Cuba in the 1990’s Part I

By | December 2, 2021

Internationally isolated, hit by the worst economic crisis in its history after the collapse of the Soviet Union, its main ally and trading partner, subject for over thirty years to a strict US embargo, which even prevents the sale of food and medicines, the regime led by F. Castro since 1959 has held up, despite the predictions of those who had predicted the imminent fall since the end of 1991. While refusing to allow any significant political reforms (the communist party remains the only legal party and any form of internal dissent is subject to severe repression), the Cuban government has managed to maintain a relatively high level of consensus, the result of social achievements achieved by the revolution (among others, a level of education unknown to the rest of Latin America and a completely free health service).

The dissolution of the USSR (December 1991) had disastrous consequences for the already weak economy of the Caribbean island; Moscow’s failure to implement the oil supply agreements signed in 1990 created fuel supply problems, with paralyzing effects on the country’s transport system and industrial activities, whose export capacities were severely penalized. New restrictions on the supply of electricity for domestic use and further drastic rationing of basic necessities were added to those imposed by the government starting from September 1990, when the beginning of a period especial en tiempos de paz was proclaimed., forcing the population to increasingly resort to the black market, which is actually tolerated by the authorities. Castro’s response to the worsening of the crisis was initially limited to a few rather limited reforms, aimed at diversifying an economy still too dependent on sugar monoculture and gradually introducing it into the world market, without however affecting the socialist nature of the regime. Even less significant were the initiatives taken by the regime on the political level to contain the growing popular discontent due to the dramatic economic situation. For Cuba 2011, please check

In July 1992, some constitutional amendments incorporated the most relevant decisions adopted in the previous October by the fourth congress of the Partido Comunista de Cuba (PCC): among other things, any discrimination for religious reasons was prohibited, also allowing believers to join the single party, and the direct election of the members of the National Assembly was authorized. Condemned for the failure to respect human rights by a resolution of the special commission of the United Nations (March 1992), the regime continued to repress all forms of dissent, which could only be expressed in the municipal elections of December 1992 through a percentage of blank or null ballots estimated around 15 %. The recourse to nationalist mobilization and the appeal to defend the social achievements of the revolution from foreign interference were, however, slogans still capable of guaranteeing the government a relatively high consensus; in this the regime was aided by Washington’s obstinacy in maintaining a rigid trade embargo against the island, which was further strengthened starting in October 1992, when the US Congress adopted the Cuban Democracy Act. Also known as the Torricelli law, named after the proposing senator, the law extended the ban on trading with the island to foreign companies associated with US companies; due to its extraterritorial effects and the fact that it mainly threatened Cuban imports of foodstuffs, this measure was bitterly contested by the EU, condemned by the UN General Assembly, with only the United States, Israel and Romania voting against (November 1992), and also criticized by the Conference of Cuban Catholic Bishops.

In February 1993, elections were held for the renewal of the National Assembly (for the first time with direct suffrage, but still reserved exclusively for candidates selected by the CCP), which the following month unanimously confirmed, in the respective positions of president and first vice president of the Council of State, Fidel Castro and his brother Raúl. As the restructuring of the public sector was underway, new economic reforms were announced by the líder máximo in July 1993.: in order to attract hard currency, encourage the increase in emigrant remittances and stem the spread of the black market, Castro announced the end of the thirty-year ban on holding foreign currency (Cubans were allowed to spend this currency in special commercial establishments, in priority reserved for tourists and diplomats). In September 1993 a decree legalized the establishment of sole proprietorships for a hundred categories of workers, subject to a predetermined monthly tax (among others, taxi drivers, hairdressers, mechanics, computer programmers, etc.), and ordered the transformation into state farm cooperatives; a year later the peasants were allowed to freely sell the surpluses of production over the quotas allocated to the state and in June 1995 private family-run restaurants were legalized.

These economic openings favored the growth of inequalities and social differences, without the living conditions of the majority of the population changing significantly: paradoxically the most penalized were those who, for loyalty to the revolution, interrupted all relations with relatives and acquaintances who emigrated for political reasons, they could not count on remittances in hard currency from abroad (estimated between 300 and 500 million dollars a year). Disadvantaged were also the workers employed in sectors excluded by law from any hypothesis of private initiative, such as health and education, who continued to receive their wages in local currency, whose purchasing power was increasingly decreasing. The rise in unemployment, almost unknown in the past, and the rise to levels of social emergency of phenomena such as prostitution and common crime also testified to the deterioration of the social climate. At the same time, an increasing number of Cubans approached the Catholic Church and the Evangelical Churches, as well as the already widespread cults of African origin linked to Santería.

Cuba in the 1990's Part I