Cuba is organized politically into fourteen provinces and 169 municipalities. Its socialist system is hierarchical and bureaucratic. The 525,000-member vanguard or cadre party, the Cuban Communist party (PCC) is led by Fidel Castro, the first party secretary, and his brother Raúl Castro, the second party secretary. The Political Bureau has responsibility for supervising economic, political, and military activities. In 1991 the 1,667 delegates to the Fourth Party Congress, acting on recommendations at local meetings attended by some 3.5 million people throughout the island, cut the staff of the 225-member Central Committee by one-half and reduced the number of departments by more than one-half. Alternates in the Political Bureau were abolished, and the Secretariat was terminated. The congress also called for increased review and recall of party officials and special sessions to deal with the economic crises at the provincial and municipal levels.
Secret-ballot elections to the municipal assemblies in 1992 and elections to the provincial and national assemblies in 1993 significantly reduced the number of incumbents who had been part of the decision-making bodies for decades. Membership in the Communist party was no longer a requirement in selecting delegates. By 1993, half of the members of the National Assembly were directly elected municipal-assembly delegates; more and younger delegates represented the trades, medicine, and culture.
Social Organization. In contrast to the prerevolutionary years, Cuba is attempting to create a society in which neither class nor circumstances of occupation, income, race, or sex define social opportunities and rewards. The most significant challenges for the Revolution since the collapse of the Eastern bloc are providing equal access to political and economic opportunities without creating a privileged group in society or loss of conscious socialist goals, and simultaneously moving the economy toward diversification and industrialization.
Political Organization. Prior to 1959, participation in the national and local political processes was limited. Between 1959 and 1970, the revolutionary government largely centralized authority and provided limited representative or direct access to decision making. Reorganization of the political system in 1970 was designed to allow greater input into policy formation at all levels. Legislative reforms in 1976 and again in 1992 and 1993 were illustrative of a trend toward increasing participation in economic decision making at all levels. To ensure wider input and greater understanding of the potential effects of change prior to policy formation, it was required that meetings be held with mass organizations and constituencies.
Most citizens belong to at least one of the mass organizations (committees for the defense of the Revolution, the Confederation of Cuban Workers, the Federation of Cuban Women, the National Association of Small Farmers) or to specific professional or student associations. Several human-rights organizations, founded outside the established political process, are not recognized by the government. In 1994 the government announced the visit of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the creation of an ad hoc committee within the National Assembly to review and report on political, social, economic, cultural, and individual rights.
Conflict. From 1898 to 1959, Cuba experienced several political and economic crises that resulted in armed revolts against government officials and in military and political intervention by the United States. Between 1953 and 1959, armed struggle in the cities and countryside culminated in a successful revolution. Subsequently, more than 200,000 mainly upper- and middle-class Cubans left the island. A small percentage of the exiles in the United States has established organizations that have actively sought the overthrow and/or destabilization of the Cuban government and have resisted U.S. rapproachment with Cuba.
U.S. opposition to Cuban expropriation of U.S. businesses, implementation of a socialist agenda, and relations with the Soviet Union strained U.S.-Cuban relations early in the revolutionary struggle. Immediate consequences included U.S. training and equipping of Cuban exiles in the Playa Girón (Bay of Pigs) invasion of 1961, attempts to isolate Cuba economically and diplomatically in the Western Hemisphere, and a U.S. trade embargo. The 1962 Cuban missile crisis and Cuban support of revolutions and anticolonial movements in Latin America and Africa contributed to further tensions between the United States and Cuba.
Dependence on Soviet support and trade with Eastern Europe complicated Cuban-Eastern bloc relations in the late 1980s as those nations disavowed socialism. Cuba has made substantive efforts to rebuild diplomatic and trade relations with Latin America and increase trade with other nonsocialist nations. Despite three separate votes in the United Nations condemning the U.S. embargo of Cuba as a violation of international law, the United States has determinedly continued the embargo.
Within Cuba, the most significant political conflicts center around perceptions of counterrevolutionary activity. Although criticism is encouraged within the socialist-revolutionary framework, individuals and organizations attempting to operate actively outside this framework or perceived as opponents of the socialist system are subject to legal proceedings that typically result in incarceration. Internal conflict in the 1980s was exemplified by the exodus of more than 125,000 Cubans to the United States from Mariel, the growth of various human-rights organizations, and the trials of high-echelon political and military leaders on drug-trafficking and other counterrevolutionary charges. The collapse of the Soviet bloc contributed to shortages of consumer goods, food, and medicine, as well as to blackouts and transportation and production problems resulting from fuel shortages. Emphasis on tourism to earn necessary foreign exchange and the decriminalization of the dollar were increasingly criticized for creating a dual standard of living and social problems such as prostitution. The economic decline resulted in heretofore rare public demonstrations against the government.
U.S. determination to see the Cuban government overthrown was reflected in the tightening of the embargo in 1992. An immigration policy that denied Cubans legal visas while allowing them entry through illegal means created an immigration crisis in the summer of 1994. Ultimately, the United States reversed its policy of preferential treatment for Cubans and sent those attempting to enter the United States illegally to camps at Guantanamo Naval Base and elsewhere. It also entered into new discussions with the Cuban government on immigration but rescinded many travel opportunities and tightened controls on dollar transfers.