Oct 22, 2019 in Political

The Prospects for a Transition to Democracy in Cuba


Julia Sweig’s book, Cuba: What Everyone Needs to Know, consists of sections that underline the country’s milestones in the pursuit of democracy. They include the country’s national identity and administration, a revolution and the Cold War, the revolution after the Cold War as well as Fidel and Raul Castro’s leadership. This piece of work provides a detailed insight of Cuba’s politics, its changing role in the world community and fraught relationship with America. Sweig conducted an extensive study gathering data about Cuban pursuit of democracy. She visited several prisons in the island, lived with some families in Cuba after the end of the Soviet Union, visited government archives, and interviewed several Cubans over the past twenty years.

During Fidel Castro’s era, many people viewed Cuba as a non-democratic country. However, a significant percentage of the world’s population believes that this nation is in transition to democracy. Many people see Raul Castro as a man who can bring Cuba to the new heights of suffrage. This paper aims to explore the Cuba’s transitional aspects of restoring the national identity in more than one level. Cuba is a country in a transition to democracy. That belief underlines the fact that Raul Castro presidency is a new form of leadership that will phase out the pains that the citizens underwent under his predecessor’s regime. The paper discusses both the past and existing authorities in efforts to reveal the Cuba’s advancement of peace and harmony.

Cuba and the United States

In a broad sense, it is nearly impossible to understand both the historical and present structure of Cuba without acknowledging its place in the world history. Special attention should be given to its relations with the United States. Cuba is not just an island, but also a structure that receives political and economic services from both Spain and the US. However, Cubans continue to resist this domination by their persistent pursuit of democracy.

There is a deep-rooted history of the United States expressions and actions that show passion for controlling Latin America. That American interest began in 1823 when Monroe Doctrine ensued. The America’s conquest of a part (one third) of Mexico in the 1840s was a demonstration of the US government’s willingness to use force in achieving some needs. The pursuit allowed the government to expand its control beyond the US territory. In addition, it also led to various examples of US aggression in Latin America. Cuba won its second struggle for independence against Spain in 1898. However, shortly after that it faced an American military occupation, which transformed into a long-term, official US policy with the 1902 Platt Amendment.

After the establishment of that policy, Cuba became the subject of lengthy spells of dictatorships that, to different levels, complimented the US economic and political interests. According to many Cuban writings, the period from 1898 to 1958 was referred to as the ‘pseudo-republic’. Fulgencio Batista ascended to leadership through a coup d’état on two occasions —as a military strongman in 1934 and as a self-proclaimed president in 1952. Batista aimed at replacing all the administrations that the American government deemed leftist. In fact, the Presidents Eisenhower and Roosevelt backed this loyal intimidator to take power.

Batista’s second stint of dictatorship met a few hurdles that it could not contain. The invasion of the Moncada Barracks during the reign of Castro in 1953 was the hugest uproar he had to confront. This uprising resulted in the guerrilla war that involved only 82 Castro’s men. They boarded a small boat, Granma, left Mexico on November 25, 1956 and reached Cuba on December 2. This small team became the Revolutionary Army when the homeless peasants joined.

As the mountainous parts of the Oriente Province achieved liberation, Ernesto Che Guevara spearheaded the efforts to construct new schools in places that had never had learning centers before. The United States gave support to the Batista’s army from the Guantanamo base by supplying it with weapons and plane fuel. However, the Revolutionary Army continued their struggle by late 1958 through sacrifice and backup from the revolutionary underground in various cities.

Batista departed the island when the Revolution became triumphant on January 1, 1959. For the reasons highlighted in this paper, Cubans, whether they respect the Revolution or hate it, cannot talk about the national identity without mentioning the power and influence of the US.

Hopes for the Cuban Democratic Transition

All the pressures of the First Republic erupted in the 1933 revolution. University students, labor unions, and disaffected officers of the army joined the forces to rebel the fifth president of Cuba, Gerardo Machado. He had taken repression and corruption to new levels. A university scholar Ramon Grau San Martin ascended to power as the coalition head. As a nationalist, he initiated the "Cuba for all Cubans" movement, but it had little success. The United States ambassador Sumner Welles decided to strike a deal with Batista in efforts to unseat Grau San Martin. Their plan was almost faultless because Batista was an English-speaking sergeant of the Cuban army. He became the country’s strongman and masterminded the succession of Cuban state heads until 1940 when he became the country’s president.

Batista surprised many by ushering a new ray of hope in Cuba by establishing a progressive constitution. That approach allowed the Cuban Communist Party to link with the government and he resigned in favor of his opponent, Grau San Martin, at the end of his four-year tenure. Batista set the stage for the revolution in Cuba when he destroyed the country’s democracy by his 1952 coup d’état. The pursuit of justice took the center stage between 1952 and 1958 when Cubans joined the opposition to dethrone Batista from power. In those years, the citizens focused on restoring freedom, democracy and human rights. Their goal was to reinstate the law rule that Batista had phased out.

Castro might have been a dynamic figure in Cuba, but he also highlighted the need for justice in a speech when the 1953 Moncada assault failed. He said, "neither Communism nor Marxism will be our idea. Our philosophy in politics is to represent social justice and democracy in a well-structured economy." His speech on rebel triumph in 1959 impressed the rich Cubans for two reasons. He said, "My grandparents, parents and uncles decided to pay their back taxes." First, the wealthy would find it easy to trade because the taxes became affordable. Second, Cuba would become an ‘honest’ nation where they could live with freedom.

A Way from Dictatorship to Democracy

Cuba is ripe for transformations. In spite of the attempts to portray rosy scenarios during the Hugo Chavez reign, eye witnesses give a different story. Living conditions are not appealing; the economy’s survival depends on the Venezuela’s mercy. In the 2012 report on Cuba, the Inter-American Human Rights Commission mentioned a "permanent, systematic violation of citizen rights." They used that description for the relationship between the Cuban government and access of basic rights by the citizens. What remains the irony is the fact that the Cuban people suffer while the regime has gained more strength on the international level. International tension on the respect for people’s rights is inefficient and weak, thus making Cubans suffer. Seemingly, the ethic awareness of the western nations is comfortable with that situation.

That should not be the case. Solidarity with the victims of rights violations through dictatorship is morally needed. However, the opposition party is becoming vocal in airing their views. When a political activist Oswaldo Paya Sardines died, other opposition leaders such as Yoani Sanchez replaced him. They are courageous people who can defy threats and air their views about the state of their nation with openness. Therefore, they should get support from the relevant parties. For these reasons, Cuba is ready to move a step higher up the ladder of change.

One needs to study the historical background of communist Eastern Europe in order to understand the present Cuba. The focus should extend beyond Latin America because the interconnection between them is striking. The internal work of the current regime resembles that of the conservative nations of the past communist bloc of 1989. Other cases of injustice include unsuccessful reforms of the economy, media control, population isolation, harassment of the opposition, and ascension of the communist elite to power. At the same time, the majority of Cubans do not believe in the philosophy or future of the existing leadership system.

The situation in this country resembles that of either Romania or East Germany. However, one would want to believe that the Cuban leaders understand that there is a call for change stronger than even during the harshest reigns of Eastern Europe. What is a bit funny about the Cuban society is the fact that the supporters of the new leadership and those who hate it are equal in number, with each representing an estimate of 25-30 percent. However, it is the non-partisan 40-50 percent that holds the key to triumph or failure of transition. Therefore, one would find it safe to believe that the regime is acting on the fears of the unknown.

While Europe takes a significant role in the Cuba’s transition to democracy, America's influence is of ultimate importance. Europe should demonstrate vigilance on the matters of human rights. On the other hand, the United States must formulate a policy that considers the dynamic interests of all parties of democratic development. Foremost, the majority of Cubans from the Island provide help to democratic-minded leaders in the same region. That factor resembles that of Eastern Europe, in which the citizens assisted their leaders in seeking freedom in a transparent manner.

Such a movement must consider the interests of its talented, vast, influential and successful Cuban-American society. The interests may differ, but widely overlap. They can merge in a smart, forward-looking policy. One would feel that Cuban-Americans must establish a comprehensive way of seeking freedom. These interests are integral and decisive in this movement. However, they may not become the dominant part of transition and future democracy of Cuba. That is to say that they need to be magnanimous. Their ultimate role is to integrate the transition process with both knowledge and internet-based economy. In fact, the Cuban heads must start by winning the confidence of most residents of the island. The citizens also need to understand that Castro's successors will count on them when some difficulties related to the transition occur.


Is it a Transition?

Many people may not know whether Cuba is already in a transition or a far from it. Are Cubans in a transition to democracy? This question can annoy some people and interest others. Many experts and analysts argue that a transition needs advanced social, economic, and political evidence. As such, many people could see the defining and irreversible changes in Cuba as a transition to a democratic state.

However, there are several people in Cuba who no longer collaborate, believe, or support the leadership system. A significant percentage of the Cuban citizens do not have any interest in watching the national TV, participating in any official events, or using the official perks. Such activities do not reflect a transition in any way. However, one would think that they take place because the past experiences linger in the minds of Cubans. Despite the fact that such mistrust exists, there are many factors that highlight the existence of a transition.

One needs to consider the past experiences to understand the current situation in Cuba. Thus, South African countries did not go through a seamless transition from dictatorship to democracy. Cuba should use their encounters as lessons for avoiding the mistakes they made. The truth is that it is easier to set up democratic organizations and create an independent judiciary and free press than guard them.

One of the challenges that can threaten this progress is the existence of populist leaders, who are also dangerous in equal measure. Many people understand that success of change is almost entirely dependent on the economic performance of Cuba. For example, one would think that many citizens will accept democracy only if it links extra freedom with a better lifestyle. For a nation with little natural resources, the smartness of its citizens remains the only source for exploitation. However, only high-level democracy can provide the platform for it.

Revenge is a political tool in the view of a few people, but it is an instant gratification to an angry mob. Additionally, it is a moral justification of the lost days, property, or of the rejection by the native land. However, the happiness they can gain through revenge will not last long. Therefore, Cuba must use magnanimous and wise politics to counter the debilitating fear of change.

Evidence of Democracy

Lech Walesa held an interview, in which Cuban Democracy activists promised him that their country would become a ‘free’ state. Dagoberto Valdez Hernandez confirmed that a group from the Cuban civil society identified four factors that would transform the existing conditions in the country. They include the release of political detainees, ending the repression in politics, ratification of global agreements on human rights, and recognition of the Cuban civil society within and beyond the island.

According to Yoani Sanchez, the end of the government’s monopoly on the dissemination of information is a glimpse of freedom. The emergence of private publications as well as the increase in the ease with which people use technologies is evident. With these activities already taking place, it is safe to conclude that ‘new’ Cuba will exist in the near future.

The leadership system in Cuba is reliant on the universal adult suffrage for people aged 16 and above. Everybody has the freedom to vote, except criminal convicts or Cubans outside the country. As for now, voter turnout consists in an overwhelming 95 percent of the eligible citizens. Establishment of the national, municipal, and provincial assemblies takes place through direct elections. Unlike past experiences, the committees of political parties do not chose the electoral candidates. In fact, no political organization, including the Communist Party, has a right to campaign or nominate any candidate.

Democratic Changes Brought about by Raul Castro

Raul Castro became the heir of Cuban presidency after his elder brother Fidel Castro in 2006. That arrangement made him the new president of the nation in an island after half a century. Many people did not welcome this ‘monarchical’ form of leadership, but they had to rethink their views when Raul started new changes. He ushered in many reforms that would reshape the future of Cuba. He allowed open criticism of the Cuban government and lifted the ban on personal gadgets like mobile phones and computers. He also granted farmers the chance to purchase personal equipment for agricultural use.

The ascension of Raul Castro to power came in the appropriate time. His presidency allowed the current Cuban people to explore the legal, political, economic, and social changes taking place in their country. Currently, Cubans can face the shortcomings of their economy that is turning from a socialist idea into a market-driven fact. In fact, it prepared the people for how long the one-party regime can last and what the future days may bring to them.

This country has faced many dramatic changes since the termination of European communism. That collapse led to the end of economic aid and preferential trade with the Eastern bloc of countries and the Soviet Union. As a result, Cuba resorted to other ways of restructuring the domestic economy and new commercial ties in the global system. The resulting economic changes upgraded the Cuban politics and society, reforming the unknown social imbalances and confronting the existing political system with unprecedented new drawbacks. The outcomes are evident in the Cuban cultural expressions and the responses to scarcity and adversity that reshaped social relations in the country.

America’s Role in Cuban Transition to Freedom

April 11, 2015’s meeting between US President Barrack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro made history for many reasons. Not only was it the first lengthy meeting (one hour) in sixty years, but also the first gathering that can restore diplomatic relationships between Cuba and the United States. The talk was an outcome of almost two years of secret conversations. The attitude of the speakers was enthusiastic, which made Latin American leaders heap praises on the North American president. One would only think that this talk would bring a halt to American hostility towards Cuba.

In addition, it is also safe to think that Obama sees the communist-ruled island as a potential success story of his philosophy of keeping in touch with American foes. The United States viewed this meeting as a benefit to Cuba. In that respect, one would conclude that the US played an integral role in the Cuba’s transition to democracy. Obama said, "The Cold War ended. I think the majority of people both in Cuba and the United States will be impressed by our ability to engage, open up commercials and travels. Particularly, the people-to-people exchanges will be a bonus to the people of Cuba".

Evidently, the American leader felt that the reconciliation would help the islanders. However, everything is not yet in place, and the meeting highlighted that factor. The gulf between these two nations is still broad, and the absence of national flags of either nation in that meeting was a reminder of it. In addition, the economic embargo of the US still exists. As such, the relationship between Cuba and America is still strained. If the meeting between Raul and Obama was anything to go by, the United States will help Cuba in many ways.


In conclusion, Cuba is in a transition to democracy, and America plays a significant role in it. First, the Cuban economy will regain stability or grow to new standards that can restore freedom. Second, Cuba will benefit from any support the US can offer it in terms of seeking justice and democracy. There are several hints that point to the emergence of freedom in Cuba. The government has withdrawn its influence on the media, allowing news anchors to point out some of the loopholes in the government. If their criticism is constructive, Raul Castro could lead the country out of the vices that tied it to corruption, injustice and dictatorship. The Cubans feel the changes and talk about it with a new form of freedom that never existed in the country before. One would imagine that the world knows about it in the near future. With the factors outlined in this paper, it can be deduced that Cuba, like many developing nations, is in a transition to democracy, and the US plays an integral in it.


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