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Journal of Democracy: Can Cuba Change?

Ferment in Civil Society

Authors: Carl S. Gershman, and Orlando Gutierrez
January 2009

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Cuba's repressive regime has shown remarkable resilience in the past, defying predictions of its inevitable collapse.  Have its political fortunes changed?  This Journal of Democracy article explores the current ferment in civil society and the stability of Raúl Castro's government.

There is no question that in the immediate aftermath of the democratic revolutions of 1989, Cuba had entered a deep, systemic crisis. A regime that had coveted its revolutionary image and whose comandante, Fidel Castro, had famously declared at his trial in 1953 that "history will absolve me," suddenly seemed obsolete and on the wrong side of history.  Moreover, with the loss of the annual US$4.3 billion Soviet subsidy, which totaled 21 percent of Cuba's Gross National Product, the economy went into a tailspin.

The Cuban regime's survival against most, if not all, expectations is a testament to Castro's fierce determination to retain power, a quality that had fatally eroded in the Soviet Union after its defeat in Afghanistan and had disappeared even earlier in communist Central Europe, where regime survival depended primarily on the threat of Soviet intervention against an internal uprising. Unlike the rulers in these countries, Castro had lost none of his will to survive, in keeping with his rallying cry of "Socialism or death!" Under the rubric of a "special period in a time of peace," his regime adopted a two-part strategy. The first part consisted of austerity measures such as drastic cuts in food rations and basic services, along with modest economic reforms to attract foreign capital. The second involved reinforcing the regime's instruments of repression and control. Toward that end, the constitution was modified to declare a state of emergency and recognize the "people's" right to take up arms to defend the Revolution.

 

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