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Volume 59 / Social Sciences

GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS: CUBA


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


THE LITERATURE SURVEYED for HLAS 59 covers four areas, namely contributions that, 1) document the very limited economic reforms undertaken during "the special period in peacetime" (most of the 1990s); 2) those that speak of "resistance" against further erosion of socialist and revolutionary values; 3) materials that predict an inevitable "transition" from revolutionary socialism at some juncture and compare that eventuality with democratic transitions in Spain, Portugal, Eastern Europe, and Latin America; and 4) more personal, subjective, and ideologically driven writings that reaffirm the unequivocal commitment of the Cuban people and its leaders to socialism's survival.

Several quite obscure Cuban authors maintain in Laberintos de la utopía that, as children of a "founding experience that profoundly shaped [them], solidarity and a commitment to defense of the revolution is a beautiful task" (item #bi 00005360#). For these writers, the ideological retreat that presumably characterizes the attitude of the Latin American revolutionary left is a purely tactical phenomenon. In short, this literature sustains the myth of utopia, makes no compromises with reality, and is rapidly fading in terms of its broader literary appeal.

With exceptions such as the one just cited, the broader literature surveyed reflects serious thinking about Cuba's future from individuals in the island and abroad, though writing on major topics still tends to break down along regime supporter/sympathizer versus opponent lines. But on the whole, "propaganda as scholarly literature" is less evident than in the past, when academic militancy and revolutionary fervor—rather than empiricism or detachment—shaped the writing on Cuba. Needless to say, this is an encouraging reversal of form, but it remains to be seen if it constitutes a permanent, radical departure from past practices.

One of the more valuable books of the period is Maurizio Giuliano's El caso CEA, intelectuales e inquisidores in Cuba, where "for the first time in detailed and documented form, the Stalinist methods of the regime's apparatus" are exposed in a chilling account of a 1996 purge against "loyal" investigators and academics (item #bi 00005332#). It is not the first time that the Cuban regime's Stalinist methods against dissident writers has been documented (think of the Padilla Affair(s) of the late 1960s and 1970s), but Giuliano's book makes it clear that "improper or impure" writings are still subject to censorship and political ostracism. That those punished for their "deviations" claimed to be loyal revolutionaries makes the whole spectacle juicier, even worthwhile of further analysis, since the verdugos as well as their víctimas were—if one is to believe the account—all on the same side.

Manuel Vázquez Montalbán's Y Dios entró en La Habana is a massive account of an alleged insider's interpretations of "the mood" in the island based on personal conversations between Montalbán and people at various official levels and unofficial stations (item #bi 00005555#). Shadowy intrigues, secret and manifest fears, uncertainty about the future, disillusionment, anomie, and a good bit of opportunism emerge from the conversations between the author and his interlocutors. Conversations with several members of Miami's Cuban exile community and their opposition to the US embargo is noted, as are their thoughts on a "post-Castro Cuba."

A more scholarly book is Marifeli Pérez-Stable's The Cuban Revolution, an extremely plausible interpretation of the origins, course and legacy of the revolution (item #bi 00005360#). The last chapters provide a balanced and updated discussion of why revolutionary socialism is a thing of the past, and why the intransigence of the revolutionary leadership is the reason behind the country's calamities. Carlos Alberto Montaner provides a more subjective, though coherent interpretation of how and why ideological prejudices viewed as truths by the revolutionary leadership, and Castro's messianism, led to the colossal failures—exposed now for all to judge—of the last 40 years. And in a humorous (or deadly serious) epilogue, Montaner speculates about what will happen "El día que murió Fidel Castro," pointing out the momentous decisions that those in the ruling group will have to make after El Comandante is buried.

Finally, those with an interest in US policy toward Cuba should find the proceedings from the Rand Forum on Cuba and Cuba and Lessons from Other Communist Transitions very useful (item #bi 00001322#). A major theme of these reports is that US policy is unlikely to change until after Castro dies, or if/when the Cuban regime embarks on a new round of serious reforms, which is unlikely. So the status quo prevails, though the level of hostility and tension between the antagonists is subject to situational variations. Reports such as this one will very likely form a basis for discussions of the US security, military, and diplomatic communities regarding contemporary issues and prospects for change in Cuba.


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