chapter  12
Political rule in revolutionary Cuba between legitimation, co- optation, and repression
ByPETER THIERY
Pages 26

Despite all expectations and prognoses that emerged with the “Third Wave” of democratization1 and the “end of history,”2 Cuba has hitherto maintained a political system that combines a strong state, a relatively consolidated authoritarian regime, and an economic system that is mainly state-controlled, with only temporary and overall sparse elements of market economy. Therefore, Cuba is a deviant case that challenges research on democracies as well as autocracies in several ways. The Cuban revolution alone was frustrating for a variety of social science theories simply by contradicting their assumptions.3 This holds increasingly true for the developments since the mid-1980s and especially since 1989 for several reasons. Cuba has been confronted with (1) a powerful and hostile neighbor only 80 miles north, which is home to a strong lobby of Cuban exiles and a persisting policy of economic embargo and diplomatic isolation; (2) the disappearance of its allies in the former Eastern Bloc and thus of the guarantees of political and above all economic survival; (3) the effects of diffusion of the “Third Wave,” which first hit Latin America and then Cuba’s former allies in the East and which triggered a certain “transformation pressure” worldwide; (4) a population that despite repeated hardships still shows a democracy-prone level of education, at least according to the assumptions of modernization theory. Confronted with all these challenges, it seems that even today, 25 years after the fall of the Berlin wall, the regime has continued to exist like a relic from the Stone Age in a form almost unchanged for over 50 years – with Fidel Castro as the head of state until 2006 and thereafter with his younger brother Raúl, who assumed the offices of head of state and of the Communist Party from the máximo líder in 2008. Cuba has proven no less puzzling for researchers on authoritarian regimes. In particular, the mainstream of recent autocracy research,4 which omits “ideology” as a criterion when conceptualizing autocracy and is often driven by quantitative simplifications,5 has been unable to detect the dynamics behind the complex but definitely intelligent game of

self-preservation among autocratic and in particular ideocratic systems. The categories of classical autocracy research – such as the typology of Linz or Arendt’s concept of totalitarian rule – do not offer a better alternative for describing the Cuban regime. At best, there is a consensus that Cuba represents an autocratic regime – as opposed to a democratic one – but it can be labeled neither as a totalitarian or sultanistic nor as a posttotalitarian or quasi-totalitarian regime.6 None of these versions allows statements concerning the durability of the regime simply because of the unclear subtype classification. According to Susanne Gratius, the peculiarity of Cuba is rooted in

the fact [that it is] a one-party system that emerged from a national revolution. The combination of one-party rule and nationalism seems to produce more durable rule than externally induced socialist regimes, like those in Eastern European countries during the Cold War.7