Complete Review: Cuba in Transition]

Rubrick Biegon   (Lecturer in international relations at the University of Kent, Canterbury, UK.

Books Included in this Review

Aviva Chomsky, Barry Carr, Alfredo Prieto, and Pamela Maria Smorkaloff, eds.,The Cuba Reader: History, Culture, Politics. 2nd ed., revised and updated. Durham: Duke University Press, 2019. Figures, notes, index, 744 pp.; hardcover $129.95, paperback $32.95, ebook $32.95.

Carmelo Mesa-Lago, ed., Voices of Change in Cuba from the Non-State Sector . Pitts-burgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2018. Abbreviations, appendixes, figures, tables, notes, bibliography, index, 178 pp.; paperback $29.95, ebook $28.76.

Scott Morgenstern, Jorge Pérez-López, and Jerome Branche, eds., Paths for Cuba: Reforming Communism in Comparative Perspective . Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2018. Tables, figures, bibliography, index, 408 pp.; paperback $37.95, ebook $29.57.

Louis A. Pérez, Jr., Rice in the Time of Sugar: The Political Economy of Food in Cuba. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2019. Tables, figures, bibliography, index, 264 pp.; hardcover $90, paperback $29.95, ebook $22.99.

Margaret Randall, Exporting Revolution: Cuba’s Global Solidarity . Durham: Duke University Press, 2017. Notes, bibliography, index, 270 pp.; hardcover $99.95, paperback $26.95, ebook $25.60.


Cuban politics and society are in a period of extended transition. From 2006 to 2008, Fidel Castro transferred authority to his brother Raúl, who subsequently sought to “update” Cuba’s economic model. The younger Castro stepped down in 2018, not long after Fidel’s death in 2016. Miguel Díaz-Canel, born after the Cuban Revolution, became head of state. Raúl retired from his position atop the Partido Comunista de Cuba (PCC) in April 2021. As the country settles into the post-Castro era, it wrestles with a myriad of social and cultural issues intertwined with ongoing processes of reform and modernization. Academic research has sought to make sense of these developments while situating new trends in the wide sweep of Cuban history.

Cuba’s foreign relations have also seen profound (if uneven) change in recent years. Most prominently, the dramatic events of December 2014, when Barack Obama and Raúl Castro simultaneously announced their intent to reestablish diplo-matic relations, ushered in a new dynamic with the United States, as leaders pledged to move beyond decades of animosity. The two countries formally reestablished full diplomatic ties in 2015. The following year, Obama became the first sitting US pres- ident to visit the island in nearly a century. Donald Trump was elected after pledg – ing to cancel Obama’s “deal,” however. The Trump administration retightened
Washington’s embargo on the country, which had been relaxed under Obama. Even as Havana has forged new international partnerships, scholars have been compelled to scrutinize the twists and turns in Cuba’s all-important, highly asymmetrical rela – tionship with the United States (Biegon 2020; Hershberg and LeoGrande 2016).

The six books under review offer a variety of perspectives on Cuba’s contemporary reality, the historical contexts structuring recent political and economic shifts, and the international currents shaping the country’s post-Castro trajectory. Published after the 2014–16 rapprochement with the United States, they reflect a broadly forward-looking atmosphere in Cuban studies. Written as the generation of revolutionary históricos exited the leadership scene, the texts reinforce the notion that Cuba’s transition is both real and ambiguous. Instead of painting a uniform picture, they offer critical and, at times, competing insights on the intersection of the political and economic reforms undertaken by Cuba’s leadership and the social,
cultural, and global dynamics beyond the scope of state authority. The authors cover a breadth of interrelated topics sure to motivate scholarly discussions of Cuba for the duration of the 2020s and beyond.

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