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The Survival of the Cuban Regime

A lot of literature about the Cuban regime in the past five decades has focused on when or how the Castro led Cuban regime could not survive. However, while many studies look at Fidel Castro when making an analysis of the stability of the Cuban regime, this paper will analyze Cuba through an analysis of factors other than Castro. Apart from the brilliant leadership capacities of Fidel Castro, this paper will seek to analyze Cuba from the perspective of political institutions: a strong state, with strong military and, most important of all, leadership, which has refused to be infiltrated by international and domestic influences (Segrera 2011). The Cuban state will thus be analyzed with reference to its characteristics and role, with a discussion of its scope and effectiveness. The paper will also seek to analyze the military and political systems in Cuba. Furthermore, the paper will analyze the effect of economic development on the stability of the Cuban political regime. Lastly, the paper will discuss the capacity of the Castro regime to beat off the international influence.


In 1918 Max Webber defined the state as an entity claiming monopoly of legitimate use of violence on a given territory. The Cuban state fits perfectly into this mould of the state as put forth by Weber (Corrales 2004). The Cuban government has had a quasi-monopolistic hold over all aspects of economics, politics, social and cultural life of the Cuban nation since 1959. The Cuban regime has employed a deliberate set of repressive measures intended to create an effective state. Through employment of government and military bureaucracy coupled with the establishment of statewide Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, the state effectiveness has been achieved and maintained (Otero & Janice 2002). Over the course of the five decades, Castro has been the embodiment of charisma and influence with regard to formation of the Cuban socialist state founded on the moral obligation to protect and liberate the state from oppressive international forces and also from Cuban enemies of the revolution.

In a 1999, in the report by The Freedom House, Cuba was referred to as one of the most repressive nations across the globe. Cubans who have attempted to peacefully provide alternatives to the Castro regime have been violently put down (Sanquinetty 2005). Through the Association of Combatants of the Cuban Revolution that comprises communist youth and military veterans, repression and political indoctrination is carried out. Protection of the state is thus used as a means for the repression and intimidation of dissenting Cubans. The government is empowered by the constitution to direct and plan the national economy according to the socialist means of production thus ensuring it is a central actor in the economic life of the people. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, Cuba could no longer depend on Soviet subsidies, which resulted in Cuba allowing foreign investment for certain sectors of the economy. This resulted in mixed enterprises; firms incorporating foreign and domestic capital since the government insisted on retaining control over the economy (Zebich-Knos 2005).

Politically and socially, the Cuban government does not tolerate dissent of any kind. Freedom of association, expression, assembly, and movement are foreign concepts in Cuba. Private media is forbidden and independent journalists are watched and repressed through strict laws against enemy propaganda. While Castro’s government allows for a certain amount of right to association and assembly, assemblies or unions deemed to be acting against the interest of the state are banned. For example unauthorized meetings of three or more may earn one a sentence of up to 3 months. To add, neither collective bargaining nor strike action is an entitlement for Cuban workers. The state is taken as the main means through which cultural and educational development is achieved (Schulz 2004). The socialist government therefore ensures that the syllabus is full of socialist content even as students have to carry cards showing their parent’s involvement with the Communist Party.

Political Regime

The Cuban constitution asserts that Cuba is a sovereign and independent state of workers that are organized for the purpose of the promotion of the good of all, and a united democratic republic that offers enjoyment of political freedom, human solidarity, social justice, and individual and societal well-being guaranteed by the Communist Party of Cuba. However a more pragmatic definition of the Cuban regime would consider it a single party authoritarian state controlled by Castro and communist party loyalists. According to the Economist, Cuba is a strong centralized political system which strongly identifies the links between the state and the Communist Party. The Cuban Constitution has mandated the Communist Party to promote socialism and develop communist policy. The party is the strongest instrument through which the regime controls all aspects of Cuban life through various organs of the party (Schulz 2003). It is interesting to note that most adult population is linked to the communist party through its various organizations which transmit communist agenda.

Fidel and Raul have been in control of Cuba since 1959; they have power which has been maintained through repression and control of the state. Dissident political views have been methodically clamped down over the five decades. With scant political pluralism, free and fair elections and freedom of expression, Cuba cannot develop a political system which would be deemed truly democratic (Hawkins 2011). The debate over Cuba’s political system is whether it is an authoritarian or totalitarian regime. However, the aspect of regular elections in the Communist State muddies the waters even further. The National Assembly of People’s power is charged with electing the president. Every five years the government organizes elections at the municipal level designed to elect the members of the legislature. The legislative assembly then votes to elect the president of the nation usually referred to as Head of the Cuban Council of State. Given the control over every aspect of the process coupled with socialist democracy, the Castro brothers are guaranteed reelection (Hoffman 2011).

The governmental structure of Cuba shows that the political system is highly institutionalized in three entities: the Council of Ministers, the National Assembly of People’s Power, and the Council of State. There is no clear demarcation of power between the three arms of government: the judiciary, the executive and the legislature. The Cuban constitution grants power to the Council of State when the legislature is not in session. With the legislature meeting twice a year for only a few days, Raul Castro, who is the Head of the Cuban Council of State, wields most of the power (Perez-Lopez 2011). The Supreme Court of People’s power, while constitutionally deemed an independent entity, is subordinate to the legislature which is practically the Council of State. Therefore, the Council of State is in effect a de facto judiciary. The Head of the Council has the mandate over the state security apparatus, thus making Raul Castro a leader with absolute power.

Economic Development

Cuba is a socialist government and as such the government owns most of the means of production and controls the vast majority of the economy. The world over, authoritarian regimes that have failed to meet expectations on the economic front have had restive populations demanding democracy. The Cuban regime promised economic equality, subsidization of basic commodities and utilities, and land redistribution. While it has not achieved to the extent expected by its citizenry, the fact that the regime has survived for five decades makes threats of stability of the regime on the basis of economics highly unlikely (Saxonberg 2013).

The opening up of the economy in the post-Soviet era led many to assert that this would be followed by political liberalization, but this has not been the case. The state has made use of the slight liberalization to expand the state’s leverage in economics. While Cuba has been unable to create an economy that can generate wealth and jobs, it has developed effective systems of controlling dissident movements. A transition scenario would more likely be driven by views from the Communist Party as opposed to failed expectations from Cubans.

The Cuban economy is quite dependent on the alliance with Venezuela. The Cuban government has entered into an agreement to offer several thousand doctors to Venezuela in exchange for oil at subsidized prices. According to some estimates, the favorable terms of payment has provided the Cuban regime with approximately 20,000 barrels per day of free oil. It has also been reported that the Castro regime is re-exporting the oil on the global market thus making revenues with no capital invested thus greatly boosting the Cuban economy (Olson 2013). While Cuba is getting a lot of good from the deal, the continued dependence on Venezuelan oil is a threat to the Castro regime and its finances if the deal is terminated by Venezuela. The 2009 Index of Economic Freedom ranked Cuba at position 178 out of 180 countries which means that Cuba’s economy is only better than North Korea and Zimbabwe. This ranking was based on a range of policies of the socialist regime. Cuba’s service and industrial sectors are dominated by the state, which sets prices for services and goods and also greatly subsidizes the economy. However, this may change as Raul slowly liberalizes and decentralizes the Cuban economy through offering greater autonomy to state-owned enterprises (Segrera 2011). Strict controls over markets and capital by the state restrict the operation of foreign financial institutions. Severe working regulations restrict employment and productivity making it unfavorable for multinationals. Lastly, complications in regulations make it difficult to set up shop in Cuba.


The Cuban Revolutionary is without doubt the regime’s most powerful institution. Through the FAR the head of the State Council controls approximately 60% of the economy through management of key sectors of the economy and state-owned enterprises. The Communist Party and National Assembly of People’s Power are also subordinated by the FAR. Kornia (2012) asserts that the regime’s stability is founded on the stability of its institutions of which the military is the most fundamental. Additionally, the Castro regime draws its strength and stability from institutions, such as the Constitutions, the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, the National Assembly of People’s Power (NAPP), the People’s Supreme Court, the Council of State, the Council of Ministers, and other organs such as the Young Communist League and the Federation of Cuban Women.

The Constitution was sanctioned in 1976 and amended in 1992. That gave more force to the principles of the Cuban regime. The original 1976 constitution mandates the state to organize, control and direct the economy of the state. It also offers citizens the right to free health care, and education and demands of parents to instill socialist values on their children and the recognition of the Communist Party as the only party in Cuba. The Constitution was further amended to protect the revolution through recognition of the citizens’ right to struggle by whatever means including armed struggle against any force that tries to undermine or suppress the economic, social and political order of the constitution (Segrera 2011). The 1992 revision was intended to deal with the crisis occasioned by the Collapse of the Soviet Union. This amendment allowed foreign investment in joint ventures with the Cuban government.

The National Assembly of the People’s Power is the highest legislative constituent institution in the Cuban government system. A unicameral house, it meets twice every year (or more in cases of extraordinary sessions being called, and comprises members from single district elected every five years. The National Assembly is mandate to elect the Head of the Cuban Council of State and the Council of State. It can also amend the constitution, revoke or sanction development plans, amend budgets, and sanction foreign and domestic policies. The National Assembly is out of session most of the time, and hence the Council of State takes over the legislative functions subject to approval from the legislative assembly. The Council of State appoints and fires ministers and other senior public officials.

The Council of Ministers is composed of 38 members and is the highest ranking executive body of Cuba that is charged with the implementation of policies passed by the National Assembly. Composed of the President, the First Vice-President, five Vice-Presidents derived from the Council of State, National Ministers, and the Secretary of the Executive Committee, the council is the government of Cuba. The Council of Ministers is answerable to the Council of State and the National Assembly. The People’s Power Supreme Court is the highest judicial body in Cuba. According to the constitution it is an independent entity though in all practical terms subordinate to the National Assembly which is in effect the Council of State. Raul Castro, therefore, possesses absolute power over the judiciary system in Cuba (Corrales 2004).

The Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, which are present in workplaces, cities and factories, are an instrument of the regime in strengthening vigilance against perceived anti-social behavior such as dissent at the grassroots. The stated mission of the Committees of the Defense of the Revolution is the defense of the state against ideological influences from abroad and this is accomplished through intimidation with every militant required to belong to a local based committee. The network of organizations under the Communist Party such as the Young Communist League and the Federation of Cuban Women is a representation of the national instruments of consolidation, edification, and defense of the communist society (Otero & Janice 2002). These organizations are used by the Communist regime to control the Cuban society. Some of these organizations, for instance the Young Communist, have a constitutional backing and are mandated to instill socialist values in Cuban youth.

Party Families

Cuba is a de-jure one party state with the Communist Party being the only constitutionally recognized political party in Cuba. The constitution asserts that the Communist Party of Cuba, which adheres to Marti’s ideas and Marxism-Leninism is the highest force guiding the state and its people. The party is involved in all aspects of government and all aspects of social life, economics and politics (Sanquinetty 2005). Fidel Castro has been the first secretary of the party since 1959, but he has since delegated this power to Raul Castro due to illness. The secretary is in control of the Politburo, a powerful committee of 22 persons that sets policy not only for the party, but also for the state. The members of the Politburo are elected by the Central Committee, which is the executive arm of the Communist Party and plays a significant role in setting policy for the state. The Central Committee is the main organ responsible for the major policies implemented on the national level.

The Communist Party regulates and manipulates the media so as to prevent the publication of propaganda which seems unfriendly to the regime. It is easy to do for the party since the regime only allows official Communist publications to operate as the media for the Cuban people. According to a report by The Freedom House Cuba, ranks 190 out of 195 countries surveyed. All the information that may be found in the Cuban media is skewed towards the promotion of the Communist Party ideology and interest (Zebich-Knos 2005). The government does not own publications, but rather various organizations such as the Young Communist League or the Communist Party own these publications. This strictly controls the information disseminated to the public. With such organizations in charge, the government has an effective tool for moulding of the public opinion of Cubans.

International Influences

The Cuban regime has been under constant pressure to adopt multiparty democracy ever since the overthrow of the American backed dictator by Fidel Castro in 1959. To the international community, peaceful democratic transition was necessary. Fidel Castro thought otherwise as he adopted a socialist path in determining the future of Cuba. Economic, financial and commercial embargoes against the Castro regime have not succeeded in forcing the government to change their political or economic ideology. New waves of democracy in the mid 70s did not deter Fidel from expanding his socialist state. Even the collapse of the Soviet Union which cost Cuba 21% of its GDP in subsidies was not enough to end the Communist regime in Cuba. Cuba has survived by limited opening of the economy and the forging of new alliances with allies such as Venezuela and China (Schulz 2004).

Historical evidence has shown that political liberalization is only possible if it is backed by the government. International pressure on the Cuban regime since 1959 has been futile with such efforts seemingly energizing the regime. The current financial crisis and the transfer of power from Fidel to Raul may affect the survival of the regime. It is expected that there will be significant changes in the politics and economics of Cuba, even though it is acknowledged that the possibility of sufficient dissent that would threaten the regime is remote (Hoffman 2011). The island seems impermeable to international pressure whether it is economic or political, since the Castro government is in the main concerned with domestic happenings. The regime acknowledges that as long as domestic factors do not call for the alteration of the status quo, Cuba will maintain.


This report has shown that there are a range of factors accounting for the survival of the Cuban regime. In the course of the last five decades, the Castro regime has been successful in overcoming many challenges and maintaining their socialist state. Over time, the development of institutions by the regime has made it easier for Fidel and Raul to consolidate power. The government has a high degree of control over all aspects of life in Cuba. There exists no clear delimitation of functions between the judiciary, executive and legislature with most of these functions being delegate to the Council of State which is controlled by Fidel or Raul Castro. Through institutions such as the Cuban Revolutionary Armed forces and the Communist Party in consultation with the Council of State and the Council of Ministers, which are chaired by Castro, it is almost impossible for divergent views to come to the fore. The relationships between these institutions ensure the stability of the Cuban regime. The regime can only collapse or adopt different policies if this change originates from within, for instance, if suggested by Raul or Fidel Castro.

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