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Cuba: A Politically Divided Society

The CubaData survey reveals a pronounced ambiguity at the political level.


The recent poll conducted by CubaData, featuring participation by a team of academics from Cuba, Mexico and Venezuela, and the support of DIARIO DE CUBA, yields data that, at times, is difficult to understand, revealing the complexity of Cuban society today.

At the political level, ambiguity is becoming more pronounced. Four out of every ten Cubans interviewed consider the Constitutional reform effort announced by the Government unnecessary. 

In addition, support for the elimination of the article declaring socialism irrevocable is substantial: 35% of the participants in the survey indicate that it should be suppressed, 38% say they do not know, and only 27% endorse its maintenance. 

These reservations about constitutional changes contrast, however, with the fact that almost half of the interviewees (46%) believe that political parties other than the Communist Party should be permitted, and 60% think that the president should be determined through direct elections. 

What does this ostensibly contradictory data reveal?

The absence of a democratic culture

Two of the authors of the survey's explanatory report, the sociologist Elaine Acosta (International University of Florida) and the political scientist Armando Chaguaceda (University of Guanajato), contacted by DIARIO DE CUBA, offered several hypotheses in this regard.

Elaine Acosta suggests that the apparent contradiction may be deceptive. In the first place, she points out "the undemocratic culture" that has prevailed in the country for almost 60 years and that permeates all its generations equally. 

Thus, the public's apathy towards the political sphere may tend to spur a considerable part of it not to see any need to reform the Constitution, or to downplay its impact on daily life.

In this regard, according to the sociologist, more specific issues would better reveal the people's political sentiments. 

Hence, the fact that most of the respondents (66%) say that they do not enjoy the freedom to express themselves publicly takes on critical importance; as does the fact that a similar percentage (60%) would rather see direct presidential elections. These positions would seem to reveal "a favorable stance towards greater political pluralism." 

Armando Chaguaceda, meanwhile, emphasizes, as the first factor to take into consideration, "the lack of a legal culture." That is, citizens "are not familiar with the Constitution." And here there lies another possible explanation: the people want changes, but do not realize that they require constitutional reform. 

This could be a function of the absence of a democratic culture, as suggested by Acosta.

Another hypothesis advanced by Chaguaceda is the existence of a "hyperrealistic vision" based on the perception that in recent years real changes (migratory, economic) have occurred "in spite of the Constitution," such that, for practical purposes, they believe it is irrelevant.

However, for the political scientist, the decisive reading is that "there are many types of Cubans who want many types of changes." And there are even those who do not want changes. This would clarify to some extent, for example, the people's indecisiveness regarding the need to suppress the irrevocable character of socialism. 

Entering into play here is what kind of socialism is being talked about. Without denying the existence of a sector of the population that does not identify with socialism as defined by the Cuban State, according to Chaguaceda there is still the possibility of a "more participatory, more democratic" model. 

Apathy: real or feigned?

It is precisely this diversity of opinion that the report attempts to depict through the three main political tendencies found among the interviewees: "consistent reformists", "the apparently apathetic", and "consistent loyalists".

The "consistent reformists" are for a liberalization of Cuban politics (multiple parties, an end to a State ideology), while "consistent loyalists" defend the status quo (one party, the irreversibility of socialism).

The most difficult category to discern is the "apparently apathetic." According to the report, given the Cuban authoritarian context, these individuals might systematically respond "I do not know" to hide their preferences, for fear of possible reprisals they might suffer for answering in a sincere manner. 

However, in Elaine Acosta's view, this type of response could be due to other factors, such as estrangement from the political sphere, rooted in a perception that it is unable to meet and satisfy their expectations.

This would indicate "real apathy" in a certain sector of the population, traceable to its systematic exclusion from political decision-making carried out by the regime. 

This is a phenomenon that, if significant, Acosta points out, represents an obstacle to any project of transition to democracy, as such a shift would require "citizens’ participation." 

Given the variety of positions revealed by the survey, especially in an setting hostile to the expression of political preferences, such as Cuba's, Armando Chaguaceda insists on underscoring the existence of a highly diverse society "in its nuances and positions." 

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