Regime crisis and the reconstitution of civil society: Cuba in comparative perspective

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


International Studies

First Committee Member

William C. Smith - Committee Chair


The emergence of dissident, opposition, and independent social organizations in Cuba during the Special Period (1990--1998) was the result of changes in the political opportunity structure in the totalitarian polity. The catalyst for these changes was the complex regime crisis faced by the Castro regime as a result of the convergence of specific domestic, international, and diasporic developments. The contributing factors included: a decline in state capability with a concomitant erosion of authority and legitimacy; the intended and unintended consequences of economic reforms; changes in the international arena, especially the demise of the Soviet Union and the end of its generous subsidy to the Cuban government; changes in the role of the diaspora and of its relationship with island residents; and the availability of new technologies that made it more difficult for the Cuban government to maintain an absolute monopoly of the public sphere. The emergence and growth of an alternative civil society in Cuba from a dozen isolated groups in 1988, to between 250 and 500 groups in 1998, was accompanied by a revitalization of surviving remnants of pre-revolutionary civil society, such as the churches, and by the pluralization of the public sphere dominated by the state-controlled socialist civil society. The reconstitution of civil society in Cuba is hampered by state repression, the departure of leaders, activists, and young intellectuals, as well as other elements of Cuba's pre-communist political culture and historical trajectory. Cuba remains a polity with a very restricted public space, nevertheless, the emergence of dozens of independent groups is a sign that the state's control over Cuban society is diminishing. The phenomenon of reconstitution is described, classified, measured, and compared with other cases.


History, Latin American; Political Science, General; Political Science, International Law and Relations

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