Will the Cuban Revolution Survive a New Special Period Crisis?

By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez

Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES – The Cuban system is entering a renewed Special Period crisis, at a dizzying rate. While the former never really ended, the current worsening of this calamity, after a more relaxed time with fewer shortages which lasted a good while, makes us see it in a different light. Thus, we have to ask ourselves, will the radical socialist system of government survive these trying times in today’s context?

The Special Period began in the early 1990s when the Socialist Bloc collapsed, especially the Soviet Union. Over the preceding decades the country had become more dependent on the USSR than it had ever been on the US before 1959; and it depended a lot more on single-crop farming and single exports. That’s to say that the critique of capitalism having deformed the Cuban economy so that it served the US, remained the same and wasn’t resolved in the slightest, now serving the new partner of the hour instead.

However, in spite of the severe crisis in the ‘90s, of the Special Period’s shortages and social damage, the government had powerful social control mechanisms which prevented its downfall. Although there were some important moments of tension and irreversible political/social processes began, such as an intense migration movement. A greater connection with the world via tourism and the articulation of an organized opposition also took place.

Today, nearly three decades later, our people have changed a great deal. They aren’t the same, even though it seems like they are subjugated to rigid and strict social control mechanisms (which aren’t unbeatable mind you). The Cuban population is still afraid to openly stand up to the government and people allow themselves to be led in pro-government parades because the State has two thirds of the national workforce on its payroll, under control and coerced, but it’s not like before. Before, people were mostly sincere when they shouted out pro-government slogans; now, they are mostly hypocritical.

There is more disappointment every day and a growing awareness about Cuba and the world around it. A larger percentage of families no longer depend on their ties to the government and they support themselves with remittances mainly, or their own small businesses. And, in spite of having to sign up for a license and pay taxes, they are at a political crossroads or something that could truly be successful, and they will stand up against the government for many reasons. Especially because fewer people really believe in the government anymore.

After the economic failure of Raul Castro’s half-baked plans, with his Guidelines, opening the economy and promising a boom by 2030, we are now experiencing a new Special Period. Greater waves of migration, food shortages, more transport problems due to a lack of fuel, blackouts at productive and services companies, increased repression. All of this worsens the Cuban crisis, which is on the brink of becoming a humanitarian crisis, recognized worldwide.

In the ‘90s, we were prisoners on the island, without the freedom to travel. In order to emigrate, you needed to take to sea on a raft. We had less information about the world and the government’s hegemonic manipulation of the press was a lot more effective and exclusive. There were more sincere Communists; democratic socialists believed they could convince the Communist Party of the viability of a democratic route forward, and the opposition had a smaller audience and was less well-known, on the whole.

Leaders were less corrupt and not so hypocritical. Government officials still had morals, which have deteriorated over time. The Cuban people didn’t have a voice, and they didn’t dare speak. State Security repressed the population with a lot more violence, but it could be hidden from the public and they had even trained them to applaud these actions.

Internet access and social media didn’t exist, like it does nowadays, and people can report problems or give their opinion. Cubans are traveling, getting to know the world or seeing how emigres’ lives improve, even when they go to impoverished countries like Haiti. All of the above constitutes a great difference.

Many things have changed. Cubans can’t be deceived all the time anymore, nor can the mediocrity, inefficiency and the impracticality of a failed social project be justified by the blockade or interfering “enemy”.

Any expectation that Cuba would improve has disappeared and the Cuban people have resisted without daring to protest openly because they are afraid of the government, its fierce repression and the lack of a civic spirit that has been instilled in generations for decades. However, it’s very hard for the Cuban people to go back to the extreme shortages that hurt us so badly in the ‘90s and not demand change.

It’s a very different landscape and this might be the last straw. It’s not crazy to think that our people might gain civic awareness. The country is demanding inevitable changes that the Cuban Communist Party refuses to do because it is afraid of losing its privileges. However, I believe that Diaz-Canel will need to offer a lot more than a hollow and arbitrary slogan, which only benefits its conservative mentors.

Unless changes are made, which is possible, but holding on to the initial spirit at least. However, there are two kinds of changes: the much-needed ones to move forward and fix the country; or make cosmetic changes, more of the same, which allows the government to win time hoping for a better future situation in conjunction with other dictatorships. Unfortunately, the latter is the course most likely to be chosen.

However, while superficial changes are conceived to appease international pressure instead of reclaiming rights, new precedents and scenarios are created, and as the Cuban population is different to the one in the ‘90s, it will promote more substantial changes. Because one change leads to another; and one right reclaimed leads to another. It’s a domino effect which is inevitable and will lead us towards democracy, at least in our Western culture. I’m sure of that.

On the other hand, opening up these democratizing rifts, plus the international outcry that Human Rights violations have won in Cuba and its lack of freedoms, are pressuring and will continue to pressure the new head of government, Diaz-Canel, meaning he will promote more real change.

He always says, “I am continuity”, but it’s a message that is directed to the military elite, who still hold power in the Communist Party which he was handpicked for. When he stands alone as the head of government and the Party [Currently the Party is led by Raul Castro], he won’t be able to enthrone himself like his predecessors, no matter how much he wants to. The national and foreign landscape will make it impossible.

Osmel Ramirez

I'm from Mayari, a little village in Holguín. I was born on the same day that the Vietnam War ended on April 30, 1975. A good omen, since I identify myself as a pacifist. I am a biologist but I am passionate about politics, history and political philosophy. Writing about these topics, I got to journalism, precisely here on Havana Times. I consider myself a democratic socialist and my main motivation is to try to be useful to the positive change that Cuba needs.

26 thoughts on “Will the Cuban Revolution Survive a New Special Period Crisis?

  • I didn’t even mention capitalism which as I have commented repeatedly, has many faults, but has the advantage of being preferable to the alternative. The countries which have capitalism offer their citizens freedom of expression, freedom to criticize (as you prove) freedom of the media and opportunity to express individuality rather than forming part of the Marxist mass. To date, I have not used one slogan supporting capitalism, but have made observation about the constant use of slogans by the Communist Party of Cuba, for example “Los Ideas” springing from the fresh minds of “Hero’s of the Revolution” in their late eighties and expensive massive posters paid for by the Propaganda Department of the PCC adorning ice cream parlours of the deceased “El Comandante” whose narcissism was equaled by few.
    As one who like you, has the benefits of having spent much of my life in capitalist societies, I have always more than paid my way in Cuba, recognizing that it would be both anti-social and hypocritical to depend upon a Cuban family to financially support me.
    Yes Nick, it is the same old story, that of supporting freedom on the one hand, and detesting dictatorship on the other. Yes, that is a simple question of right and wrong! No he-hawing! No “if’s” “maybe’s” and “but’s”. It is not a claim that any system is perfect or without faults, merely one of recognizing reality.

  • You make the case for yet more capitalism over and over again.
    However, when pressed on any kind of detail, you simply flounder.
    When questioned on the many failures of your beloved capitalism, you show an inability to address the points raised and resort back to your default position which you defend with lame insults and pro capitalist sloganeering.
    Same old story.

  • Oh you are totally incorrect Nick, I do have a “serious proposal for a solution” for Cuba’s problems. Abandon communist dictatorship, then following a period of open free access to information with a free media and opportunity for alternative political parties to both form and inform and then to hold multi-party elections and allow the people of Cuba to take decisions. It’s called democracy – a privilege which has been denied them.

    Sorry about the error in indicating that the cost for visiting Cuba would increase, I had previously made what was obviously a false assumption in assuming that you paid your own way rather than depending upon the generosity of a Cuban family. It will however realize Nick that it will cost them more to make provision for you.

    I am interested in your view that organizations like CARE International and UNICEF should not be necessary. How would you achieve that?

    Who is producing all that food to which you refer? As you correctly observe, it isn’t Cuba or Russia.

  • Your remarks regarding my visits to Cuba becoming potentially more expensive are crass and unnecessary. I have family in Cuba who always welcome me with open arms so the only real cost variables for me are the flights.
    Greater prosperity for my loved ones in Cuba and indeed for all Cubans would be a win-win as far as I’m concerned.
    You seem to be suggesting that food rationing is bad but food banks are fine.
    There is no logic to this.
    There are easily enough resources in the world to support the population.
    In Cuba, communist collectivist ideology seems to have caused fertile land to go uncultivated. This leads to needless shortages of food. As I have stated on many occasions, I find this lack of food self sufficiency to be deplorable and one of the worst failures of the Cuban Government.
    Many Cubans rely on the ration system which seems to me a worthy but cack-handed way of ensuring some equality of distribution regarding basic necessities.
    In Capitalist countries there is an abundance of food. So much so that a sizeable percentage simply ends up in the trash can. However, Capitalist ideology means that there is zero equality of distribution and there are therefore those who rely on charity handouts. The global food industry is about making financial profit and not in the slightest bit concerned with providing everyone with adequate nourishment.
    Neither system is working effectively. Each system could learn from the other.
    In Russia there were serious problems of malnutrition prior to the Revolution. For all it’s faults, the Soviet era achieved a successful solution to this problem. Nowadays, in the post Soviet era, malnutrition is creeping back in certain poverty stricken parts of Russia.
    I don’t think you see these paradoxes Mr MacD. Much less have any serious proposals for a solution.
    As I said, the fact that you are involved in the operation of a food bank is commendable. If that alieviates the issue for your community, GREAT.
    But my point is deeper than that. My point is that food banks and charity handouts should not be necessary. Their existence is a symptom of the failure of Capitalism.
    The fact remains that there is more than enough food produced on this planet to adequately nourish each and every human being. This is a positive.
    The negative is the tragically inadequate distribution.

  • On the contrary, food banks should be necessary for any country. You misunderstood capitalism. Under capitalism there are and must be winners and losers. A compassionate society should allow that those who do not succeed, do not suffer greatly. Also, there should always be the opportunity to improve your situation even after “losing”. You see Nick, a communist wants equal outcomes. A society where no one loses. Unfortunately, history has shown that communism only manifests itself in a society where no one wins.

  • Agreed. For emotional and political reasons, many older Cubans, and quite a few younger ones, are simply not going to radically change the status quo. It is percieved as spitting on Fidel’s grave.

  • Although a fairly lengthy response Nick, you fail to address the reality on my comment. So to clarify!, answer the following:

    1) Is it factual that in every society there are people who struggle to find the resources to eat?
    2) Is it correct that in Cuba the food shortages necessitate food rationing?
    3) Is it correct that Cuba does not have the resources to make food available for food banks or citizens with the resources to fund such food banks?
    4) Is it correct that raising the minimum wage in Cuba to the equivalent of $16 per month is supposed to be good news for its citizens?

    You have only your own conception of my life and my experiences with no basis for having the temerity to suggest that I don’t have any idea about the anguish of people having of necessity to resort to use of food banks to feed their children.
    Your determination is to endeavor to prove that only those who hold political left wing views, care ought for humanity. But I understand your concern about the possibility of Cuba lurching to the right and discarding Marxism – that I know, you would deplore and the costs of your visits to Cuba would increase consequent to Cubans having higher incomes – they might even be able to afford to fund food banks and to produce food on those hundreds of thousands of acres reverting to bush under the Castro regime.

  • I’m afraid that your comment falls short as a defence of your beloved Capitalism.
    When someone pours forth to the extent that you do about how Capitalism is so superior to the alternatives, you need to do a little bit better in order to convince the non believers.
    If Capitalism were so superior, there wouldn’t be a need for food banks.
    You’ve never needed to go to a food bank in order to feed yourself or your family Mr MacD.
    You have no idea as to what it is like to have to do that.
    Over there in the UK there are people who go to work full time but still need to stop off at the food bank to make ends meet such are the stark inequalites of the day to day reality……..
    You will never, ever understand this Mr MacD.
    You assume that Capitalism would be the silver bullet answer to all Cuba’s problems and you have much moneyed right wing propaganda backing up your point of view.
    But the truth of the matter regarding what would actually happen if Cuba suddenly lurched to the right, would probably be very far removed from your ideologically based machinations.

  • My endeavors resulted in a food bank being established in 1984.
    In every society there are people who struggle to find the resources to eat. There is however a notable difference between societies in the percentage of people so affected. In Cuba, virtually the whole community is affected, necessitating food rationing and strict price controls. The establishment of food banks necessitates the availability of both food to stock them and financial donations. Neither would be achievable in Cuba. But the good news from Diaz-Canel is increasing minimum wages to the equivalent of $16 US per month.

  • In the UK they keep shouting about being the 5th biggest economy in the world or something like that. People at the bottom of the Capitalist Ladder are reliant on Food banks.
    Food banks have only been a feature since the Big Capitalist Crash of 2008.
    Surely in the 5th biggest economy in the world food banks should not be necessary.
    I wouldn’t suggest that Socialism is a silver bullet for all the ills of the world, but surely food banks are a symptom of a degrading and unacceptable level of inequality ?
    If you have helped set up a food bank where there is a necessity for one Mr MacD, then I commend this unreservedly.
    But I would suggest that it’s necessity proves the failure of the type of Full Throttle Capitalism that is currently in vogue.

  • I will explain to my wife Nick that a Brit regards the UK as having “the most degrading levels of inequality” – in Europe? You must understand that as a Cuban travelling in another country for the first time, she could only make comparison with conditions in Cuba, which as you know, doesn’t have food banks as there is insufficient supply for the rations although having hundreds of thousands of acres of good agricultural land reverting to bush.
    Incidentally, you may be surprised to know that I actually raised the money necessary to start a food bank and found premises for it in a community which claimed to be prosperous. I have also taken my wife to a Salvation Army charity store. For several years I was Director at Large of a multi-cultural society in a community approaching one million and with immigrant representation from 71 countries. One doesn’t require to be socialist to have concern Nick for ones fellow citizens.

  • I agree with many of your points Mr MacD and wish all the best to your good lady wife.
    It may be worth pointing out to her good self that as the European country with the highest and most degrading levels of inequality (and there is some stern competition) many of those in the UK would shout: ‘We need less Capitalism’.
    From your kind revelations about you and your Wife’s experiences in the UK (with inexplicably un-stolen bycicles and such like) I dread to think what opinion she would have had if you had taken her to some of the less ‘pastoral’ parts.
    Perhaps you may wish to take her to a food bank.
    Springing up everywhere they are. A sure sign of sadly failing capitalism??

  • I think Nick that charisma necessitates a degree of humour and Raul jist ain’t got none! That applies also to Donald J. Trump(f) – when did he last bring a smile to your face – or anyone else’s? The received cheers and jeers at his conventions are consequences of his sarcasm and narcissistic self promotion – as he says, like the world has never seen before! The difference between Raul and Donald is that Raul has succeeded in being a dictator, Donald only has thwarted ambition.
    Following my wife’s first visit to the UK, her reaction upon returning to Cuba and describing her visit to friends, was “Cuba needs capitalism.” I was quite surprised. Diaz-Canel has clarified that his purpose is more of the same and that no capitalism will be permitted – unlike China and Vietnam.
    Cuba is no longer carried on the back of the romanticism of the revolution, the communist politicos now face a hard grind and Diaz-Canel’s recorded concern about the availability of information on the Internet and facebook connections are justified. Cubans are generating huge numbers of “friends” through the system – and the more the merrier!

  • I’m sure you have a good point. To what extent President Diaz-Canel was merely saying what the assembled wanted to hear (as Raul is one of their heroes), again we can only guess at.

    And Raul Castro would probably be the first to admit that he himself ain’t exactly Mr Charisma Personified.

    The influence of the Revolutionary Generation is on the wane.
    Economic reforms (with continued adherence to ‘socialist’ values) are surely the pragmatic and logical way forward.

    There can be no real argument that the current Government is somewhat more pragmatic and logical than that of the Fidel Castro era.

  • To substantiate the above, the constitution of Cuba says:
    “The Marxist/Leninist Communist Party of Cuba is the leading force of society and the State.”
    At his inauguration Diaz-Canel said:
    “I affirm to this assembly that comrade Raul will head the decisions for the present and the future of the nation.”
    “Raul remains at the front of the political vanguard.”

  • It is not a “guessing game” Nick. Raul Castro Ruz as First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba takes precedence over Diaz-Canel as Prime Minister and President of the Council of Ministers. I agree with you that Diaz-Canel does not carry the charisma and nostalgia of the Castros. That is demonstrated for example by a nearby President of the CDR, who has a whitewashed wall bearing the words “Gracias Fidel y Raul” recently adding “y gracias Diaz-Canel” significantly no use of his first name Miguel.

  • Mr MacD, I’m not going to enter into any guessing game as to where the exact balance of power is split between Mr Castro and Mr Diaz-Canel.
    Whatever the outcome of such a guessing game, my point still remains that the generation who fought in the Revolutionary War are sliding off this mortal coil.
    Furthermore, my point still stands that there is not the option of getting by on a mixture of charisma and nostalgia as occurred in the 1990s.

  • The current dictator in Cuba is Raul Castro. Diaz-Canel is merely President of the Council of Ministers whereas Raul is First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba which takes precedence over the State of Cuba. Diaz-Canel himself clarified who was still in control when inaugurated stating that “Comrade Raul” would continue to take the decisions. It is possible that in the future Diaz-Canel may (I emphasize may) take the place formerly occupied by Fidel Castro, but he certainly hasn’t so far and he may well face competition when Raul has gone.
    In support of your last sentence Nick, I too hope that the necessary changes – to democracy and restoration of human rights in Cuba – take place without bloodshed. I have a vivid memory of a well-educated (like Fidel, a graduate of the University of Havana) saying to me well over ten years ago, that there had been enough blood-letting in Cuba by the Castros. Venezuela is a needless tragedy.

  • I just hope that if the government has to make profound changes and enter into more joint ventures that they steer well clear of the US as partners. There are plenty of opportunities with Europe and further east or looking west with Canada. It would certainly be one way that they could really stick it where it hurts. I doubt very much whether The Miami Cubans would seek to help those/invest with who were left behind (unless they were family). A huge concern is if they were to come flooding back, they would snap up all economic and political opportunities with their own benefit first and foremost in mind. There is already a widening
    hierarchy of the haves and the have nots (money, internet access – and ergo food and consumables if they use ‘Donde Hay’, technological know how) the US would never be motivated to really support Cubans who remained. Just look at Trump’s current view of how to ‘help’ the people of Cuba. It is such BS.

  • I first arrived in Cuba in the mid 90s at the time of the so called ‘Special Period’.
    I was in Miami a few years previously at the time of the collapse of the Eastern Bloc and witnessed a whole bunch of people out on the streets proclaiming the downfall of Fidel Castro and the Right Wing in the USA urged a tightening of the noose.
    In the 90s in Cuba I met many people who were proud of the part they played in the Revolution or having defended Cuba against the various underhand and often incompetent attempts at subversion emanating from the USA and the hard core in the aforementioned Miami. This generation of pro Revolution Cubans were led through the darkest of times by the charismatic Fidel.
    However, nature has taken its toll on this generation. The charismatic Fidel is gone and in his place is Diaz-Canel who seemingly has the charisma of a plank of wood.
    The ‘socialist’ nature of Cuba has been endorsed by a majority in the recent vote but by a decreased percentage.
    One thing that the author does not refer to is the burgeoning influence evangelical Christians. Back in the mid 90s this section of Cuban society was a mere twinkle in the eye of U.S. Fundamentalist Christians. Their influence is apparent in the way they have seemingly managed to remove from the constitution the idea of equality being extended to the LGBT+ Community. One can only presume that their influence will continue to grow (almost certainly for the worse).
    The current government can surely only take one path and that would be the kind of economic pragmatism similar to either that of Vietnam or China.
    These days they do not have the option of getting by on charisma and nostalgia as they did in the 90s.
    Whatever changes do occur, I hope they are for the better and are not accompanied by bloodshed as is happening in Venezuela.

  • Other countries and other government are not different, greediness is an human feature. Cubans are poor by nature because like most caribbean island there is no ressources to live at big american neighbor. So for instance Cuba has set a social model that could be an example for many countries. It is not perfect and can be improved a lot for sure, but this will take time. And if everybody help it would be easier.

  • No real, serious change can be expected until, at the very least, San Raul is gone.

  • Let’s not forget that it was San Fidel who ordered stopped the circulation of newspapers from the USSR, once the word “glasnost” entered the Russian vocabulary. It was due to that fact and other repressive actions by him and his buddies from the Sierra Maestra that prevented Cuba from participating in the changes which occurred in eastern Europe during 1989.

  • Truthfully the whole situation is too heavy and difficult to comprehend for the laymen. I do wish you well .

  • Optimism is a good thing but is it realistic?
    The Constitution shoved down your throats name the Communist Party the “supreme political force of state and society”.
    A one party undemocratic state with political prisoners.

    The communists don’t want change and they make the rules.

  • This article gives a good summary of the past and current situation in Cuba.

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