Conceiving Cuba: Reproduction, Women, and the State in Post-Soviet Cuba

Conceiving Cuba: Reproduction, Women, and the State in Post-Soviet Cuba

Conceiving Cuba: Reproduction, Women, and the State in Post-Soviet Cuba

Conceiving Cuba: Reproduction, Women, and the State in Post-Soviet Cuba


After Cuba's 1959 revolution, the Castro government sought to instill a new social order. Hoping to achieve a new and egalitarian society, the state invested in policies designed to promote the well-being of women and children. Yet once the Soviet Union fell and Cuba's economic troubles worsened, these programs began to collapse, with serious results for Cuban families.

Conceiving Cuba offers an intimate look at how, with the island's political and economic future in question, reproduction has become the subject of heated public debates and agonizing private decisions. Drawing from several years of first-hand observations and interviews, anthropologist Elise Andaya takes us inside Cuba's households and medical systems. Along the way, she introduces us to the women who wrestle with the difficult question of whether they can afford a child, as well as the doctors who, with only meager resources at their disposal, struggle to balance the needs of their patients with the mandates of the state.

Andaya's groundbreaking research considers not only how socialist policies have profoundly affected the ways Cuban families imagine the future, but also how the current crisis in reproduction has deeply influenced ordinary Cubans' views on socialism and the future of the revolution. Casting a sympathetic eye upon a troubled state, Conceiving Cuba gives new life to the notion that the personal is always political.


By the time the family doctor clinic opened its doors to the waiting line of patients at eight thirty in the morning, the streets were already bustling in this densely populated Central Havana neighborhood. Flower sellers set up their brightly colored stands on the broken pavements. Convivial groups of people on their way to work gathered under the peeling, wrought- iron balconies of nineteenth- century homes while they drank small shots of strong, sweet coffee sold from the street- level windows. Adding a constant level of noise to this scene, battered American Fords and Chevrolets— that pre- date the 1959 revolution and now serve as collective taxis— clattered and banged their way down the street, stopping frequently to pick up and discharge passengers, while the boxy, Russian- made Ladas imported during Cuba’s Soviet- subsidized 1970s and 1980s wove briskly between them.

The health clinic where I observed weekly neonatal and prenatal health consultations was unremarkable. Except for the fact that the wall sported a nowfaded revolutionary slogan— “Lies may go a long way, but in the end the truth prevails. Viva Fidel!”— the building was virtually indistinguishable from the concrete houses and state- run businesses surrounding it. Its windowless and graying cinder- brick walls were interrupted only by a narrow band below the roof, where latticed bricks permitted the circulation of both air and extremely high levels of street noise. Today was Wednesday, a day supposedly reserved for prenatal health consultations, although when I entered the waiting room, I noted that as usual the wooden benches were filled with elderly patients hoping to receive immediate medical attention. Smiling at the people I recognized from the neighborhood, I passed into the sparsely furnished office.

At the desk sat Dr. Janet Torres, a plump, dark- skinned woman whose gentle manner and quick smile made her a favorite among patients. Despite . . .

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