Academic journal article The International Journal of Cuban Studies

Cuban Civil Society during and beyond the Special Period

Academic journal article The International Journal of Cuban Studies

Cuban Civil Society during and beyond the Special Period

Article excerpt


This article analyses the 'rebirth of civil society' in Cuba as a consequence of the 'Special Period' and the changes that have occurred in the last 25 years. It examines the evolution of civil society and the constitution of the discursive field in which it has been defined, to explain how and to what limit the different discourses legitimise and enable the understanding of the plurality of actors as well as their potential for action and influence in the political processes. The analysis is divided into two stages: the founding phase (the 1990s) that begins with the arrival of the Special Period; and the consolidation stage, which starts with the new century, in particular since 2007 with the 'updating model' that has begun to push deeper changes. This periodisation, in stages that are associated with different state strategies, seeks a comparison to assess the impacts of each of the challenges and proposals facing civil society.

Keywords: Cuba, civil society, actors, discourses, Special Period, reforms


The 'rebirth of Cuban civil society' is irrevocably tied to the economic crisis of the 1990s. The 'Special Period in Times of Peace' marked the beginning of a series of changes in the economic model to guarantee the survival of socialism in extremely difficult conditions. With these economic transformations, the 'mobilised society' (of the 'mass organisations', the CDR, the FMC, etc.) showed the first signs of pluralisation and heterogeneity; associations emerged based on non-state solidarity networks; some social areas started to slip away from state control and a discursive field about civil society began to surface. Faced with a (discrete) withdrawal of the state and the fracture of the all-encompassing symbolic universe, although the border between the social (civil) and the state remained fuzzy, 'civil society' began to appear as a set of social actors, more diverse and pluralistic than that described by the former vision of the 'revolutionary people'.

During the last 25 years, the reforms have undergone various rhythms, dynamics and fluctuations associated with the diverse political and economic circumstances (as much in the associative sphere of civil society as in its discursive field). The aim of this work is to analyse the evolution of both spheres of Cuban civil society, from its '(re-)appearance' to the present day, and explain how and to what extent the different discourses allow us to grasp, assimilate and legitimise the plurality of actors in the current scenario, in order to evaluate their potential to act and influence political processes.

The analysis is divided into two broad stages: the foundational phase (the 1990s) which begins with the onset of the crisis and the economic reform of 1992-95, and the consolidation phase, which started with the new century (particularly from the last five years), the transfer of power to Raúl Castro and the 'updating of the model' which has begun to push deeper changes. This division - in phases according to the strategies of the different states - seeks to compare both points in time in order to evaluate the specific impacts of each of the circumstances and proposals on civil society.

Special Period: New Actors

Although the crisis of the 1990s has been largely analysed from an economic angle (detachment, loss of markets and financing, sharp decline in GDP, and food, financial and energy restrictions), the collapse of the Soviet Union and the disappearance of the COMECOM (Council of Mutual Economic Assistance) of 'real socialism' also involved a paradigmatic crisis that questioned the fundamentals of the legitimation of Cuba's political system. Similarly, the adjustments to the economic reform, which brought about the reversal in the fall of the GDP and the recovery of some growth indicators, had, as an 'unexpected consequence', a diversification process of social actors and the rebirth of civil society: the opening of the Cuban economy to the outside world (mixed and foreign capital investments) and self-employment brought new economic subjects, while the legalisation of foreign currency possession ushered in remittances and double currency, introduced changes in consumption levels and increased inequality. …

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