Online presentation of the book “Social Policies and Institional Reform in Post-Covid Cuba - Foro Europa-Cuba | Jean Monnet Network

Online presentation of the book “Social Policies and Institional Reform in Post-Covid Cuba


On 20 October 2021 took place the online presentation of the book "Social Policies and Institutional Reform in Post-COVID Cuba", the second volume of the Europe-Cuba Forum Jean Monnet Network on the challenges faced by Cuban society and which are part of the government's political reform agenda, both in social security schemes and in the transformation of the country's institutions.

The presentation was organized by Francisco Sanchez, Director of the Iberoamerican Institute of the University of Salamanca and included the participation of several members of the Europe-Cuba Forum as well as the intervention of Adrian Bonilla, Director of the EU-LAC Foundation.

After a brief presentation by Francisco Sánchez, Anna Ayuso, Senior Researcher at CIDOB (Barcelona Centre for International Affairs, Spain) and coordinator of the project, introduced the session whose objective is to present the results of the research carried out within the framework of the network, open a debate, and invite other subjects to join the Europe Cuba Forum to continue working on research on Cuban affairs and relations between Europe and Cuba. It was reminded that like the first book, the volume "Social Policies and Institutional Reform in Post-Covid Cuba" is available in open access both in English and Spanish and also in printed format.

The next speaker was Bert Hoffmann, from the GIGA (German Institute for Global and Area Studies, Germany) and coordinator of the book. He emphasized that the book was produced in a different way than expected because of COVID. The process of realization was entirely online instead of foreseeing moments of face-to-face exchange, but the result has been very satisfactory.

COVID did not only affect the process of making the book, but also its content: social policies and institutional reform in Cuba. The crisis generated by the pandemic has caused the social problem to change throughout the world, but particularly in Cuba, considering that it constitutes a peculiar context from many perspectives. The crisis has affected the island at the epidemiological level, but also and very especially in social policy and domestic economy.

Among the strengths of the book, the editor highlighted the combination of Cuban authors who analyse the situation on the island from the inside and authors from other countries who provide a more international vision. Likewise, the combination of authors with a long trajectory and newer researchers has generated a series of valuable and original contributions.

The book is structured in three parts. The first addresses the topic of social policies from different but highly complementary approaches including: the analysis of the social agenda from the perspective of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals set for 2030; the achievements and challenges of the Cuban public administration in the process of social policy reform; ageing in Cuba and care in the family economy; housing management in Old Havana; and, finally, access to food.

The second part of the book focuses on institutional transformation as part of the economic reform project in Cuba. This transformation is analysed from several prisms derived mainly from the relations between the formal and informal economy.

The third part focuses on the 2019 constitutional reform and its repercussions on institutional reforms at the highest level. This third and final part of the book concludes with a chapter by Francisco Sánchez that analyses the dominant coalition that sustains Cuba's current political order.

Francisco Sánchez then took the floor to discuss precisely this topic. His chapter tries to measure the impact that reforms can have on political transformations in relation to the possibilities of opening up the Cuban model. To this end, elements of transition theory are rescued, inspired by the cases of Spain and Portugal and later applied to Latin American cases. In this chapter, the author asks whether it is possible to read the constitutional change as the beginning of a process of opening that is embodied in a change of government system.

The paper also analyses several factors that may explain the particularities of the Cuban regime. One is the long leadership of Fidel Castro, which has allowed for continuity and the avoidance of government crises that may lead to regime crises. Another is the unifying role of the communist party in decision making. The control of the spaces of political and economic power is another factor, as well as the existence of disciplinary mechanisms that do not reach the point of physical repression but serve as a means of control and behaviour formation. The great peculiarity of the continuity of the Cuban regime is that it has been able to build its own government management technocracy, a very convinced political apparatus (as can be seen, for example, in Cuban foreign policy).

The last presentation was given by the Director of the EU-LAC Foundation, Adrian Bonilla. In his opinion, the book presents a comprehensive vision of the contemporary Cuban reality and reaffirms with well-constructed data the characteristics of the island. In terms of the international environment, Cuba is the most exceptional country in Latin America. This explains some of the characteristics of its economic and political regime. The shape of the U.S.-Cuba relationship determines much of Cuba's international political behavior. It also determines many of the needs that arise in that society and the political regime that is built on the island.

However, there are some characteristics of the island that are shared with the rest of the countries: it is a society whose GDP is not very different from those of other Latin American and Caribbean countries. In structural terms and in the logic of globalization, Cuba is a market economy of goods and services and is therefore subject to the consequences of COVID (for example, in the tourism sector). The nature of the Cuban political regime cannot be explained without taking into account the international environment.

In this context, the book makes very interesting contributions. This idea of the very early production of social policies in relation to other Latin American countries, made the island's society exceptional in terms of social indicators. The indicators of social access are normally superior to those of other countries in the region.

One of the central elements of the debate on Cuba has to do with the economic and political transition in light of other countries that underwent transitions after the Cold War. These elements explain the pace at which economic and political decisions are made on the island.

The relationship between Cuba and the United States generates a privileged relationship between Cuba and Europe with a much more political than commercial logic than the rest of Latin America. In the tourism sector, the Cuban economy is more open to receiving European foreign investment than other Latin American or Caribbean economies. Regardless of the economic dimension, dissent between Cuban and European political actors exists, but this does not usually translate into hostility. Therefore, we cannot explain the domestic Cuban environment without explaining the international or regional environment.

When we talk about Cuba we are dealing with an exceptional case but understanding this exceptionalism can lead us to understand a lot about social policies and institutional reform. And the book provides reliable and updated information to bring us closer to this objective.

Gathering some of the reflections shared in the presentations, Anna Ayuso said that the third and last step of the project is precisely to analyze the international environment to understand how it affects the Cuban regime. The analyses framed in this thematic block will be published in early 2022 in the last book of the project.

The session ended with comments from some of the participants. Blandine Destremau, author of one of the chapters of the book, stressed that in the field of aging and care, it is interesting to discuss Cuba's exceptionalism. On the one hand, the fact of having an aging population is not an exception. On the other hand, in Cuba, the organization of care for the older generations is also a necessity. However, the fertility rate on the island is very low and families find it difficult to care for their elders. One of the factors that differentiates Cuba from other countries is the lack of immigration. Public policies face the care crisis with a certain form of reluctance since on the one hand social budgets are being reduced by the economic crisis but also by a strategic decision to favour more economically productive sectors. There is also a form of resistance to changing the moral economy of care and deciding to extend care outside the family sphere.

Susanne Gratius, another member of the Europe-Cuba Forum, asked a question related to the interpretation of the protests of 11 July 2021. Is it possible to conclude that we can increasingly consider Cuba as just another Latin American country?

In the conclusions, it was stressed that the Cuban government should try to preserve the degree of social cohesion, although at present the margins of the state are limited, as seen with the problem of access to products. It was pointed out that, although these reforms will have long-term benefits, the costs are immediate and the discontent of the Cuban population may grow, generating tensions. However, for the time being it does not seem that the power structures will lose control over the fundamental means of production and with the prospect of a post-pandemic recovery and an improvement of the relations with the United States, a hopeful horizon is opening up.

See project documents:

Working papers on economic reforms and sustainable development

Working papers on cooperation on institutional reform and social policies

Jose Antonio Alonso (coord.) “Cooperation between the EU and Cuba for economic and productive reforms. Challenges of economic reform in Cuba”

Bert Hoffmann (ed.) “Social Policies and Institutional Reform in Post-Covid Cuba”