U.S. Aid Package to Cuba
“The changes in Cuba are for more socialism,” reads a sign in Havana. As relations between the United States and Cuba become warmer, this statement reflects how the U.S. aid package to Cuba should strive to protect its notable accomplishments in human development.

An improved U.S. aid package to Cuba is essential, and with it must come certain qualifications and stipulations that benefit both the U.S. and Cuba.

But what exactly should Americans look for in the next set of policy changes toward the island nation? Here are three attributes to support for an improved U.S. aid package to Cuba.

1. Lifting restrictions on U.S.-backed NGOs

It is true that Cuba boasts one of the lowest rates of extreme poverty in the world—1.5 percent in 2006. But despite this achievement, the island still suffers from food insecurity.

With an average monthly income of $20, even a typical Cuban government employee cannot afford meat daily. Milk, cheese or ice cream are reserved as weekly treats, and an aging population means that Cuba will struggle to meet more specific nutritional requirements in the future.

Yet many NGOs, especially those from Europe, must bypass subsidiaries in the United States and look elsewhere for funding. Major funding partners such as the World Bank, IMF and Inter-American Development Bank are blocked due to American veto powers in these institutions. These restrictions limit capacity-building in the agricultural sector.

In the words of one Cuban teacher, this is all too clear: “People want to leave Cuba just because they are hungry.”

2. Funding for Collective Enterprise

Cubans love to share, and one of the ways the island recovered from the fall of the Soviet Union was through its collective (public-private) business. In fact, the number of small to medium-sized firms has grown to roughly half a million since Raul Castro took office.

Raul has also implemented other changes. Private and hybrid firms can now sell services to each other and to government entities. New credit lines are being issued with unlimited ceilings, and decreases in the value of welfare and food subsidies are motivating Cubans to try entrepreneurship.

For instance, at Bella II Beauty in Havana, one esthetician is now making $42 per month instead of the $14 while under government control. Her business is one such worker cooperative.

“The inspector would come and the products that weren’t from here,” she says, “I had to hide them.”

Under the collective business model, workers can now streamline operations to increase profits, with each having say in their decision-making.

To add to this, the Cuban government is cutting back on expenses, as its banks are unable to provide more than $40 in loans to individual citizens. The Brookings Institution estimates that over 500,000 civil service jobs will be terminated in coming years to halt the bloating of public sector employment.

An improved U.S. aid package to Cuba would, therefore, support economic cooperatives with training, technical expertise, and financial resources to continue their growth.

3. Support for the Housing Sector

Every three days in Havana, at least two buildings collapse on average. This statistic sums up the state of Cuban housing: a cramped, expensive and decaying affair.

Over 85 percent of Cubans own their homes thanks to transfer measures that turned renters into owners during the revolution. But there are 11.2 million residents living in 3.9 million homes. This means that Cubans often live with not only their partners, but also their parents and grandparents.

Government estimates indicate that more than 500,000 additional housing units are required to meet demand, but construction is lagging. In order to reach that goal within eight years, the government would need to build 70,000 units per year, compared to its current yield of 16,000.

This is another opportunity for NGOs to offer properly trained labor and grants, especially since mortgages are illegal in Cuba to prevent real-estate speculation. In the words of prize-winning jurist Rodolfo Fernandez, “Housing is for living in, not for making a living from.”

An improved U.S. aid package to Cuba would preserve these unique advances by finding a middle ground between full-fledged capitalism and the more regulated (think: France) vision held by the island’s citizens.

Alfredo Cumerma

Photo: Pixabay

With nearly 842 million people suffering from chronic hunger, the role of the United States in eradicating global poverty is becoming more important.

President Obama’s Feed the Future program aims to “strengthen food security and nutrition for millions of people by focusing on the smallholder farmers at the foundation of the world’s agriculture system.” USAID reported that targeting the agricultural sector, like the program does, is “at least twice as effective at reducing poverty as growth in other sectors.”

Initiatives similar to Obama’s Feed the Future give the appearance that the United States is doing enough for the poor globally. The Center for Global Development produces an annual report called “The Commitment to Development” Index, which rates a country’s finance, technology, environment, trade, security, migration and overall aid in the past year. The United States was ranked 21 out of 27 developed countries, which puts them in the bottom third based on foreign aid.

While ranked 6th in both trade and security aid, the Center for Global Development rated the United States as 27th and 26th in the finance and environment aid categories. That puts the most prominent developed nation behind countries in economic snafus like Greece and Ireland in those categories. The data analysis blames the low ranking on “improper environmental monitoring and a low score on the Financial Secrecy Index.”

A PhD student from Stanford University named Lauren Prather researched why countries like the United States post such low foreign aid numbers. Her study compared a population’s desire to give with the amount that was actually given. In the end, she found “a clear relationship between citizens’ support for foreign aid and the amount their country gives.”

Does that mean that the average person in the United States is not doing enough for the poor globally? Prather conducted another study measuring an American’s chance of providing aid based on where it is going. Prather a survey of 1000 people and found that “A majority of Americans supported giving both food and money to their conationals, while a majority supported cutting both entirely for foreigners.”

Prather’s research and “The Commitment to Development” Index reveal the United States’ lack of urgency when it comes providing foreign aid. In addition, a Gallup poll released in 2014 shows that African approval of U.S. leadership dropped to a record low of 59 percent.

Research indicates that procrastinating the objective of poverty eradication is a threat to the global political and economic order. “The weaknesses of poor states could destabilize the entire international system,” asserts Vincent Ferraro, author of a Wilson Center report titled “Should Global Poverty be a U.S. National Security Issue?”

The perception that the United States is doing enough for the poor globally via foreign aid is quickly corrected by research and data done by several organizations. Programs supported by USAID like Feed the Future can provide another way forward in the global arena of poverty relief. Ferraro concludes by saying, “A reformulation of the national interest to include global interests is necessary because our world scarcely resembles that of 17th century Europe.”

Jacob Hess

Photo: Flickr

Since 2001, enrollment numbers for education in Afghanistan have increased due to international aid for ‘ghost schools’ from the U.S. as well as other world governments. In 2013, USAID reported that attendance reached eight million students—an immense increase from the 900,000 students in 2002.

So far, the U.S. has spent $769 million on education and ghost schools in Afghanistan in order to increase the number of schools, teachers and students. However, recent reports show the number of students enrolled may be exaggerated, causing many people to question if taxpayer dollars are being wasted.

Canada is not concerned with the allegations and believes the aid makes a difference in enrollment numbers along with the construction of new schools. So how many ‘ghost students’ are attending school?

John Sopko, U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, reported that Afghan officials counted absent students for enrollment. According to Sopko, the number of absent students in 2014 listed as “enrolled” was 1.55 million students, which means enrollment figures have still increased since 2001.

Despite the allegations or possible exaggerations, aid to education in Afghanistan is still an effective way to increase primary school enrollment numbers.

The U.S. has only spent one percent of its total rebuilding budget in Afghanistan on education. In that time, more than 13,000 schools have been built with the help of USAID and other donors. More than 180,000 teachers have been trained to support higher enrollment for school-aged children. Literacy rates in Afghanistan have increased by five percent since 2008 and about 38 percent of the population above the age of 15 is literate.

Any allegation about false data in the enrollment numbers for education in Afghanistan needs to be taken seriously, but not without recognizing the many successes created in Afghanistan’s education system.

There are many challenges to setting up an efficient educational system in Afghanistan that is sustainable. Due to low economic output and U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan, it is a more difficult environment to work in.

USAID and the World Bank have been working with the Ministry of Education to improve data reliability and improve education policies. The National Education Strategic Plan III that runs from 2014 to 2020 strives to improve education through areas such as General Education, Science and Technology and Teacher Education.

In order to protect investments and the improvements of education in Afghanistan, USAID and other organizations committed to education need to improve the way that data is reported. Also, Aid needs to continue in order to help rebuild Afghanistan and improve the lives of school-aged children within the country.

– Donald Gering

Sources: Globe and Mail, NBC News, NPR, Social Progress Imperative, USAID, Vice News
Photo: The Huffington Post

Thai Economy
In Thailand, the Thai military forcefully removed the nation’s elected government two days after declaring martial law, which poses new risks to a U.S. ally that is “rapidly losing appeal to the investors and tourists who have fueled its economic growth.”

Washington officially declared the Thai takeover a coup. This could prompt the U.S. to remove all cooperation and aid programs from Thailand.

“While we value our long friendship with the Thai people, this act will have negative implications for the U.S.-Thai relationship, especially for our relationship with the Thai military,” said Secretary of State John Kerry.

General Prayuth Chan-ocha and other army leaders called the coup “a chance to reset politics and enact reforms” that they claim are needed to ensure respect for democracy.  However, there is no current plan to bring peace to the region.

Political disruptions had curbed Thailand’s economic growth to 2.9 percent last year, and in the first economic quarter of this year, the economy shrank 2.1 percent. The auto and auto parts industries laid off around 10,000 people this month and around 30,000 autoworkers are expected to lose their jobs should the political unrest ensue.

In foreign aid, Thailand receives a total of  $16.75 million a year from the U.S. government money that may be eliminated according to U.S. law. Under U.S. law, no U.S. foreign aid may flow to “any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup d’etat or decree.”

This could result in as much as $10 million dollars being cut from bilateral aid to Thailand.

“The Thai economy has been insulated from the unstable Thai politics for decades,” said Krislert Samphantharak, an associated professor of economics specializing in Southeast Asia at the University of Chicago. “This is no longer the case.”

In October, the White House asked Congress to allot $5 million to Thailand for development aid, $1.9 million for anti-drug and law enforcement, $2.1 million for military training and $900,000 for arms sales.

The decrease in aid is on top of the decrease that took place after the last Thai coup in 2006, where Washington removed around $24 million in aid, including funds for military training and peace keeping.

There is debate over whether Thailand’s economy will be able to survive this latest coup.

“There’s a pernicious long-term effect in that the economy could be better but all this infighting is undermining it,” said John Kurlantizick, senior fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Thailand’s tourism sector, which normally brings in around $73.8 billion and creates around $2.5 million jobs, is on the decline. Cancellations have been predicted to cut earnings by $2.5 billion.

“They have got quite a good economy, but you need a government,” said Rajiv Biswas. He elaborated that many economists aren’t confident that the next government will be able to grow the Thai economy.

“Historically, Thailand has grown 4 or 5 percent when you don’t have political chaos,” Biswas said.

This coup was the 19th Thailand’s had since ending their absolute monarchy in 1932.

– Monica Newell

Sources: ABC News, Aljazeera, Daily Mail, International Business Times, Just Foreign Policy
Photo: News Vice


The United States of America spent 20 percent of the federal budget on defense in 2011. That amount was increased to 24 percent in 2012. In addition, $682 billion was spent on military funding alone last year. This gigantic expense ended up making the United States number one in terms of defense spending last year. China followed with $166 billion, which is less than a quarter of what America spent.

In contrast, the Department of State and Other International Programs made up only 1 percent of the federal budget last year. Of the government’s overall budget in 2012, $47 billion was spent in this area. This funding does not target one specific area, but instead goes to multiple efforts such as exports, world hunger, health, national security, the economy, Iraq and Afghanistan, investments, education, and other projects.

There are nine official sectors that separate international affairs funding. They are as follows: peace and security; democracy, human rights, and governance; health; education and social services; economic development; environment; humanitarian assistance; program management; and multi-sector. Beneath these nine sectors are forty-four other sectors that divide funding even further.

Defense spending is also divided into sectors, or categories. The categories are as follows: military defense, civil defense, veterans, foreign military aid, foreign economic aid, R and D defense, and defense n.e.c. (not elsewhere classified).

Let’s take a look at the individual breakdown. When it comes down to individual spending, defense continues to take a larger chunk of funds than does international affairs. The United States spends, in essence, the equivalent of $73 per American citizen each year on foreign aid. At the same time, the U.S. spends $1,763 per person on defense each year.

$30 billion per year is needed to solve world hunger – only $30 billion. When juxtaposed with the staggering amount of money spent on defense and military ventures, this number is very easily attainable. $30 billion could stop world hunger and pull billions of people out of poverty.

The large amount of money used for defense could be decreased – that’s a real possibility. If some of that sector was spent on world hunger instead of all these areas – if there was one specific section intended just for fighting world hunger – it could be eradicated.

– Samantha Davis

Sources: Whitehouse.govStatista.comThe GuardianWashington Post
Photo: Shutterstock

Global aid, formally known as Official Development Assistance (ODA), continued to decline in 2012 as wealthy countries struggled with the global financial crisis. Global aid decreased by four percent in 2012, following a two percent decline in 2011.

Global aid totaled about $125 billion USD in 2012. Most of that came from members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) Development Assistance Committee (DAC), which includes most of the world’s wealthiest countries: the United States, Japan, and much of Europe. However, contributions of the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) are becoming increasingly important to poverty reduction and assistance efforts.

In 2012, Australia, Austria, Iceland, Korea, and Luxembourg increased their donations to global aid. Countries hit the hardest by the financial crisis, including Italy, Spain, Greece, and Portugal, decreased their contributions.

Donations can be measured both by total quantity of donation and percentage of gross national income (GNI). The US was among the largest donors in total monetary value, but did not reach the minimum threshold of 0.7% of GNI. Smaller countries such as the Netherlands and Denmark surpassed 0.7%. In some cases, donations from non-traditional donor countries such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey surpassed individual donations from DAC-member countries.

The percentage of OECD global aid dedicated to humanitarian causes has increased from 3.3 percent to 8.6 percent over the last two decades. Global aid is distributed to many different sectors, including economic development, social and administrative infrastructure, food aid, transportation, and agriculture.

Global aid distribution has also shifted in recent years. The share of aid going to sub-Saharan Africa, traditionally the largest beneficiary, decreased from 47.8% to 41.8%. Meanwhile, aid to South and Central Asia increased from 11.5% to 19.8%.

The OECD’s official report on global aid trends can be found here. Call your senator or representative and let them know that you’d like to see the US contribute more, not less, to global aid.

– Kat Henrichs

Source: IRIN
Photo: The Fact File