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Volume 55 / Social Sciences


BENIGNO E. AGUIRRE-LOPEZ, Professor, Department of Sociology, Texas A&M University

REFLECTING THE TREND FOR LATIN AMERICA as a whole, the literature on the Caribbean region is dominated by the study of rapid social change processes such as the Cuban Revolution, activities of social movement organizations, and instances of collective behavior, especially mass migrations. Recent UN-sponsored research on refugees and displaced women is particularly noteworthy (item bi 94000458), as is research documenting the declining quality of life in Puerto Rico (item bi 94000440). The US Department of Health and Human Services and the Pan American Health Organization have sponsored research on the impact of tobacco smoking (items bi 94000408 and bi 94005360), and there are also new publications on health status and health service utilization (item bi 94000429) and education (item bi 94000468) in the Commonwealth Caribbean.

An important theme in recent scholarship is the demography of the Caribbean, with most interest focused on the dynamics of regional migratory patterns. Considerable research attention has also focused on the social and cultural effects of the economic transformations taking place in the region, particularly their impacts on individual economic well-being. Dominant themes in this body of research include the effect of the economic crisis on the region's agricultural systems, the family, and women.

As in previous years, Cuba continues to attract significant attention from specialists. Especially noteworthy areas of research are the family as well as the sexuality and ideology of Cuban youth. The latter segment of the population appears particularly recalcitrant to the message of the Cuban government, as evidenced by their disproportionate participation in recent mass emigrations from Cuba and their victimization by the repressive system (item bi 95018235). Aguirre (item bi 94013948) argues that it is useful to conceptualize the periodic mass migrations from Cuba to the US - especially those during the Mariel crisis - as oppositional serial surges in which collective deviance labeling often occurs.

A number of works examine aspects of Cuban culture. For example, research on the sub-culture of art, especially painting and sculpture, is available (item bi 95018237). Other research focuses on Afro-Cuban cultural traits, such as religious funeral ceremonies, Haitian influences on beliefs, and Cuban material culture. Important research has also been conducted on fertility. New publications include a bibliography on Cuban and Caribbean mass media (items bi 94000439 and bi 94000457) as well as detailed examinations of Cuban State labor laws and practices (item bi 95018236) and the State's repression of both the Catholic Church (item bi 95018233) and Protestant religious denominations (item bi 00000000).

The Cuban Catholic Church is experiencing a rebirth in the aftermath of the bishops' Sept. 1993 "Love Is All Powerful" pastoral letter, one of the most revealing documents on the condition of contemporary life in Cuba (item bi 95018237). This post-Vatican II pastoral letter asks why so many Cubans from various social spheres want to leave their homeland; it calls for a plurality of perspectives from which to consider national problems; it reminds the authorities of the material needs which continue to be unmet despite the many resources available on the island; it reviews the effect of the crisis on the family and society, including increases in delinquency, theft, prostitution, violence, alcoholism, and suicide; and it condemns human rights violations. The letter calls for national dialogue and reconciliation based on mutual respect and democratic procedures. Espousing a Catholic perspective, Cuba's Movimiento Cristiano de Liberación has requested that the Pope take a more active role in Cuba. The organization openly supported the bishops' pastoral letter, and requested the bishops to become more involved in guiding the nation's transition to democracy and capitalism. It also proposed a referendum to determine whether a majority of the Cuban people want to begin a peaceful transition. In a pioneering work which sheds light on a central institution long neglected by students of revolutionary Cuba, Evenson recently studied the Cuban legal system (item bi 94006755). The emergence of both the Church and the legal system as institutions relatively independent of the State is indicative of an important transformation of Cuban society facilitated by the current crisis.

In fact, a sub-culture of political opposition is emerging in Cuba which fosters the activities of social movement organizations and quasi-organizations, as well as collective and mass-protest behavior against the government and the socialist State. The origins of this sub-culture are several: the failures of the official institutions and the resulting "shadow" institutions of Cuban society; the discrepancy between the ideology and the practices of the regime; the work of religious believers, intellectuals, and artists; the continuation of a cultural tradition of political criticism through chistes or jokes; the paradoxical and unintended unifying effect of the repressive activities of the government security systems; the radicalizing effects of the generalized institutional implosion and the concomitant emergence of new institutions; and the transformation of systems of mass communication available in Cuba.

The government can no longer control the information the Cuban people receive about events in Cuba and elsewhere. This decline in State control of the media was caused by both the economic crisis and the new electronic means of mass communication (e.g., Radio Martí, the availability of black market electronic disks to tap satellite transmissions from major hotels in Havana, the introduction of electronic mail, and improved telephone service).

An important effect of these changes is that Cubans receive information about Cuba from news sources outside the island. Increasingly, anti-hegemonic political participation in Cuba is not a national, but an international process. Collective action is often planned to coincide with the political sensitivities and agendas of foreign agencies and organizations. For instance, Cubans' political participation, spurred by events in Cuba, often is carried out in the US and elsewhere via cybernetic means.

With few exceptions, the social movement organizations (SMOs) that are emerging in Cuba sponsor only pacifist ideological opposition. So far, their dissident strategy has been to appeal to the Cuban authorities for peaceful change rather than to advocate widespread civil disobedience. Moreover, very few SMOs have developed an explicit ideology rejecting the ideals of the Cuban Revolution and the interpretation of pre-1959 Cuban society advanced by Fidel Castro and his followers. Instead, there is continuity in the use of revolutionary cultural symbols, or what Stanski, in the Polish case, refers to as the "inner structure" of communist culture. Nevertheless, the Cuban government's unwillingness to negotiate with the SMOs, combined with the country's growing social, political, and economic crises, may prod these movements to abandon their pacifist strategies in the future.

Many of the new systems of governmental repression in Cuba, such as the rapid action brigades, are ambulatory, rather than stationary (e.g., the earlier Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, or CDR). The Cuban government is no longer able to command total control of Cuba. The new and old systems are not necessarily complementary; they are based on mutually conflicting logics. In a number of documented cases, the people who manned the stationary systems such as the CDRs have reacted against the presence of brigade participants in their neighborhood. This is not surprising, for the old system was based on loyalty, belonging, and a sense of responsibility to a place; now these neighborhoods have been invaded by strangers who are charged with "defending" the Revolution, often at the expense of the individuals living in the neighborhood.

Paradoxically, the operational freedom of the government's repressive system and its crudeness is an important, albeit unwitting, mechanism in creating anti-hegemonic collective participation. In Cuba, as elsewhere, this usually results from breakdowns in the internal organization of bureaucracies, lack of supervision, and jealousy of lower-echelon officials. While probably effective as short-term social control measures, the use of rapid action brigades, mass arrests, and other tactics of intimidation help to foster a culture of popular resistance to the government. Sharing similar experiences undoubtedly creates networks of social relations among the victims and their families which in turn facilitate discussion of their shared problems and the construction of new collective and individual identities. It creates popular consciousness about the need for social change outside the boundaries of the State's hegemonic vision of right.

Turning to the Dominican Republic, some of the most significant scholarship examines its declining standard of living. Rodríguez analyzes the problem of abandoned children, palomos, in the capital city, and the social and cultural adaptations they use to survive (item bi 94000450). Others look at the health status of the Dominican nation and the problem of illegal drugs. The pioneering monograph edited by Rondón presents a scientific effort to understand violence against women in the Dominican Republic (item bi 94000438). It documents the limitations of the present judicial system in providing protection to the victims. As in previous years, the demography of the Dominican nation continues to be a topic of scientific investigation, particularly the means of population control. Scholars continue to examine relations between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, Haitian immigration to coffee growing regions, the presence of Vodu among Dominicans, and the continuing legacy of racism and discrimination against Haitians. In regard to the latter, Zaglul has analyzed the influence of Joaquín Balaguer on Dominican culture and politics and his presumed antihaitianismo (item bi 93014834). Pérez and Artiles' monograph on Dominican social movement organizations and their protest activities during 1984-90 is a significant contribution to the scholarship on this topic (item bi 94000474); it traces the evolution of these protests and places them in the broad context of national and international politics.

Researchers' attention has also focused on the economic and social bases of the current political crisis in Haiti. Guerrier provides background information on the crisis (item bi 94000433) and Souffrant studies famine in Haiti (item bi 93009489). Reflecting the important presence of Haitian immigrants in the US, Charles discusses their experiences in New York City and their evolving ethnic identities and group loyalties (item bi 94004072).

Scholarship on the Rastafari Movement in Jamaica continues to thrive, as does UN-sponsored research on the condition of children, women, and the elderly. Very noteworthy is Keith and Keith's recently published, comprehensive work on the political system. Examining the composition and interests of social classes in Jamaica to gain an understanding of Michael Manley's government and the ideology and resulting practices of democratic socialism, the authors reinterpret Manley's control of the State, seeing this as a program for social change based on an ideology of "national populism" (item bi 94000461).

For the French West Indies and French Guiana, a recent monograph examines demographic changes from 1982-90, including mortality, fertility, and migration patterns (item bi 94000393). As in other countries, recent scholarship for Guyana examines the problem of violence against married women (item bi 94000398).

One of the most important themes in contemporary scholarship is the problem of Puerto Rican cultural autonomy (items bi 94001724 and bi 94005635). As in many parts of the mainland, the politics of language (item bi 94005635) and the conflicts surrounding bilingualism (item bi 94000443) reveal many of the key points in the cultural autonomy debate. Similarly, authors writing on the African roots of the Puerto Rican culture argue, at times implicitly, for the maintenance of a Puerto Rican national identity. Another important body of research examines Puerto Rican politics: Frambes-Buxeda's monograph on the elections of 1980 and 1984 (item bi 94000440) is particularly noteworthy, as is González's examination of the political actions of popular groups on behalf of the preservation of Puerto Rican culture (item bi 94001839). For Puerto Rico, as well as other countries in the region, scholarly attention has focused on health issues once again, especially the threat of AIDS. An important collection of articles on this topic was published by the University of Puerto Rico (item bi 94000470).

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