top of page

CUBA: Looking Toward the Future / Vol. 84, No. 2 (Summer 2017)

William M. LeoGrande, Guest Editor
Arien Mack, Journal Editor
Invasive Othercover

In 2018, Raul Castro will step down as president and Cuba's head of state will most likely be someone born after the 1959 revolution. He or she will take office with Castro's economic reform program still a work in progress, a population tired of austerity yet hopeful of what the ascendance of a new generation of leaders may portend, and an international system in flux as it responds to Donald Trump's radically different vision of the US role in the world. While the articles in this special issue cannot foretell the future, they point us to the essential dynamics that will shape that future for Cuba, both at home and abroad.


Raúl Castro’s talk of the need to advance “structural changes” in Cuba’s economy effectively moved Cuba into new territory since 2007, especially with the adoption of the first Lineamientos in 2011. However, the original goal of boosting economic performance has not been met. Actually, in 2016 GDP registered negative growth for the first time since 1993. Significant changes in controversial areas like ownership, foreign capital, private consumption, and Cuba-US ties have proved insufficient to transport the country to a new level in its development path. Less than a year from a transfer of power to a new generation of leaders, the task does not look any easier.

This essay examines Cuba’s emerging private and cooperative sectors and the policy environment in which they operate as of early 2017 and outlines and assesses Cuba’s possible future institutional structures. The alternatives are (i) the status quo; (ii) heavy reliance on large, foreign-owned enterprises; (iii) a structure that emphasizes cooperative enterprise; (iv) a structure that emphasizes indigenous Cuban-owned small and medium enterprises; (v) a mixed structure with a strong presence of all four components. The paper concludes that a hybrid approach, with particular emphasis on an indigenous private entrepreneurial sector, a strong cooperative sector, an effective public sector, and a significant joint venture sector could be optimal.

Over the past 25 years, Cuban diplomacy has established normal relations with nations representing some 80 percent of the global economy. Outside the United States, governments and private firms stand willing to engage in routine commercial exchange with Cuba. For some international firms, there is the attraction of modest but promising new market opportunities for trade and investment. The main roadblocks to a more prosperous future lie in the archaic structures of the Cuban economy, and an inert state bureaucracy that its own Communist Party leaders denounce for its torpidity. No international economic strategy will work unless Cuba transforms into a more efficient and reliable business partner.

Few social transformations have attacked poverty and inequality more thoroughly than the 1959 Cuban Revolution. Since the fall of the Soviet Union and Cuba’s subsequent economic crisis, the island’s achievements of equality, full employment, and universal education and health care have been seriously affected. Today, Cuban society is marked by rising poverty, inequality, and unemployment; dwindling social services; and a booming black market. In a changing economy defined by the declining role of the state and the introduction of market mechanisms, new social stratifications are emerging along clearly visible racial lines. Inequality and racism have again become key overlapping issues. My article examines the growth of social inequalities, especially racial inequalities since the 1990s.


William M. LeoGrande

Cuba’s political elites face unprecedented challenges in the near future. In the face of serious popular discontent over a dysfunctional economy, they have launched a program of deep economic reform with unpredictable social and political consequences. This test of regime legitimacy comes at a time when the "historical" leaders who founded the regime are passing from the scene. This article examines how the dynamics of elite politics and the elite's relationship to the mass public are changing as Raúl Castro and other senior officials hand power to a new generation.

Cuba has traditionally been considered a Catholic country prior to and after the 1959 revolution, although those who practiced average less than 5 percent. Surveys in the 1980s and 1990s indicated that over 80 percent of the population believed in the divine, if not a particular deity. Cuba is one of the most religiously diverse countries in Latin America, with elements of indigenous beliefs and practices, as well as African, European Spiritism, mainline Protestantism, Pentecostalism, Judaism, Islam, and Catholicism. Syncretism has always been high. The advent of a government in 1959 that eventually proclaimed materialist atheism as the official belief system did not create a nation of atheists, but rather allowed for toleration of another belief system. This paper aims to reveal the complexity of religion in Cuba and provide insights into Cuban civil society.

Misperceived and controversial, civil society in Cuba has undergone a structural transformation since the late 1980s. As part of a new matrix of factors, a changed public sphere developed, and so did the role played by intellectuals, who have contributed to a critical debate around the new political agenda and engaged in a renovated relationship with the polity. The economic and political “updating” of the socialist model facilitated this role of intellectuals, as it called for a public deliberation about the problems of socialism, and that process has brought about a reassessment of the intellectual and political avant-gardes.

Despite a state monopoly over the mass media and low Internet access, Cuba has recently witnessed the emergence of a rich variety of independent digital media projects. The paper examines the challenges that a selection of them face to establish their legitimacy, maintain their autonomy, and become visible to the Cuban public in a highly polarized and contested public sphere. Based on responses to a questionnaire distributed to their editors, the paper chronicles the process whereby they have consciously embraced the challenge of providing credible news and information to the Cuban public, targeting the demand for reliable reportage unmet by the propagandistic official media.


The long legacy of distrust between Cuba and the United States may be the most significant problem the two countries confront in trying to build on the foundation they constructed to reestablish normal diplomatic relations. Indeed, distrust continued to envelop their engagement in 2015 and 2016 despite both countries’ intention to develop a normal relationship. This article examines the historic sources of distrust on which each country focuses, the ways in which they attempted to build trust after December 2014, and the continuing sources of distrust that must be overcome in order to make the movement toward normalization irreversible.

In the summer of 2015, Cuba reestablished full diplomatic relations with the United States after a hiatus of more than 50 years. This event marked the full integration of Cuba into hemispheric affairs, as Cuba now has full diplomatic relations with each country in the Western Hemisphere. This article analyzes how this integration transpired over the past 20 years by focusing on the political shifts that have occurred in Latin America over that time period and how those shifts ultimately came to help trigger a change in US policy toward the island.

Havana’s contemporary relationships with both Moscow and Beijing have been highly significant for Cuba since 1959, with realist pragmatism and its close association with defensive realism having constantly impacted on them. This was crucial for the inception of Cuban-Soviet relations and also the "frozen" nature of Cuban-Chinese relations for almost 30 years, until 1989. Realist pragmatism continues to underpin both relationships in the post-Soviet era. Moreover, realist pragmatism in conjunction with revolutionary Cuba’s traditional desire to avoid forms of dependency make it probable that Cuban-Russian relations and Cuban-Chinese relations will continue in their present forms for the foreseeable future.


bottom of page