Tag Archives: Civil Society

CUBA’S CRITICAL JUNCTURE: MAIN CHALLENGES

Vegard Bye. Senior Research Fellow Centre for Development and the Environment, University of Oslo. vegard.bye@sum.uio.no

Complete Article: CUBA’S CRITICAL JUNCTURE

Abstract

Cuba is rapidly approaching a critical juncture, where a complete and generational change of leadership is unavoidable (between 2018 and 2021). The country and its Revolution is up against some unavoidable and complicated choices in the coming four years. With the rapidly approaching end of the Castro era, without any clear new leadership structure in sight, and with an apparently unsolvable economic crisis and rapidly shrinking confidence in the political power bloc particularly among the younger generations, a deep legitimacy crisis is looming. What are the principal challenges ahead, and how can and will they be solved?

  1. Introduction

Cuba is rapidly approaching a critical juncture, as a complete and generational change of leadership seems inevitable between now and 2021. The country and its revolution will be facing a series of complex, unavoidable choices in the next four years. With the end of the ‘Castro era’ and no clear new leadership structure in sight, combined with an apparently unsolvable economic crisis and rapidly shrinking confidence in the political power bloc, particularly among the younger generations,1 a deep legitimacy crisis is looming.

This study analyses some of the main challenges represented by the new international setting particularly concerning relations with the USA and the change from Barack Obama (2008–2016 to Donald J. Trump (2016) in the White House. These issues include how the economic crisis is undermining the welfare state that was once the pride of the Cuban Revolution, and the political challenges that may ensue; and how the monolithic character of the Cuban power structure is being put to the test by the increasing differentiation of interests between the early winners and the early losers of the economic reforms. The study also indicates some of the dilemmas of post-totalitarian political transformation identified in the theoretical literature, and relates these to other similar processes. Finally, we present some paradigm choices facing the next generation of leaders, and then discuss how a game of power, hegemony and legitimacy may unfold in post-Castro Cuba. While the most likely outcome still seems to be the continuation of some type of authoritarian and neo-patrimonial system, it is also possible to imagine some key post-Castro decisions that could take the country in a more pluralistic and participatory direction – although President Trump’s return to confrontationalism is making that even less likely. The harsh choice may be between re-building legitimacy and reverting to a much more repressive system.

Discussing political structures and their possible transformation is highly complicated regarding a system as opaque as that of Cuba, where there is no academic or media tradition of open analysis of power structures or ready access to reliable data. Such discussion may become quite speculative, as it is virtually impossible to underpin crucial observations about power relations with firm quantitative data – turning the choice of methodology towards qualitative analysis. Still, we believe it is worth putting together the available theoretical and empirical elements that may give indications about the future direction of a country that has played such a significant role in world politics and political/ideological discussions – a role quite out of proportion to its small size. Cuba offers a laboratory for the analysis of transformative politics.

……………………………….

  1. Conclusions

As yet, fairly authoritarian scenarios appear to be the likely outcomes of the transformation process. However, there remains the question of how absolute is the power that Cuba’s formal power bloc continues to exercise – and whether other options may emerge, against the odds, as the post-Castro generation prepares to take over the reins. Recently revealed remarks by First Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel, the most likely presidential candidate in February 2018, leave few expectations for a prompt break with the past.15

The information monopoly has been definitely broken in Cuba – although the information hegemony may still be in place (Hoffmann 2016). Young people, also party loyalists, encounter no problems in seeking alternative information and views about the outside world as well their own country, including about the root causes of the economic failure. This will have consequences for how the next generation of leaders will need to communicate with the populace, and take public opinion into account, if they want to build a new capital of legitimacy. Moreover, the Party’s social hegemony appears to be slipping away, particularly among younger Cubans who hardly care about what happens at a Party Congress or in other formal decision-making bodies. This may even mean an actual loss of absolute political power – how relevant, then, will the three documents of principle discussed at the 7th Party Congress and ‘supported’ by the mid-2017 session of the National Assembly will be for the future of Cuba?

On the other hand, there seem to be no indications of counter-hegemonic forces developing, within or outside of party and state structures. Still, we should remain aware to the possibility that the looming ‘crisis of legitimacy’ in Cuba might become a ‘crisis of hegemony’ or of ‘authority’ (see Gramsci 1999Anderson 1976). It is no simple matter to apply such concepts, originally developed for analysing social and class forces in early industrial Europe, to the transformation process of a post-totalitarian system or an authoritarian socialist system searching for alternatives. However, the alternative Gramscian concepts of a passive revolution vs. the creation of a counter-hegemonic bloc may still be relevant. In the former, the bourgeoisie (or nomenclature in the Cuban case) would allow certain demands by looking beyond its economic-political interests and allowing the forms of hegemony to change (typically in the way the Nordic model was conceived in the 1930s). This would imply that the Cuban power elite might have to look for a similar adaptation of its hegemonic bloc in order to meet the emerging legitimacy crisis, particularly after 2018. The alternative might well be a deep organic crisis, tempting new social forces to set about building a counter-hegemonic historical bloc, leading to what Gramsci called ‘creating the new’ (which in Cuba would be some kind of post-socialism), rather than ‘restoring the old’ through a passive revolution.

One possible source of challenge to the existing hegemony of the Cuban political system would come from civil society, perhaps feeding on the growing self-confidence felt by private entrepreneurs as their critical economic role becomes more visible and recognised by the regime. ‘What is threatening to authoritarian regimes’, noted Przeworksi (1991: 54–55), ‘is not the breakdown of legitimacy but the organisation of counter-hegemony: collective projects for an alternative future. Only when collective alternatives are available does political choice become available to isolated citizens.’ Thus, according to Przeworski and building on the Gramsci concept of hegemony, the emergence of civil society organisations in itself becomes a relevant force for regime transformation only in a situation of falling legitimacy, if civil society organisations manage to organise a ‘counter-hegemonic bloc’. This has not yet happened in Cuba, nor is there any sign that it is about to happen. That being said, however, serious problems of legitimacy at a critical juncture may result in a new situation.

Moreover, no negotiation scenario is yet on the table in Cuba. Linz and Stepan (1996), Przeworski (1991) and Saxonberg (2013) all introduce the issue of negotiations at specific points during post-totalitarian transformation. Przeworski sees the issue of alliance building between groups willing to negotiate on the part of the regime and civil society as decisive for the outcome of any negotiation: ‘visible splits in the power bloc indicate to the civil society that political space may have been opened for autonomous organization. Hence, popular mobilization and splits in the regime may feed on each other’ (1991: 57).

Cuba has not yet arrived there: power-bloc splits are not evident, nor is there anything like a counterpart with which to negotiate. For that to happen, the combination of regime crisis –perhaps with the prospects of serious repression – and the emergence of a counter-hegemonic alternative would be required. It can only be speculated whether and under what circumstances such a situation might emerge.

Scenario forecasting in Cuba is a highly risky business. Here we make an attempt, identifying three basic scenarios that will gradually emerge with greater clarity as decisions and circumstances unfold in the time ahead:

  1. A neo-patrimonial system, whether ‘socialist’ as in China and Vietnam, or an ‘oligarchic’ variety as in Russia or Angola;16
  2. A transnational neo-authoritarian system: neoliberal capitalism based on massive US and other foreign direct investments, with the full dismantling of the current state and power structure (Cuba as a mini-Florida);
  3. Transformation to a mixed economy with a more pluralist and participatory polity, and the reconstruction of a welfare state: a negotiated process towards some kind of social democratic system.

As shown in Figure 1, we hold that a series of strategic decisions by the post-Castro generation of leaders in favour of more market-oriented economy is what might take Cuba in a less authoritarian direction, while simultaneously helping to rebuild the welfare state.

Vegard Bye

 

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New Publication: CUBA: LOOKING TOWARD THE FUTURE

CUBA: LOOKING TOWARD THE FUTURE

William LeoGrande, Guest Co-editor; Arien Mack, Journal Editor

TABLE OF CONTENTS

William M. Leogrande, Introduction: Cuba Looks to the Future                235

 

PART I: UPDATING THE ECONOMY

Ricardo Torres Pérez, Updating the Cuban Economy: The First 10 Years                                                                                                                            255

Archibald R.M. Ritter,   Private and Cooperative Enterprise in Cuba’s Economic Future                                                                                                                           277

Richard E. Feinberg,  Bienvenida—Maybe: Cuba’s Gradual Opening to World Markets                                                                                                                          305

Katrin Hansing,  Race and Inequality in the New Cuba: Reasons, Dynamics, and Manifestations                                                                                                               331

 

PART II: FACING POLITICAL CHALLENGES

William M. Leogrande,  Updating Cuban Socialism: The Politics of Economic Renovation                                                                                                                     353

Margaret E. Crahan, Cuba: Religion and Civil Society                                          383

Rafael Hernández, Intellectuals, Civil Society, and Political Power in Cuban Socialism  407

Ted A. Henken, Cuba’s Digital Millennials: Independent Digital Media and Civil Society on the Island of the Disconnected                                                                                     429

 

PART III: ENGAGING THE WORLD

 

Philip Brenner And Teresa Garcia Castro,  A Long Legacy of Distrust and the Future of Cuban-US Relations                                                                                                    459

Carlos Oliva Campos And Gary Prevost,  Cuba’s Relations with Latin America   487

Mervyn J. Bain, Havana, Moscow, and Beijing: Looking to the Future in the Shadow of the Past                                                                                                                                          507

 

 

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CUBAN ENTREPRENEURS START FIRST PRIVATE BUSINESS GROUP

A handful of entrepreneurs have quietly formed communist Cuba’s first private small business association, testing the government’s willingness to allow Cubans to organize outside the strict bounds of state control.

By ANDREA RODRIGUEZ, Associated Press. June 1, 2017

HAVANA (AP) — A handful of entrepreneurs have quietly formed communist Cuba’s first private small business association, testing the government’s willingness to allow Cubans to organize outside the strict bounds of state control.

More than a half million Cubans officially work in the private sector, with tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands more working off the books. Cuba’s legal system and centrally planned state economy have changed little since the Cold War, however, and private business people are officially recognized only as “self-employed,” a status with few legal protections and no access to wholesale goods or the ability to import and export.

The government is expected to take an incremental step toward changing that Thursday when Cuba’s National Assembly approves a series of documents updating the country’s economic reform plan and laying out long-term goals through 2030. Those goals include the first official recognition of private enterprise and small- and medium-size businesses, although it could be years before any actual changes are felt on the ground in the country.

The Havana-based Association of Businessmen is trying to move ahead faster, organizing dozens of entrepreneurs into a group that will provide help, advice, training and representation to members of the private sector. The group applied in February for government recognition. While the official deadline for a response has passed, the group has yet to receive either an OK or negative attention from authorities, leaving it in the peculiar status known in Cuba as “alegal” or a-legal, operating unmolested but vulnerable to a crackdown at any time.

“People have approached with a lot of interest but they don’t want to join until we’re officially approved,” said Edilio Hernandez, one of the association’s founders. Trained as a lawyer, Hernandez also works as a self-employed taxi driver.

“Many people really understand that entrepreneurs need a guiding light, someone who helps them,” he said.

Another founder, Rodolfo Marino, has a construction license and has worked privately and under contract to state agencies. He said organizers of the association have gone door-to-door trying to recruit members by convincing them they need independent representation.

The group says roughly 90 entrepreneurs have signed up. Without legal recognition, the group is not yet charging membership fees, the organizers say. Until then, they meet occasionally in Marino’s Havana home to plan their path forward, which includes legal appeals for government recognition.

“We hope to push the country’s economic development forward,” he said.

The number of officially self-employed Cubans has grown by a factor of five, to 535,000 in a country of 11 million, since President Raul Castro launched limited market-based reforms in 2010. The government currently allows 200 types of private work, from language teacher to furniture maker. In reality, many officially self-employed people have become owners of small business, some with dozens of employees and hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual revenue — big number for a country where the monthly state salary is about $25.

Without access to government-controlled imports, exports or wholesale supplies, business owners are emptying the shelves of state stores, either by snapping up items as soon as they arrive or buying them stolen on the black market. That leaves them vulnerable to crackdowns and frequent extortion from state inspectors.

The government has taken a few tentative moves toward easing the situation in recent months — opening stores where owners of some of the country’s 21,000 bed-and-breakfasts and 2,000 private restaurants can buy large quantities of goods, although still at retail prices.

The state has also promised special access to gas and car parts to taxi drivers who comply with widely flouted government caps on fares.

Along with those small steps, the future of the Association of Businessmen is a gauge of Cuba’s openness to private enterprise and its ability to move forward, the group’s founders say.

“We really hope they approve us,” said Hernandez, the lawyer and taxi driver. “If they don’t, we’ll be in the hands of a state that considers us illegal and we won’t be able to reach our goal of representing entrepreneurs. If they do, it will be a sign that things are changing.”

Some Small Enterprises and Entrepreneurs

Photos by Arch Ritter, February 2014

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Fidel’s “Revolutionary Collective Surveillance” Neighborhood Spies Create Social Violence and Hatred

By Yoani Sanchez, Huffington Post, 09/28/2012

Originals article here: Fidel’s “Revolutionary Collective Surveillancw

The stew was cooked on firewood collected by some neighbors, the flags hung in the middle of the block and the shouts of Viva! went on past midnight. A ritual repeated with more or less enthusiasm every September 27 throughout the Island. The eve of the 52nd anniversary of the founding of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR), the official media celebrate on its commemoration, a song intended to energize those who are a part of the organization with the most members in the entire country, and to dust off the old anecdotes of glory and power.

But beyond these formalities, which are repeated identically each year, we can perceive that the influence of the CDR in Cuban life is in a downward spiral. Gone are the days when we were all “CeDeRistas” and the acronym — with the figure of a man brandishing a machete — still shone brightly on the facades of some houses.

Amid the ongoing decline of its prominence, it’s worth asking if the committees have been a more of source of transmission of power to the citizenry, than a representation of us to the government. The facts leave little room for doubt. Since they were created in 1960, they have had an eminently ideological base, marked by informers. Fidel himself said it during the speech in which he announced their creation:

We are going to implement, against imperialist campaigns of aggression, a Revolutionary system of collective surveillance where everybody will know who lives on their block and what relations they have with the tyranny; and what they devote themselves to; who they meet with; what activities they are involved in.

These words from the Maximum Leader are now difficult to find reproduced in full on national websites and newspapers. In part because, despite the unconditional support for the Commander in Chief, the current editors of these spaces know very well that such language is totally out of sync with the 21st century.

That is, what seemed like an exalted Revolutionary speech delivered from the balcony of the Presidential Palace, in the light of today has all the hallmarks of partisan despotism, of the grossest authoritarianism. Big Brother announcing his plan. If those words excited exaltation at the beginning of the sixties… they now provoke in many a mixture of terror, disgust and embarrassment for the man who spoke them.

The “sweeter” side of the CDR is the one that’s always related in official reports, talk about a popular force dedicated to collecting raw material, helping in the vaccination of infants, promoting blood donations, and guarding neighborhoods against crime. Put like that it appears to be an apolitical neighborhood group ready to solve community problems.

Believe me, behind this facade of representation and solidarity is hidden a mechanism of surveillance and control. And I’m not speaking from the distance of my armchair or from the lack of knowledge of a tourist who spends two weeks in Havana.

I was one of those millions of Cuban children who stockpiled empty jars or cartons, cut the grass and handed out anti-mosquito products in the CDRs all over the country. I was also vaccinated against polio and even tasted some plate of stew or other during the fiestas of this organization.

In short, I grew up as a child of the CDR, although when I reached adulthood I refused to become a militant among its ranks. I lived all this and I don’t regret it, because now I can conscientiously say from the inside that all those beautiful moments are dwarfed by the abuse, the injustices, the accusations and control that these so-called committees have visited on me and millions of other Cubans.

I speak of the many young people who were not able to attend university in the years of the greatest ideological extremism because of a bad reference from the president of their CDR. It was enough during a reference check from a school or workplace for some CDRista to say that an individual was “not sufficiently combative” for them to not be accepted for a better job or a university slot.

It was precisely these neighborhood organizations who most forcefully organized the repudiation rallies carried out in 1980 against those Cubans who decided to emigrate through the port of Mariel in what came to be known on the other shore as the Mariel Boatlift. And today they are also the principal cauldron of the repressive acts against the Ladies in White and other dissidents.

They have never worked as a unifying or conciliatory force in society, but rather as a fundamental ingredient in the exacerbation of ideological polarization, social violence, and the creation of hatred.

I remember a young man who lived in my neighborhood of Cayo Hueso, who had long hair and listened to rock music. The president of the CDR made his life so difficult, accused him of so many atrocities simply for the fact of wanting to appear as who he was, that he finally ended up in prison for “pre-criminal dangerousness.” Today this intransigent — this one-time “Frikie” from my block — lives with his daughter in Connecticut, after having his life and reputation dragged through the mud like so many others.

I also know of several big traders in the black market who assumed some post in the committees to use as a cover for their illegal activities. So many who took on the role of “head of surveillance” and were simultaneously the biggest resellers of tobacco, gas, and food in the whole area.

With few exceptions, I did not know ethically commendable people who led a CDR. Rather they attracted those with the lowest human passions: envy before those who prospered a little more; resentment of someone who managed to create a harmonious family; grudges against those who received remittances from family abroad; dislike for everyone who honestly spoke their minds.

This deceitfulness, this absence of values and this accumulation of grievances, have been been one of the fundamental causes for the CDRs’ fall into disgrace.

Because people are tired of hiding their bags so the informing neighbor can’t see it from their balcony. People are tired of the worn out sign in front of their house with the figure with the threatening machete. People are tired of paying a membership fee to an organization that when you need it takes the side of the boss, the State, the Party.

People are tired of 52 anniversaries, one after another, like a stale and nightmarish deja vu. People are tired. And the way to express this exhaustion is with the lowest attendance at CDR meetings, failing to go on night watch to “patrol” the blocks, even avoiding tasting the stew — ever more bland — on the night of September 27.

If doubts remain about why people get tired, we have the words of Fidel Castro himself on that day in 1960, when he revealed from the first moment the objective of his grim creature: “We are going to establish a system of collective surveillance. We are going to establish a system of Revolutionary collective surveillance!”

 

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Dissidents arrested at Paya funeral in Cuba

Radio Netherlands Worldwide, July 24, 2012

Cuban police arrested dozens of dissidents Tuesday after the funeral of Oswaldo Paya, a political activist whose sudden death in a road accident triggered grief and suspicion, AFP reporters said. Those arrested included Guillermo Farinas, a leading rights activist, who was held for questioning by plainclothes police deployed outside the Havana church where Paya’s funeral was held.

At the Funeral of Oswaldo Paya

Farinas, known for hunger strikes that drew attention to the plight of political prisoners in Cuba, and about 50 others were stopped by police after emerging from the funeral mass shouting slogans against the government.

They were forced onto two buses that the church had provided to take people to the cemetery where Paya was to be buried.

Two of Paya’s children have questioned the official account of how their father was killed.

Authorities said Paya, 60, died along with another dissident, Harold Cepero Escalante, on Sunday when their rental car went off the road and struck a tree in southeastern Cuba.

Separately, a Spanish national who was driving the car in which Paya was killed was taken into custody by Cuban police for questioning after being released from a Havana hospital on Monday, a Spanish embassy source said.

The source said Angel Carromero Barrios, a 27-year-old activist with the youth wing of Spain’s ruling Popular Party, was being held in Bayamo, 744 kilometers (462 miles) southeast of Havana.

“He is still in Bayamo, in a detention center,” the source said.

A Swede, 27-year-old Jens Aron Modig, also was in the car at the time of the crash. He was treated at a local hospital and released. The Swedish embassy would not comment on his situation.

Paya, winner of the European Union’s Sakharov prize for human rights in 2002, is best known for confronting the Cuban parliament that year with a petition signed by 11,000 people demanding political change in Cuba.

Known as the “Varela Project,” the initiative was instrumental in opening debate in Cuba on the direction of a communist regime dominated for more than half a century by Fidel Castro and his brother Raul.

Paya was eulogized Tuesday by Cardinal Jaime Ortega, the archbishop of Havana and a key intermediary with Cuba’s ageing leadership, as a man whose political activism was rooted in his Christian faith.

“Oswaldo had a clear political vocation and, as a good Christian, this did not distance him from his faith or religious practice,” Ortega said.

“On the contrary, he always looked to his Christian faith as inspiration for his political options.”

His death brought a flood of reaction praising his courage and dedication to human rights.

Pope Benedict XVI extended condolences to Paya’s family in a statement that Ortega read at the funeral service.

In Chile, two lawmakers complained that they had been denied visas to attend Paya’s funeral. Senator Patricio Walker and congressman Juan Carlos Latorre, both members of Chile’s Christian Democratic party, had applied for the visas Monday at the Cuban consulate in Santiago.

“They had given me the visa, the truth is I was bit surprised,” Walker told reporters. “The consul called me and said that it was a mistake, that tourist visas could not be given to holders of diplomatic passports.”

 

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Canada Offers Condolences on Death of Cuban Activist

 

July 24, 2012 – The Honourable Diane Ablonczy, Minister of State of Foreign Affairs (Americas and Consular Affairs), today issued the following statement on the death of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas:

“I was saddened to learn of the tragic death of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas.

“Mr. Payá dedicated his life to defending civil liberties and human rights, and he was one of Cuba’s most prominent voices for democratic change. He received the Sakharov Prize in 2002. In 2005, and again in 2011, he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

“His commitment to dialogue and non-violence and his support for a vibrant civil society in which religious organizations play an important role stand out as a positive example for the continued development of democracy in Cuba. My thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of this tireless champion of freedom and democracy.”

– 30 –

For further information, media representatives may contact:

Gemma Collins
Director of Communications
Office of the Minister of State of Foreign Affairs (Americas and Consular Affairs)
613-944-1291

Foreign Affairs Media Relations Office
Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada
613-995-1874

 

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Dagoberto Valdes, ” Cuba Does Have Ideas, Projects and Actors for Its Future”

Dagoberto Valdes has published an interesting article on Cuban democracy in the Cuban Study Group’s “From the Island” series. The essay is available here: Dagoberto Valdes, From the Island June 2012 and here: Cuban Studies Group: From the Island: Issue #11

Here is a brief excerpt from Valdes’ text:

“WHAT CUBA NEEDS IS TO LEARN TO BUILD, PIECE BY PIECE, THE ROAD TO DEMOCRACY.
Therefore to those who stop, or attempt to monopolize for their own benefit the processes of change, arguing that there is no outstanding leader and viable project, we could say that Cuba does not need more of this. Its history, past and recent, shows conclusively where these two messianic and excluding aspirations eventually lead. On the contrary, Cuba needs to believe and be convinced that democracy is built, block by block, step by step, with all the pieces of the national puzzle. “Democracy is the worst of all political systems, with the exception of all others”—joked very seriously, Winston Churchill. This may be one of the political lessons that Cuba needs most to come out of its civic illiteracy. Never seek the perfect project, forever. Democracy is the art of trial and error, without improvisation, or opportunism, or unethical pragmatism. And not to tie the score means not to tie to the nation, to any political project, exclusive economic or social. And much less one that is considered the kingdom of heaven here on earth.
What Cuba needs is to learn to patiently assemble the national puzzle without ignoring, discrediting, or destroying any of its “pieces” that are not such, but free and responsible citizens or peaceful and non-sectarian groups. Must also avoid considering actors and projects as parts of a machine manipulated by a single group or person who, without transparency, believe they can lead the masses to a future that is cooked in the backyard of the nation.
What Cuba needs is to create viable and pluralistic thought to start designing its own future consistent and faithful with its historical roots, cultural heritage, spirituality and idiosyncrasies.”

DAGOBERTO VALDÉS HERNÁNDEZ, (Pinar del Río, Cuba, 1955)

Intelectual católico. Graduado de ingeniero agrónomo (1980)
Fundador del Centro de Formación Cívica y Religiosa (1993)
Fundador y director de la revista Vitral (1994-2007) (www.vitral.org)
Miembro del Pontificio Consejo Justicia y Paz del Vaticano (1999-2005)
Presidente del Instituto de Estudios Cubanos (IEC) desde 2007.
Director de la revista Convivencia desde 2008. (www.convivenciacuba.es)

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