Cuba Political Reviews

Fidel Castro’s death shook the country, but does not appear to significantly alter the ongoing reform process. Parallel to the different views on the direction and “rhythm” that this reform process should take, a gradual opening has been seen to public debate and criticism.

Fidel Castro was still a symbolically and morally important person in Cuba, even after he withdrew from politics and transferred power to his brother Raul Castro in 2008. His death generated a violent mobilization. The reactions of the vast majority of Cuban people once again confirm that the admiration for the historical leader far exceeds the opinions many have about the current situation.

A prosperous and sustainable socialism

Fidel Castro’s leadership was characterized by political control over the economy. By comparison, Raul Castro places more emphasis on the market economy. “For a prosperous and sustainable socialism” was the slogan he launched during the presentation of the new economic reforms. The reforms are the result of the “Guidelines for Cuba’s Social and Economic Policy” adopted at the Communist Party’s VI Congress in 2011 following a comprehensive round of hearings. It is a collection of instructions to nationalize parts of the economy without losing state control over the key sectors, increasing national productivity and improving corporate governance.

The guidelines and the transfer of power between Fidel and Raul Castro in 2008 mark the transition to the fifth and current stage of the Cuban revolution.

The period from the takeover of power in 1959 to 1970 is regarded as the first stage. It was characterized by strong social mobilization, a gradual radicalization in the direction of socialism, defense against counter-revolutionary forces and an experiment with various economic models. Until the mid-1980s, closer ties were established with the Soviet Union. This entailed considerable economic growth and favorable agreements, but also an extension of state power.

The third phase started in 1986 with the aim of reducing the state bureaucracy and clearing up past mistakes. However, the fall of the Soviet Union represented an economic earthquake for Cuba. Between 1989 and 1994, GNI fell by 34% and agricultural production fell by 54%. In the 90s, they entered the fourth stage, known as “the special period”. Several measures to remedy the economic crisis were implemented, including limited market reforms and a gradual opening for non-state ownership of land and business. When the worst of the crisis was overcome, several of these reforms were reversed.

The “normalization” between the US and Cuba

At the 2014 rally, Raul Castro and then-US President Barack Obama announced a softening of relations between the two countries. For Cuba, it was a symbolic triumph, as the United States had to acknowledge that the economic blockade did not lead to political change, and rather than isolate Cuba, the United States was increasingly isolated from Latin America

If the relaxation is continued, this will mean changes in trade, investment, tourism and, not least, a strong impact on culture. To date, however, it has had few practical consequences, with the exception of the increase in academic exchange and visits by US politicians and business leaders to prepare for future investments.

The United States is clear that their intention is to change tactics, not the goal. They are still working to change the political system in Cuba, and the foundation wall of the blockade has not changed. From the revitalization of relations until mid-2016, the United States fined eight businesses for $ 2,837 million for trading with Cuba and other states on the US blacklist [1].

The changes mainly consist in promoting attitudes and value changes among some actors, such as entrepreneurs, the middle class and youth, in order for these to work for social change based on a more individualistic and competitive society. In a speech to exile Cubans in Miami in June 2017, Trump expressed the desire for a tougher line towards Cuba and that Obama’s embellishment towards the country should be lifted. In reality, Trump is reintroducing only parts of the trade restrictions that Obama removed. It will be more difficult for Americans to visit Cuba as a tourist. In addition, most of the restrictions on trade with companies associated with the Cuban military are reintroduced, which includes many state hotels and restaurants in Cuba.

Political system without fundamental changes

The Communist Party remains the leading political force in Cuba, in line with the country’s constitution. Periodic consultations are conducted with the population. In 2016, the party congress gathered around 670,000 members and activists to discuss the new social and economic model, and the social and economic development plan by 2030. The results of this consultation have not yet been published.

Since the launch of the Guidelines in 2011, the Government and the Communist Party have expressed a need for increased decentralization. Nevertheless, the most important political decisions are centralized. An important change will take place in February 2018, when Raul Castro and the other representatives of the generation that initiated the 1959 revolution are retiring. At present, Vice President Miguel Díaz Canel is the most likely successor to the presidency.

To stimulate leadership renewal, the VII party congress adopted new guidelines for elections. Among other things, they set a limit of ten years for how long a person can hold leadership positions in the state, and forbade people over 60 to take leadership positions in the Communist Party.

Cuba has a unique electoral system with direct elections in many and small constituencies, where individuals, regardless of party affiliation, are chosen in a transparent way. The leadership is elected by indirect elections and is dominated by the Communist Party representatives.

Opposition groups are formally prohibited and these are called dissidents. However, they have little political significance. Several of the opposition leaders have been arrested by the police for a few days, often in connection with unauthorized activities. Many of the opposition leaders have traveled more and more around the world in recent years to express their political views and to gather support for their political campaigns against the government. However, these have had limited influence.

Strong social organization – little renewal

Cubans have a very high level of organization. This is a very useful experience in many ways. This is reflected, for example, through the state system for risk management and preparedness for natural disasters, where Cuba is a world leader. It is also an important complement to the state institutions when it comes to detecting and caring for the sick and injured or others in need of assistance.

There have been no major changes in the organizational structure of society. The degree of organization remains high, but the most important social organizations for women, youth, small farmers, workers, students and the like have not renewed themselves over time. They maintain a vertical structure and have lost some of their ability to mobilize, especially among young people. Nor have new representative social organizations emerged.

The national organization CTC has said that they have two roles: to present and accept the government’s decisions with the workers, and to represent the workers’ interests to the authorities. It seems that the latter has been increasingly prioritized, especially with local union representatives. Even with these limitations, Cuban society has become increasingly open and inclusive, in parallel with its growing diversity. Among other things, religious and sexual minorities have succeeded in reducing the discrimination they were exposed to.

More voices, more diversity

The biggest newspapers, TV and radio channels have not changed much according to Countryaah. They are still more government than public, and do not function as meaning-making tools. The leadership of the Communist Party has long called for a new and more critical journalism, but little has happened. Nevertheless, there is an opening for several critical statements by the people in these media.

Faced with the overwhelming monotony of the official media and the limited internet access, a private system called the “package” (el paquete) has evolved. The 1TB information pack circulates via USB and external hard drives, it is updated weekly, contains information of varying quality, and costs about $ 0.8. The state does not control the package, but does not prohibit it either. Other forms of opinion formation, such as cinema and theater, have a long history in Cuba, and are often more diverse and present many different and critical points of view.

Several new and varied voices commenting on the present and future of the country have made themselves known, mainly via the web, on blogs and social media. Until 2015, open access to the internet existed only at state institutions, but these were subject to strong scrutiny. There were few public places with internet access, and little internet access in the homes of people. Although Cuba is still one of the countries with the lowest network access in the region, since 2015, 250 zones with free access have been opened, mainly in public parks and places, and more and more are being opened.

During the first years of these zones, it has been common to see whole families gathered in front of a screen, where they communicate with family members living abroad. Since 2016, Internet access in private homes has also been expanded. There are no reliable figures on the use of the internet and social media in the country, but it is obvious that it is growing. There has also been an increase in open forums for discussion on relevant topics for the country’s political situation and development. Journals, thinkers, universities and debate groups enrich the different views of national reality.

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