Cuba and Philanthropy

sduncan post on January 28th, 2013
Posted in Central America Tags: , ,

by Tyler Greenleaf

Cuba is a country of contrasts when it comes to philanthropy. For this article, it will be viewed through an internal lens (philanthropy done in the country) and external lens (philanthropy done by the country, specifically, international aid).

Internal Philanthropy
Modern communist philosophy presumes that the state and its institutions are owned, operated and controlled by the government without private ownership of capital. As a result, the possibility of an individual or corporation making a monetary donation is not part of the culture. The state is supposed to provide for everyone, and on a basic level, does. In a western sense, the giving of dollars to help support an individual or program does not exist in Cuba.

While the article is a bit dated (from 1994) Kimberley O. Dennis contends, “there is no evidence of private philanthropy in Cuba”. While the article has an overt free market and pro-American bias, Dennis does note that in general, a robust for-profit sector helps create a more robust non-profit sector. The absence of a for-profit sector in Cuba does not necessarily mean there is no giving being done in the country.

Some groups do exist to provide relief to those in need in Cuba. One example is a charity for children suffering from cancer created by Mother Theresa through the Catholic Church in 1988. This group does not operate easily, and since its inception has faced bureaucratic trouble and harassment from Cuban officials.

There is a lack of information regarding the existence of a culture of giving among Cuban people. The Association of Fundraising Professionals has a profile of Cuban-Americans in central Florida. While the cultural behaviour of Cubans obviously has many other influences (such as Catholicism), clues may be gleaned from this document. Most interestingly, the writer notes:

Cuban-Americans consider giving a voluntary activity rooted in family and community. As a culture, they do not respond to the “obligation” to give to community. Group background includes having succeeded through hard work and enterprise, and therefore group members respond more to positive motivators rather than guilt or obligation.

External Philanthropy
The Cuban government does participate philanthropically, most often through educational support and offering the support of its doctors and medical staff to other countries in need (commonly to other islands in the Caribbean following a hurricane). The Cuban medical and educational systems are commonly applauded for being of very high quality. This assistance is voluntary, but is very important in keeping good relations with its neighbours. Cuba has received assistance after hurricanes as well, more recently after hurricanes Gustav and Ike 2008.

The Future of Philanthropy 
in Cuba In the past couple of years, there have been slow and marked reforms on economic controls in Cuba, which have allowed things such as private ownership of cell phones, computers, salary bonuses, and the ability for a citizen to purchase their own taxi for employment. Further entrepreneurial opportunities are growing for citizens as well. Cuba is the world leader in urban organic farming. The people who run these farms are allowed to keep the profits and are some of the more highly lucrative employment opportunities in the country. As a result of the lifting economic controls, opportunities for collaboration between Cubans and other countries and economies will increase. As a result, further opportunities for philanthropy will grow for Cubans: through donating money to support organizations, sharing ideas, and giving goods away. An opportunity exists and on some levels is likely in practice for owners of the urban organic farms to share or subsidize food for their immediate families and community.

Works Cited

Kimberly O. Dennis “Philanthropy has lost its way”. USA Today (Society for the Advancement of Education).

“Disenchanted With Castro’s Revolution”

“Characteristics of Cuban-American fundraising”

Cuban support is noted on several websites:;


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