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The Post-Soviet Special Period

As early as July 1989, Commander in Chief Fidel Castro had warned of the possibility of the disappearance of the socialist block and even the disintegration of the USSR. In October 1990, he had elaborated the guidelines to face the crisis of the Special Period in peacetime. This concept belonged to the military doctrine of the "War of All the People" that referred to the steps needed to fight against total blockade, air raids and attacks and systematic covert attacks, as well as an open direct invasion.

The Revolution was immersed in the development and perfecting of its work at the time of the collapse of the socialist block and the disintegration of the USSR. These events dramatically affected the Cuban society as the Cuban economy was integrated into the socialist community. In 1989, 85 percent of Cuba's trade relationships were carried out with the Soviet Union and the rest of the socialist world.

Economically, the Revolution was extremely weak. Persistent structural problems, low prices for Cuba's export products, and the inability to obtain aid from the Soviet Union forced yet another reexamination of basic goals. The deepening economic crisis, aggravated by the collapse of communism not only in the Soviet Union, but also in Eastern Europe, produced a new frenzy of planning activity and greater regimentation, in the hope of stimulating productivity. Rejecting perestroika and glasnost, Castro returned to the path of the past, insisting that the Cubans should work harder, sacrifice more, and expect less in the years ahead.

Mild overtures from Castro toward the United States and Cuba's deepening economic crisis encouraged those in the United States who believed it was time for a rapprochement with Cuba. In 1989 Castro tried and executed three high-ranking officers of the Ministry of Interior and Division General Arnaldo Ochoa Sanchez, former commander of Cuban troops in Africa, accusing them of drug trafficking. The execution seemed more connected with the elimination of a potential rival than with drugs. Denying his or his brother's involvement with drugs, Castro called on the United States for cooperation in fighting the drug trade. As he had in the past, Castro was willing to negotiate and to cooperate with the United States on specific issues.

Mired in economic crisis and without the support of his former benefactor, Castro braced for the difficult times ahead. Yet he was unwilling to budge and change the Marxist course he had set for his Revolution four decades earlier. Fearful that economic change could lead to political change, he rejected both. He remained committed to the cornerstones of his policies-a command economy, violent revolution, anti-North Americanism, "internationalism," and personal rule. Although his support for violent revolution and "internationalism" was quite limited, Castro was unwilling to modifY or abandon the five cornerstones of his policies.

During the 1990s, Cuba faced its most serious economic crisis of the twentieth century. The crisis was triggered by the breakup of economic and trade relations with East European countries and the Soviet Union as these countries abandoned socialism and began their transition to market economies. The results were devastating for Cuba and for the Cuban people: a contraction in national product of one-third to one-half between 1989 and 1993, a fall in exports by 79 percent and imports by 75 percent, a tripling of the budget deficit, and sharp declines in the standard of living of the population. When socialism collapsed in Europe and after the disintegration of the USSR, Cuba's buying capacity decreased from 8,139 million pesos in 1989, to 2,000 million pesos in 1993 [according to the Cuban Government].

In late September 1990, Fidel Castro announced that the country had entered a Special Period. He likened the economic situation-sharply reduced levels of imports of fuel, food, raw materials, machinery, and spare parts-to what would have ensued from the imposition of an air and naval blockade in a war situation. Surviving this Special Period would require emergency measures similar to those called for in a war setting. Indeed, in the 1990s Cuba faced its most serious economic crisis in the twentieth century.

The term "special period in peacetime" (periodo especial en tiempo de paz), more commonly the Special Period, was the government euphemism for the emergency "wartime" economic program launched by President Castro in 1990 to deal with the onset of the economic crisis. The name reflects the Cuban leadership's view of the escalating recession as a kind of siege economy without outright war. The emphasis of Special Period policies was on austerity measures. At the dawn of the twenty-first century, the prospects for the economy of socialist Cuba appeared bleak. Although the economic free fall experienced at the beginning of the decade has been arrested since about 1994, there is no end in sight for the Special Period.

The collapse of socialism in Eastern Europe and the USSR unleashed an exceptional euphoria in the counter-revolutionary groups of Cubans in Miami. The collapse of the Cuban Revolution, it was said, was a matter of days or perhaps weeks. They even started organizing a new government. However, months went by, the crisis became worse, but there was no collapse in Cuba. In 1991, the IV Congress of the Communist Party analyzed the situation and established the need to safeguard the Motherland, the Revolution and Socialism, that is, the work of the Cuban people, which had cost so much blood, sacrifice and efforts. The Congress adopted several important measures in reference to modifications and amendments to the Constitution and Party bylaws. It also established the bases for the strategy to overcome the crisis and start the recovery from it. The strategy implemented several measures aimed at improving economic efficiency and competitiveness and internal economic health, at solving the internal debt and reincorporating the Cuban economy into the international economy, at encouraging foreign investment, and at strengthening the system of Cuban state enterprises. This last one was a necessary and indispensable condition for socialism.

Implementation and perfecting of economic changes was to be carried out in a gradual and orderly manner. In short, the objective was to use the mechanisms of monetary-mercantile relations and of capitalist management in a controlled manner to stop the decline of the Cuban economy, to reactivate domestic economy and start the recovery, preserving, at the same time, the essential postulates of social justice and conquests of the Revolution.

In the 1990s, Castro faced some of the old problems that had plagued the Cuban Revolution in the past, as well as new and critical challenges. Internally, there was growing evidence of disillusionment with the party's and Castro's exhortations. Absenteeism and youth apathy were increasing. Among the populace at large, pessimism and cynicism replaced revolutionary fervor.

Castro seemed to be losing the battle to create a entire new generation devoted to the party and to the Revolution. The loss of this generation represented, perhaps, the greatest challenge for the continuity of the Revolution.Despite more than forty years of education and indoctrination, the new socialist man was not to be found outside the Party itself, though perhaps this would prove sufficient. Castro and his generation of "historicos" (including his brother Raul) might be departing from the scene, but they appeared to be effecting an orderly transition to a newer generation that had been born after the Revolution.

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Page last modified: 02-04-2013 18:25:30 ZULU