affordable housingMakeshift tent communities become semi-permanent homes for those who have lost everything to natural disasters. Though housing charities like San Francisco-based New Story have built 850 houses for those affected by natural disasters since 2015, the cost and time it takes to build these houses are hindering the progress.

With plans to build an entire 3-D printed community in earthquake-prone El Salvador by the end of this year, New Story is partnering with ICON to print affordable housing for those that have no choice but to live in tents. Of the 850 houses built so fair, New Story has raised funds for 1,600. Solutions like the 3-D printed house will ensure that available funds are utilized efficiently, transitioning more communities from tents to secure shelters sooner.

Printing 3-D Affordable Housing

The current cost for one New Story house equipped with running water, a sanitary bathroom and concrete floor is $6,500. In March of this year, ICON, New Story’s tech construction partner, printed a 3-D house that only cost $4,000 and was built in 24 hours.

Specifically designed for disaster relief housing, the 3-D printer that built this prototype is made from aluminum, making the printer lightweight and easily transportable. The printer has a generator built in should a power outage arise. Designed to withstand worst conditions, ICON’s 3-D printer is revolutionizing affordable housing solutions, specifically for those devastated by natural disasters.

So far, houses built by New Story have improved the lives of over 6,000 people. Through traditional construction, houses have been built in the following places:

  • Haiti – Leveque, Labodrie, Minoterie, Gonaives
  • El Salvador – Nuevo Cuscatlan, Ahuachapan
  • Bolivia – Mizque

How 3-D Printed Houses Change Lives

Living in a secure shelter helps people out of poverty. Not having the worry of where clean water will come from, the floor turning into mud from the rain or someone robbing the home in the middle of the night allows people to focus on things other than survival.

Prior to living in their New Story houses, a community in Labodrie, Haiti, lived in tents for nearly six years after the 2010 earthquake. Many families were separated due to poor living conditions that were unsafe for children. Living in secure shelters bumped the community’s employment rate up 16 percent and reunited families. 150 homes were built equipped with clean running water, bathrooms and concrete floors.

Also devastated by the 2010 earthquake was Leveque, Haiti. People had been living in tent cities before New Story stepped in. With access to clean water, bathrooms and concrete floors, 75 percent of children in this community now attend school.

In El Salvador, 90 homes were built in Nuevo Cuscatlan and Ahuchapan with the help of New Story. In Nuevo Cuscatlan, 16 percent of homeowners started a business from their home, a playground was built in the community for the children and 66 percent of these children are attending school.

The Future of 3-D Printing

The impact of living in a solid home is the difference between surviving and thriving in a community. With the help of new technology, affordable housing will be built in even more communities than in the past. In addition to helping those affected by natural disasters, 3-D printing homes has the potential to help with a global housing shortage caused by rapid city growth and unaffordable housing prices.

According to City Lab, in some developing nations, “housing costs exceed incomes by more than 3000 percent.”  Disaster area or not, unaffordable housing puts people at risk for poverty.  Continued innovation by companies like ICON and New Story will build stronger, self-sustaining communities in places that are most susceptible to natural and manmade disaster.

– Hope Kelly
Photo: Flickr

Initiatives Against Drug Cartels in Latin America
Juan Manuel Santos, Colombia’s president, says that a global problem requires a global solution. One problem in need of a solution for more than 40 years is drug cartels in Latin America.

The Problem of Drug Cartels in Latin America

Because of drug cartels in Latin America, especially around South America, thousands have been killed in Colombia, Mexico and other areas where cartels are deep-rooted in society. Santos is urging countries to rethink their strategies because the human cost is too high, despite current efforts. The drug business also hurts consumers and the environment as land is deforested in order to plant cocoa, which supplies cocaine.

The largest drug cartels in Mexico — the Zetas and Sinaloa cartels — control most illegal drug trades from South America to the U.S. Usually, cocaine is imported from South America then smuggled to the U.S. Some groups also traffic marijuana and methamphetamines. Cartels are also involved with extorting local businesses, kidnapping for ransom, prostitution rings, intimidation and murder.

There is a shared responsibility among the international community to reduce both supply and demand for drugs. Some substantial initiatives have been employed to combat drug cartels in Latin America by Mexico, Guatemala and the European Union.

Cutting Drug Demand with Social Programs

Pena Nieto, the President of Mexico, promised in 2013 that $9.2 billion would be invested in social programs to alleviate crime by tackling its root causes, instead of following a policy of force. These initiatives consist of improving health and social services, roads, parks, lighting, and job opportunities for mothers. School hours also increased in an effort to keep the youth occupied and away from gang activity.

Waging War on Drugs

Mexico’s army has been deployed to arrest members of cartel kingpins. The Institutional Revolutionary Party is the ruling party, headed by Pena Nieto, and has rebranded itself into a modern force focusing on economic growth, poverty reduction and tackling drug-related violence. Under the current governance, crime and violence are usually dealt with at a local level. Exceptional cases include the severe violence occurring in Michoacán, where the President resorted to sending troops to back up the federal police forces. Vigilante groups are allowed to keep their own weapons when they agree to integrate into the official security forces.

Decriminalizing Drugs

Otto Pérez Molina, Guatemala’s president, proposed the method of regional decriminalization on growing drug trades. This effort could slim down profits obtained by the cartels from illegal drug trades in the black market, therefore crippling the drug business for brutal cartels.

Colombia adopted a similar approach by switching from the usual hard-line policies to the softer decriminalization method. Colombia hosted the 2012 Cartagena Summit of the Americas, which focused on decriminalizing drugs and expanded coordination between countries in combating drug calamity.

International Cooperation on Crime

Crimjust, a joint initiative implemented by the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, is funded by the European Union. It was established to counter organized crime and drug trafficking through international cooperation. In 2016, Central American and South American countries like Panama and Colombia became one of the first few countries to join Crimjust in order to enhance their own national capacities to counter drug and illicit trafficking. The 2016-2020 program is expected to specifically strengthen investigations and criminal justice cooperation along the cocaine route in Latin America, the Caribbean and West Africa. Through Crimjust, the international efficacy in combating drug cartels in Latin America has been amplified.

– Heulwen Leung
Photo: Google

How International Trade Benefits Latin American Development
Latin America encompasses the area from Mexico to the southern tip of South America, and consists of 19 sovereign states amidst other territories and dependencies that span two continents.

The region has had a varied and unstable economic history: in 1982, rising oil prices led to the Mexican debt crisis, latin American GDPs began to decline and around 64 million people lived in poverty. In 2010, however, the overall GDP growth rate rose to 5.8 percent. Some of this recent growth can be attributed to various trade agreements adopted by Latin American countries.

From Mercosur to the Pacific Alliance, international trade benefits Latin American development in very significant ways.

Mercosur

Created on March 26, 1991 by the Treaty of Asuncion, Mercosur is a South American economic and political trade bloc that includes four members: Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.

The bloc is a notable example of renewed global interest in regional trade agreements, and the four countries agreed to five terms:

  1. Eliminate customs duties
  2. Adopt a consistent trade policy toward outside countries and blocs
  3. Enforce a 35 percent external tariff on certain imports from outsiders
  4. Coordinate macroeconomic and sectional policies
  5. Abrogate restrictions on reciprocal trade

In addition, people from member countries can apply for a two-year residency with the right to work. This policy benefits immigrants because they can obtain permanent residency as long as they do not have criminal records.

Since 1991, Mercosur has grown intra-bloc trade from $5.1 billion to $58.2 billion while world trade growth was only five-fold. In addition, the bloc acts an essential step in boosting industrial activity; for instance, Argentina and Brazil are the third biggest global markets for automobiles. Through results such as these, Mercosur demonstrates how international trade benefits Latin American development.

NAFTA

In 1994, Canada, the U.S. and Mexico signed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which created a trilateral trade bloc in North America. NAFTA’s goal was to integrate Mexico into the highly developed economies of the U.S. and Canada.

NAFTA is the largest free trade agreement in the world. This agreement eliminates tariffs to a large extent, and Mexico abrogates non-tariff barriers and other trade-distorting restrictions. This policy also leads to lower prices on groceries and oil in the U.S. and more exports from Mexico. Regional trade grew from around $290 billion in 1993 to more than $1.1 trillion in 2016.

Although Mexico’s unemployment has risen since then, many experts conclude that its economic performance is affected by non-NAFTA factors, such as devaluation of the peso and competition with China’s low-cost manufacturing sector. Overall, NAFTA has reshaped the trade pattern between these three countries and is one of the ways that international trade benefits Latin American development.

Pacific Alliance

Established in 2011, the Pacific Alliance is a Latin American trade bloc that includes four member countries: Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru. Its goal is to build a comprehensive trade relationship between its member countries, promote a free flow of capital, goods, people and services, and further expand this relationship to Asia-Pacific trade. Under this agreement, member countries agree to reduce tariffs to 10 percent. This kind of international trade benefits Latin American development.

In 2014, the Alliance signed the Framework Agreement to cut 92 percent of all tariffs and phase out the remaining 8 percent in the coming years. In 2016, the Pacific Alliance accounted for 35 percent of the total GDP of Latin American and the Caribbean. Compared to Mercosur, Pacific Alliance has an even more powerful influence on Latin American economic growth.

The growth in exports of goods and services reached 14.6 percent in 2010, while Mercosur resulted in more than 7 percent growth. All in all, the Alliance stimulates foreign investment in member countries and regulates government intervention in economic affairs.

Global Engagement

These trade agreements are good examples of the effect that international cooperation can have on the economies of developing countries. The continued encouragement of free trade both within Latin America and with other nations will promote growth and opportunities for all of Latin America’s people.

– Judy Lu

Photo: Flickr

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. The 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 is 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 AmericaEvery 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 CubaCuba 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