The Dark Horse in the World Race: Cuba

Eighty years ago, Cuba was known to many Americans as a dazzlingly stylish tourist destination because of both its appealing proximity to the United States, and the overwhelming romance of the spectacular beaches and culturally rich Havana. Today, the American perspective on Cuba has changed dramatically, and the two most prominent features that characterize Cuba are the current embargo that the United States has placed on it, and the authoritarian government. The effect of Cuban culture within the United States, on the other hand, has been limited primarily to music, food, dance, and other cultural features gleaned from social interaction and integration.

Beyond these stereotypes, Cuba has had incredible progress in many areas, unknown to most people in the world. Obama’s December 2014 announcement to lift restrictions on travel to Cuba was fairly surprising to many Americans, and Cuba’s recent demands of the U.S. (such as removal from the list of terror states) have elicited much interest in this island country, and has brought up the question: What is Cuba?

Beyond the nostalgia of the “old” Cuba, the Cuba of today has demonstrated that progress has been made in several significant areas. Perhaps these developments do not place a focus on where most people would prefer it to be, but progress has nonetheless advanced the country in ways that we haven’t anticipated. The case in point: Cuba’s Healthcare System.

Defying expectations by a storm, Cuba has emerged as a world leader in healthcare despite its rather low economic level of growth. Combined with its surprisingly high ranking on the Human Development Index, Cuba’s achievements are even more admirable due to the fact that 40% of the nation’s budget is dedicated to social development, such as providing universal social services for every citizen of Cuba.

Even more impressive is Cuba’s astoundingly low infant mortality rate. Statistically, an infant born in Cuba has a greater chance of survival than an infant born in the United States. While the mortality rate for infants (per 1000 born) is approximately 5 for both countries, Cuba does edge out the United States with a consistently lower number across nearly every measure of health statistics that has been published in recent years.

Another thing in which Cuba trumps the U.S.? Literacy rate. According to the CIA handbook, while Americans over the age of 15 have a remarkable 99% literacy rate, Cuba has an absolutely unbelievable high literacy rate of 99.8% – one of the highest in the world. This, unlike many other movements in Cuba to improve livelihood, is not new by any means. In 1961, within just 12 months under Ché Guevara’s command, the literacy rate of Cuba rose from approximately 60-70% to 96%. It has steadily increased since then, encouraged by a widely accessible education system.

While many still maintain that Cuba is a “terror state” that remains a threat to not only the United States, but to the entire world, there is ample evidence that suggests that Cuba will eventually break free of the (mostly) negative view that the media has presented of it. Its advancements, while largely unknown, are making differences for Cuban citizens that many of us cannot fathom.

The hope we have for Cuba? That it will one day regain its reputation as a beautiful, hospitable country – but one that that will have much more than just beautiful beaches to entice visitors. With Cuba currently negotiating changes with the U.S. as of January 2015, this change might not be too far off after all.


Irene Yoon, Content Editor


Social Aspects of Ideological Crises

In the weeks after the horrific attack on political satire publication Charlie Hebdo, much of global attention has been turned onto the tensions between free speech within a pluralistic society. While world leaders rallied under notions of unity and solidarity, minority communities that exist along the outskirts remain excluded from the touted integration system of French society.

“…the nation’s preoccupation with last week’s attacks at the hands of Islamic extremists presents a mere distraction from a fundamental social crisis that has plagued France’s immigrant neighborhoods for decades.” 

The attacks, portrayed through mainstream media as motivated by an ideological objection to free speech, possess another dimension that relates directly to individual disenfranchisement caused by economic and social isolation. These push factors, that are felt throughout minority populations, play as central a role in these recent attacks as the oft mentioned ideological radicalism.

Speaking concretely, the poorest banlieues hold an unemployment rate that almost doubles the nations. Furthermore, more than half the inhabitants of these banlieues are from foreign countries including Algeria, Morocco, and areas in sub-Saharan Africa. Public institutions fail and residents of these areas are caught in a cycle of reinforcing poverty that alienates its residents along racial and cultural lines.

The sense of isolation in a place like Sevran is social as much as physical. Too many teenagers grow up with little connection to the world of work…”

This sense of isolation is felt strongly by minority youths in these areas as well. Limited in available educational opportunities, their social and economic agency is severely limited. This frustration is further compounded by instances of prejudice within the menial jobs that are available. France, whose society prides itself upon the ideals of secularism has yet to address these social and economic issues that happen to exist within ethnic boundaries and spaces. Its failure to do so can then lead to recurring instances of those similar to Said and Cherif Kouachi, the attackers in the Charlie Hebdo incident.

Unfortunately, such an emphasis on the social and economic imbalance is absent from mainstream media coverage. While these issues of disenfranchisement felt among minorities may not be the sole cause of youth attraction to radicalism, it is an important aspect that should be considered when weighing appropriate responses.


Jared Leeong, Content Editor

Meet Our Editors

Margaret Gallagher


Areas of Study: Global Studies and Environmental Studies

Hi, my name is Margaret. I have always loved traveling and exploring, which is why I chose to pursue a double major in Global Studies and Environmental Studies. Going into my senior year at UCSB, I am the Fundraising Chair for the Gaucho Tour Association, the President of ¡Amigos!, the Spanish conversation club on campus, and last but not least, a website and social media editor for the Global Societies Journal. I’m also currently writing a senior thesis for the Environmental Studies department with my advisor Professor Daniella Soleri. I love baby animals, new pens, strong coffee, watching beach sunsets from my balcony, and bougainvilla. I look forward to watching the journal grow, and am excited about working with such an awesome and diverse team of editors.

Dylan Lambert-Gilliam


Hi, my name is Dylan and I’m a junior at UCSB pursuing a Global Studies major with an emphasis on Africa and a minor in Spatial Studies. My broader research interests include immigration, law, religion and culture in the Horn of Africa, and food security, and I’m currently working on a research project concerning law and human rights in Somalia. Previously, I’ve worked with the Neil Shubin evolutionary biology lab at the University of Chicago.

Jared Leeong


Hi, my name is Jared, and I’m a sophomore at UCSB majoring in Global Studies and is a Website Editor and Content Editor for the Global Societies Journal. I maintain broad academic interests, including foreign relations, global conflict, and computer science, and I’ve previously worked with Senator Dianne Feinstein as an intern at the Los Angeles constituent office. When not working, I enjoy leisure activities such as camping, hiking, and rock climbing.

Issues of Identity: Myanmar

The dimension of individual identity has played an increasing role in contemporary conflicts. Definitions of people based on culture or ethnicity are not only drawing lines within populations, but are also muddled or exacerbated through processes of globalization. Such a resurgence and mutation of identity conflicts is exemplified through recent developments within the country of Myanmar.

Myanmar is a country in South East Asia, bordering Thailand and Bangladesh, housing a population that is roughly 89% Buddhist and 4% Muslim. Myanmar, formerly known as Burma until 1989, has recently shown promise of transition into a more democratic system of government after more than fifty years of military rule.

When President Obama visited the country in 2012, he expressed hope and conveyed encouragement to the people of Myanmar. His statements were, however, largely reflective of his Western bias and echoed inspiring rhetoric filled with presuppositions of liberty, universalism, and general faith in a democracy.

I describe our system in the United States because that’s how you must reach for the future that you deserve — a future where a single prisoner of conscience is one too many.  You need to reach for a future where the law is stronger than any single leader, because it’s accountable to the people.

Yet despite the promises of imminent egalitarianism, recent conflicts in Myanmar suggest that the country’s cultural history props many hurdles against a fair and democratic society. Ethnic violence against the Rohingya, a Muslim minority population, is one such example.

Within the Rakhine state of Myanmar, a region where a majority of the Rohingya population is located, ethnic violence against Muslims is headed by the hardline 969 Radical Buddhist Movement. These hardline, radical Buddhists symbolize a reactionary ideological process that protests directly against the integrated and equal democracy outlined in President Obama’s speech.

The 969 Movement is inherently political and they operate on a strong definition of identity. The violence against “outside” Muslims is necessary, then, in order to secure their Buddhist way of life. Buddhist preachers within the region incessantly frame Myanmar’s cultural woes in an inflammatory “us vs. them” dialogue, reinforcing a deep-seeded historical prejudice.

Describing themselves as nationalists, their sermons no longer target the powerful, but instead play on deep-seated fears of the darker-skinned outsiders, Muslims of South Asian heritage who allegedly pose a threat to racial purity and national security.

Definitively, what this conflict shares with many contemporary issues is this idea of identity.

To the radical Buddhists, identity is both political and cultural. In radical Buddhist thought, the Myanmar citizen is an ethnic Burmese Buddhist (radicals have often claimed that the Rohingya historically originate from Bangladesh and do not share Burmese ethnicity). This labels the individual’s identity with finite brands of nationality and religion, leaving little room for anything else that might define them as an individual person.

This type of thought—labeling individuals under the umbrella categories of nationality and religion—effectively primes populations for these “us vs. them” type conflicts. It creates an identity based on exclusion and proves time and time again to be a fast track to violence. Be it religious extremists in the Middle East, Christians and Muslims in the Central African Republic, or even far-right wing conservatives in American government, this practice of labeling and excluding peoples is creating more and more conflicts.

But how exactly might this tendency towards an identity look like in an increasingly globalized world? Myanmar again proves to be an accurate, yet somewhat alarming, model of globalization’s effects on the cultural practice of identity-making.

Myanmar’s recent turn towards liberalization and more democratic social structures has resulted in a gradual opening of its society. Access to the internet and social networking has allowed Myanmar’s citizens to interact more widely and immediately than ever before.

This creation of an open public sphere within Myanmar has resulted in two things: a discursive area in which processes of speech and debate may flourish as well as an opportunity for the radical extremists to further propagate their hardline message. Looking at its situation now, Myanmar’s public sphere seems to be detrimental to the Muslim population.

The 969 movement now enjoys support from senior government officials, establishment monks and even some members of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), the political party of Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

Globalization, in this case, has not rectified the tendency for identity and the priming for “us vs. them” conflicts; instead it has only amplified the prejudices that were already present.

Evidently, the globalized arena of the modern world brings to light the glaring need for increased empathy and tolerance if conflicts like these are to be avoided. The utility of identity (religious, national, or other) needs to be brought into thorough examination and weighed against its role within today’s conflicts.

Where globalization ties together people from all walks of life, is there still a need for an identity aside from our shared humanity?


Jared Leeong, Content Editor

Meet Our Editors

The Global Societies Journal (GSJ) has a team of editors and faculty that work incredibly hard all year to make the publication possible. Every week, we’ll profile a few of them

Beth Lebens Area of Study: Global Studies


Hi, my name is Beth Lebens, and I am a second year Global Studies major hoping to pursue a career in international journalism. I love to travel, write, and spend time outdoors. Since starting at UCSB I have worked as a professional fundraiser for various nonprofits, and started an internship writing for a travel blog. I look forward to seeing Global Societies Journal grow during my next few years in Santa Barbara.

Irene Yoon Areas of Study: Global Studies, Biological Sciences, and Spanish

Hi, my name is Irene Yoon and I am a second year Global Studies and Biology double major from Los Angeles, CA. I am a Content Editor and Outreach Editor for the Global Societies Journal, and am also currently a contracted fashion writer. I have an undying love for literature, lyrical dance, 1960s folk music, and yellow flowers. Some of my interests include learning new languages, fencing, running, and traveling the world. I’m a part of Global Societies because understanding the world socially, politically, geographically, and culturally is something everyone can benefit from, and it’s an absolute dream to be able to help facilitate the sharing of this information.

Danielle Maldonado

Areas of Study: Comparative Literature and Global Studies double major. Hi, my name is Danielle Maldonado and I am the Co-Chair of UCSB’s A.S. Womyn’s Commission and Co-founder of the Comparative Literature society. I have a passion for editing and plans to pursue a career in publishing after graduation. I enjoy doing research on social justice issues and her favorite authors include Toni Morrison, James Baldwin and Ernest Hemingway.

Global Societies Journal Blog

Welcome to the Global Societies Journal Blog

Global Societies Journal (GSJ) is a peer-reviewed, undergraduate and graduate academic journal based in the Department of Global Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. We take into consideration multiple articles from a wide array of academic disciplines and publish a select few through the University of California’s open access eScholarship web portal. You can take a look at our past publications here.

Though we began with scholarship of UCSB students alone, we are currently taking steps to broaden our scope of scholarship, opening our publication process to all UC campuses as well as expanding our avenues of discussion.

Here, on our GSJ Blog, we seek to generate awareness on current events in the world, local research happening in our universities, and more. Working in conjunction with our GSJ eScholarship site, we hope to highlight the processes of globalization running rampant in our contemporary world, increase the accessibility of on-going debates and share current ideas for the general student population. Ultimately we aspire to contribute to global dialogues and stimulate the type of discussions necessary for tackling today’s complex issues.

You’ll find here interdisciplinary content ranging from political science to environmental studies , technology and everything in between. You’ll see the research taking place at your university, conducted by the professors you know. Content is provided by Global Societies Journal Undergraduate Associates and Editors, who seek to present new perspectives and novel arguments. Here, you can participate in developing a thorough consciousness indispensable to the modern global citizen and necessary in today’s globalized arena.

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