In This Review

Back from the Future: Cuba under Castro
Back from the Future: Cuba under Castro
By Susan Eva Eckstein
Princeton University Press, 1994, 286 pp.

This important book by Susan Eckstein, a professor of sociology at Boston University, is an ambitious attempt to provide a broad overview of Cuba under the Castro regime. The author looks systematically at the role of the state, economic policy, social and demographic changes, health and welfare, Cuba's overseas commitments, and the current crisis.

Among Eckstein's more interesting conclusions is her observation that the regime's social successes have produced a demographic profile (mainly due to fertility decline) more closely resembling that of a highly industrialized country than of a Third World nation, contributing to the burden of health and retirement costs that now overwhelm Cuba's productive capacity. She also confirms that the impact of hard currency remittances from family members overseas has contributed to growing social tensions in Cuba by, in effect, rewarding enemies of the regime and punishing its supporters.

Thus, ironically, two of the principal medium-term threats to the Castro government -- the mass emigration of young men, which could be enormously damaging to the Cuban economy, and the de facto dollarization of the economy -- were precisely the two elements the Clinton administration chose to mitigate by its new policies on Cuban immigration and its prohibition of remittances.

Eckstein, however, never fully resolves her own ambivalent attitude toward the Castro regime, nor does she shake herself free from ritualistic bows to social science "theory" or the demands of academic political correctness, where criticism of Castro remains cautious at best. This is a great pity, given the strengths of her research, and because she clearly has the ability to write a book that appeals to a broader public than the denizens of sociology seminars. Her descriptions of the committees for the defense of the revolution, for example, make these intrusive arms of a dictatorial state sound like community self-help organizations, providing meals-on-wheels to senior citizens in small-town Massachusetts. And this despite the fact that her comparative statistical analysis of the Castro regime's achievements and failures is devastating.

Her review of Castro's various attempts at partial market reforms is also pessimistic. She hopes the future will preserve what she holds to be the regime's achievements, "Cuba's health welfare, its reduction of rural/urban and class inequities, and the gains of women and dark-skinned islanders." Yet many of these gains were surely bought at the cost of Soviet subsidies, as the current lack of supplies, nutritional deficiencies, and rampant inflation demonstrate; they cannot all be blamed on the U.S. embargo. In the end this book, despite itself, is not optimistic about the prospects for an inevitable transition to a postcommunist Cuba. It makes for very sober reading that specialists and policymakers should take note of.