Institutional Development and Social Policy in Cuba: "The Special Period"

By Valdes, Julio Carranza; Paz, Juan Valdes | Journal of International Affairs, Fall 2004 | Go to article overview

Institutional Development and Social Policy in Cuba: "The Special Period"


Valdes, Julio Carranza, Paz, Juan Valdes, Journal of International Affairs


More than four decades of revolution have resulted in Cuba's current institutional order, along with a series of events that marked the stages of its historical course: the establishment of a new political power that emerged from the rebellion against the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, the creation of a revolutionary government in 1959, the creation of a socialist system beginning in 1961, the re-institutionalization of the country in 1975 and the reforms of the 1990s. In each of the stages, the existing institutions were reformed or replaced, making it possible for the history of the revolution to be characterized in terms of its own institutional history.

The revolutionary and socialist character of the Cuban experience and historical objectives of national liberation, economic development, social justice and popular participation have determined its institutional order. In the same way, they have defined the primary functions of this ordering, some of which include:

* Guaranteeing the defense of the revolutionary order and its reproduction

* Promoting the social and economic development of the country

* Representing the interests of the majorities

* Promoting the participation of the population in the political, economic, civil and cultural spheres

This institutional order has been conceived and designed so that the attainment of its objectives and its main functions are achieved by the institutional system rather than its individual institutions. As a result, the policies that emanate from these institutions stem from the general strategies that are implemented at the level of the institutional system. It is from this perspective that we will examine the relationship between the changes that have taken place in the institutional order and Cuban social policy in the 1990s and 2000s.

Social policy has been and remains, since the experience of the Cuban revolution, a systemic strategy, and, thus, a political priority in all Cuban institutions. This social policy has been the primary mechanism of income redistribution, the basic quality-of-life factor of the population, the most important condition of social equalization and the fundamental source of population consensus.

The aim of this article is to analyze Cuban institutional development in its relation with the social policy of the revolution, particularly during the so-called "special period" between 1990 and 2000.

INSTITUTIONAL DEVELOPMENT AND SOCIAL POLICY

If we understand institutional development to be the adaptation of social institutions to the objectives and functions demanded by dominant social forces, we will notice that in its first three decades the Cuban experience exhibits a sustained institutional development of a socialist orientation. This process would be strongly conditioned by the United States' aggressions, economic embargo and military threat, by the influence of other socialist experiments and by the weight of state institutions in the whole of the system.

On the other hand, social policy would develop from its eminently public character, de-commercialization, the universalizing of its beneficiaries and budgetary financing. Early on, social policy was institutionalized via the creation of national systems of public service such as education, public healthcare, culture, sports, social security and assistance.

Economic institutions were tailored to the realization of this social policy, which was also recognized and treated hierarchically in the constitution of the republic, as well as in the projection of political institutions, such as the Cuban Communist Party (PCC).

This correlation between institutional development and social policy is one of the characteristics of the social order established by the revolution. Nevertheless, in the late 1980s, the institutional order exhibited some flaws, including:

* Pyramid design of subordinate entities

* Highly centralized decision-making

* Institutional and functional dispersion

* Total state control of social services

* Bureaucratization

The crisis unleashed on Cuban society at the beginning of the 1990s and the strategies implemented to overcome it favored the partial or complete improvement of some of these deficiencies. …

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