Poverty in Cuba

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While many people are aware of the poverty on the island and the fact that there has been a serious economic problem, it is not well known exactly how serious the problem actually is. It began years ago, and while the problem has been somewhat alleviated in recent years, the serious issue of poverty continues to be prololific among the population of the island.

Poverty on the island before 1959

Before the 1950's, Cuba was considered to be third world level with most of the population desperately in poverty. There was a huge gap in wealth between the poor people in the rural areas and the extreme rich sugar and tobacco barons. The government was not well planned, yet it controlled all parts of the island’s commerce and economy.

There were not enough farm products or goods produced on the island to support its population and there was little to no trade with other countries.

Under the dictatorship of Batista, the enormous wealth of the Sugar and Tobacco Barons contrasting with the extreme poverty of the Cuban population was the Cause of the Cuban Revolution It was in 1959 that the government underwent a revolution that briefly altered the state of the economy.

For many years, the government depended heavily upon the Soviet Union for help monetarily and in the form of goods and food. The island is neither big enough nor wealthy enough to produce the needed supplies and food to support its population. 

For many years, Cuba remained in control of the Soviets, and was therefore well cared for. However, in the earlier '90s, the Soviets withdrew control due to their own inner turmoil. It was during this time that serious problems of poverty in the country began to set in.

The Government's Role

Because the island country has been under strict government control, its leaders have held a tight reign on all economy, business and resources.

This has caused many problems for the economy in the past and present. Cuba is one of the few remaining communist states in the world.

The government also controls other areas, including the school systems all the way through college as well as healthcare. All schooling, from kindergarten through college and all medical care in the country is free to its citizens. This strain on the governmental funding has contributed greatly to the poverty issues of the island.

After the soviet control of the country was lost in the 1990's, the Cuban government began taking steps to try to pull the island out of its desperate poverty levels. The government has, in the past decade, put a great emphasis on trading with other countries and has also instituted a regular system of taxes. Unfortunately, despite government efforts, the poverty level on the island at the present time is still lower than it was even fifty years ago.

The Rich and the Poor

It is important to note that there is not a huge difference between the wealthiest and the poorest in Cuban society. In fact, one source indicates that "Apart from some governmental and military officials, the highest salaries in the country are only 4 times the amount of the lowest salaries."

This is not a very large margin, meaning that even the wealthiest citizens of the country would be considered poverty level in other countries.

The Food Issue

In the past, the island has never been known for producing enough sustainable food for the population. Even with recent work to produce more food, there are just not enough farmlands available.

In addition, the environment on the island is not conducive to growing the different types of foods that would be needed to make the island a self-sustained area.

In addition, Cuba has felt the impact of the worldwide recession. As other nations contend with recession issues, the prices of food imports have grown. This means that Cuba has to pay more for anything it needs to import.

Since the island is so dependant upon outside sources for many food items, this rise in import prices has been a definite strain on the economy.

Because food has continued to be in short supply for the island, the Cuban government has long made use of a rationing plan. This means that each citizen has a ration book, which allows them to buy only a certain amount of food supplies each week.

Comparison between Cuba and the USA

It may be hard to recognize just how much of an issue that the poverty actually is without something to compare.

Let us take a moment to compare income and poverty levels with the income and levels of the United States.

Here is an example. A doctor in Cuba makes approximately seven hundred pesos a month. When this is translated into United States money, it equals about thirty dollars.

A physician in the United States could make upwards of $20,000 a month. This is quite a large margin considering the fact that doctors in both countries are considered some of the upper class working groups.

With that knowledge, consider this. One of the biggest working groups in Cuba is the factory worker. An average factory worker on the island makes the equivalent of seventeen to twenty United States dollars per month. With such low numbers, it is easy to see how much of the Cuban population actually falls below the poverty level.

While it seems that the government is making an effort to turn around the problem of poverty on the island, it continues to remain a serious issue. These issues of poverty have been a large contributing factor of Cuban citizens turning to illegal measures to make money, child labor, and illegal attempts to flee to the United States.

CIA World Factbook

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