This article analyses the ‘rebirth of civil society’ in Cuba as a consequence of the ‘Special Period’ and the changes that have occurred in the last 25 years. It examines the evolution of civil society and the constitution of the discursive field in which it has been defined, to explain how and to what limit the different discourses legitimise and enable the understanding of the plurality of actors as well as their potential for action and influence in the political processes. The analysis is divided into two stages: the founding phase (the 1990s) that begins with the arrival of the Special Period; and the consolidation stage, which starts with the new century, in particular since 2007 with the ‘updating model’ that has begun to push deeper changes. This periodisation, in stages that are associated with different state strategies, seeks a comparison to assess the impacts of each of the challenges and proposals facing civil society.
In 1992 the Torricelli Act was passed and in 1996 the Helms Burton Act (Track 2), which included among their main objectives working with Cuban civil society to influence an eventual transition to democracy.
See the magazine Cuba Socialista (Nos. 37 and 38 of 2006) and Revista Cubana de Ciencias Sociales (No. 31, 1995).
This is the case of the Centro de Estudios de América, refounded as an NGO, although in reality it was always an academic centre, indeed the most important in the reflection on the changes of the Special Period and production of the decade (Dilla and Oxhorn 1999).
From my point of view, if anything distinguishes civil society from political society it is this principle of plurality. Just as citizenship is an equalising concept and by exercising it the political system produces a form of interest group representation, in civil society, in contrast – as an arena of diverse solidarities – it is difference that stands out, with the presence of all existing groups, regardless of how ‘representative’ they are.
The ambiguity and contradictions of the Gramscian proposal are examined exhaustively by Cohen and Arato (2000: Cap. III).
Another exclusion is migration. In spite of some academic publications starting to publish some of their texts, the ‘diaspora’ remains outside thought on Cuban civil society. In turn, this ‘transnational field’ (which I discuss later on), in this first stage is aimed more at supporting opposition groups, which they saw as travel companions and sponsors.
Studies on civil society in other contexts (Latin America) – where the crisis of parties enhances the citizenisation of participation and the conversion of civil society into an alternative locus to traditional policy (Bobes 2010) – include groups and associations with political objectives within civil society.
See Acanda 2002: 320.
With the ‘Batalla de Ideas’ (Battle of Ideas, 1999–2005) the ‘revolutionary people’ are appealed to once again, underscoring the identity of state-society interest, which favours unity and uniformity over plurality and diversity.
Particularly during the process regarding the hunger strike and death in prison of Orlando Zapata in 2010, which gave visibility to dissidence and generated an international campaign, culminating in the (successful) mediation of the church and the release of 52 prisoners.
Although Temas and other national publications had opened their pages to emigrant authors, this case deals with the presence in Cuba of not only academics but also activists and entrepreneurs, in public dialogue with their counterparts ‘inside’.
In the 1990s, the church sponsored and supported a number of independent associations.
The dismantling of the magazine group Vitral and the Centro de Formación Cívico-Religiosa de Pinar del Río in 2008 (active protagonists in the civil society debate of the previous decade).