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

 

The Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in Cuba
The COVID-19 pandemic backpedaled Cuba’s progress in eradicating poverty and food insecurity, similar to many other countries. As the largest island within the Caribbean, tourism plays a large role in the economy. Although travel restrictions are no longer in place, the country’s reliance on food imports and poor infrastructure have worsened the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Cuba.

Cuba Before COVID-19

According to the World Food Programme (WFP), Cuba is one of the most successful countries to achieve the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Government-implemented social programs provide maternal healthcare, monthly feeding baskets and free lunch for children in more than 10,000 schools. However, 70 to 80% of Cuba’s food requirements come from food imports, and this reliance lessens the national budget.

A consistently strained national budget, coupled with an economy in the midst of crisis, ultimately exacerbated the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Cuba. Well before COVID-19 hit the island, the Trump administration initiated sanctions banning U.S. travel and commerce with Cuban businesses. This strained the economy even further.

The Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy (ASCE) reports that poverty in Cuba is long-caused by the inaccessibility that Cubans have to basic needs. For example, the real-median state wages continuously fall and pensions do not align with food requirements. Also, the price of basic utilities continues to increase. The social assistance services are helpful, but they are not always accessible or upheld with the utmost quality.

Cuba’s Handling of COVID-19

Cuba’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic is one of the most effective within the Caribbean. Free universal healthcare and large numbers of medical personnel are among the reasons that the island’s pandemic-related mortality rates are much lower than some of their neighboring countries. Cuba had approximately 151 cumulative deaths in January 2021, while Jamaica had approximately 312. At the same time, though, the government’s control of the media makes some skeptical as to whether or not the number of cases is accurate.

Cuba has the largest ratio of doctors to citizens in the world, with 84 doctors for every 10,000 citizens. Through the Continuous Assessment and Risk Evaluation (CARE) System, doctors can regularly track, assess and isolate outbreaks of the disease by visiting patients directly. Beginning in 1984, community-based medicine connects doctors and nurses to roughly 150 families. The CARE system furthers the impact of this model by ensuring that doctors carry out preemptive medical measures continuously.

The Persistence of Poverty

The issue of poverty in Cuba comes by way of poor infrastructure, food instability and a persisting housing crisis. As mentioned previously, food imports make up a large portion of the island’s food consumption. Reuters reports that before the pandemic, Cuba began seeing a decline in the number of food imports. This was due to Venezuela putting a cap on the aid it was providing. The Trump administration’s tightening of the United States trade embargo also impacted the number of food imports. In turn, the pandemic worsened the already existent food shortage.

In addition to the shortage of food, much of the basic infrastructure strains the country’s ability to quickly respond to conflict, leaving many unassisted during crisis. The island is also susceptible to tropical storms, which worsens the housing crisis. Many Cuban homes are unable to withstand extreme weather conditions. Many Cubans are also unable to afford damage repair. Cuba also suffers from a deficit of houses, with leads to the issue of overcrowding in shelters.

Only 1% of Cuban households have access to the internet. In turn, many people are unable to purchase their essential items online and must endure in-person contact. Even with social distancing and isolation mandates in order, those living in poverty are generally unable to abide by these standards due to the nature of their work or fiscal inability. The culmination of these factors worsens the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Cuba.

Positive Insights

The emergence of effective vaccines and the efficacy of the CARE system serves as an inspiration for other countries in the fight against the pandemic. The Cuban-developed Abdala vaccine is said to be 92.28% effective in the last stages of its clinical trials. The Soberena-2 vaccine, another Cuban-developed vaccine, has an effectiveness of 62% with two of its three doses. Cuba’s extensive medical research, along with its use of community-based healthcare, model how preventative healthcare can become readily accessible to communities in the midst of a crisis.

The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Cuba remains an issue to be resolved, but the island is on the pathway to returning to life pre-pandemic. More than 1 million children returned to school in September 2020, and fully vaccinated tourists can now visit the island.

With the island’s newfound knowledge and insights on how to adequately handle the plights of a pandemic, hope exists that Cuba will soon continue the progress it once made in eradicating poverty and food insecurity.

– Cory Utsey
Photo: Flickr

How Hurricanes Impact Poverty in CubaCuba and its capital city, Havana, must battle a rising threat: hurricane season. While many may think of Cuba as a vacation destination, Cuba is home to an aging population dependent on agricultural exports with a general lack of everyday necessities. Moreover, a significant number of Cuban citizens live in poverty. Increasing numbers of natural disasters only exacerbate this issue. Hurricanes impact poverty in Cuba and reduce the country’s ability to respond. Just recently, on July 5, hurricane Elsa hit Cuba with winds of over 60 mph. While overall damages were minimal, Elsa is merely one example of the growing annual threat.

Poverty in Cuba

Poverty in Cuba looks distinctively different from poverty across the world. For instance, Cuba has a planned economy, dependent on its agricultural and tourism sectors, with many social programs like universal access to healthcare, education and entertainment. However, while unemployment rates are low and poverty data is largely unknown, the Center of Humans and Democracy estimates that 66% of Cuban households receive less than $100 per month. Half of those families subsist on less than $1.33 a day.

Because of widespread poverty and an outdated healthcare system, COVID-19 posed a significant risk to the Cuban population and economy. Throughout 2020, Cuba experienced multiple food shortages, including staples such as chicken, eggs and rice. As a result of the pandemic, economists expected GDP to fall by 6% in Cuba.

How Do Hurricanes Aggravate Poverty in Cuba?

The simple answer to how hurricanes impact poverty in Cuba is that hurricanes are costly. Repairing infrastructure and housing damages requires an impressive governmental response. For example, in 2005, Hurricane Dennis caused Cuba an estimated $1.4 billion in damage, destroying 120,000 homes and killing 16 Cuban citizens. Cities like Havana were without power for several days. Additionally, more than 20% of the country was without water for an extended period. The U.S. and EU offered disaster relief aid to Cuba, but the Cuban government rejected both offers.

However, it’s more complicated than the mere cost. Oftentimes, powerful hurricanes hurt Cuba’s agricultural sector by destroying crops that are critical to Cuba’s economy. This makes it even harder to respond to the initial damages. Hurricane Dennis resulted in significant damage to Cuban agriculture, specifically to the citrus, fruit and vegetable industries. The storm destroyed 30,000 acres of bananas and 127,000 tons of vegetables. Economic losses like these ones inhibit Cuba’s overall disaster response and economic rebound.

Hurricane Irma and its Impact on Poverty in Cuba

Similar to Hurrican Dennis, in 2017, Hurricane Irma destroyed more than 4,000 homes on Cuba’s coast, severely damaging the country’s electoral grid and disrupting its agricultural industry. Hurricane Irma destroyed 7,400 acres of banana, rice and sugar crops across Cuba. The damage resulted in a food shortage, an exacerbation of poverty and a decline in the agricultural sector that plagued Cuba throughout the following months.

Not only do hurricanes cost billions of dollars in repairs and damages, but they consistently damage crops, constrict the country’s agricultural economy and hinder the country’s ability to fund an appropriate response. Hurricanes impact poverty in Cuba by constricting the country’s economic resources, response and food supply.

Additionally, scientists predict natural disasters and tropical storms are likely to increase as a result of climate change. In the coming years, Cuba will likely experience more storms, more agricultural disruptions and a higher need for a stronger response.

Hurricane Preparedness and Recovery

While Cuba is already a world leader in hurricane preparedness and recovery, increased storms will require a re-evaluated response. As another hurricane season reaches Cuba’s shore this summer, the country and its government must consider what more can be done to react to these potential threats.

After Hurricane Irma, Floridians, many with family in Cuba, mobilized to form nonprofits like the CubaOne foundation to help the country and its citizens recover from the natural disaster. CubaOne raised $50,000 for relief and sent more than 40 volunteers to help rebuild some of the areas most affected by the storm. While hurricanes aggravate poverty in Cuba, network responses and relief like these will aid Cuba in overcoming the effects of natural disasters.

– Zoe Tzanis
Photo: Flickr

Cuba's Abdala vaccineCuba’s political and economic conditions have long been mysterious due to the limited information the government publishes. While Cubans have access to free health care and education, the country still suffers from poverty. According to the World Bank, there is no official information available regarding how many Cubans live in poverty; however, estimates put the poverty rate anywhere from 5% to 26% and the extreme poverty at around 15% in Cuba’s urban areas. The lack of tourism caused by the pandemic has worsened economic conditions in Cuba, providing an incentive for the nation to create an effective vaccine. Cuba has produced and begun administering a homegrown vaccine, making it one of the smallest countries to do so. Here are four things to know about Cuba’s Abdala vaccine.

4 Things to Know About Cuba’s Abdala Vaccine

  1. Local authorities say it is 92% effective: According to Cuban health authorities, the Abdala vaccine is roughly 92% effective. Full efficacy requires three doses, according to the BioCubaFarma laboratory. Abdala is only one of five vaccines that Cuba is currently working on. Another is the Soberana 2 vaccine, which shows 62% efficacy after three doses.
  2. Not internationally approved: PAHO (Pan American Health Organization), a local office of the World Health Organization (WHO) for the Americas, urges Cuba to publish the data for the Abdala vaccine and seek approval from COVAX. In doing so, scientists worldwide can peer-review studies on the vaccine. Cuba has yet to provide data to the WHO or COVAX, sparking international concern about transparency and vaccine efficacy.
  3. Authorized in Cuba due to rising COVID-19 cases and a recession: COVID-19 cases are on the rise in Cuba, so the Abdala vaccine is already in use despite not being approved by the WHO. Following this, the Cuban government faced criticism from local medical associations and NGOs. Since November 2020, COVID-19 cases have increased due to the rise of tourism in the country. Moreover, as of June 18, Cuba is running low on syringes to administer the vaccine, an especially disastrous shortage because nurses administer the Abdala vaccine in three doses. Furthermore, the country is in a recession and is experiencing shortages of food, medicine and medical supplies.
  4. Authorized in Venezuela as well: The Abdala vaccine is now being administered in Venezuela, the first country to use the vaccine besides Cuba, despite the WHO and local medical authorities urging Venezuelans against it due to the lack of public information about the vaccine. In June 2021, Venezuela received 30,000 doses of the Abdala vaccine, enough to vaccinate 10,000 people.

Looking Ahead

Cuba has been producing its own vaccines since the 1980s, including an impressive lung cancer vaccine now in clinical trials in the United States. However, Cuba has yet to submit the Abdala vaccine for peer review by the global scientific community. International health authorities worry about the lack of transparency on the science behind the vaccine, as well as its use in other countries. Through international cooperation, vaccine development and approval can commence faster. Hopefully, global authorities will soon review Cuba’s Abdala vaccine, taking the international community one step further in alleviating the effects of COVID-19.

Ana Golden
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Cuba
Human trafficking in Cuba is a very present and ongoing issue. It has been on the rise for years, especially in regards to forced labor and government-sponsored labor export programs. Studies have revealed that the government forced and bribed as many as 30,000 Cuban doctors and medical professionals into human trafficking situations in over 50 countries. Traffickers frequently exploit Cuban victims abroad in South America and the Caribbean as well as the United States. They also exploit domestic and foreign victims in Cuba making the claim that it is to pay off travel debts.

The Problem

The Cuban government has instigated international medical missions that many refer to as a contemporary form of slavery. These have been a source of income for the Castro regime for years, with the Cuban government collecting income on each medical professional’s services. As a result, medical professionals in Cuba typically receive only a small portion of their money, which goes into accounts that they do not have control over. Research has shown that participants frequently do not receive adequate information about the conditions of their contracts before entering into them. The government even withholds some of their documents as a form of blackmail. The participants of these labor export programs often work long hours with no rest in dangerous living conditions.

Government involvement in human trafficking in Cuba has become apparent. This is due to the government’s lack of interest in addressing or eliminating these programs. The Cuban government is not making significant efforts to eliminate these practices. Because of this, it has received Tier 3 status in the U.S. Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons report due to how little it has done to eliminate human trafficking. However, efforts are in progress to eradicate these practices. Law enforcement criminalized some forms of labor trafficking and began prosecuting human traffickers. Additionally, international trafficking relating to forced labor or similar activities is now a punishable offense, potentially leading to the penalty of imprisonment from seven to 15 years. This is a deterrent to traffickers as statistics have shown a decline in prosecutions over the past few years.

Solutions

Some NGOs have identified trafficking victims to state authorities and provided them with psychological treatment. They also provided healthcare and other resources. Some of these NGOs include the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC), the Cuban Commission of Human Rights and National Reconciliation, the Prevention and Social Assistance Commission and the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution.

The FMC began in 1960, involving itself in the human trafficking situation in Cuba shortly after. The Cuban Commission of Human Rights and Reconciliation revealed in an interview in 2017 that it had actively become involved in monitoring arrests of traffickers, and even suggested that specific healthcare and education benefits can help reduce trafficking victims. It began in 1960 and has responded to internal and external threats with the goal of unifying the people.

The Cuban government funded protection and guidance centers for families who human traffickers had victimized. There are at least seven global anti-trafficking organizations working to provide relief to victims of forced labor and modern-day slavery in Cuba and other countries worldwide. Although very small numbers of forced labor victims actually seek help, these organizations offer different policies and programs to offer support or benefits and help survivors resist re-traumatization. Cuban law authorized courts to allow restitution to trafficking victims.

US Involvement

In another attempt to address forced labor and human trafficking in Cuba, some U.S. Senators sent a letter to the Secretary of State expressing their concern about the forced labor and human trafficking situation in Cuba. They suggested ideas such as directing U.S. Embassies to different countries to advise and inform them on Cuba’s forced labor programs.

The Cuban government involves people in forced labor and labor export programs. However, some human traffickers are now experiencing prosecution for their crimes. In addition, help became readily available to victims of human trafficking and U.S. officials have increased their involvement.

Annamarie Perez
Photo: Flickr