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Volume 57 / Social Sciences

GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS: CUBA


JUAN M. DEL AGUILA, Associate Professor of Political Science, Emory University


THE ISSUES DOMINATING MUCH OF CONTEMPORARY PUBLISHING in Cuba concern processes of change that are slowly and (some authors contend) inexorably reshaping the nation’s political system, economy and society. Without evidence of a transition away from command socialism, or of an authentic expansion of political rights and freedoms, authors speculate about the forces that finally may bring about radically different conditions.

For instance, electoral changes dating from the mid-1990s presumably have expanded the pool of candidates from which voters choose, though the Communist Party closely monitors elections and anti-system candidates are forbidden. Still, the process expands the political opportunities of pro-system candidates and contributes to the rotation of loyal elites. Writing on the Cuban Communist Party itself has declined, suggesting that scholars are less willing to repeat the findings of earlier research.

Alternatively, the fact that rotation takes place has neither altered the Party’s hegemonic position nor changed the character of ancillary and subordinate institutions such as the National Assembly of People’s Power. Genuine democratization of governance at any level is as incompatible with the leadership’s wishes in the 1990s as was the case in the 1960s, and Castro’s central role remains undiminished. In short, rotation stems from a need to satisfy the shifting political demands of different constituencies inside the ruling coalition, but it is not intended to change the fundamental dynamics of governance.

The process of economic reform slowed considerably in the mid-1990s due to the leadership’s reluctance to proceed with measures that would undermine social control. However, continued deterioration suggests that the economy’s poor performance is acceptable to a government that is not willing to introduce fundamental structural reforms nor grant greater individual or social freedoms.

Although the need for dramatic change has become evident to scholars who are either critical or still marginally sympathetic to the revolution, the political leadership categorically rejects that option. At the policy level, paralysis is increasingly apparent due to the power conflicts among pro-system reformers, orthodox policymakers, and those marking time.

Silvia Caunedo’s article “La siempre fiel isla de Cuba: la realidad del cambio” indicates that this unresolved tension is the basic theme of some of the literature of the 1990s (item bi 95001292). She maintains that the regime’s “commitment to immobilism and control of society” is at the root of a crisis of legitimacy affecting the relationship between government and society.

However, the growth of “civil society” and the proliferation of pro-democracy dissident groups continues to generate changes in the nation’s cultural climate, encouraged perhaps by public manifestations from the Catholic Church on moral and religious matters (item bi 94009371). A palpable desire for moral renovation is evident in works published both in and outside of Cuba which challenge the prevailing official view that the revolutionary value system remains strong and credible.

In sum, the literature for this period reflects the ambivalence (and for a dwindling few, melancholy) with which scholars tend to view Cuba in the post-Communist world. Minimal expectations for either economic regeneration or political liberalization form the basis for an expanding scholarly consensus. Stasis and decay, rather than dynamism or new policies, are the recurring themes in much of the academic literature surveyed, indicating that Cuba no longer excites the intellectual passions of a bygone era.


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