The new world order has put Cuba’s socialist model of development to a daunting test. Cuban responses include economic reforms that are restructuring ownership, production, and exchange, though official policy discourse steadfastly defends socialist democracy and the revolution’s vision of social justice. 1 The 1997 CEPAL study of the Cuban economy recognizes social gains: “It is beyond question that social policy constitutes the terrain where Cuba has most distinguished itself historically, in terms of guaranteeing distributive equity and the well-being of the population, as well as the formation of human capital” (CEPAL 1997:360). 2 The transformative policies of the Cuban revolution eliminated poverty, malnutrition, high mortality rates, undereducation, child labor, and a host of other symptoms of the prerevolutionary state’s neglect of children’s basic needs and rights. In assuming new responsibilities for social welfare and Cuba’s “human capital,” the state in many ways promoted and protected the nuclear family. It also relied upon extended family arrangements and substituted itself in limited cases. In 1997, there were 32 state homes for children without amparo filial (family protection) in Cuba. A closer look at the state’s role in the care and schooling of these children offers insight into the realities of childhood, family life, and protective policies in a still-socialist Cuba.
The altered circumstances of children in postrevolutionary Cuba include the legal foundations that confer responsibilities and rights. A Family Code was adopted in 1975, and a Code of Childhood and Youth in 1978. The Civil and Penal Codes, documents and programs of the Cuban Communist Party, and the Cuban Constitution (revised in 1992) also define the expected performance of individuals, families, and institutions with regard to children and youth. The Constitution includes a chapter on the family. It declares that the state protects the family, motherhood, and marriage, that the family is the “basic cell of society,” and that children have equal rights whether born within marriage or not. The Constitution maintains that “parents have the duty to feed their children and assist in the defense of their legitimate interests and the realization of their just aspirations, as well as to contribute actively to their education and integral development as useful citizens who are prepared for life in a socialist society.” According to Chapter V, on education and culture, the mass and social organizations are also expected to pay “special attention to the integral development of children and youth” (Cuba 1992:18-21).