Have sanctions helped Cubans live longer?

Nature wades into international politics (and some pretty harsh facts) with a theory for the “unintended consequences” file. Researchers are floating the idea that an international embargo (from 1991 to 1995) can be credited with lowering heart disease and diabetes rates and making Cubans live longer, healthier lives:

Such opaque embargoes kill and the western powers who apply such sanctions are fully aware of this. In 1996, a journalist interviewing the then US secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, pointed out that more than 500,000 Iraqi children had died because of sanctions imposed by western nations on Iraq. To this, Albright famously responded: “we think the price is worth it.”

Despite all the atrocity and machiavellianism that trail economic embargoes, science has somehow found a way to profit from the Cuban “special period.” Thanks to the impressive Cuban healthcare system which diligently collected health data even during the “special period,” Manuel Franco, at the University of Alcalá in Spain and colleagues from US and Cuban institutions, were able to analyse some of the health indicators of the time. What they found underlines the atrocity of the embargo on the Cuban people but does come with a surprising silver lining which they report in a paper published last week by the British Medical Journal (BMJ).

After 1995, the Cuban economy started to pick up again and has risen steadily since—especially post-2000. Coupled to this steady economic rise was a resurgence of obesity, and with it diabetes and heart diseases. The resurgence was predominantly due to an increased energy intake from food and drinks consumed since physical activity only marginally decreased. Energy intake reached pre-crisis levels by 2002 and obesity rates had tripled that of 1995 by 2011.