Cuba is a country located in the region of North America. When General Raúl Castro succeeded his older brother Fidel in 2008 as head of state, a gradual unlocking of the state-controlled economy began, but the economic reforms were not accompanied by any political opening. The party continued to control virtually every aspect of Cuban life and the opposition was held in tight rein. Also, no major changes are expected after the historic shift of power in spring 2018 when Raúl Castro, 86, resigned as president and handed over the board to then 57-year-old Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel.
The exchange of power between the Castro brothers changed the political scene. Fidel Castro put a great personal touch on his leadership with colorful, ideologically colored plays and liked to talk for several hours while Raúl Castro cultivated a low-key style and emphasized collective leadership. Following Fidel’s powerful slogan: “Socialism or death”, Raúl began his reform policy under the motto “Without urgency but without pause”.
- Countryaah: Country facts and history of Cuba, including state flag, location map, demographics, GDP data, currency code, and business statistics.
Raúl Castro realized that changes were necessary to get the economy on its feet and increase domestic production. Reforms would open the market to private and even foreign interests.
The model for reform policy was taken from China, that is, changes in the market economy direction were accepted while the Communist Party retained its grip on power.
The first sector affected was the agricultural sector. As Cuba imports most of the food consumed, the government was keen to stimulate food production. The peasants were given the right to use state land that was in decline. They were also given more freedom to choose what to grow as well as the right to sell their products. Later, the opportunity was opened for hairdressers, carpenters, locksmiths and others to start private companies on a small scale. In time, self-employed people were given the opportunity to take out loans and have employees.
First resistance, then support
Reform policy initially encountered resistance within the party, but at the party congress in 2011, Raúl Castro had brought most skeptics with him. Over 300 reforms were adopted. Among other things, the Cubans got the right to sell property for the first time in the form of houses and cars. A few years later, more than 100 state-owned companies were transformed into independent private cooperatives. At the same time, the government announced that the heads of state-owned companies would be given greater freedom to decide on the business and that the companies would be able to retain some of their profits for future investments.
In 2013, the provisions that in principle made it impossible for Cubans to travel abroad were changed (see Population and language). At the same time, the ongoing thawing weather in the relationship with the US (see Foreign Policy and Defense) meant that it was easier for exile Cubans in the US to send money to relatives in Cuba.
At the same time as Cubans gained greater financial freedom, uncertainty increased on other levels. Previously, the state guaranteed jobs, food and housing for everyone – now this too began to loosen up. Castro announced that the ration book, which gave all Cubans the right to buy a certain amount of food at low prices, would be abolished. He also began to enforce a substantial slimming of jobs in the public sector. It was hoped that those who were kicked out would get new jobs in the emerging private sector, but development did not go fast enough. Companies often lacked both knowledge and resources to grow.
In a country that had not previously had unemployment, at least not on paper, people were now unemployed. The gap between those who could get help from relatives abroad and those who did not have such opportunities grew.
Reform policy lost momentum from 2014. Leaders began to worry about the growing gaps in society as some self-employed people expanded their business and built up wealth beyond what was expected.
In August 2017, the government decided to almost halve the industries for which it could apply for licenses – from 200 to 125. It was now no longer possible for new entrepreneurs to start restaurants, rent out rooms or drive taxis. The government also took steps to get the companies to use bank accounts that the government could control.
On the political level, the power of the Communist Party has remained unlimited. No other parties are allowed and being a party member is a prerequisite for being able to make a career in most areas. At the neighborhood level, Cubans keep track of each other through local committees, and dissenters are subjected to threats and persecution (read more in Political system).
After taking office as president in 2008, Raúl Castro gave virtually all of the most important posts in the powerful government to veterans of the 1950s revolution. The military also gained greater influence in the Council. After a few years, a gentle rejuvenation in the leader layer began. The party congress in 2011 decided that no one may sit for more than two terms in a political post. At the party congress in 2016, an age limit of 70 years was set for inclusion in the Communist Party’s highest governing body, the Politburo. The proportion of women in the party’s governing body increased. Raúl Castro himself announced his intention to resign as President in the spring of 2018.
Raúl Castro stood by his word and in April 2018 the National Assembly appointed Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel as new president. Thus ended the era Castro. For the first time since 1959, the Cubans got a leader who was not named Castro by surname and who had not participated in the armed struggle.
Miguel Díaz-Canel, born in 1960, belongs to a younger generation of politicians but has long been in the inner circle of power. He trained as an electrician from the beginning but went on to study and became a university professor before starting to work full time as a politician. He has a free style and has been perceived as a supporter of a more open policy, for example by advocating greater freedom of the press and access to the Internet, but in other contexts he has expressed more hard-line opinions, such as the treatment of opposites and the relationship with USA.
The hopes of Díaz-Canel were high, not least when it came to improving living conditions. Opinion surveys (conducted by organizations in the United States) show that Cubans in common rank better economic conditions higher than political freedom. However, Díaz-Canel is believed to have limited turning space for changes. Raúl Castro remains as chairman of the Communist Party until 2021, and thus continues to exert great influence over politics. The military, which is a strong power factor, is also favored by the status quo.
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FACTS – POLITICS
Republic of Cuba / Republic of Cuba
republic, unitary state
Head of State
President Miguel Díaz-Canel (2018)
Head of government
President Miguel Díaz-Canel (2018)
Most important parties with mandates in the last election
Cuba’s Communist Party (PCC) 614 1
about 83% in the 2018 parliamentary elections
parliamentary elections 2023
- 2018; all candidates must be approved by the Communist Party and there is only one candidate for each mandate