Mental Health in Latin AmericaPolicies related to mental health in Latin America continue to be a back-and-forth struggle between political parties, legislation and social stigmas.

Recent History

Over the last 10 years, Latin America has battled to better its mental health services, however, significant obstacles persist. Social stigmas prove to have the most negative consequences on those who suffer from mental illness. Stigmas around mental health in Latin America specifically revolve around the person’s personal life and their “lack” of productivity at work, both of which are heavily emphasized in society. Stereotypes and prejudices about mental illness often focus on the unpredictability of the illness, including capacities for violence and endangering those around them.

Originally, Latin American mental health policies shared the same overall attitude as the society did: lack of proper planning and institutions were not necessarily important. That attitude changed with the Declaration of Caracas in 1990 which implemented the following reforms in regional mental-health policies:

  • To anchor mental health within primary care services
  • To develop community-based mental health services
  • To reduce the stigma associated with mental illness

Organizations that Implement Policy

Since then, several organizations have emerged to help align the reforms with practices.

Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)

The Pan American Health Organization protects and improves people’s health by acting as the international health agency for the Americas. It believes in supporting everyone’s right to good health by providing access to healthcare when they need it. This is done by:

  • Promoting technical cooperation between countries
  • Partnering with ministries of health, civil society organizations, other international agencies, universities, and other institutions.

Its mental health program works within the Department of Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health (NMH) to promote and strengthen national abilities to develop the following areas in order to improve mental well being:

  • Policies
  • Plans
  • Programs
  • Services

World Health Organization Assessment Instrument for Mental Health Systems (WHO-AIMS)

WHO-AIMS works in Latin America and the Caribbean to promote, maintain and restore mental health. Its plan is derived from 10 overall recommendations from the 2001 World Health Report:

  1. Provide treatment of mental disorders in primary care
  2. Make psychotropic drugs available
  3. Give care in the community
  4. Educate the public
  5. Involve communities, families, and consumers in the treatment process
  6. Establish national policy and legislation
  7. Develop supportive human resources
  8. Link with other sectors
  9. Monitor community mental health
  10. Provide resources for more research

This organization focuses mainly on financing the investigations to find which obstacles affect mental health services the most. Since its implementation in Latin America, there has been a 30 percent increase in the creation of mental health policies, as its focus evolved to a more positive trend of protecting human rights.

In Conclusion

Negative stigmas will continue to circulate around mental health in Latin America as the lack of knowledge and understanding surrounding mental illnesses persist. Organizations like the ones listed previously will continue to work against these stigmas and encourage understanding through education.

– Chylene Babb

Photo: Google

Helping the Poor in Latin America: Saving with Reliable MeasuresThe definition of poverty in Latin America has multiple standards. Twenty years ago, foreign academic fields and institutions considered those with an individual monthly income of less than 60 dollars as poor, and less than 30 dollars as extremely poor. In addition, economic development in Latin American nations vary, while their different standards on salary, labor productivity, and purchasing power indicate varied distributions on social wealth. There is no doubt that helping the poor in Latin America urges global attention. Current population of poverty rates in Latin American countries are unevenly proportioned, as it is as high as 50 percent in the Honduras and Guatemala, and as low as 5 to 10 percent in Chile, Uruguay and Argentina.

Poverty in Latin America stands for complex, chronic, chaotic events with cumulated difficulties to handle. Considering a representative nation with a significantly reduced poverty rate such as Chile, the successful experience is at least owing to two points. For one thing, continuous economic growth brings about more opportunities for employment, providing a solid foundation for helping people to overcome poverty. For the other, the government pays relatively high concerns on poverty issues and carries out certain measures to solve concrete problems related to the poor. Organizations guided by political leaders and officers of each level are dedicated to eliminating poverty and the national annual budget used for social welfare, takes a large proportion of their total expenditure. Looking at Chile as an example, it seems to be that a combination of both economic and social progress is needed in order to help the poor.

What are some other effective ways of helping the poor in Latin America? Besides the mutual efforts of individuals and governments helping the poor, other factors such as natural disasters, political unrest, and financial crises could easily aggravate the alleviated poverty reduction. As voices of experience, Latin American countries should regulate and execute social policies to help the poor with orientations on their actual needs and viabilities. Those individuals who are categorized as extremely poor must be prioritized, and the existing mechanism of economy also needs to balance assisting the poor and preventing reoccurrences of unemployment or poverty. Providing freedom of necessity on immigration, insurance, trade, and shelters require common agreement.

Poverty comes hand in hand with discrimination and inequality towards women in Latin America. It is a topic related to poverty treatment that cannot be emphasized enough. Distribution of wealth between genders are also uneven. Hence, governments must consider increasing the hiring of female labors, as well as leverage better welfare to single mothers and any family with multiple kids.

In sum, quite a few national and regional programs on helping the poor in Latin America have released poverty issues at certain degrees, with the root of poverty being originated from some kind of unfair distribution. The unique solution towards poverty is by means of fair distribution on social wealth. While justice of distribution requires a long way to go for helping and saving the poor in Latin America, decreasing instances of poverty is not impossible, involving important aspects of both national and social systems.

– Xin Gao

Photo: Flickr

Argentina's Growing Tech Hub in Latin AmericaArgentina is one of three Latin American countries in the G20 and now has a booming tech industry. Though the industry has been on the rise since the 1980s after a major Argentinian recession, growth in recent years can be attributed to a few key factors.

One reason for Argentina’s growing tech hub is President Mauricio Macri’s new market-friendly policies. President Macri has sought to use the tech sector as a source for both new growth and reduced economic reliance on commodities. Though criticized, the policies Macri has introduced have helped the country reopen access to international debt markets and incentivized entrepreneurship. The Macri administration expects that 1.5 percent of GDP will come from the tech sector because of new policies.

The new law, called Ley de Emprendedores, or the Entrepreneur’s Law, replaces a previous law where approval and financing procedures took nearly a year to complete before entrepreneurs could legally launch their companies. The policy also allocates public funding to co-invest with private funding into businesses, by the means of the Fiduciary Fund for the Development of Venture Capital. This legislation is backed by both the Association of Entrepreneurs in Argentina and the Argentina Association of Private Equity, Venture and Seed Capital.

As such, the startup technological field continues to grow with a new generation of companies. These companies include the Y-Combinater backed Bluesmart, satellite startup Satellogic which raised $20 million last year to build imaging satellites and Affluenta, a peer to peer lending platform, which raised $8 million last year.

The stars of Argentina’s growing tech hub are three internet companies located in Buenos Aires that are worth over a billion dollars: MercadoLibre, OLX and Despegar. MercadoLibre is the only internet company from Latin America that is listed on NASDAQ. As the Huffington Post states, “a startup ecosystem is flourishing” in Argentina.

Gabriella Paez

Photo: Flickr

Hunger in South AmericaThe regions of Central and South America, in addition to the Caribbean Islands, collectively comprise what is currently recognized as Latin America, which is home to a growing population of roughly 637.6 million inhabitants. Of the three, the twelve nations of South America comprise the majority, or about 66 percent of that population. Despite all of these countries having experienced economic turmoil, political instability and social injustices, as a whole, the issue of hunger in South America does appear to be improving.

Since 1991, hunger in South America has seen significant declines. The largest of these has been Bolivia, which had 38 percent of its population without sufficient access to food in 1991. As of 2015, it had managed to reduce this number to 15.9 percent. Other countries have also made significant strides, such as Peru, which reduced its percentage of hunger from 31.6 in 1991 to 7.5 percent in 2015.

The basis for these accomplishments was established after Latin America adopted a U.N. Millennium Development Goal in 2000. The goal was to cut hunger in half in South America and its other regions by 2015, according to a State of Food Insecurity in the World report released by the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation. The region fortunately accomplished this goal, and while South America still has the largest proportion of undernourished people to its population, it was able to do this at a quicker and more effective rate than Central America or the Caribbean Islands.

One reason it was likely able to do this is that a handful of countries in South America are major agricultural producers and exporters. Brazil, for example, uses 31 percent of its land for crops; the country mainly grows sugarcane, but they also are dominant producers of coffee, bananas, mangoes, coconuts, papayas and oranges. Additionally, they rank second behind the U.S. in terms of total beef production. Similarly, Argentina is also a large beef producer, and Ecuador is a dominant producer of bananas.

In fact, due to its current production levels and untapped resources, economists and agricultural experts have speculated that Latin American countries will have a decisive role to play in the coming decades when it comes to global food production, something that could certainly play to their advantage. As of 2015, Latin American food imports accounted for a mere four percent of food imports worldwide. In contrast, their food exports accounted for 16 percent of food exports worldwide.

However, there are still tens of millions of people experiencing hunger in South America today. The existence of such a problem reflects that South America’s issue is not that it lacks sufficient food resources, but that it lacks adequate methods of distributing and allowing access to these resources. This is typically reflective of a larger, systemic problem of inequality. However, if resolved, it could improve the continent’s ability to produce and distribute these resources at a rate that would allow its countries to not only be dominant economic players in the international community, but also to take care of their own citizens simultaneously.

In a world whose population is estimated to reach nine billion by 2050, and whose food demands are expected to be 60 percent higher than they are today, it is critical that Latin America, and more importantly South American governments, establish economic reform that would allow for more equal food distribution. By doing so, they could then benefit from and play a major role in assisting future food shortages across the globe.

– Hunter Mcferrin

Photo: Flickr

Latin American FarmersIn recent years, the nutrient-rich superfood – quinoa – has emerged as a strong competitor for space on grocery shelves. Though the nutty grain certainly has its place in high-end grocery stores such as Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, few consumers know that quinoa’s popularity boom has been critical in alleviating poverty for farmers in Latin America.

Quinoa is native to the Andean region of South America, and is known there as the “mother of all grains.” The hardy plant thrives there despite extreme altitude and high-risk climate conditions. It has been shown that quinoa can also thrive in a variety of Asian, North American and European climates – though none of these have seen the benefits as much as Latin America.

Countries such as Ecuador and Peru are some of the top exporters of quinoa, which is grown primarily by small-scale farmers in mountainous regions. As the grain has gained popularity and reputation as a superfood, farmers in these lower-income regions have seen a higher demand for their production. In such a reliable market, growing quinoa helps previously vulnerable Latin American farmers achieve a more steady income. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization has declared quinoa a key component in global food security, for both present and future generations.

In Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador – the three major Latin American exporters of quinoa – the area of land set aside for quinoa cultivation has more than doubled within the last 30 years. Imports to the U.S. from Latin America hover around an astounding £70 million annually. Not only have Latin American nations started selling more quinoa to high-income nations, but they have started selling it at a far steeper price. In between the years 2006 and 2013, the price of quinoa around the globe tripled. Such a lucrative market is clearly beneficial for farmers in these areas of the world.

Historically, demand for raw goods like quinoa has led to the exploitation of low-income countries and only corporate interests have seen real benefits. However, studies have proven that this is not currently the case. The rural region of Puno, where 80 percent of Peru’s quinoa comes from, has seen enormous economic growth and improved welfare as a result of the superfood craze. Not only that, but despite the dramatic price increases, studies have found that people living in communities where quinoa is part of the traditional diet can still afford to eat the grain at similar or even higher rates.

In Puno, households cut back on less nutritious, high-fat foods in order to accommodate the price increases on quinoa; as a result, their health improved. The health benefits of quinoa serve to empower rural poor in Latin America, as well as other impoverished regions around the world. Bolivia declared 2013 the “Year of Quinoa” because the sustainably-grown grain is incredibly nutritious. Quinoa is the only plant food containing all essential amino acids, vitamins, trace elements and no gluten, making it the perfect base for an affordable, nutritious diet. It is also high in fiber and lysine.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization has declared quinoa a key component in global food security, both currently and in the future. As Latin America maintains a strong monopoly on quinoa, it is increasingly helping its farmers live healthily and sustainably – and will surely continue for years to come.

Kailey Dubinsky

Violence in Latin America
Every year, the Citizen’s Council for Public Security in Mexico releases a ranking of the 50 most violent cities in the world. The list is based on homicides per urban residents and does not include conflict zones such as Mosul, Iraq. The recently released 2016 ranking demonstrates the range of violence in Latin America: of the top 50 cities, 42 are in Latin America.

The biggest Latin American country, Brazil, accounted for the highest number of cities on the list at a whopping 19. Mexico and Venezuela rounded out the top three, and the Venezuelan city of Caracas topped the list. It is also worth noting that a number of smaller Latin American countries, including Honduras, El Salvador, Colombia and Guatemala, all had cities on the list. The concentration of urban violence in these 43 Latin American cities is alarming.

The link between global poverty and violence emerges clearly from this ranking. Many of the causes of violence in Latin America can be directly linked to symptoms of poverty such as hunger, political instability and weak public institutions. Venezuela, the country with the chart-topping city of Caracas, demonstrates this connection clearly.

Caracas ranked as the most violent city in the world for the second year in a row. In addition, four of the top 10 most violent cities were Venezuelan. Venezuela currently finds itself in a crisis state from a mix of political instability, extreme hunger and economic desperation. Venezuela’s financial woes spring from the collapse of the oil industry, governmental corruption and economic mismanagement. The crisis has become so extreme that 75 percent of the population has lost an average of 19 pounds in five years. The desperation and frustration from this situation have inspired massive government protests, many of which have turned violent. This confluence of factors has contributed to Venezuela’s prominent position on the list of most violent cities.

Venezuela presents one of the most extreme examples of the connection between poverty and violence, but a number of other trends also characterize the Latin American cities that dominate the list. Drug trafficking throughout the region is a large contributor. Violence between rival cartels placed Acapulco, Mexico in the number two spot on the list.

Brazil, the country with the most cities on the list, faces many of the same challenges as Venezuela. Governmental corruption and poor public services have spurred massive demonstrations that have led to widespread violence.

A few small Central American countries also face their own unique challenges. Countries such as El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala have a disproportionately high number of cities on the list given their tiny sizes. Drug trafficking and weak public institutions are important causes in these countries. But impunity and histories of civil war and divisive social issues also play into the high violence rates in these small countries.

The range of violence in Latin America is large, but there are various factors that can be generalized across the region. Foreign aid from countries like the United States can help alleviate some of the common causes of violence. For instance, Venezuela’s economy has reached its last $10 billion. Providing food and economic support to the Venezuelan people could help stabilize the country and lead to more democratic and peaceful state than the violence currently ravaging the country. More than anything, people in Venezuela and the region at large need money and resources to stem the tide of violence across Latin America.

Bret Anne Serbin

Photo: Flickr

Causes of Poverty in Cuba
Cuba is a unique island nation whose economy has been the subject of contention for decades. It is also a poor country that struggles to provide housing, transportation and other necessities. The Borgen Project outlines five of the main causes of poverty in Cuba.

Top 5 Causes of Poverty in Cuba

1. U.S. Embargo

Following Fidel Castro’s assumption of power in 1961, the U.S. imposed an embargo that abruptly deprived Cuban exporters of the recipient of 95 percent of their exports. Since then, the embargo has strictly restricted Cubans’ access to American products, contributing to shortages of everything from food, to electronics and internet access. The legislation of the embargo even includes sanctions against other countries that do business with Cuba. In this way, the embargo significantly limits Cubans’ access to products, partners and the means to climb out of poverty.

2. Agriculture

Like many developing countries across the world, Cuba has historically depended on agriculture as its main industry. Agricultural dependence often limits countries’ abilities to develop infrastructure and establish economic stability. Until the 1990s, the primary economic driver in Cuba was sugar. Because of this historical reliance on a single crop, Cuba has been ill-prepared to deal with changes in the global economy and to diversify beyond its agricultural roots.

3. Allies

For more than thirty years, Cuba was allied with the former Soviet Union. This relationship created special trading conditions which benefited the Cuban economy. Cuba traded sugar to the USSR for much-needed goods and economic support; but when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Cuba experienced a 35 percent contraction of its GDP. In a country of only 11 million people, this financial crash was more extreme than the American Great Depression. Cuba has yet to fully recover from this economic blow.

4. Dependence

Cuba’s troubles with the USSR are part of a larger pattern of centralization. For the majority of the country’s history, Cuba depended on a single trading partner for over 90 percent of its foreign trade. Cuba’s exclusive relationship with first the U.S. and then the USSR caused big problems when these partners suddenly disappeared. Cuba also traditionally focused industrially on sugar production; this centralization further limits Cuba’s ability to find sources of revenue to meet the country’s needs.

5. Social Services

Cubans enjoy free health care and education, as well as subsidized housing and food rations. These social benefits form a safety net rare to the developing world and even many developed countries; but these social services come at a cost. Spending on social services can limit the amount of money available to the Cuban government and the Cuban people especially in times of economic crisis.

The causes of poverty in Cuba are similar to those in the rest of Latin America, but Cuba’s unique position also presents the country with some unique challenges. Still, thanks to Cuba’s vigorous social services, many Cubans can count themselves lucky compared to other impoverished nations.

Bret Anne Serbin

Photo: Pixabay

Refugees in Uruguay
Prompted by the Syrian refugee crisis, many countries have implemented stricter immigration policies. However, some Latin American countries, specifically those with a higher proportion of Muslims or Syrians, responded to the refugee crisis with more sympathy. Uruguay is one such country. Nestled in between Brazil and Argentina, the territory of Uruguay is roughly the size of Washington state and is home to only 3.4 million individuals. Here are some essential facts about refugees in Uruguay:

  1. Uruguay was the first country in Latin America that showed a willingness to receive refugees.
  2. According to one political analyst, Uruguay’s economy will largely be unable to assimilate refugees into their workforce.
  3. Refugees publicly lamented the country’s limited economic opportunity.
  4. According to most recent statistics, Uruguay accepted 117 immigrants up to September 2015.
  5. Refugees now appeal to other countries and even to the United Nations to help them leave the country.
  6. Some refugees tried leaving the country, but such efforts failed because most countries do not accept their Uruguay-issued documentation and the immigrants also lack their Syrian-issued passports.
  7. Amidst such social discord, public opinion toward Syrian refugees began to sour. Many citizens felt that the refugees in Uruguay are ungrateful.
  8. Due to such public backlash, President Vasquez temporarily suspended any further allocation of Syrian refugees.
  9. The country’s first group of Syrian refugees was to take Spanish classes to help them assimilate.
  10. Uruguay hoped that, with their initial open door policy, they would have a type of contagion effect on surrounding countries.


The following information about refugees in Uruguay reveals that countries with already suffering economies are, in many cases, unfit to offer refuge to large numbers of displaced persons. Therefore, more prosperous nations ought to show Uruguay’s initial willingness to accept refugees.

Shannon Golden

Photo: Flickr

Causes of Poverty in VenezuelaDespite housing the largest oil reserves in the world, Venezuela is experiencing crippling and widespread poverty. The causes of poverty in Venezuela are atypical from other developing countries. The nation has an abundance of natural resources, and, in the 1950s, it had the fourth-highest GDP per capita in the world. For much of its history, the country has occupied a coveted position as the strongest economy in Latin America. Despite frequent political instability–as recently as 2007 poverty was in decline, with the economy riding high off oil profits where the price of a barrel was in the triple digits.

Fast-forward to 2017: 81 percent of Venezuelans live below the poverty line, largely as a result of the economic collapse.

The most severe symptoms of the new Venezuelan economy are ones that make it difficult for the average citizen to simply exist, let alone thrive. Food is either scarce or astronomically expensive, and hospitals are chronically understaffed and have to endure subpar equipment. Schools are increasingly characterized by the need to feed children who arrive hungry and have brought nothing to eat.

The Washington Post describes the situation as an “entirely man-made disaster,” identifying Nicolás Maduro’s government as one of the primary causes of poverty in Venezuela. Corruption is endemic in Venezuelan politics and enormous oil profits are often siphoned off into private hands. Transparency International identifies Venezuela as the ninth most corrupt country in the world, by far the highest in the Latin America region.

Government intervention to address the crisis has also often backfired. An attempt to introduce price controls on foodstuffs led to imports disappearing almost entirely, and for months most Venezuelans were unable to acquire basic items such as milk, eggs and flour. Inflation is expected to rise to 475 percent in 2017. Over the course of the past year, the average Venezuelan has dropped 19 pounds in weight.

The spike in oil prices during better times allowed Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chavez, to implement an economic populist agenda. A combination of infrastructure investment and expansion of social services allowed millions of Venezuelans to be lifted above the poverty line. However, this model of poverty alleviation was flawed due to its dependence on a single resource. Following a decline in oil prices, the country now faces even greater challenges than before.

A major fiscal overhaul is the best bet for the millions of Venezuelans who urgently need access to food and medicine. A food-stamp style system for vital goods is currently only a proposal, but the enormity of Venezuela’s government and its subsidiaries means it could be distributed relatively easily across the country.

In the long term, a redirection of the economy away from oil towards privately owned farms could stimulate a self-sufficient food market. If this was achieved, the kind of shortages that plague Venezuela in 2017 would be unlikely to occur again.

Perhaps then, some of the current causes of poverty in Venezuela can be overcome and the nation can begin to rebuild towards its former status as one of the wealthiest in the world.

Jonathan Riddick

Photo: Flickr

New Feminism in Latin America
In the past few years, social justice movements have evolved all over the globe, and a rise in feminism in Latin America is no exception. Women from several countries across Central and South America have formed alliances and staged protests over issues including street harassment, the wage gap, rape and femicide.

Veronica Gago, professor of social sciences at the University of Buenos Aires, notes networks of feminist allies being forged across international borders in Latin America. In addition to organizing marches against gendered injustice in their countries, Latin American feminists work to create spaces where activists can discuss these issues.

Femicide is perhaps the central issue, with a number of countries organizing protests to increase awareness of the thousands of women who are killed by romantic partners each year.

Mujeres de la Matria Latinoamericana (MuMaLa), an influential feminist collective in Latin America, estimated that in 2013, 13 women were killed per day in Brazil. According to data from the Ministry of Health, rates at which women are killed by partners is not only high, but on the rise, and activists are paying attention to this trend.

Feminists in Argentina, where women are killed by partners at one of the highest rates in the world, have been particularly active in the past few years. In 2016, MuMaLa and another major contributor to feminism in Latin America called Ni Una Menos organized a protest following the rape and murder of a 16-year-old girl, citing hypermasculine culture as the cause of such violent acts. Women gathered and held an hour-long strike with signs reading, “If you touch one of us, we all react.”

Just last month, feminists in Argentina organized a nude flash mob in which participants marched on government buildings to protest gendered violence. The protest itself was a work of art, featuring a string quartet and percussionist who provided background music for the demonstration. One hundred and twenty women crowded beneath a banner reading “Femicide is Genocide,” cast off their clothing and fell into a pile, later returning to their feet and punctuating the protest with shrieks of rage.

Many Latin American feminists turn to art in order to express their goals, using music, poetry and graffiti to gain the attention of both the government and the public.

Feminism in Latin America manifests in a number of forms. With the continued efforts of collectives like MuMaLa and Ni Una Menos as well as individuals, rates of femicide could decline.

Madeline Forwerck

Photo: Flickr