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MSc International Relations of the Americas
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The Transformation of Cuba: 1990 to the present

Course convenor Dr. Emily Morris

This new course [AMERG035] will update and replace AMERG006: Economic Policy and Social Development in Contemporary Latin America -Cuba in ‘Transition’.

This is a course in the economics, politics and sociology of development that focuses on the ‘exceptional’ case of Cuba during its process of transformation since 1990.

The course begins by examining the relationship between the debates over Latin American development and the idea of ‘transition’ as applied to the transformation of former members of the Soviet bloc. It traces the historical roots of the Cuban revolution and development of its socialist system, and then investigates the post-1990 transformation, with the emergence of new state-society relations.

The collapse of the Cuban economy that resulted from the demise of the Soviet Union was heralded as the end of the Cuban socialist alternative. Prevailing ideas about development and transition in the early 1990s provided an explanation for the relative weakness of planned economies, and a template for transition. The Cuban government’s refusal to follow the prescribed path provides a case study in the possibilities and limitations of an alternative strategy to liberalisation. We review the arguments about Cuba’s ‘exceptionalism’ in the 1990s by looking at the prior evolution of the economy and society, and then examining the characteristics of the unique Cuban path of transformation over the past two decades. The roles of the new actors, including the private sector, state corporations, the military and ‘participatory’ structures are explored, and the outcomes of the transformation are assessed in terms of income distribution, poverty, forms of social exclusion and cultural expression, and the development of new social structures.

Course Structure and Seminar themes

Part I: Society & Development in Cuba: The Latin American Exception?

Week 12: Introduction. The idea of post-socialist ‘transition’
Week 13: Cuban development to 1959 & the ideology of revolution
Week 14: Revolution and change, 1959-1990
Week 15: The economic crisis of 1989-91

Part II: Cuban Post-1990 Adjustment

Week 16: Raúl Castro and The evolution of the military
Week 17: Defence and international relations
Week 18: Inequality, race and migration
Week 19: Gender and generation
Week 20: The Cuban opening: debating culture and politics
Week 21: Current policy dilemmas and prospects

General reading for the course

The literature on Cuba and the Cuban revolution is huge, and the ISA library is well-stocked and well worth browsing. Some useful books that provide historical background and an overview of post-1990 developments are:

  • Gott, Richard (2004), Cuba. A New History, New Haven and London: Yale University Press
  • Kapcia, Antoni (2000), Cuba: Island of Dreams, Oxford and New York: Berg
  • Pérez Stable, Marifeli (1999), The Cuban Revolution Oxford: Oxford University Press
  • Pérez, Louis (2006), Cuba : Between Reform and Revolution Oxford: Oxford University Press

Course requirements and Assessment

The requirements of the course are one essay of 5,000 words, plus at least one seminar presentation and one critique of a presentation. The grade for the course is based on the mark for the essay.

Students will choose the topics for their presentations and critiques (a minimum of one of each) in the first week of the course.

Attendance at the events organised for the Latin American and Caribbean Seminar programmes and active participation in class are also expected.