Post #8 – Reflections

First, I want to discuss which speaker I choose as the most informative, inspiring and/or challenging this semester.  I think one of the most informative speakers for me was Karen Piper and her talk “How Do We Imagine Water”.  I chose her talk because it was really interesting and she brought up a lot of points that I had not really considered since water is so abundant and basic to my life, and I realized also very much taken for granted.  Some of the points I found most interesting included how the amount of water in the world is completely constant and that the problem is getting to the clean water, and how 70% of Earth is covered in water, but only 2% freshwater and only 1% drinkable water.  I did not realize quite how little drinkable water was available and thought the number was at least slightly higher.  More stats she used that got my attention and made me realize how serious the issue is included that 1 billion people are without water, diseased and polluted water is the #1 killer, and over 250,000 farmers are killing themselves due to salted farmland they can no longer farm on due to over-irrigation.


She also brought up how water is often used as a weapon, which was a topic I had not heard much about, either, but one that affects many people globally.  She mentioned how ISIS used the shutting down and destroying of the Ramadi Dam as a weapon, causing 850,000 people to flee because they had no access to water.  She also mentioned how Turkey is building mega-dams between themselves and Iraq/Syria, and by cutting off the water supply are causing social instability.  She mentioned the global north’s unsustainable consumption patterns, leading to global climate issues that are bringing about more climate refugees, garbage floats in the ocean, and loss of biodiversity and freshwater supplies.  She made me really want to look more into how we can correct this problem.


Next, I will be reflecting on my time blogging about Cuba over the course of the semester.  I began my blog series stating that I would be discussing Cuba, a country I knew almost nothing about.  I now feel as though I know considerably more about Cuba, but that there is still much more to learn.  During my research of Cuba over the last few months, I was often very shocked and appalled by what I was discovering.  Cuba is a very interesting country to study, as it is an extremely different world Cubans are living in than our world here in the US.


I was amazed at how Cuba still seems to be stuck in the past in so many ways, such as its absence from the global internet and the cars people there drive, and yet it is also very far ahead in other ways, such as healthcare and education.   It was shocking to me that such an oppressive government can still exist in the 21st century, and also shocking was how much suffering the US has imposed on Cuba over the past several decades, all while wondering how the Cuban government is OK with violating Cubans’ human rights, which I find very hypocritical since I feel the US is contributing to those violations.


The array of issues Cuba experiences due to their oppressive government, climate change, economic impasses and even ways of life are extremely varied and abundant.  As I found throughout my readings about Cuba their issues seem to stem from one root cause – the US embargo.  The US has been in talks with Cuba to begin normalizing relations, so if that leads to a lifting of the embargo the next few years could change a lot for Cuba, mostly in good ways, in my opinion.  I think the main problems needing to be fixed are the economy and the Castro dictatorship/Cuban government, both of which would be impacted by lifting the embargo, because I believe if the people of Cuba were able to access the outside world more freely, a majority of the issues would dissipate.  Interacting globally due to lifting the embargo would probably mean a drastic economic upturn, so less Cubans would have to prostitute themselves to earn enough money to live, there would be less ability for censorship by the government of the people, press, and media, and that would allow for minimizing many of the human rights violations that are so blatant currently, including the oppression of the freedom of speech and the ability to speak out against the government. It appears to be mutually beneficial, so I am hoping to see the lifting of the embargo in the near future.


Post #7 – Sex trafficking in Cuba

The crime of trafficking in human beings as defined by the Palermo protocols is as follows:
“’Trafficking in persons’ shall mean the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs… The consent of a victim of trafficking in persons to the intended exploitation set forth [above] shall be irrelevant where any of the means set forth [above] have been used.”


This is a far reaching topic, with many moving parts.   In my research to find out if sex trafficking and sex slavery are an issue in Central America and the Caribbean, and specifically Cuba, I found that the more I researched, the more depressed and enraged I became.  Sex trafficking is an extremely pervasive issue in Central America and the Caribbean and one of the worst places for this issue is Cuba.  There are many layers to the issue, and even if we were to get to the root cause and fix it, new issues arise from that.  I intend to discuss Cuba’s participation in the human trafficking industry, specifically their issues with sex trafficking.

As the article Born Free – How to Prevent Human Trafficking, by Sarah E. Mendelson discusses, human trafficking is a major issue in many parts of the world, affecting millions of people, but an issue that is consistently given too little attention due to all of the other issues constantly barraging individuals.  The UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that allocate donor funds have excluded human trafficking for many years, until their end in 2015.  The Sustainable Development Goals and the Open Document that comes from the negotiations around those goals that the international community are now focusing on coming to a consensus on include language to address human trafficking.  This should in turn mean more attention from donors and organizations that will in turn combat this very large issue.

The Outcome Document expresses the interest to end trafficking in Goal 5 – “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”, they address ending trafficking of women and girls.  In Goal 8 – “Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all”, they address ending trafficking of children and child soldiers.  In Goal 16 – “Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels”, they also address ending trafficking of children.  In order to combat human trafficking, specifically sex slavery, Mendelson’s article suggests that ending slavery should be a stand-alone goal, but that as long as it is being mentioned it should bring some attention, and therefore donors, to the issue.  The article also mentions that targets, metrics and a way to measure progress will be necessary.


The reason sex trafficking and prostitution (including child prostitution) in particular is so prevalent in Cuba is in part due to the US embargo’s effect on Cuba and the dual currency system, both discussed in previous posts.  Cuba’s immense economic issues tie to the low quality of life in Cuba.  In 1998, Cuba’s GDP was a mere $1,560. Because of Cuba’s low GDP, Cuban prostitution “is characterized by women in professional and vocational careers who are unable to meet basic living costs from their local current salary,” according to the United Nations.  The down economy means very low wages for the government workers – most of the country.  Some make as low as the equivalent of $8 a month to work at a school as a secretary, so it is no surprise that they have had to turn to other ways to make money.  On the other hand, if the embargo is lifted, how will these people make that money?  If they reduce tourism or limit access during visits, the country loses money.  It is a difficult situation.

In addition to the need to make more money somehow, sex trafficking and prostitution are unfortunately quite lucrative.  Prostitutes can make $40-$70 a night on average from European tourists visiting the island.  Also, to combat Cuba’s economy issues, they have tried to stimulate their economy with tourism, which in turn means more opportunity for income from prostitution and sex trafficking.  According to George Walden in an article in the Miami Herald, “The truth in Cuba is that sex is the only economy left.”  Despite Cuba having laws against sex trafficking and prostitution of girls 16 and under, it does not have laws for those 16-17 as recommended by the US Department of State and often does not work to enforce these laws.


Each year, the US Department of State releases their Trafficking in Persons Report.  Cuba was considered the worst offender in 2014, and was considered in Tier 3 – the lowest tier – reserved for “Countries whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.”  The report also states: “Cuba is a source and destination country for adults and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Child sex trafficking and child sex tourism occur within Cuba. Cuban authorities report people from ages 13 to 20 are most vulnerable to human trafficking in the country. Traffickers also subject Cuban citizens to sex trafficking and forced labor in South America and the Caribbean.”


Yet, now that relations are being negotiated and improved between the US and Cuba, the 2016 report has gone against experts advice and upgraded Cuba to Tier 2 Watch List status – which is for “Countries whose governments do not fully comply with the TVPA’s minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards AND: a) The absolute number of victims of severe forms of trafficking is very significant or is significantly increasing; b) There is a failure to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat severe forms of trafficking in persons from the previous year; or c) The determination that a country is making significant efforts to bring itself into compliance with minimum standards was based on commitments by the country to take additional future steps over the next year”.

This has been very controversial, as many, including Mark Lagon, president of human rights organization Freedom House, believe the US is “fudging” the numbers and information in order to appease Castro during this normalization of relations between the countries, and he maintains that Cuba has done nothing to fix the issues, and in fact many are going to far as to say that Cuba actively promotes sex trafficking and prostitution in order to gain more tourism money.  As you can see, this is a problem that has not yet been solved in Cuba and it does not appear it will be disappearing in the very near future without a much more fervent push for enforcement of the laws against trafficking and prostitution.

Post #6: Linda Polman – Crisis Caravan

Transitioning from human rights into humanitarian aid is not a far stretch.  In this post, I hope to change speeds from discussing Cuba to discuss Linda Polman’s book The Crisis Caravan and her outlook toward humanitarian aid.  Polman’s book is about her personal experience in the humanitarian aid realm, and she has many vivid examples for what she is discussing.


Linda Polman

What were the principal concerns Linda Polman raised in her book?
The Crisis Caravan is a very blunt and personal look into the humanitarian aid world.  Polman gives both a truthful, and oftentimes hopeless seeming account of what really happens when Non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, attempt to help in the time of need.  She questions whether the humanitarian operations are even effective, and whether or not they can really be neutral.  She takes the issues and looks at them from both sides, and mainly focuses on shedding light on the truth of how these organizations work.  Her book raises the concern of whether or not NGOs should continue trying to help in times of crisis, or if this is indeed causing more harm than good, perpetuating hurt and suffering in order to save.  Turning a blind eye to genocide or other horrible acts seen when they are deployed to help, and still helping those causing the pain and suffering, is seen as a form of helping perpetuate it.  Quoting her from her book: “Humanitarianism is based on a presumed duty to ease human suffering unconditionally” (p. 7), yet “No matter how often the Red Cross rules may be trampled underfoot…the humanitarians persist in brandishing their Red Cross principles and accept no responsibility for the abuse of their aid” (pp. 10-11).  She also focuses on her concerns with how many of these NGOs have become so entwined in the profit and business world, and how they often use the horror of crisis, asking journalists to cover the atrocities around them and include their organization’s name when reporting as being at the site helping, in order to their benefit to gain more donors – which is obviously morally objectable in many people’s eyes.


Why does she say “Aid organizations are businesses dressed up like Mother Teresa” (p. 177)?
When Linda Polman says “Aid organizations are businesses dressed up like Mother Teresa”, she is referring to the concerns she is raising in regards to the NGOs being wrapped up in business and profit, instead of virtues they supposedly live by.  Mother Teresa was a nun and missionary that founded the Missionaries of Charity, who helped many poor, sick and homeless through aid, education and programs.  They vowed chastity, poverty, obedience, and to give “wholehearted free service to the poorest of the poor.”  She even won the Nobel Peace Prize and became a saint.  Mother Teresa was very well known for her compassion and her charitable actions.  In comparison, NGOs have become organizations driven by profits and recognition, as opposed to being driven by moral and ethical selflessness and need to help any and all in need.  I think Polman’s quote was mainly pointing out that while NGOs work as though they are only there to help anyone in need, they are often trading good reviews for help navigating the area with journalists, who perpetuate their “saintly” appearance, while allowing them to maintain the ability to do shady things, like fight over donors, use funds to pay off “necessary evils”, and hide the misused money or money given to one side – usually the provoking party of the crisis – to be able to help.


What do journalists, the public, governments have to do to make humanitarian aid successful?
Linda Polman does a great job of showing us the dark side of humanitarian aid, which honestly I believe surprised many who would rightly assume that an organization developed strictly to help those in need would not be plagued with such unpleasant issues. Linda brought many important points and aspects to light, and she says in the afterward that she does not have the answers for how to make humanitarian aid successful, and that it would even be difficult to come up with only one solution, as every case can differ greatly.  She did say, however, that the point of her bringing up these points was that there needs to be discussion and criticism drawn to this area.  That way, it will be more difficult for such fusion of profit and aid, hopefully.  Journalists, it should be suggested, would be very focused on keeping with their journalistic integrity; remaining independent and neutral like the NGOs are supposed to be as well.  By helping to get help, they are indeed hurting the situation.  This obviously makes it much harder to solve the problem of how to get them to and around places needing coverage to get donors in an objective way.  The public needs to do their research, learn what they can and make sure that if they donate they do their part to make a responsible decision about who to.  Governments need to create laws and figure out how to enforce them in order to allow NGOs to operate without the need for paying off locals and fearing for themselves.    It is also the government’s responsibility to help those in need, so they need to be sure they are doing their part without looking at it politically, but humanely.

Post #5 – The effects of climate change on human rights and moving past eurocentrism


Havana’s storm-battered Malecon. Further residential
development is banned. Photo courtesy of Flickr.

Today’s post will elaborate on some points touched on regarding climate change and human rights in my previous posts, and specifically how these topics affect Cuba and what Cuba is doing about the issues in those areas.  First, I would like to discuss more about how climate change and human rights are connected.  Then, I will go into Cuba’s climate change issues, human rights issues affected by them, and how Cuba is going about fixing them.  Lastly, I will discuss a reading by Farish Noor and his views on going beyond eurocentrism.

Climate, in general, is the “usual weather of a place”.  Climate change generally refers to global warming due to the rise of greenhouse gases, causing global temperature increases that melt snow and ice, and which could potentially bring freshwater shortages, desertification, reduced biodiversity, and increase the amount and intensity of weather events – in turn causing more floods, droughts, storms, and heat waves, and rising sea levels, to name a couple of issues.  Human rights are considered the basic rights of human beings, “regardless of nationality, sex, national or ethnic origin, race, religion, language, or other status”, including rights to life, liberty, freedom of expression, food, a place to work, education, and participation in a culture.


Poor governance and a series of disasters have left
6.7 million people in Haiti classed as ‘food insecure’
(Pic: UN Photos)

Climate change and human rights don’t immediately seem connected, but once you realize what the effects of climate change are, it is fairly easy to see why they are very much intertwined.  A lot of it comes down to being a moral issue.  Climate change’s effects on our planet will affect Arctic and small island states in the worst way first, and they are often very poor and the smallest contributors to climate change.  Many of these states may disappear in the near future, which for the people of that place is definitely a human rights issue – not working to stop or diminish the predicted consequences of climate change is essentially letting climate change take away their basic human rights, and they are at the mercy of the large, wealthy countries who are causing the majority of the climate change we are seeing.  The sea levels rising will take away their land, forcing them to be displaced, but with no place to go without help from elsewhere.  There are more and more dangerous weather systems hitting them, damaging and flooding their homes and food sources, leaving them homeless and starving – as we have just seen Haiti go through with hurricane Matthew.



Key findings in the UN report Climate Change and Human Rights which was released on Human Rights Day, just before the Paris climate meeting in 2015 state just how dire the climate change situation is and how it will affect universal human rights:

  • The impacts of climate change on freshwater resources, ecosystems, and human settlements are already undermining access to clean water, food, shelter, and other basic human needs; interfering with livelihoods; and displacing people from their homes. Even if we remain within the international goal of 2° C of global warming, these impacts will expand dramatically in the coming decades.
  • These impacts constitute a serious interference with the exercise of fundamental human rights, such as the rights to life, health, water, food, housing, and an adequate standard of living.
  • Mitigation, adaptation, and geoengineering measures can also adversely affect the exercise of human rights. For example, there are documented instances of hydroelectric and biofuel projects that have resulted in human rights violations. There is also a high risk of human rights violations resulting from the implementation of resettlement programs for those who are displaced or at risk of displacement due to climate change, and a corresponding need to ensure that such programs are undertaken with adequate input and consent from those who are relocated.

Climate change poses a great threat to both the people and their human rights to land, food, shelter, and potable water, by reducing biodiversity due to weather pattern changes, causing water scarcity due to drought, declining quality of life, and storms, winds and water changing the landscape – causing huge social consequences.  Important in Cuba’s case specifically are “soil conditions, food availability, disease burden, ecological changes, extreme weather events, water quality and rising sea levels, all in conjunction with a range of social, cultural, economic and demographic conditions.” While Cuba is known for its many human rights issues, which I have discussed previously in prior posts, I will focus only on a couple of the human rights issues caused by climate change directly in this post.

Of the 80 coastal settlements in Cuba, 15 will disappear by 2050 it is predicted, due to sea levels rising and covering 2.32 percent of the territory, according to the Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment.  It is going to be very hard for Cuba to implement the changes needed to mitigate this kind of change, seeing as Cuba is only recently emerging from an economic crisis that lasted over two decades.   While Cuba has one of the best disaster response programs in the region, they also work with programs like to help deal with disasters themselves, disaster prevention and disaster education.  President Raul Castro’s government began a strategic program of economic and social reforms in 2008, which also addressed environmental issues.  Cuba has begun prioritizing the use of renewable energy sources, and are trying to make 10% of energy in Cuba be derived from sun, wind and water sources (as opposed to fossil fuels) by 2030.  They are also creating environmental research and management projects to study risk assessment and vulnerability in coastal zones, finding ways to adapt.  Cuban farmers are also trying to plant drought-resistant and storm-resistant crops and dig ponds to keep water and food supplies up in a destructive climate.  More will need to be done and is hopefully in the works for Cuba.  Despite as I had previously mentioned in my last post how Cuba is one of the least currently affected by climate change due to their situation, they will not be able to hide from its effects forever.  There is still a long road ahead for Cuba in the battle against climate change, and in turn human rights being violated, and they can’t do it alone.

Now, I will be switching over to a different, but somewhat related topic.  In the context of human rights, often the word ethnocentrism comes up.  In Farish A. Noor’s piece Beyond Eurocentrism:  The Need for a Multicultural Understanding of Human Rights in Martha Meijer’s book Dealing with Human Rights, he discusses how the Western world being prevalent in politics, economics and even pop culture around the world does not necessarily mean “American values are indeed global ones and truly universal.”  The misconception that this is true, he argues, is ethnocentrism, or in this case, eurocentrism. He defines ethnocentrism as the “tendency of individuals and cultures to view themselves as well as the environment around them from the perspective of their own culture, values and belief” and it “also entails a favorable evaluation of one’s own culture while perceiving any differences from this norm as inferior.”  Eurocentrism is what he calls the “emerging perception within the European cultural, historical experience of European identity as good and all other forms which the West views and judges the rest of the world by its own standards”.  He believes we need to be able to understand from the point of views of all of the different cultures what they believe are fundamental human rights and what violates theirs before we can create a truly universal human rights definition.  When he talks about “going beyond eurocentrism” in his piece, I believe he means looking at the world through a view that isn’t just your own culture as the norm (in this case European).  We need to stop holding other cultures, that may be – and most likely are – very different from ours, to our standards.  Being able to understand why people feel the way they do and how they view themselves is a first step to being able to work together and maybe one day come together to work toward a real universal human rights system.

Post #4 – Climate Change, Sustainability and Cuba



Do we, as residents of Earth, have a moral obligation to protect the future of our planet?  Of course we do, in my opinion.  It is almost shocking to me that this is even a question, and yet, here we are.  The fact that anyone might believe that it is alright to destroy a planet that is billions of years old that did fine without humans for almost the entirety of that time, or even act with indifference – and thus directly contribute to its inevitable demise due to what we are doing to the ecosystem, is saddening, angering and upsetting on many levels.  We are destroying our planet at an exponential rate.  The overarching reasons for not doing anything, even when the majority of people can see and agree that we are not living in a sustainable way, boil down to money most of the time.


Wanting to get or stay rich, at the expense of the “little guys”, or those that just do not want to invest their money now for the future.  But, for the “little guys”, such as Inuit people or the people living on Kiribati, who are at the mercy of those that are bigger, in power and have more money – the outlook is dim.  There are still people disputing whether or not climate change is “real”, while it is happening already – polar ice caps melting, islands and coastal cities are beginning to disappear, and entire communities and even countries are being displaced.  Why?  Because there is still money to be made from oil, from deforestation, from pollution, from overfishing… from convenience. I believe that a lot of us realize it is wrong, and even so, we continue to do things that contribute to the destruction of the environment, far more than we would need to in order to be comfortable, much less live.  We ask “why bother?” and blame the billions of people in other countries for canceling out any good we can do.  It does seem futile.


There really isn’t much time, if any, to reverse the effects long enough for future generations to survive here on Earth according to many scientists.  Really, though, individuals do have a limited ability to help, much less reverse the effects of climate change and environmental destruction.  It is very much the moral obligation of the “big guys” that are causing the majority of the problems, in my opinion. Corporations, wealthy and large countries – in addition to individuals, will all need to change their ways in order for us to redeem our planet – it is a collaborative effort.  Surprisingly, instead of pouring money into environmental programs, clean energy, space, or anything else that may help us in the near future, we (the United States particularly) spend the majority of our country’s budget on military defense.  I feel like that says a lot about where we are as a species.


Cuba is an interesting country to look at when considering the environmental crises facing so many.  Cuba happens to have “exceptional biodiversity”, with many plants and animals seen nowhere else in the world. This makes it important to protect this land, and therefore important to convert to sustainable lifestyles and laws, and do anything possible to prevent or reverse the effects of climate change, although the effects are, like in many other places – especially islands, already hitting Cuba hard. The environmental issues that affect Cuba are often water scarcity, due to drought caused by rising temperatures and unpredictable weather patterns, deforestation, soil degradation, loss of biodiversity, garbage and waste issues and air pollution.


Cuba is actually ahead of the rest in many respects, called an “Accidental Eden” because of its history of development.  While the environment in Cuba has been threatened and harmed in ways such as destroying habitats with farmland from expanding sugar and tobacco production, industrial development polluting the country, as well as lack of passion for the environment often influenced by political views, and Cuba’s focus more on agricultural development than industrial, which may have been its saving grace.  Additionally, the US embargo on Cuba may have actually helped keep them from worse environmental destruction because the travel ban kept millions away, while also straining the economy, which was, in fact, another reason the environment is not as bad off as it could be.  The fact that Cuba has been suffering economically kept them from destructing the island themselves since they were unable to move to using less sustainable ways of farming for their large agriculture economy.  Also, an important effect was after the Soviet Union collapsed and there were fuel and import/export shortages, Cuba was further forced to find more sustainable ways of living.


Many areas in Cuba still rely on tanker trucks for water.
Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS


Fidel Castro’s 1992 address to the UN Earth Summit in Rio De Janeiro expresses this attitude of environmental awareness and urgency:

“An important biological species is in danger of disappearing due to the fast and progressive destruction of its natural living conditions: mankind. We have now become aware of this problem when it is almost too late to stop it. … Tomorrow it will be too late to do what we should have done a long time ago.”

Cuba has taken some other steps toward sustainability, including efforts toward environmental and sustainability education programs, creating protected areas, implementing biking efforts, reforestation, clean up of garbage, and new laws.  Groups like and Greenpeace don’t appear to have much of a presence in Cuba, but the group helps in Cuba with a long list of human and environmental issues – such as poverty, clean water, agriculture, women’s rights, social justice, and climate change issues, and ChinaWaterRisk has worked to help Cuba’s water scarcity problem.  The US embargo being lifted may be a blessing in the sense that Cuba’s economy – specifically tourism – will benefit, but since tourism is one of the biggest threats to wildlife and pollution, will it be at the cost of the environment?

Post #3 – Nationalism and inequality in Cuba

Nationalism is defined as “a feeling that people have of being loyal to and proud of their country, often with the belief that it is better and more important than other countries” and as “a desire by a large group of people (such as people who share the same culture, history, language, etc.) to form a separate and independent nation of their own.”  The way I see it, Cuba’s relationship with the United States is reflected in the definition of nationalism, with the United States taking the belief that they are better and more important than other countries to heart, and with Cuba desiring to form a separate and independent nation of their own, with a bit of the “better than you” superiority complex that often butts heads with the US, as well.

It is natural for nation-states to feel a sense of nationalism through loyalty and pride, but it is the feeling of superiority that can be dangerous.  I assume the feeling of superiority is what Fareed Zakaria was considering when he wrote about the dangers of the rise of nationalism in his book The Post-American World.  Zakaria discusses globalization’s effect on the economy and the rise of developing countries and writes As economic fortunes rise, so does nationalism…The desire for recognition and respect is surging throughout the world.”  He brings the first part of the definition of nationalism to the forefront, saying “Americans take justified pride in their own country – we call it patriotism – and yet are genuinely startled when other people are proud and possessive of theirs” and uses the example of World War II, and how while Britain and America saw it as a fight for freedom, India only saw that they were forced to fight a battle that was being fought for the very thing, freedom, being denied to them by Britain.  Zakaria continues to say “That sense of being governed by one’s ‘own’, without interference, is a powerful feeling in emerging countries, especially those that were once quasi-colonies of the West.”  This last sentiment appears especially true for a country like Cuba, which was indeed previously ruled by countries of the West – and their pushing of their ideas onto Cubans, which is the basis of their fight for independence over the years.

castro quote.PNG

Cuba’s history, especially the conflict between Cuba and the United States, displays the definition of nationalism quite perfectly, as I mentioned previously, and Zakaria’s example of “once-quasi-colonies of the West” being the most affected is also displayed in their history.  Cuba was controlled by several Western foreign powers from the late 15th century until the 20th century. Beginning with Christopher Columbus claiming Cuba for Spain in 1492, to the British control of Havana from 1762 to 1763 before being returned to back to Spain.  Then the United States taking control of Cuba after defeating Spain in 1898 in the Cuban War of Independence (1895–1898), followed by Cuba’s gaining formal freedom in 1902, and Cuba therefore achieving and emulating the second part of the definition of nationalism in their desire to be independent (Although, the Cuban constitution implemented the Platt Amendment, allowing the US to militarily intervene in Cuba and lease Guantanamo Bay, and later received loans from the US, which shows their complete independence from the US was not yet fully established).  Next, the Cuban Pacification occurred where the US occupied Cuba from 1906 to 1909, and later in 1959, and the overthrowing of Batista by Fidel Castro during the the Cuban Revolution (1953–1959) led to Cuba’s subsequent alliance with the USSR until the USSR collapsed in 1991, which further shows the diversity of Cuba’s governance over the years.


Despite expanding economic, social and political developments after becoming independent in 1902, the Cuban Revolution’s overthrow of Batista and subsequent governing of the Communist Party, led by Fidel and Raul Castro, caused the severing of diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba as of 1961, with the trade embargo issued in 1962.  This severing was due to the US wanting Cuba to remain under its influence, and Castro vehemently opposing US influence in Cuba.  The democratic US and Communist Cuba have little they see eye-to-eye on, especially when it comes to social issues.  Later, the failed Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis both widened the divide between the two countries. The US was not the only one that had issues with the socialist system enacted in Cuba by Castro, and many Cubans fled in dangerous ways to the US during the Cuban Exile.


This leads to my second topic, inequality in Cuba.  The exile of Cubans to the US was largely due to the oppressive Castro government, the isolation and censorship forced upon Cubans, and the fact that speaking out against the oppression of human rights there led to imprisonment, or worse.  There are many forms of inequality that have been, and continue to be, issues in Cuba.  With Raul Castro coming into power after Fidel became sick and left office in 2008, and the re-opening of conversations between the US and Cuba, there are hopes that they can make strides toward cooperation and amends, with the US hoping to convince Cuba to work on human rights and with Cuba hoping to be recognized and no longer isolated, and therefore able to profit from the lifting of the embargo and opening of relations.  During President Obama’s recent visit to Cuba, he gave a prime example of nationalism, and brought up inequality in Cuba:

“The United States recognizes progress that Cuba has made as a nation, its enormous achievements in education and in health care.  And perhaps most importantly, I affirmed that Cuba’s destiny will not be decided by the United States or any other nation.  Cuba is sovereign and, rightly, has great pride.  And the future of Cuba will be decided by Cubans, not by anybody else.  At the same time, as we do wherever we go around the world, I made it clear that the United States will continue to speak up on behalf of democracy, including the right of the Cuban people to decide their own future.  We’ll speak out on behalf of universal human rights, including freedom of speech, and assembly, and religion.”

President Obama’s opposers of the push for human rights reform in Cuba, and the Cuban government, feel that this should not be as big of a deal and that it should not influence diplomacy, but supporters are hoping that the move to push for rights and no longer isolating Cuba will help move them forward toward democracy.  The Human Rights Watch is closely watching human rights in Cuba. Cuba appears to be “frozen in time” when you look at life amongst its people.  The lifting of travel bans has many Americans flocking to see Cuba, the country that still reeks of the 1950’s, but few know what life is really like there since they only see the glitz of the nicer areas.


Chris Sabatini, the director of Global Americans, said “This is a government that has survived through repression. It sees its ability to survive as being conditioned on the ability to control people’s lives politically, socially and economically.” Cuba is only just recently allowing Cubans access to the internet.  To give you an idea of what a big deal that is, we can look at where censorship has been and is now in Cuba.  An article by Josefina Salomon for Amnesty International online points out that freedom of speech or expression can send you to jail without trial, there is “freedom of press” but without private ownership of mass media the state controls almost all print and broadcast media, only 25% of Cubans use the internet and only 5% of households have internet, until 2008 DVDs and computers were banned, the internet that is available is censored, and internet and phone contact from human rights activists and journalists are monitored or disabled.

Cuba does not tolerate political opposition, and will arrest those that protest through speech or acts, sometimes punishing prisoners with torture or inhumane methods of punishment.   Members of the Ladies in White (Damas de Blanco)—a group founded by the wives, mothers, and daughters of political prisoners and which the government considers illegal—are routinely harassed, roughed up, and detained before or after they attend Sunday mass. The prisons are crowded, and prisoners are regularly punished for not meeting 12-hour day work quotas.

As for religion, Cuba was a previously atheist state until 1992, having exiled hundreds of Catholic priests after the Bay of Pigs invasion, but now “permits greater opportunities for religious expression than it did in past years, and has allowed several religious-run humanitarian groups to operate, the government still maintains tight control on religious institutions, affiliated groups, and individual believers.”


Members of the “Ladies in White,” a group founded by the partners and relatives of jailed dissidents that regularly protests against the Cuban government, demonstrate hours before U.S. President Barack Obama began his visit to Havana, Cuba, on Sunday, March 20, 2016. Photographer: Eliana Aponte/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Women’s rights in Cuba are limited, while they are represented in Congress and allowed to be educated, there is still the Latin culture of Machismo very present, which views the women as property of her husband still, expects her to keep a clean house, and the representation in congress and jobs they are allowed to work are generally misleading of their actual representation and freedoms.  Homosexuality is no longer legally punishable.  Gender equality still has a way to go in Cuba.  Human trafficking is also a major issue in Cuba, although the government does not speak on the issue for the most part nor do they comply with the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.


Ibelsi Rodriguez at her home in Little Swamp.
Credit Eliana Aponte for The New York Times


Other major human rights issues in Cuba are the racial and income inequality that has been rising since the 1990s and seems to be heading for further disparity due to the emerging tourism economy.  Income inequality is seen in the reforms passed by Castro to allow the DVDs, cell phones, internet and hotel tourism – which you need to be quite wealthy to afford due to the monetary conversion necessary to purchase such things.  This also furthers the issue of racial inequality, as many of the poor in Cuba are black – relations of the slaves brought to Cuba, and discrimination in employment and living areas is very dominant still.

Cuba seems to feel that their guarantee of free education and healthcare should negate the oppressive issues – although they may be overestimating the quality of what they are offering and to whom, and also do not offer such things as informed consent or privacy in healthcare and pushing ideological content in schools, and that the United states should mind their own business anyway on human rights issues abroad.  Cuba also sees the embargo placed on them by the US as a human rights issue, not allowing them to succeed economically.  President Obama’s response is that “The goal of human rights dialogue is not for the United States to dictate to Cuba how they should govern themselves, but to make sure that we are having a frank and candid conversation around this issue, and hopefully that we can learn from each other.”  The next few years will tell how far Cuba will go with human rights reforms.



Post #2 – Language and involvement in UN, IMF and WTO

Part 1: Language in Cuba


The official language of Cuba, and the most commonly spoken language in the nation, is Spanish.  Around 90% of Cubans speak Spanish as their first language, and while there is no specific national dialect, Cuban Spanish, which is a form of Caribbean Spanish,  is comparable to Latin American Spanish, with some variations in accent, speech patterns and intonation due to Cuba’s multi-ethnicism contributing to the shaping of the language spoken.

Diverse Cuban children

Cuba’s ethnic diversity is attributed to its past, specifically its variety of immigrants and colonization over time, many of which have contributed to the evolution of the language(s) spoken in Cuba.  Originally, Cuba was inhabited by first the Guanahatabeyes on the Western side and then the Taínos and the Ciboneyes,  who are both subgroups of the Arawakan Indians.  The Guanahatabeyes lived in Cuba until about the 16th century.  Not much is known about them, none of their language has survived, and it seems that their language was very different than that of the Taínos.  The Taíno language is of the Arawakan language in northern South America.  It was spoken in some areas of Cuba until the late 19th century, and because it was the main language still being spoken during Spanish colonization in the 15th century, many words were absorbed into European language and the Cuban Spanish, with many terms and place-names in Cuban Spanish having derived from the Taíno language.  In fact, even Cuba’s name, as well as the name of it’s largest city, Havana, and many others come from Taíno, and Taíno words such as tobacco, hurricane and canoe are used today in English.


The first Cubans meet Columbus

Christopher Columbus claimed Cuba in 1492 for Spain, and in 1511 Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar came to Cuba to form the first settlement at Baracoa, then conquered the rest of the island and governed what would become Havana in 1514.  Many of the indigenous people, such as the Guanahatabeyes, Taínos and the Ciboneyes were killed off during the fighting in the Spanish conquest or by disease from those coming into Cuba.  This allowed Spanish language, culture, religion and customs to prevail.

In 1792, during the Seven Year’s War, Great Britain took over Havana, but only a year later Havana was traded back to Spain for Florida under the 1763 Treaty of Paris.  During that year, while Havana was conquered and ruled by Great Britain, thousands of African slaves were brought to Cuba within less than a year to work in the expanding sugar cane plantations.  The effect of the African language on Cuban Spanish is noticeable when you consider the vocabulary used and also the rhythmic inflection of Cuban Spanish.  There is  also a dialect in Cuba called Lucumi which is a secret language used for rituals by the Santeria religion community, who are made up of African slaves’ ancestors called the Yoruba.  It is a dead language, and not used for communication.

Cuban Lucumí priestess “reading tarot” with a deck of Spanish playing cards
(baraja española), Havana central city, by Bob Michaels, 2009-13.

During and shortly after the Seven Year’s War, from around 1792 to the early 1800’s, and following the Haitian Revolution, many French refugees who were escaping the slave rebellion in Saint-Domingue brought sugar refining and coffee growing knowledge into Cuba, as well as bringing over many more slaves.  The immigrants fleeing the Haitian Revolution brought with them the French-based Haitian Creole dialect of Creole, which includes a combination of North American, European and African language dialects.  Many people in Cuba can converse in this language, and still use it to this day.  It is actually the second most widely spoken language in Cuba.


Cubans and non-Cubans connecting through language.

Cuban Spanish is most similar to Spanish spoken in the Canary Islands, because of the influx of Canarian immigrants that came to Cuba during the Canarian exodus of the 19th and early 20th centuries.  The differences are that Cuban Spanish uses coda deletion, seseo, and /s/ debuccalization, such as sounding words ending in an syllable with an h,  the “Castilian Lisp”, and the weak pronunciation of consonants, especially at the end of a syllable. When Cuba’s western block was dismantled in the early 1990’s after the fall of the Soviet Union (an ally to Cuba at the time), the borders were open to countries, and therefore foreign dialects, such as English, Galician, French, and Corsican are also spoken in Cuba.


Part 2: Cuba’s involvement in the UN, IMF and WTO

The United Nations, or UN, is an organization made up of member states that was created to promote cooperation between those international governments.  The United Nations replaced the League of Nations and was created to prevent another world war after World War II on October 24, 1945.  Cuba was a member of the League of Nations, and is currently a member of the United Nations.  Since October 19, 1960, the United States have placed an embargo against Cuba.  The United Nations has for 20+ years been openly opposed the United States embargo against Cuba, 191 of the 193 members of the United Nations voted for the resolution introduced by Cuba during the October 2015 United Nations General Assembly vote; with only the United States and Israel voting against the resolution.  Cuba released statements that they will be calling for a resolution again at this year’s United Nations General Assembly vote in October.  The Cuban government claims that the embargo is the source of $125.9 billion in damages to their economy since its inception.   The United States issued the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992 to continue the embargo on Cuba until the Cuban government moves toward “democratization and greater respect for human rights”. The recent loosening of tensions between the United States and Cuba by re-opening embassies, and effort to normalize relations, has not yet culminated in the resolution of the embargo against Cuba, but the Cuban government hopes to convince the United States to change their mind.

U.S. President Barack Obama (3rd R) and Cuba’s President Raul Castro (3rd L) take part in a
bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly at
UN headquarters in New York on September 29, 2015. (Xinhua/AFP)

The International Monetary Fund, or IMF, is an international financial institution that promotes economic prosperity.  Cuba had a delegation when the IMF was founded in 1944 during the Bretton Woods conference.  They joined the IMF in 1946, and were one of the first 40 members.  Cuba was active and contributing to the IMF until borrowing $12.5 million from the IMF that was not repaid due to the collapse of the government.  Cuba withdrew membership in 1964, but ended up paying back the loan with interest.  In 1993, the Castro government was in secret communication with an IMF official, although we do not know if they were working to rejoin the IMF at that time, nor do we know for sre if they will be interested in applying yet as Cuba and the United States work toward normalization.

Robert Sturdy, Iuliu Winkler, Vital Moreira ,Jörg Leichtfried, Helmut  Scholz
European parliament members from left : Robert Sturdy, Iuliu Winkler, Vital Moreira , Jörg Leichtfried,
and Helmut Scholz, attend a press conference at the ninth Ministerial Conference of the World Trade
Organization (WTO) in Bali, Indonesia, Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013. (AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim)

Cuba has been a member of the World Trade Organization, or WTO, since April 20, 1995. The WTO deals with trade negotiations, agreement implementation and monitoring, dispute settlement, building trade capacity and outreach between its member states.  Cuba also was a member of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, or GATT, from January 1, 1948 until the WTO was established in its place.   Cuba challenged the United States embargo in the WTO, but to no avail.   The United States claims that the embargo is a “bilateral issue that should not be dealt by the multilateral body”.


Cuban president Raúl Castro met US president Barack Obama
in Havana. (Al Diaz/Miami Herald)

Cuba and the United States have begun an effort to ease tensions and potentially end the embargo, but there is still a significant way to go until there will be a solution.  United States President Barack Obama has said that he is interested in ending the embargo if Cuba will work on human rights, presidential nominee Hilary Clinton has also spoken in Miami about ending the embargo, and even presdiential nominee Donald Trump has said “50 years is enough”, so there does seem to be hope.  We will see what happens in the next several months with this situation, and it will surely be big news if the United States does end up ending the embargo any time in the near future.


Getty Images