Top 10 Facts about Living Conditions in Cuba

The rise of Cuba’s Marxist-Leninist regime is situated in the context of the nation’s history, leadership and government. Cuba remains one of the few one-party socialist government bodies in the world. Living conditions for the people of Cuba were on par with European levels prior to the Cuban revolution of 1959, led by Fidel Castro and his socialist constituents. Following the overthrow of then-Cuban authoritarian President Fulgencio Batista, specific metrics of living conditions from the macroeconomic, sociopolitical and sociological perspectives weakened and consequently placed the people of Cuba under enormous political and financial strain.

Presently, little empirical evidence suggests that the top 10 facts about living conditions in Cuba are contextually related to Cuba post-revolution or pre-revolution. Living standards measure the general wealth, prosperity and quality of life for any given national population. Economic and non-economic factors that contribute to the assessment of living standards include but are not limited to: consumption, GDP per capita, income inequality, regular access to food and water, housing, crime rates, education, healthcare, social services, environmental health and economic freedom.

In assessing the top 10 facts about living conditions in Cuba, the country’s political climate, past and present, plays an important role in understanding living standards and how they affect the people of Cuba every day. Moreover, the normalization of relations between Cuba and the United States insofar as mainstream tourism carries with it the caveat of unreconciled embargoes placed on Cuba’s economy. In addition to living standards, present and planned solutions serve to incentivize U.S. lawmakers to revisit relevant legislation that empowers Cuba to trade, produce and export with more sovereignty. Until the issue of U.S. embargoes is reconciled or at the very least ameliorated, living standards in Cuba will cease to improve. With Cuba’s past and present contexts in mind, here are the top 10 facts about living conditions in Cuba:

  1. Cuba’s GDP has increased each year since its historic low of $5.69 billion in 1970 to a record-setting $87.13 billion in 2015. The country focuses much of its exports on tourism, construction, transport and agriculture. As of 2016, Cuba exported $1.18 billion worth of goods and services and imported only $6.73 billion. This denotes a negative trade balance between Cuba and the rest of the world.
  2. The Human Development Indicators (HDI) rank Cuba 73 in the world with an index of .777 according to the United Nations Development Program. This suggests Cuba has high human development. Cuba maintains a high HDI because of its allegiance to a centrally planned economy. Government ownership of land, labor and capital facilitates total control over goods/services production.
  3. Women in Cuba represent a large and growing faction within politics, labor and education. According to the American Association of University Women, they “make up 66 percent of the labor force in Cuba, and more than 70 percent of professionals in the country are women” (AAUW). Women and girls in Cuba have a long way to go as far as equality is concerned. However, female representation in political office maintains 43.6 percent of the 614 member unicameral legislature.
  4. Women have a significantly higher gross enrollment ratio as a percentage in education compared to their male counterparts. In 2008, women represented nearly 150 percent GER compared to men at just 90 percent. In the years following, women continued to dominate in the field of college enrollment. As of 2016, the parity of gender-based gross enrolment as moved towards equilibrium.
  5. The infant mortality rate has fallen from 80 per 1000 live births in 1950 to 5 per 1000 in the modern-day due to Cuba’s centrally planned government system. In 2015, over 10 percent of Cuba’s GDP, or $9.2 million, went to public health. Specifically, funding went to providing more staff, supplies and medicine to hospitals and clinics across the island. Additionally, Cuban Health Minister Roberto Morales Ojeda focuses his efforts on public health measures, including potable water, adequate diet and food supply and regular free checkups for expecting mothers and children.
  6. The construction of new housing units in Cuba has fallen from 42,940 in 2000 to 31,103 in 2012. This indicates a monumental challenge for Cuban residents to build and reside in safe, structurally sound homes. In response, the Cuban government shifted its focus onto the construction industry in order to attract more foreign investment. They have implemented 10 construction sector projects across Cuba, proposed in the 2016-2017 Foreign Investment Portfolio during the 34th Havana International Trade Fair. This is an economic development program in the works. No data has been released on its return or growth as of yet.
  7. The rapprochement strategy nicknamed “Cuban Thaw,” initiated by former President Barack Obama in 2014, is intended to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba after a half-century of hostility and restricted trade. Eased restrictions on travel and remittances allowed Americans to send unlimited sums of money to Cuba. Additionally, U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba for religious and educational purposes. As a result, the tourism sector strengthened and put more money into the pockets of Cuban business owners. Despite President Donald Trump’s recent attempts to stomp out the Cuban Thaw, more than 4.7 million visitors pumped more than $3 billion into the Cuban economy at the end of 2017, according to U.S. government figures.
  8. Hurricanes remain a threat to Cuba’s agricultural industry. Flash floods destroy coffee bean crops and disrupt communications and citizen access to electricity. In order to address the economic and sociological needs of Cuban citizens, a Spanish NGO named Hombre Nuevo, Tierra Nueva, works to aid farmers in rural areas, provide medicine to dispensaries for children and the sick and improve the food supply for the elderly.
  9. La Libreta, a 50-year-old food rationing system, is still operational in order to control food supply for Cuba’s population. This system allots a certain amount of rice, bread, milk, matches, sugar and oil depending on the individual’s age, gender and income.
  10. There are several subsidized public transport options for tourists and Cuban citizens, owned and operated by the Cuban government. Tourists tend to use Viazul, the premium bus service offered by the Cuban government. Viazul is different than other more mainstream public transport in that it has air conditioning and provides a more comfortable experience for passengers. Meanwhile, more accessible and affordable options leave much to be desired for Cuban citizens.

The top 10 facts about living conditions in Cuba concern the nation’s political history, present leadership and the possibility of civilian intervention insofar as to move the dial in favor of normalizing relations between the U.S. and Cuba. Presently, the U.S. embargo on Cuban trade creates disparate equality on the basis of income, GPD per capita, GDP by nation and GNP.

– Nicholas Maldarelli
Photo: Flickr

Food Crisis in Cuba

Many strides have been made in recent years to help poverty-stricken Cubans receive the basic necessities for life, but with a strenuous historical background and strict governmental policies, citizens are still in a fight for food. Missionaries and aid from other countries are currently offering assistance to help end the food crisis in Cuba.

The History of Poverty in Cuba

During the 1950s, Cuba was a small, third-world island country that was not big enough to produce its own goods and did not have enough farms to support the hungry population. Further complicating things was an enormous income gap between the rich and the poor.

In 1959, the country underwent a revolution during which Prime Minister and President Fidel Castro came to power, changing the state of the island’s economy for the worse. At this point, Cuba still relied mainly on imports from other countries for food and supplies. The Soviet Union was Cuba’s main supplier of food, but after the Cold War, the communist nation was no longer able to support Cuba’s hungry population, which made things even worse for hungry citizens.

Being one of the only communist countries in the world, the government in Cuba still has a tight hold on its citizens. Many of these same issues still exist today, making it difficult for people in poverty to obtain substantial food in Cuba.

The Food Crisis in Cuba Today

In 2018, Cuba still does not have enough land to grow agriculture to feed its population and does not produce enough of its own products. It relies on importing up to 80 percent of its food, according to the World Food Programme. The average diet of a Cuban household lacks an adequate amount of vegetables and protein-rich foods needed to promote a healthy lifestyle. Around 36 percent of infants suffer from anemia because of the lack of a proper diet.

In 1959, the Cuban government instituted a food rationing system that is still in use today, making households pay high prices for foods only sold in government-run supermarkets. The rationing system ensures enough food for families to just survive.

Each family receives a rations book that they take to the grocery store, allowing them to buy a certain amount of rice, sugar, coffee, cooking oil and chicken, according to The Guardian. Because of unemployment and low paying jobs, this system has made it even more challenging for citizens in poverty to pay for food in Cuba.

In the past few years, the U.S. has lifted some of its various bans on Cuba and has restored peace with the Caribbean nation, which means that more U.S. citizens are entering the country for leisure and vacation. The increase in tourism has had a negative impact on the food scarcity problem, according to The New York Times, as the food is now used for tourists instead of hungry citizens and has made the price of food in Cuba rise.

The Good News About the Cuban Food Crisis

During his presidency, President Obama loosened the U.S. ban on trading with Cuba, which has provided the growth of trade with Cuba and allowed the island nation’s farmers to obtain better farming equipment. American trade officials hope to create a food import market that could be worth billions if the Cuban economy boosts, which would help end the food crisis in Cuba.

Because of the recent peace between Cuba and the United States, missionaries have entered the country in the hopes of helping with the food shortage problem. A Georgia Southern University student, sophomore Olivia Folds, participated in a mission trip in 2017 to assist with the food crisis in Cuba. Folds’ group was stationed in the city of Camaguey and each missionary was assigned a family where he or she made supply bags for the family in need.

These bags included clothes, shoes, toiletries and food that Cuban citizens were not able to get for themselves. Children received bags filled with basic necessities along with crayons and candy, which were small luxuries they were not used to, Folds told The Borgen Project. She also commented that, if any of the missionaries offered the families money, they were “supposed to only give them like $50,” because “the government only allows them certain amounts of money each month.”

The Cuban government is still attempting to improve the food shortage problem for its citizens. With a new president that stepped into power this year, new policies being put into place and missionaries being able to come into the country more often, Cuban citizens are slowly but surely on a path to better nutrition.

– McKenzie Hamby
Photo: Flickr