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Survey: Cubans want more autonomy for their businesses, political pluralism, and to elect their president

CubaData, with the support of DIARIO DE CUBA and the participation of experts from the US, Mexico and Venezuela, reveals the opinions of a society undergoing a process of change.


Most Cubans reject State obstacles to their individual economic progress, believe that the social services they receive (health and education) range from mediocre to very poor, there is insufficient Internet access, and that one cannot say what he really thinks without fear of reprisals in the country.

In addition, a high percentage of Cubans are unsure of their positions with regards to political issues, such as the article of the Constitution that declares socialism irrevocable. However, most believe that the existence of other political parties should be permitted, and that the president of the country should be elected directly.

This is part of the portrait of Cuban society yielded by a survey conducted by the CubaData project, featuring participation by a team of academics from the USA (2), Mexico and Venezuela, and support from the DIARIO DE CUBA. [See graphics attached]

The 22-question survey, carried out from June 4 to 11,2018, on 2,287 people from different provinces, is probably the largest independent demographic study ever conducted on the island since the triumph of the 1959 Revolution. 

It is an unprecedented effort in Cuba, due to its scope and focus, thanks to the development of newtechnologies and the participation of specialists.

The experts who assisted and analyzed it were Armando Chaguaceda (University of Guanajuato), Elaine Acosta (International University of Florida), Juan Manuel Trak (Andrés Bello Catholic University) and Rodrigo Salazar-Elena (FLACSO Mexico).

As they explain, they tried to identify the aspirations of Cubans in the context of the "recent juncture, with the change of government," as well as to measure their perceptions and evaluations in various areas: economic rights, the effectiveness of reform, political institutions, freedoms, and the functioning of social services.

The respondents were users of mobile applications with verifiable profiles and access to email, who agreed to respond voluntarily through the CubaData online tool.

The results, compiled in the document Cuba: Exploring Public Opinion Under the Government of Díaz-Canel, present a diverse society that resists monochromatic readings.

Economic rights and social services

Among the most significant aspects of the results is the respondents' opposition to the limitation of their economic and labor rights.

53.8% believe that foreign companies present on the island should be able to hire Cuban workers directly and independently of the State. Only 9.4% think that the procedure should be carried out only through the State Employment Agency, and the rest think that it should be possible both ways.

According to the experts who analyzed the results, this position "makes evident the opposition to Cuban legislation on this matter, considered more restrictive than the Chinese one; for example, by preventing the hiring and direct compensation of Cuban workers by foreign companies."

There is also strong opposition (90%) to the Government's maintenance of a monopoly on product import and export. 63.2% favor both the State and citizens being able to do so on equal terms, while only 10% are for the State alone controlling these operations.

87.6% believe that Cuban professionals should be able to establish businesses and companies in line with their professions, and 77.1% are for eliminating the dual monetary system.

In the area of social services, there is a widespread perception of deterioration and statements that question their being "free".

62.9% think that Cuba's public health system is not good, describing it as "mediocre" (33.3%), "deficient" (18.9%) or "very deficient" (10.7%), while 61.7% admit that they have had to pay or give gifts at least once to a doctor to be treated or to get quicker access to a consultation.

With regards to education, 64.7% think that the quality is "mediocre", "deficient" (18.6%) or "very deficient" (10.7%).

The political dimension

In the political dimension, the study confirms the existence of aspirations for pluralism and direct participation. The experts underscore that a large number of respondents responded "I do not know" to the questions, but this apparently apathy might be misleading.

"Given the authoritarian context in which the survey was conducted, it is likely that a significant number of those who said that they did not know decided to hold back their preferences for fear of possible reprisals for answering sincerely," they explain.

38.2% of the respondents answered that "I do not know" when asked whether the article of the Constitution that establishes the irrevocability of socialism ought to be eliminated, while 34.8% said "Yes," and 27% said "No."

28% said that they did not know whether other political groups besides the Communist Party should be allowed. 45.7% responded that they should, while only 25.4% though they should not.

With regards to the election of the president, a clear majority, 61.5% (six out of ten interviewees), said that it should be direct, 21.6% said that they did not know, and 17% opposed reform in this regard.

In any case, the trends clash with the content of Constitutional reform plan approved a week ago by the National Assembly of Popular Power, which maintains the irrevocability of socialism, the prohibition of multiple parties, and the exclusion of citizens from presidential elections.

In the sphere of the freedom of expression and information, the study manifested the skepticism of most of the interviewees towards what is published in the official press, and their perception that Cubans cannot freely express their opinions.

57% do not believe that the State media faithfully reflects reality, and 58.9% believe that it fails to portray the diversity of opinions present in society.

In addition, 65.6% do not believe that Cubans can say what they think in public places, forums or media without fear of reprisal, and 84.4% say that the inhabitants of the island are lacking in Internet access.

Pessimism about the future

The survey also inquired about Cubans' biggest concerns. In this regard the respondents cited incomes (26.6%), food (21.2%) and public services (13.9%).

As for the future under the government of Miguel Díaz-Canel, the respondents were pessimistic. 46% believe that the president is unlikely to be able to effect change. 40% believe that the situation in Cuba will remain the same, and 20% that it will worsen. A minority, 23.8%, think that the country could see a slight improvement.

The study reveals "a society that demands more space for private initiative, modifications to current social policy, and a closing of the gap between dynamic personal expectations and the State's rigid agenda," the experts concluded in their analysis of the results.

"Within a context clearly restrictive to autonomous research, information and communication, efforts like this make it possible to identify overlooked trends in the socio-political positions of the Cuban people, which might otherwise appear monolithic," they noted.

They stressed "the links between the demands for economic reform and political changes," and "divergent expectations" about Miguel Díaz-Canel's capacity "to lead the nation down inevitable paths of sustainable and inclusive development."


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