,” according to The Heritage Foundation. In essence, this action would reduce protections for unfair legal enforcement of state censorship and ultimately provide Cubans a much-needed avenue for freedom of expression through protest.

Involving NGOs

Acknowledging Cuban citizens’ need for support in securing their civil liberties, United States organizations have begun to intervene. For example, The Global Rules of Law & Liberty Legal Defense Fund (GLA) in Alexandria, Virginia is a legal defense fund assisting citizens who cannot afford legal guidance. The GLA had total revenue of $92,400 in 2018, enabling this NGO to provide legal resources like local councils and political information to communities within multiple Latin American countries including Cuba. By enhancing resources for Cuba’s legal system and due process, actions from groups like the GLA could become significant in helping Cubans secure freedom of expression. 

The GLA has helped Cuban journalists like Roberto de Jesus Quiñones Haces, who is serving a one-year sentence for charges of “resistance” and “disobedience,” according to the global liberty alliance. He was arrested for reporting the prosecution of Pastors Rigal and Exposito, who were homeschooling their children in Guantanamo. The GLA recognized this arrest as persecution of the press and agreed to support Quiñones, increasing national awareness of his unjust prosecution by filing a Request for Precautionary Measures with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and publishing a video documenting his story. Since the beginning of his jail time in September 2019, Quiñones and the immorality of persecuting the press have gained widespread attention in both the United States and Cuban legal systems.

Another United States NGO advocating for civil rights in Cuba is Plantados until Freedom and Democracy in Cuba in Miami, Florida. By providing aid to Cubans imprisoned for expressing support for democracy, this organization aims to support freedom and democracy in an environment where these fundamental liberties are largely ignored.

The Future of Civil Rights in Cuba

Thoroughly addressing these three civil rights issues in Cuba could help Cubans finally gain freedoms that democratic nations around the world enjoy. As several United States NGOs have demonstrated, actions like simply sharing news and advocating for change have the potential to encourage progress. In doing so, Cuba has the power to become a model for other developing countries in the fight for civil liberties.

– Grant Ritchey
Photo: Flickr

Internet Connectivity in Cuba
Cuba has long experienced poor levels of internet connectivity and high rates of media censorship. Cuba ranks 125th out of 166 countries with regard to telecommunications infrastructure. Prior to 2012, the country relied on Russian satellites for its internet. The nation sponsors a single main telecommunications corporation, ETECSA, which gives the state full control over internet services and its pricing.

However, within the past decade, Cuba has worked to expand internet connectivity across the island. Both the government and private multinational corporations are working to expand access, increase internet speed, heighten connectivity and lower internet prices for all Cubans.

The following are major innovations to telecommunications and internet connectivity in Cuba:

  • Increasing household access to high-speed internet services and routers
  • Expanding cellular coverage and connectivity of mobile phones
  • Lowering the cost of internet connectivity

Increasing Access

Reports show that more than 5 million Cubans, which equates to about 80,000 households, currently have access to the internet out of a population of over 11 million. This marks a dramatic level of development across the country since the arrival of Wi-Fi in 2013. This change comes primarily as a result of many private and public enterprises aimed at providing faster and more comprehensive internet services to Cubans.

One private multinational company working to improve telecommunications infrastructure is Google. As of 2019, Google began negotiations with ETECSA to establish a cost-free direct connection between their two networks. This involves establishing Google sponsored servers on the island that would dramatically speed up internet services for Cubans. This would be a remarkable partnership considering Cuba’s historic antagonism towards the internet and American companies.

Expanding Connectivity

The government has also developed new strategies to increase internet connectivity in Cuba for its citizens. As of July 2019, the government has allowed Cubans to import routers and create private Wi-Fi networks that can connect to ETECSA from any household. This is a departure from the previous situation where Cubans could only connect to the internet from clearly defined public hotspots.

Since December 2018, mobile phones have also gained 3G connectivity. Reports determine that 2.5 million Cubans currently have 3G connectivity, allowing them to connect to ETECSA from household hotspots as a result of newly acquired private routers. This has further improved levels of communication and interconnectedness across the island since 2018.

Lowering Cost

With the aim to expand the breadth of internet connectivity in Cuba, ETECSA plans to open 1,400 new hotspots across the country, in addition to lowering the price of connecting to the internet to $1 per hour from $4 per hour in 2015. This expansion of hotspots, paired with the individual possession of routers and 3G phones, will widen the reach of broadband internet exponentially. The lower cost of connecting, however, is still exorbitant when the average income per month in Cuba stands at only $50.

Political Ramifications

With the rise of internet connectivity comes increased communication, organization and debate among citizens. One central debate raging since the introduction of the internet is the unaffordable price of connectivity. The cost of connecting to the internet is extremely high for the widely low-income population. This results in internet services being more readily available to the upper classes and systemically prevents poorer Cubans from reaping the benefits of connectivity, despite the cost of connection per hour standing at $1 down from $4 in 2015.

Regarding internet connectivity, only a small percent of the population actually has access to the entire global internet, with the vast majority only being able to access the national internet, which the state monitors, censors and regulates heavily. Cuban officials had previously disregarded the internet as an American tool used for “ideological penetration by the enemy,” but many top officials have reversed course within the last decade and have begun hesitantly sponsoring initiatives to expand internet access. Despite this infrastructure expansion, the central government continues to be the sole provider of internet services and censors dissenting websites or users. This censorship has caused tension as increased access to the internet has given rise to multiple independent online news publications presented as alternatives to and watchdogs over the state-sponsored media.

Now independent voices have a platform on which to present and defend their dissenting opinions of the central government. These citizens and journalists share the views and opinions of the economically disenfranchised and critique the governing authorities.

Conclusion

Within the last decade, Cuba witnessed extreme developments in internet and telecommunications infrastructure relating to increased access, greater connectivity and lower costs of connecting. The country has developed initiatives of its own to foster growth and connectivity, partnering with private corporations to aid with this endeavor. Internet connectivity in Cuba is critical to helping the poor, increasing economic and social development and keeping the country competitive on the world stage. This surge in connectivity comes at the hesitant approval of the central government, which continues to censor and filter national media outlets. Dissenting opinions and alternative media have developed within this new technological arena, laying the foundation for future political and social changes.

Ian Hawthorne
Photo: Flickr

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

Overview of Cuban Housing Policy

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

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

Current Trends

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

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

Hidden Issues

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

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

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

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

Solutions

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

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

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

– Ian Hawthorne
Photo: Flickr