tourism in cuba
Before the Cuban Revolution and Fidel Castro’s rise to power in 1959, Cuba was a popular tourist destination for Americans. Now, only those over the age of 60 can remember a time when the governments of the United States and Cuba were on speaking terms.

In recent years, the Obama Administration has made efforts to improve relations with the neighboring country, including easing the economic embargo—though not lifting it—and allowing Cuban Americans to visit and send money to their families. This has been progressed in part by Raúl Castro taking over as president of Cuba. He has expressed interest in working with the U.S., something his brother never did.

In the wake of these changes, it is also much easier for the average American citizen to travel to Cuba. In the past, it was nearly impossible to reach Cuba without going through another country first. However, it was not the Cubans attempting to keep out American tourists, but rather the American government trying to keep American tourists out of Cuba in order to prevent the spread of communism.

Even now, with the Cold War long over, tourists must travel with a tour group, which will keep them busy with a multitude of activities every day, leaving barely any time for individual exploration. Despite this restricted travel, it has been reported that a half million Americans now legally travel to Cuba every year. This number is expected to grow in the coming years. The nation’s best year for tourism to date was 2013. Tourism is once again becoming an integral part of the Cuban economy.

A typical job in Cuba pays $16 a month. Someone with a well-paying career, like a doctor, will make $30 a month. Now, with an increase in tourism, working at a hotel is a coveted position. One waitress who serves in a hotel restaurant said that on a good night she will make roughly $15 in tips, which is enough to eat three meals a day, pay the electricity bill and purchase a new pair of shoes.

While some believe that the money coming in through tourism in Cuba will trickle down and benefit all Cubans, there is concern among many that it will only serve to create an economic divide between the “haves and the have nots” similar to pre-revolution Cuba. Though the Castros have been promising for years to create a socialist society that still allows for a somewhat capitalist economy with privately owned businesses and competition, changes have been slow to come about. The typical Cuban town is a mix of old, dilapidated buildings with propaganda posters of Fidel Castro in the windows and new, nicer businesses that attract tourists and Cubans who possess more money to spend than the average citizen.

Despite the fact that change may be slow, there is no denying that it is coming. The majority of Cubans are optimistic about the future of their country and their own livelihoods. Even simple sugarcane farmers express excitement that the world is paying more attention to Cuba, citing recent investments from Canada into Cuban sugarcane. The country’s hope and optimism lies in the possible end to the Castro era and the U.S. embargo, which they feel would create the new, prosperous Cuba that is just out of reach.

– Taylor Lovett

Sources: NPR, WABE, Time
Photo: Vintage Ad Browser

sherpa_mount_everest
On April 18, 2014, an avalanche on Mount Everest tumbled down upon the nearby Everest Base Camp—at the altitude of 1,900 feet above sea level—killing 16 Nepalese guides. The victims of the deadliest accident on Mt. Everest ever recorded were mainly Sherpa mountain guides.

After Tenzing Norgay helped Sir Edmund Hillary reach the summit of Mount Everest in 1953, this ethnic group came to be associated—at least in mainstream Western imagination—with expeditionary mountaineering. In fact, more than half a decade after Norgay, many Sherpas still make their living from this perilous occupation. As part of their tasks, Sherpa guides often embark on 20-25 round trips carrying climbing kit and supplies to base camps closer to the summit. This physically demanding and dangerous activity exposes those working in this tourism sector to great risks.

Historically, people living along the Himalayan ranges used to make their living carrying goods between Nepal and Tibet and exchanging them for wheat and sugar. Although Sherpa guides recognize that they are working in an immensely dangerous job, they also admit that work in other sectors are difficult to come by. Despite that not a year goes by without at least one death; in a country where the average annual income is $700 USD, an opportunity to make up to $5,000 USD in three months is indeed hard to turn down. Furthermore, an expedition to the summit may cost up to $90,000 USD for those wishing to undertake it.

Thus, despite the inevitable dangers that multiple journeys up Mount Everest entail, many find it an indeclinable chance to quickly earn a living. The Sherpas, once among Nepal’s poorest communities, have been benefiting from visitors to the world’s highest peak. Tourism has allowed this once isolated ethnic community to form their own middle-class. Nevertheless, as trail preparers as well as porters, Sherpa guides face much higher risks than their co-expeditionary clients. Being the first on every journey to scout the trail and having to break the ice and deep snow, to lay ropes and to carry heavy equipment, in case of an accident, the guides are much more likely to bare the brunt of it. Other potential risks include altitude sickness, the lack of oxygen, hypothermia and avalanches.

Tourism—now Nepal’s largest industry as well as a major source of foreign revenue—decidedly has been beneficial for Nepal and the Sherpa community in certain aspects. Many Sherpa families now own trekking companies and only work in well-paid high-altitude expeditions. As for Nepal itself, although tourism attracts more than 700,000 foreign tourists annually—most of whom visit the Himalayan nation for trekking—the country has been dramatically transformed from the remote Himalayan kingdom that Sir Hillary encountered to a republic bustling with tourists on the crossroad of two global economic giants.

As for the Sherpa community, following the tragedy that struck their community, many are demanding better compensation as well as higher insurance payments for the lives lost in the avalanche. The Nepalese government has so far offered only $400 USD to the families of the guides perished in the incident. Nevertheless, is the money earned from trekking worth the risks that frequent trips up the world’s highest mountain pose? Although Mt. Everest’s tourism industry brings much prosperity to the Sherpa community and to Nepal as a whole, the guides have to put their own lives and the livelihood of their families at what would, in “more regular circumstances,” be considered unacceptable risks. $5,000 USD during the climbing season—approximately three months in duration with multiple journeys involving a wide range of dangers and annual fatalities—would certainly not be considered a sufficient remuneration in high-income countries. What then makes the lives of the Sherpa guides less valuable? The exchange rates and the cost of living?

– Peewara Sapsuwan

Sources: BBC News, South China Morning Post, Global News, Newser, The Guardian

marijuana_tours_boost_jamacian_economy
As of January 2014, Jamaica had an unemployment rate of 14.9%, which was a decrease from the 15.4% in December 2013.

Jamaican reggae singer Bob Marley’s celebrity in the U.S. and openness about his use of marijuana has formed a reputation for Jamaica as being an island where marijuana use and sales are legal. Jamaica is in actuality a very conservative country that prohibits the use and distribution of marijuana.

The growth of marijuana crops, in fact, have steadily declined because of the war on drugs by the U.S. and other competitors, but this has not hindered American travelers from visiting Jamaica in hopes of experiencing the effects of marijuana that Bob Marley openly supported.

Regardless of the decline, Jamaica still has a vast supply of marijuana tourists from the U.S. and all over the world. Jamaica is still the lead smuggler of marijuana into the U.S., which brings a great deal of people into the country to buy weed and explore the cannabis culture in Jamaica.

Many growers are quickly learning that making money off of tourists is quite easy when it includes marijuana. Nine Mile, famous for being the hometown of Bob Marley, offers many different marijuana tours, each of which take relatively large groups of Americans, Germans and Russians through small marijuana farms.

These tours are also common in Negril, Jamaica, and are slowly adapting to become common in places such as Colorado and Washington state, where marijuana has become legalized.

With these tours, average-to-minimum waged locals are able to make a decent chunk of money by letting tourists explore their farms and sample their inventory, often leading many of the tourists to purchase their product.

One Jamaican marijuana farmer dubbed “Breezy” sells his bags of marijuana through the wall-hole of a museum, where marijuana tourists line up and smoke weed, usually just for the sheer novelty that Bob Marley smoked weed on the same island.

One tourist traveling from Minnesota stated, “I can get stronger stuff at home, but there’s something really special about smoking marijuana in Jamaica. I mean, this is the marijuana that inspired Bob Marley.”

The large amount of marijuana tourism that is illegally occurring in Jamaica begs the question of why it hasn’t been legalized.

Marijuana could prove to be a great benefit and a pillar for health tourists. One Jamaican scientist named Henry Lowe, who was a partner in developing a marijuana-based glaucoma treatment, believes that legalizing marijuana could bring in even more tourism than there already is.

By legalizing marijuana, attention and money is estimated to be pulled from gangs and arresting large criminal parties and be refocused on other important matters, such as creating official jobs for those living below the poverty line and helping lower class growers gain a larger following. Overall, the island would benefit and reap massive economic gain by legalizing marijuana and freeing up money.

– Becka Felcon

Sources: Trading Economics, The Guardian, Telegraph
Photo: High Times Caribbean

Poverty in Bali
Despite welcoming more than 3 million visitors per year and the total from revenue from tourism that is expected to reach US $5.5 billion annually, many of Bali’s inhabitants are living in extreme poverty. But with so much income—$5.5 billion for its 3.8 million Balinese—why is there poverty in Bali?

In Bali, there are as many as 162,051 people living in poverty and this figure has been on the increase. In the villages, the rate at which the number of poor is rising is twice as much as that of Bali’s urban areas. In the Balinese countryside, it is estimated that more than 77,400 people are living in poverty. Currently, in 82 villages out of Bali’s 706 villages, the poverty rate hovers above 35 percent. To make matters worse, on this tourism-focused island where the number of tourists almost matches that of the locals, the incomes of farmers are dwindling and the prices of essential goods are becoming more and more unaffordable to many Balinese.

In remote villages—and “remote” in Bali means an hour or two away from the glittering 5-star hotels—the residents are very poor and most villages lack education, access to clean water and even electricity. Many children must walk for kilometers to go to school. Furthermore, as the more fertile south is overdeveloped, many Balinese are only left with the infertile dry soil of the north and the east to farm on. Due to the lack of jobs and opportunities, men from the villages must also leave to find jobs in the tourism sector, leaving their wives and children. Thus, oftentimes women must work disproportionately, covering both their absent husbands’ tasks as well as their own tasks. In the resort towns, rural migrant workers still earn very little in comparison to what the business establishments whom they work for are earning from tourism. The minimum salary in Bali is only 1,542,600.00 Indonesian Rupiah, or around US $125.

I Made Mangku Pastika, Bali’s governor had made a statement calling the island’s thriving tourism a “disaster” for the poor. He expressed his concern that as prices of basic necessities skyrocket, farmers in need of cash would be forced to sell their land—the only real property they own—in order to make ends meet. The governor had previously fought to stave off further tourism-accommodation developments into the Balinese inland, however due to the political administrative structure, many local authorities ignored his initiative. Trapped in the dilemma of tourism being both the island’s lifeblood as well as—in the words of the governor—a disaster for the poor.

Nevertheless, the governor—now in his second term—is diligently working on solving his island’s economic discrepancy, with many poverty-alleviation plans such as the integrated farming scheme, the installation of solar panels, housing aid and the free healthcare plan. The governor—realizing the injustice of this developmental disparity—also plans to bring down the rate of extreme poverty (people living on less than $2 per day) down from the current figure.

– Peewara Sapsuwan

Sources: The Bali Times, WageIndicator.org, The Bali Times, The Jakarta Post, Australia Network News, The Jakarta Post, Asia News Network,
Photo: Tripping

pack_for_purpose
Most people would never think to pack a stethoscope or a package of rulers for their vacation. Unless they are a doctor or a teacher, these items may not even be things they own, but a non-profit organization known as Pack for a Purpose is asking international travelers to find a little more space for items like these in their suitcases.

By coordinating with local tourism agencies and hotels, Pack for a Purpose compiles a list of basic medical and educational equipment needs that travelers can easily squeeze into their bags when they travel abroad.

Some of these supplies are simply for recreation like deflated soccer balls, and others, like blood pressure cuffs, are essential instruments for quality medical treatment in impoverished nations.

Founded by retired schoolteacher, Rebecca Rothney, Pack for a Purpose has provided needed school and medical supplies to thousands around the globe. They have been able to do this simply by connecting travelers with a little extra luggage space to relief and aid programs all over the world.

On Pack for a Purpose’s website, a map directs travelers to different regions and shows them what hotels and tourism groups participate in Pack for Purposes exchanges so that charitable travelers can choose their destinations based on local needs.

In a recent, radio interview with WUBR’s Here and Now, Rothney describes her earliest experiences bringing supplies to schools on the African continent. In one of these stories, Rothney describes how a package of rulers nearly brought a school’s principal to tears.

Pack for a Purpose’s contention is ultimately that small efforts to support struggling communities can have tremendous impacts. In fact, many people don’t realize jut how powerful a device like a stethoscope can be for a local clinic, and in part that is because of how commonplace they are in the developed world.

In the four years of its operation, Pack for a Purpose has delivered over 16,000 kilos of supplies worldwide. The truly remarkable thing about this number is that it was all done by individual effort. Travelers from all different backgrounds and origins who simply made a little extra room in their bags have, in doing so, made a measurable difference in thousands of lives.

– Chase Colton

Sources: Here and Now, Pack for a Purpose, Boston Globe
Photo: Forbes

brazilian_poor
Brazil has the strongest economy in Latin America with an extremely important agricultural and industrial influence, but there is still a large amount of poverty in the country. The main cause of the majority of Brazilian poverty is the problems concerning social exclusion and income inequality, though there have been recent improvements with the distribution of income.

Even though Brazil would be classified as a middle-income country with plenty of natural resources, the human development indicators and poverty levels in the poor rural areas are very similar to those of other impoverished Latin American countries.

Nearly 35% of the entire country lives in poverty with less than two dollars a day, and about 51% of the people living in rural areas experience poverty. Since there are approximately 36 million people living in the rural areas of Brazil, there are around 18 million people in poor rural areas; the most in any country in the Western Hemisphere.

In Latin America, the largest concentration of rural poverty is in the Northeastern region of Brazil with 58% of the region living in poverty.

In the poor rural communities, citizens are deprived of sufficient sewage systems, adequate water supplies, infrastructure and technology, and strong education and health facilities. Women, youth and indigenous people are among the poorest and most vulnerable of the Brazilian rural areas. Many women have the responsibility of managing the family farm as well as taking care of their children because they are either single mothers or their husbands are out looking for work; households like this make up 27% of the rural Brazilian poor. These people are living in poverty mostly because of inequality of land and the lack of access to formal education.

In preparation for the 2016 Olympics to be held in Rio de Janeiro, the Brazilian government is taking steps to clean up the city and rejuvenate the area. Though this is good for bringing in revenue from the tourism that will come with the Olympics, the improvements to the city are at the expense of the nearby poor.

Hundreds of thousands have been relocated to make room for the expansion that has begun for the Olympics. The government is expanding the roads and metro lines in addition to renovating the airport in order to make it easier for tourists to travel while in the country.

Many families are offered a proposition by city officials that they really cannot refuse. They can either take a small compensation package or they can simply leave with nothing. If they take the compensation package, they agree to move to a small apartment in a housing project that is very far from where they work, but that is at least better than leaving without any compensation whatsoever. Often times, housing projects like these cannot continue to be maintained because the people living in them do not have the money to pay maintenance fees, so these people are not necessarily making improvements to their lives by moving.

There are varying numbers of how many people have been moved out of their homes, but Amnesty International claims around 19,200 families in the Rio de Janeiro area alone have been forced to relocate since 2009. Rio authorities, on the other hand, claim to only be relocating 278 families that are living where the Olympic Village is being built. There is a large gap between these numbers and it is seemingly the poor that are ultimately paying for the big events to come in Brazil.

– Kenneth W. Kliesner

Sources: Guardian Liberty Voice, Rural Poverty Portal
Photo: The Republic

war_photography_brooklyn
The newest collection at the Brooklyn Museum offers unapologetic effects of violence around the world in a new exhibit titled “WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY: Images of Armed Conflict and Its Aftermath.” The collection features works by 225 photographers from all walks of life including military members, commercial portraitists, journalists, amateurs and Pulitzer Prize winners.

Nearly 400 pieces are present in a variety of mediums such as prints, books, magazines, albums and photography equipment. The exhibit allows visitors to explore the evolving relationship between war and photography over the last 166 years.

Several iconic pieces are present including Joe Rosenthal’s famous photograph of solders holding up the American flag on the battlefield in Iwo Jima and Robert Clarks’s images of the destruction of the World Trade Center.

Unknown works like “Valentine with her daughters Amelie and Inez” offer new perspectives on continuing issues of violence. In the photo, Valentine stands in front of a house with two young girls, her arms wrapped around one.

The image depicts the struggles of Rwandan women during the early nineties, when instances of violence and rape swept the region. The two girls with Valentine are her daughters, one conceived through marriage, the other by rape.

Other images in the collection show the endurance of humanity in the face of endless violence such as Mark A. Grimshaw’s First Cut, which illustrates an American soldier cultivating a small patch of grass in the middle of the harsh Iraqi landscape.

Some works, on the other hand, are simply heartbreaking as in the case of W. Eugene Smith’s “Dying Infant Found by American Soldiers in Saipan,” June, 1944 depicting a soldier holding the baby in his arms as another soldier watches on.

Rather than a strictly historical account of past wars, the organizers of the exhibition aim to not only reflect the effects of violence in the world but also, explore the connection between violence and photography. The exhibit’s curator, Anne Tucker explains that despite the sheer volume of images and variety of locations, certain patterns are evident in the type of photographs produced from such occurrences.

Those interested in learning more about the collection can visit the Brooklyn Museum website or visit the exhibit in person until February 2.

– Jasmine D. Smith

Sources: The New York Times, Brooklyn Museum

brazil_human_trafficking
Ranked the third largest source of slaves in the Western Hemisphere behind Mexico and Colombia, Brazil‘s human trafficking situation is grim. In 2009, the Brazilian Federal Police estimated that 250,000 to 400,000 children are exploited by domestic prostitution. An estimated 75,000 Brazilian women and girls work as prostitutes throughout neighboring South American countries, the United States, and Europe–most of them are trafficked. Additionally, around 25,000 Brazilians, mainly rural workers, are enslaved domestically each year.

As Brazil emerges as an economic powerhouse, it’s human trafficking situation only worsens. More migrants from neighboring countries and as far away as Asia are increasingly attracted to the promise of jobs in Brazil. Many of them are duped by traffickers into exploitative work situations. Preparations for the upcoming Olympic games and World Cup are significantly driving up labor needs and fueling exploitative labor practices. Just last month, an investigation into the expansion of Sao Paulo international airport discovered migrant workers in “slave-like” conditions.

Fortunately, this has not gone unnoticed by the Brazilian government. The government announced its first anti-trafficking plan in 2008 and introduced its second this year. The new plan includes tougher border controls, a revision of the penal code, and the training of 400 staff for victim services.

However, many are skeptical that the government’s funding and efforts will be enough. Enter: the Slavery, No Way! campaign. Since its launch in 2004, the Slavery, No Way! campaign has trained and provided on-going support to more than 2,200 educators and community group leaders, ultimately reaching over 60,000 people. Together with partners Reporter Brasil, Pastoral Land Commission, and Free the Slaves, Slavery, No Way! works to “enable communities to prevent trafficking of workers into slavery.”

In response to teachers’ asking for innovative approaches to engage children on the issue, Slavery, No Way! created a board game to teach children about trafficking and how to address it. In order to win, players must utilize dialogue, strategic thinking, and reason to end slavery outbreaks. The game emphasizes cooperation over competition and entails three lines of action: preventing vulnerable populations of Brazilians from becoming enslaved, aiding those already enslaved, and combating the root causes of slavery. Characters in the game include justice officials, activists, slaves, and traffickers.

Reports of human trafficking in Brazil have risen 1,500% in 2013 alone, according to government figures. Such a dramatic rise in reporting suggests that campaigns like Slavery, No Way! are bearing fruit in confronting Brazil’s stark slavery issue.

Kelley Calkins

Sources: Free the Slaves, U.S. State Department, In Sight Crime, BBC, UNODC, Slavery, No Way!

Mogadishu Tourist Destination UN Al Shabaab Development
When one thinks about a possible vacation destination for the next family trip, the European havens of Paris, Rome, and Barcelona may come to mind. Maybe an exotic Asian voyage to Bangkok or a beach trip to a Caribbean island. There are countless beautiful and picturesque places in the world worthy of visiting, and the next time families are planning their vacations, the seaside Somali capital of Mogadishu may be added to the bucket list.

Yes, you read that right: war-torn Somalia, an up and coming tourist hotspot.

The September 2012 election of Hassan Sheikh Mohammed has been hailed as a “great step forward” for Somalia and is the reason for the nation’s slow but sure move to increased stability. With the first fair election in Mogadishu in 42 years and the subsequent ouster of Al-Qaeda-linked group al-Shabab, Mogadishu has been somewhat transformed, being controlled under central authority and experiencing the return of private investors.

For many, this may be a bit of a strange claim to make. It seems that every time Somalia is making headlines it’s for the violence and terrorism that plagues the west African nation. However, Mogadishu has seen what experts call an “economic renaissance” lately, with the Somali diaspora coming back to rebuild their homeland, in collaboration with entrepreneurs who never left.

Mogadishu has experienced a construction boom not only in the real estate and hospitality industries, but also in telecommunications and aviation. In fact, independent Somali airlines have recently opened up their flights to 15 domestic and international routes flown every day.

The city itself offers everything one would expect a seaside paradise to look like. Beautiful beaches and luxurious poolside resorts, surrounded by the blue waters of the Indian Ocean. The remnants of Italian colonization are apparent in the street cafes and merchants selling loaves of Italian bread and cappuccinos on the roadside.

Despite all these attractions and Mogadishu’s recent growth despite its battle scars, it is not yet a perfect paradise, as it still remains a conflict zone. Security continues to be an issue as some terrorist insurgents are still present and occasionally launch terror attacks. Despite the fact that most of al-Shabaab has been kicked out, some of its members have “melted into the population” and hidden in the city. However, Somali security forces have successfully obstructed many of the suicide attacks and have detained numerous al-Shabab members remaining in Mogadishu.

Mogadishu’s stance as a future tourism hotspot is debatable. It is clear that Somalia in general has still a long way to go, but one can only hope that greater private investment may deter lawless behavior, and turn Mogadishu into a vacation paradise in the long run.

– Elisha-Kim Desmangles
Feature Writer

Sources: BBC News, Telegraph, Washington Post
Photo: The Guardian

Tourism_Philippines_Poverty
USAID and the Philippines Department of Tourism and Department of Social Welfare and Development recently announced a program to include pro-poor tourism activities in areas of high poverty in the country. The Departments and USAID signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) August 5th. Tourism in the Philippines has significant potential to boost the economy and alleviate poverty.

The program, dubbed “The One-Step Project,” will seek to incorporate pro-poor aspects in the tourism trade in five pilot areas characterized by high poverty and high tourism. These five areas are chosen from the 78 tourism development areas designated by the Department of Tourism. Regional and provincial officers in the five areas will be consulted by a central technical working group. While a project amount has not yet been set, The One-Step Project will take place over four years and will focus on infrastructure, job creation through community-based projects, and private sector engagement.

In 2010, the Philippines received 3.5 million visitors, generating US$2.4 billion from tourism. The Philippine government has focused on the tourism industry in recent years, but, despite its many natural attractions the Philippines, still trails other regional countries in tourism numbers.

A variety of factors contribute to this sluggishness: remote location, susceptibility to natural disasters, and unrest often resulting in kidnappings. However, tourism does hold the potential for new job creation. Including the poor in tourism strategies and job creation is an important development opportunity within this sector. While the Department of Tourism has included these strategies in the past, this will be their first partnership with USAID.

This will not be the first time the Philippine Department of Tourism has focused on pro-poor tourism actions. In 2000, the Department’s regional branch helped villagers in Sta. Juliana organize in order to take advantage of a new influx of tourism.

Residents of the village, suffering from a decade of neglect, struggle to make ends meet. They are hampered by lack of appropriate infrastructure to get their agriculture goods to market and a lack of telecommunications. The regional Tourism department helped the villagers form the Sta. Juliana Tourism Council, Inc. which has educated residents on the trade’s benefits. New jobs and livelihoods evolved to capitalize on this influx.

The One-Step Project falls under USAID’s Partnership for Growth program, running until 2016. Additional projects in the Philippines will be implemented by USAID focusing on tourism. Most of these projects will take the form of technical assistance and policy reform. The USAID Philippine budget reached $102 million for fiscal year 2011. This is distributed across USAID’s four focus areas: democracy and governance, economic growth, health and education, and energy and environment. The US government is the Philippines largest grant donor. The collaborative One-Step Project has great potential to continue tourism-focused aid to the poorest communities in the Philippines.

Callie D. Coleman

Sources: Business Mirror, CNN, The Philippine Department of Tourism , USAID
Photo: AUSTRONESIA