Cuba in the 1990’s Part II

By | December 16, 2021

On the international level, despite the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Colombia, Chile and Haiti (respectively in October 1993, April 1995 and February 1996), Cuba continued to remain excluded from the main Latin American economic and political institutions., as well as the possibility of accessing World Bank or IMF financing: breaking its isolation was in fact unthinkable without a radical change in relations with the United States, which remained unchanged even after he took office (March 1993) by Democrat B. Clinton. Convinced, like his Republican predecessor, that economic hardships would quickly lead to the collapse of the regime, and driven by domestic political considerations (such as the need not to antagonize Florida’s powerful Cuban exile community), Clinton maintained the embargo. trade against Cuba, contrary to what was provided for other people’s republics (similar sanctions against Vietnam and Laos were suspended respectively in 1994 and 1995, and China saw the most-favored nation clause regularly renewed). A new crisis between Havana and Washington broke out in the summer of 1994, following the attempt of thousands of Cubans to reach the coast of Florida on makeshift boats (balsas). The Cuban government initially attempted to crack down on the escapes of the rafters but after the outbreak of serious unrest in the capital in early August, he stopped opposing the departures. For its part, the US administration, in an attempt to discourage the exodus, changed the attitude traditionally held towards Cuban exiles (who until then had automatically obtained political asylum and permanent residence permits), providing for temporary internment. undetermined number of refugees intercepted at sea in the naval base of Guantánamo. These measures aroused the harsh protests of the Cuban community of Miami, which Clinton tried to appease with new economic sanctions: further restrictions on the travel of Cuban-Americans and the ban on sending money to the island risked fueling, rather than discouraging, migratory flows.,1994 (according to which the United States would guarantee a maximum of 20. 000 a year to Cubans, Havana and undertook visas to prevent new leaks), perfected by a new treaty in May 1995. For Cuba 2017, please check

Unavailable to any hypothesis of reform of the political system, despite international pressure and those exerted internally by organizations of dissidents and activists for the defense of human rights (most of which gathered since October 1995 in the Cuban Council, which aimed at achieving political change through peaceful means, but whose adherents were subject to harsh restrictive measures), the Castro regime continued along the path of liberalizing the economy with the passing, in September 1995, of a law on foreign investments which opened almost all sectors of the economy even to wholly foreign-owned enterprises, including those belonging to Cuban exiles, followed in June 1996 from the announcement of the establishment of ‘free zones’ in which foreign investors would have enjoyed particular incentives and tax breaks. The timid signs of recovery recorded by the economy since 1995 took a back seat in the face of a further strengthening of the embargo: in March 1996 the US Congress passed the so-called Helms-Burton law (or Cuban Liberty and Solidarity Act), which included the imposition of sanctions on countries that traded with the island or invested in properties that already belonged to US citizens, expropriated by the revolution. To the repeated international condemnations of the embargo (in October 1998 for the seventh consecutive year the UN General Assembly asked for its revocation), then came the criticisms that the countries of the European Union, but also Canada and Mexico, partners of the United States in the NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), moved to the new law, considered a blatant violation of international law. The negative reactions aroused by the provision led Clinton to postpone the entry into force of his most controversial articles for six months, starting from July 1996. In the summer of the same year, Havana was shaken by a series of bomb attacks against hotels and public venues, aimed at undermining the tourist industry, the fastest growing sector of the Cuban economy, and creating difficulties in view of the imminent visit of John Paul II to Cuba, scheduled for January 1998.

Worried about the suffering caused to the population by the embargo, that of the Supreme Pontiff had been one of the most authoritative voices raised to ask for its revocation and condemn the Helms-Burton law. Although starting from completely different points of view, John Paul iiand Castro had found themselves in recent years expressing similar and highly critical views on other issues, such as neoliberal economic policies and the attitude of creditor states regarding the external debt of underdeveloped countries. In the votes of the Cuban government, the papal visit, in addition to improving the image of the regime, was to help break its international isolation and promote reconciliation with the exiles (thanks also to the good offices of the US episcopate, already expressed against the embargo), while for its part the Catholic Church was offered the opportunity to increase its influence and to play, for the first time since the victory of the revolution, an important role in Cuban society. The mobilization of the CCP and the organizational effort of the January 21 – 25, 1998), during which the pope, in addition to renewing his condemnation of the US embargo, did not fail to criticize the government on issues such as abortion and divorce, nor to ask for greater freedoms for the Cuban people.

Also in the same month, legislative elections were held for the renewal of the National Assembly on a one-party basis, which in the following month confirmed the Castro brothers in their respective offices. Partially accepting John Paul II’s requests for clemency, in February 1998 the government ordered the release of 299 prisoners, about seventy of whom were in prison for political reasons (the total number of the latter is estimated at around 1000); the following month Washington made a relaxing gesture against Cuba, repealing the additional sanctions to the embargo enacted in the summer of 1994(direct flights between the United States and Havana were then restored and the sending of cash remittances was again allowed). In January 1999, further measures confirmed this line of openness by the United States.

On the diplomatic level, the consequences of the papal visit were not long in making themselves felt: in April 1998 the UN Commission on Human Rights rejected (for the first time since 1991) the resolution condemning Cuba presented by the United States. In the same month, Canadian Prime Minister J. Chrétien visited the island, while full diplomatic relations between Havana and the Dominican Republic were re-established after about 40 years and those with Spain were normalized (worsened after on May 1996, when a conservative government was installed in Madrid). Still on the level of international relations, Cuba received a visit from the Italian Foreign Minister L. Dini (June), while in August Castro strengthened his ties with the Caribbean countries, visiting Jamaica, Barbados, Grenada and the Dominican Republic.

Cuba in the 1990's