Posts

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

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

Cost of Living in Costa RicaCosta Rica is a small country of around 4.5 million people in Central America. With beautiful natural settings and the possibility for a healthy lifestyle, Costa Rica has become a popular destination for tourists and expats. While the cost of living in Costa Rica may be less than in a typical U.S. city, it’s actually one of the more expensive places to live in Latin America and Central America.

As in many countries, the cost of living in Costa Rica varies depending on what region you are in. If a family of two lives in a sparsely populated area, they may be able to get by with $1,500 or less a month. This includes rent, utilities, transportation and the Internet. However, someone living in an expensive condo in the Central Valley would hypothetically spend considerably more.

There are a few factors that make the cost of living in Costa Rica less than the U.S. First, housing is much more affordable. Nice homes are available in great locations with reasonable prices.

Second, the government provides high-quality and low-cost medical care. Costa Rica has a universal healthcare system known as Caja. For a small monthly fee, residents of Costa Rica receive any care they need. Additional insurance is also available for purchase. Perhaps because of this quality system, Costa Ricans have the second-highest average life expectancy of the Americas, with only Canadians scoring higher.

While housing and healthcare are very affordable, the cost of utilities is closer to the usual cost in the U.S., rather than the lower prices in other Latin America countries. This disparity is the primary reason the cost of living in Costa Rica is higher than it is in its neighboring countries.

A group of sociologists from Happy Planet Index ranked Costa Ricans as the happiest people on the planet. With the combination of cheap housing, affordable and accessible healthcare and beautiful tropical vistas, this should come as no surprise.

Brock Hall

Photo: Flickr

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 the 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 Venezuela
Despite 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% 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% 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


As the Syrian refugee crisis continues to become the worst refugee crisis in recorded history (beating the 4.6 million Afghans who fled in 1992), it might be beneficial to know about refugees in Argentina, one of the most refugee-accepting countries.

10 Important Facts To Know About Refugees in Argentina

  1. High wages, economic prosperity, a good public education system and a liberal legal framework brought many European immigrants to Argentina between 1870 and 1914.  By the start of World War I, Argentina was one-third European.
  2. Although fewer in number, Europeans continued to immigrate to Argentina between the two World Wars and throughout the post-World War II era. However, by the end of 1960, most European migration to Argentina halted.
  3. With the ending of migration from Europe, regional migrant numbers became more significant. Interest in the job opportunities and a relatively beneficial currency exchange rate brought many regional migrants in the 1990s. Oddly enough, this became an issue as Argentina’s laws were increasingly restrictive, leaving many migrants susceptible to abuse.
  4. By the end of the decade, this led to a degree of contempt between natural-born Argentinians and migrants or refugees. The degree of the contempt was so harsh that even legislation denounced irregular migrants, and trade unions claimed they were stealing jobs.
  5. Argentina formally switched course, though, and signed a regional agreement, along with Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela. The agreement recognizes the right to migrate, provides equal treatment for foreigners and the right to family reunification. It also established the “Patria Grande” program, granting residency and creating a process for foreigners to become permanent residents.
  6. Argentina signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in 2005, dictating the guidelines for the admission of refugees in Argentina. Among the criteria for resettlement in Argentina are that immigrants are survivors of torture or violence, women at risk, or women with children or families with strong integration potential.
  7. Before refugees in Argentina are considered for visas, relatives or other Argentinian citizens must vouch for them. The process kicks off with a letter of invitation sent to the refugee family.
  8. In July 2016, Argentina announced it would accept 3,000 Syrian refugees.
  9. By making this announcement, Argentina was the first country to assist the European Union with the Syrian refugee crisis.
  10. On April 7, 2017, an international non-governmental organization, Blue Rose Compass, announced it would provide 1,000 university scholarships to young women, ages 18 through 34, who are Syrian refugees. The scholarships will grant the women humanitarian visas to Argentina and eventually allow them to register as citizens.

Hopefully, as the Syrian refugee crisis persists, Argentina will continue to represent itself as a role model for countries accepting refugees.

James Hardison

Photo: Flickr

Tropical Diseases
Neglected tropical diseases are transmitted diseases caused by parasites, and are usually found in tropical and subtropical regions. They mostly affect people in poverty who live in unsanitary conditions. Most of these neglected tropical diseases can be easily prevented with treatments and vaccinations that are affordable.

Lymphatic Filariasis

More than 1.3 billion people across 72 countries might be at risk for this disease, and more than 120 million people are infected by it. Lymphatic filariasis is caused by infections from parasites called filarial worms and leads to abnormal enlargements of body parts, which causes great pain. The disease is better known as elephantiasis. There has been some success in stopping the spread of the disease by using preventive chemotherapy. The disease can also be treated with a care package that alleviates pain and prevents any more disfigurement.

Onchocerciasis (River Blindness)

The River Blindness disease gets its name from the black flies that are found in fast-flowing streams and rivers. Infections cause blindness and skin disease. Ninety percent of cases occur in Africa, with a lot of cases in Latin America and Yemen as well. Long-term skin damage and blindness can be prevented with a medicine called ivermectin.

Schistosomiasis (Snail Fever)

Schistosomiasis gets the nickname “snail fever” from freshwater snails carrying the disease. Children can be highly susceptible to the disease when they swim and fish in infested waters. Snail fever has spread in a lot of poor areas in Africa because of migrations and population movements, but the World Health Organization has worked to spread awareness and treat infections. The WHO even implemented campaigns to distribute praziquantel, which can be a large-scale treatment of schistosomiasis.

Ascariasis (Roundworm Infection)

Ascariasis is one of the most common neglected tropical diseases, infecting more than one billion people per year and causing 60,000 deaths each year. The disease is caused by a parasitic roundworm called Ascaris lumbricoides. More than one hundred worms can infect a human at a time. The earthworm eggs can be accidentally ingested through contaminated food, water and soil. Some symptoms can be minor, such as coughing, loss of appetite and a fever. In severe cases, it can cause malnutrition, intestinal blockage and pneumonia. There have been companies donating to help fight the disease, such as Johnson and Johnson, pledging to donate 200 million tablets of mebendazole by 2020, and GlaxoSmithKline, donating one billion tablets of albendazole a year.

Trachoma

Trachoma is another eye disease that is much more severe than River Blindness. It is one of the most infectious causes of blindness and affects about 1.9 million people. Trachoma is either spread through physical contact with the eye or nose discharge from other people. Fleets of flies have been known to carry the disease as well. This neglected tropical disease mostly affects women and young children in poor rural areas in Africa and Asia. The World Health Assembly has adopted Resolution WHA51.11 which is geared towards eliminating the disease by 2020.

With continued intervention from governments, NGOs and corporations, these neglected tropical diseases can be effectively targeted and eliminated, ensuring lives of enhanced productivity and prosperity for millions of people around the world.

Emma Majewski

Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Latin America
Hunger and poverty in Latin America, including Mexico, Central and South America, have decreased since the 1990s and early 2000s. However, hunger and malnourishment continue to be ongoing issues as a result of poverty.

In 2015, 28 percent of Latin Americans suffered from impoverished conditions, as compared to 44 percent in 2002. Although the numbers had improved since 2002, there was a stall in improvements in 2013.

As of 2017, studies show that 130 million people in South America are currently living in a state of poverty across various countries. These countries include Honduras, Venezuela, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Uruguay, Argentina, Bolivia and Chile.

Contributing Factors of Poverty

One major cause of the poverty and instability suffered among individuals living in these countries is the disparity between socioeconomic classes. According to the Huffington Post, some things that can be done to decrease the rate of poverty and increase the well-being of persons living in Latin America include “comprehensive poverty reduction programs” specifically directed at increasing labor incomes, improving social programs and configuring ways to “integrate early childhood development into the social development.”

Additionally, while Latin America was once a large producer of commodities, this changed after the recession in 2008. Countries such as Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela have faced greater economic losses over the past year. For example, Brazil faced severe economic hardship in 2016 due to failed policy-making strategies and an overall inadequate political environment, which led to higher inflation and a lower income for businesses and families.

The economy in Venezuela has also left much to be desired. Last year, the country faced a free fall in oil production, which led to heightened inflation and negative economic effects on the overall quality of life for Venezuelans.

Argentinian economist Raul Benitez-Manaut told Inter Press News Agency that the real problem surrounding hunger and poverty in Latin America is a “problem of access, not production.” Likewise, he has vocalized the importance of wealthier countries taking the initiative to reach out and help countries whose citizens are suffering from hunger and malnourishment.

Ideas for Improvements Moving Forward

In 2013, Harvard University conducted a study and offered some useful solutions that can help reduce poverty in Latin America. One solution offered by the university addressed the issue of low productivity in Latin countries and the need for the public and private sectors to work together to resolve this issue. For example, a project known as “Mundo Vex Tenda” was created in Brazil in 2010 and funded by the United States Inter-American Development Bank. The project focuses on providing individuals running small businesses in Brazil with the opportunity to learn effective business-related skills in areas such as financial literacy, marketing and food safety practices.

Additionally, Harvard researchers stated that “governments must root out violence and invest in specialized infrastructure; create transparent, accountable mechanisms that decentralize decision-making; and direct resources to reinvigorating the private sector, short of protecting it from competition.”

Lael Pierce

Photo: Flickr