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Below is a 35 page report on Cuba's social control system.





Social Control in Cuba

B. E. Aguirre

Department of Sociology

Texas A&M University

College Station, Texas 77843


Social Control in Cuba


The paper uses available information to describe the characteristics and dynamics of social control in Cuba. It argues against the often too-sharply made contrast between formal and informal systems of social control. The dichotomy, based on the presence of formal planning, programs and staff or, alternatively, the occurrence of largely unplanned and desirable socialization outcomes and politically non dissident social actors, does not correspond to the Cuban experience. The types of social control become blurred where, as in Cuba, a political party and a state apparatus succeeds in transforming the organization of the society and culture.

Social Control in Cuba

Despite the enormous economic crisis experienced by Cuba in the aftermath of the 1989 disappearance of the Soviet Union, the systems of social control in the island have been very effective in minimizing the number of people who participate in political protests, the number and variety of places in the society in which these overt political acts have occurred, and the institutions of civil society which would provide support for political alternatives. It has virtually eliminated all iconic dissident leaders and rendered very difficult all communication and coordination among members of dissident groups and publics. The system has also succeeded in reducing the degree of conceptual sophistication of the ideologies of resistance articulating the values and goals of the political dissidence, the knowledge of these ideologies among Cubans, their awareness of governmental abuse, and the ability of dissidents to claim ownership of the central constitutive historical experiences, beliefs, values and myths of the nation. This formidable list of successes is not due solely or primarily to the operation of formal social control mechanisms, despite their effectiveness (see below). Instead, as is true to some extent in all societies (Boudon and Bourricaud, 1989, 331-333), they are the result of a broader effort to transform Cuba's society and culture on behalf of an ideology that justifies the continued political domination of the state by the present day regime.

Research in collective action considers the impact of social

control on social movement organizations (Lofland, 1996, 305-344), often differentiating between external, formal systems of social control (characterized by explicitly designed planning, programs and professional staff acting to maintain political stability) and internalized, informal systems of social control (producing politically non deviant social actors as outcomes of custom, socialization into a dominant ideology and the prevailing institutional agreements and arrangements, the occurrence of gossip and other forms of group censure, creation of consumption needs through advertising, and the attempts by the individual to maximize perceived advantages).

The writings of N. Smelser and P. Berger are in some ways emblematic of both approaches to social control. Smelser presents (1962) arguably the most elegant and thoroughgoing treatment of mostly formal social control in the social science literature of collective behavior, examining reactive social control mechanisms, or those “mobilized after a collective episode has begun to materialize” (17), and how the agencies of control “behave in the face of a potential or actual outburst”. By way of contrast, Berger (1990) provides us with an important social science analysis of the nature of internalized, informal social controls. Reminiscent of M. Foucault’s emphasis on the general qualities of modern disciplinary society, control in Bergerian terms is an outcome of social actors’ involvement in three circularly dynamically interrelated “moments” in the process of society: externalization, objectivation, and internalization. People construct and reconstruct their locations in society in the presence and with the assistance of others, so that society is “human meaning externalized in human activity (8)”. The institutions of society, its myths and rituals, are dependent on externalization, an intrinsic quality of being human. Moreover, institutions thus constructed take on lives of their own, become objects, controlling and channeling the actions of human beings.

Social control and societal coercion are in part derived from this process of objectivation, as the society that is created by human interaction becomes relatively independent of it even as it powers over it. Control also occurs as an outcome of internalization, or the “reabsorption into consciousness of the objectivated world in such a way that the structures of this world come to determine the subjective structures of consciousness itself (15).” Through socialization, human beings incorporate in their consciousness the objective features of their societies even as they recognize the external, object-like quality of these features. They learn to represent and express these objective features as parts of themselves.

In the Bergerian perspective political legitimization is what passes for knowledge in a given society at a given time, not only the ideas of intellectuals but also the ethno knowledge of the folk. Berger differentiates between self-legitimating facticities and secondary legitimations, which occur as people react to challenges to the established explanations. They range from statements of facts, “this is the way it is,” to myths, legends and folk tales, to abstract all encompassing conceptual systems legitimating the organization of the society and its political system.

The Cuban Case. The aforementioned analytic distinction between external, formally constituted programs of social control and internalized systems of control becomes more problematic than usual in understanding societies like Cuba where a political party and a state apparatus actively attempts and often succeeds in transforming the organization of the society and culture. In these societies, the formal system of social control, the police, the repressive apparatus of the state, forms an integral part of the informal system and vice versa, for both are parts of an all-inclusive attempt to bring about and maintain society-wide political domination.

It is useful to maintain the conceptual separation between formal and informal systems of social control, between Smelser’s emphasis on the action of social control agencies and personnel and Berger’s emphasis on the controlling effects of general processes of social life. Doing so alerts us to the ways some national political systems incorporate the operation of both into a hegemonic ideology, a corresponding national political culture, and a centrally planned society. Cuba constitutes an excellent case study of this practice. Its government has been in uninterrupted power for close to 40 years, long enough to create institutions, collective memories and facts as part of a more or less cogent national cultural policy. It has total command of formal education and the mass media. It has a near monopoly of the information and interpretations used by Cubans to make sense of their social world. The government is assiduously attentive to the provision of explanations and creation and enforcement of norms shaping people’s beliefs regarding the exercise of political power, explanations which become "officially-imagined worlds" providing political legitimacy to the government (Berger, 29).

Both formal and informal systems of control enact (and are legitimated by) an ideology, a system of symbols and meanings used by the government and which "serve to establish and sustain relations of domination (Thompson, 1990, 56)." It is thus useful to think of social control as the structured support system of the ideology of the elite in power. In functional terms, the fundamental quality of this system is its combination of openness and rigidity. The seemingly contradictory analogy of a dynamic mold captures its essence: it is dynamic in its openness to the people and its encouragement of their participation in the officially approved ways and programs; it is a mold in its rigidity, its defining and limiting functions, its insistence in preserving the principles the government identifies as key elements for its maintenance of political hegemony.

The analogy of the dynamic mold finds expression in many

contexts of organized social life. One example of how it operates in

the institution of formal education must suffice. In Cuba, the

absence of independent teachers' professional associations is paired

with the predominance of the state bureaucracy and its central

planning. Public education is the only system of formal education

available. The national state is the only employer. Workers in the

institution of education are grouped by the Cuban state into a syndicate. Their syndicate, however, is not a mechanism of interest politics but is instead part of the socialist state apparatus. It has direct representation in and direction from the Central Committee

(CC) of the Cuban Communist Party (CCP), as part of its Education, Science, Culture, and Sports directorate.

Educational workers' initiatives to change educational practices must first receive recognition and approval from school directors. Typically, at the pre-university level the director very often must make these decisions with the input and agreement of the member of the staff assigned to represent the Cuban Communist Party (CCP) in the school and the school' student leaders who are members of the Federation of Middle Level Students (FEEM) in the school. Workers' initiatives that pass this first screening are then referred to the municipal office of the Ministry of Education, which also must approve the initiative or change it to conform to established policy. If the most-likely modified initiative successfully passes this second screening it is then referred to the national offices of the Ministry of Education for evaluation. In turn, if it passes this third screening it is referred by the Ministry to the Central Committee of the CCP for evaluation and possible approval. Alternatively, the Ministry can advise its municipal office to present the initiatives to its municipal representatives to the next national congress of educational workers. If the initiative secures the agreement of the municipal representatives to the congress it is then discussed in the congress and evaluated at the national level.

In turn, if the initiative becomes part of the final set of recommendations of the congress, it is then evaluated by the CC and may become official educational policy.

We give this description of institutionalized educational dynamics to show that even as participation by the mass of the people is encouraged, only a very narrow range of local level initiatives to change educational practices ever succeed in becoming policy. The successful claims must "fit" in some fashion within the larger plans of the government before they become policy. The consequence has been that some topics of great importance to the teaching profession, such as improvements in teachers' salary, work hours and other conditions of work, or the standards used to promote students, are outside the range of ‘appropriate’ topics of policy discussion. Instead, these matters may be considered in the national development plan devised and executed by the state.

The aforementioned social organization creates many opportunities for the encouragement of citizen participation even as it controls their participation, creates "explanations" for the decisions that are finally taken by the authorities, and monitors and surveys persons as they interact. Ever present in these officially approved gatherings are the members of the security services, obtaining information on individual lives that become part of official records or dossiers and which may, at some yet-to-be determined moment, become important determinants of life chances. Their presence, whether real or assumed, overt or covert, informs the behavior of participants in these gatherings. Thus, in the above example the school and municipal assemblies and the national congress are all gatherings controlled by the CCP and the appropriate, topically-related mass organizations of the state (some of the most important of which are the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, the Federation of Cuban Women, the Union of Communist Youth, and the Confederation of Cuban Workers (CTC)).

The institution of education forms part of the natural, takenfor-granted world of Cuban people, which, repeated in many different institutional and substantive contexts, constitutes the primary source of support of the ideology of domination of the government and the political stability of the regime. This "natural world" limits in most cases the need for explicit political repression, which becomes relevant at the margin, directed against the few recalcitrant dreamers who refuse to abide.

Elements of the Formal System. There is consensus that violations of human rights by the Cuban state are more serious than in many other countries. Humana (1992) ranks Cuba in the 30th percentile (from the bottom) in his comparative assessment of countries circa 1991. For 1988-1992, Gastil ranks Cuba 7 (lowest ranking in a scale of 1 through 7) in political rights and civil liberties, respectively. The exception is a ranking of 6 for the year 1988 (in civil liberties). More recently, Milner (1995 and personal communication), using worldwide comparative information from Amnesty International for 1980-87, gives Cuba a ranking of 3 (in a scale of 1 for lowest through 5 for highest). He duplicates this ranking using US State Department information (except for a ranking of 4 for 1986).

Cuba’s system of formal control is geared to block all anti hegemonic acts of individuals and organizations. These include acts that if left unchecked could become symbolic acts encouraging similar patterns of behaviors perceived as undesirable by the authorities (for an extended treatment of this principle of formal social control see Sztompka, 1994, pp. 250-258). It is also geared to destroy autonomous organizations, their cadres and leaders. It has rendered harmless or destroyed dissident organizations as well as fledging professional and voluntary associations.

Despite recent changes in its top staff (Menier, 1994; Granma, August 30, 1989, 3-5), Cuba’s Ministry of the Interior (Minint) continues to work closely with the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) throughout the island to repress all opposition to the regime (Aguirre, 1984; Menier, 1994, p. 46). Partly through its use of the CDRs, Minint potentially can obtain information on the daily activities of all persons in Cuba. In late 1980s Minint had approximately 100,000 office workers. They included 500,000 active agents producing operational information on a regular basis and close to 3 million inactive agents or “frozen sources” (out of population of approximately 11 million people) who could be activated to inform on others if the situation warranted it (Menier, 1994, pp. 50-51). Minint is prepared for the eventuality of massive political disturbances. It has special military units trained to use live ammunition against the population. Minint is divided into three departments: the “Departamento Tecnico de Investigaciones” (DTI, Department of Technical Investigations), the National Revolutionary Police (PNR), and the “Departamento de Seguridad del Estado” (DSE, Department of State Security in charge of political crimes). Each department has units operating throughout the country (for an account of their penal institutions and operations see Gonzalez Gonzalez, 1995). There are 266 prisons; 167 are correctional institutions and 45 are high security prisons (CN #101, 102).

Reportedly, Minit’s best estimate is that prior to 1989 only 10% of the people were strong supporters of the regime (Menier, 1994, pp. 82-83). Given the disappearance of the international communist block and the resulting problems for Cuba, the percentage must be smaller nowadays. It is perhaps because of this decline in support that recently Cuba‘s repressive system has begun to sporadically use mass terror. Its use is reminiscent of the mass arrests that took place throughout the country during the Bay of Pigs invasion in April of 1961. While in the past its purpose was to render oppositionists incapable of organizing and threatening the state (Salas, 1979), nowadays the unprecedented level of popular discontent has brought about the use of more drastic measures such as mass arrests and the isolated killings by police officers of civilians in streets (#Segundo.Pm4, 1991; #Cedeno, 1991; #Torres, 1992; CN #106, 113, 124), prisons (#Timoneda, 1992; #Zamora, 1992, CN #104), rural areas (#Trujillo, 1991; #Arcelse, 1991) and parks (#O’Relly.PM4, 1991). While effective in the short-range, these and other relatively broadly gauged repressive measures create similarities of experiences among thousands of victims and their families and a shared sense of injustice that helps develop a tradition of dissidence and sporadic protests in the island.

Cuba’s security systems use a wide array of means to repress the members of dissident organizations. These means are incarceration, house arrest, surveillance or its threat, misinformation, public discreditation, illegal procedures, forced exile from the country of dissident organizers and leaders, limiting the mobility and communication inside the country of perceived dissidents, banishments to or from specific cities, provinces or regions of the country, physical force, at time administered in the streets by anonymous state agents dressed as civilians (CN #24), verbal threats, warnings, economic injury, and infiltration of groups and organizations by security agents to create demoralization, conflict and distrust among participants (for the classic statement of many of these repressive tactics see Marx, 1979; see also Schulz, 1993; for a recent account of victims see Correa, 1995a).

These techniques reflect the enforcers’ understanding of the presence of important variations in people’s willingness to accept risk. In Cuba there are both primary and “surrogate” subjects of social control. The surrogate subjects are family members, friends, or other persons who are or can be sanctioned by the security systems to make the primary subject of the repression recant. Not only activists but also their spouses and other kin are fired from their work places (#X10Mara, 1992; CN #103, 110, 111, 114), or threatened with prison (#Rivas, 1991), or requested to divorce the dissidents (Lopez, 1997).

During the present crisis military officers are in charge of institutions and organizations of the state (Aroca, 1995a). Thus, in 1990 for the first time an army general was made national coordinator of the CDRs, and the mass organization was made part of the Ministry of the Armed Forces (Minfar). In conjunction with this militarization, a plethora of new or reactivated social control agencies with multiple rationales and specific goals have been created, recreated and at times consolidated. Some of them are the Territorial Troop Militia, the Armed Forces National Defense College, opened in 1991, The National Social Prevention and Attention Commission, (created in 1986 to improve the vigilance of the CDRs), the vigilance brigades (started in Santiago de Cuba in 1991), the peasant vigilance detachments (1991), the National Revolutionary Police Auxiliary Forces, the Unified Vigilance and Protection System (1991), the rapid action detachments (1991), worker guards, and People’s Councils (Bunck, 1994, 69-70, 178-179).

Analytically, the most important post-1989 change in the system of state repression is the comparatively greater importance given to reactive rather than proactive approaches to social control. The state, no longer capable of constructing, maintaining and enforcing tightly structured schedules for people’s lives, now aggressively attempts to maintain control of spaces where unauthorized gatherings of people take place. The control of spaces occurs through various means, to include officially sponsored instances of collective behavior. Recurrently, the state produces and uses moral panics based on mass fears of US imperialism to mobilize people and divert attention from internal difficulties (CN #28). It also uses conventionalized forms of collective behavior. Thus, it scheduled a young children’s festival in Havana’s “Malecon” (seafront wall) on July 13, 1995, the day of the first anniversary of the drowning of boat passengers by Cuba’s coast guard (see below), and then followed it by mass demonstrations the next day. The end result is that the festival precluded protest activities in the area (Valdes, 1995; CN #5). Similarly, it scheduled in Havana the 14th World Festival of Youth and Students to conclude on the 5th of August of 1997 so as to correspond with the anniversary of the 1994 riots (see below). Proactive repression against perceived dissidents takes place particularly before the occurrences of collective behavior events that the state cannot manipulate in their entirety such as festivals, games and other large gatherings of foreign guests (CN #29).

Many of the new systems of repression are ambulatory rather than stationary. The government can no longer command total control of all time and space coordinates in Cuba (Aguirre, 1984). Instead, it prepares its followers and resources to repress people wherever and whenever protests or other collective acts occur. One of the most important new social organizations carrying out official repression is the rapid action detachment or brigade. The brigades are designed to forcefully repress the occurrence of all verbal, written, or social interaction that is interpreted as counterrevolutionary dissidence. They first operated in Havana during the 1991 Pan American Games, for the regime feared that the presence of international mass media organizations covering the events would precipitate a wave of demonstrations against it (#Medidas, 1991; #Panamer, 1991). Their members are young armed men acting with the support of the police. Most rapid action brigades are composed of CCP members, Minint officers dressed as civilians (CN #1), workers and members of the Union de Jovenes Comunistas (UJC, Union of Communist Youth, #Reglame, 1991). The mobilization of the brigade occurs at the request of the CCP or whenever a situation demands an immediate response from the authorities (#Reglame, 1991). There are training schools for brigade members (#Camisas, 1991) and permanent Minint bases for the brigades (Fogel and Rosenthal, 1994, 473).

Brigades engage in a finite number of types of repressive activities (i.e., #Fascisto, 1991; #Yanes3, 1992; #Batida.pm4, 1992; #Chaple2, 1994; CN #69I; CN #100, 109). Sometimes their actions are predominantly verbal attacks (but see Alfonso, 1994d), as in many “actos de repudio” (acts of repudiation) in which the target’s location--for example a human rights activist’s residence--has been established for some time prior to the mobilization of the brigade. In other instances, however, the attacks are predominantly physical, as when rapid action brigades attack gatherings that are perceived by the authorities to have claimed unauthorized control over a public space such as a park or a beach. Thus the Blas Roca Brigade (or contingent) supported a special police brigade and evicted by force crowds of handicapped people and their helpers who were peddling in a park across from the main train station in Havana (CN #22, 111).

Another example occurred when brigades attacked members of the Democratic Cuban Worker Federation (CTDC) at the conclusion of a mass at the Sacred Heart Church in downtown Havana; 15 workers were injured and others were arrested (LAT 93-088, 10 May 1993). Officials of the Cuban government legitimize the activities of rapid action brigades.

The rapid transformation of the systems of repression has not occurred without cost to the state. The use of brigades creates divisions and conflicts among categories of citizens who have been strong supporters of the revolutionary government (Bengelsdorf, 1994, 174; Fogel and Rosenthal, 1994, 291). During the comparatively tranquil years of the late 1970s and early 1980s, the CDR and other key mass organizations that had been important mechanisms of social control of the state gradually settled into routine activities on behalf of the revolution such as vaccination campaigns (Aguirre, 1984). Minint estimated in 1986 that nationwide only 5% of the members of the CDR were willing to do guard duty at night (Menier, 1994, p. 46; #CDR, 1994). Nowadays, at times there is conflict between the older stationary systems of social control and the new ambulatory systems. People who operated stationary systems such as the CDRs react against the presence in their neighborhoods of participants in the new ambulatory systems or repression. This is unsurprising, for in the old system people’s sense of loyalty was to a place for which they were responsible and to their neighbors (or co-workers). This place is invaded by collectivities of people who are strangers to it and to them and who act against members of the neighborhood or the work place. Examples of the ensuing conflict abound in the record (#Alvarez, 1992). Human right activists are one of the main targets of the brigades (#Yanes; 1992; #Tirojuan, 1992; #Chaple2, 1994; see also Hidalgo, 1994, pp. 303-318). In a number of instances their neighbors defended them against their attackers (#Yanes, 1992; see also #Chaple2, 1994; #Aguado.pm4, 1991; #Chaple2, 1994). Other instances of resistance by neighbors have occurred as they defended independent journalists (CN #25; El Nuevo Herald, 22 February 1997, 11A) and labor union members of the Cuban Democratic Workers Confederation (CN #23). Similarly, neighbors at time succeed in stopping police from evicting people from their homes (CN #21, #61, #63; #78).

The Failures. The aforementioned system of social control is

most effective in destroying independent associations and dissident leaders and organizations. It is least effective in controlling the emergence of a generalized culture of opposition to the government. Paradoxically, its very activities of repressing people have the largely unintended effect of creating similarities of experiences and collective awareness among them. It has also transformed the culture of the neighborhood, making the neighborhood identity an important

facilitator of mobilization as people react against official actions.

The continued effective repression and neutralization of social movement organizations by the state security systems, the relative lack of independent associations and civil society, and the division of the opposition regarding strategies and tactics make relative noninstitutionalized collective behavior the primary means that the people of Cuba have to demand changes in the political system (manuscript available upon request). One of the most important is the brutality-generated protest. The operational crudeness of the state repressive system is an unwitting mechanism creating antihegemonic hostile collective political participation. These excesses usually happen as a result of breakdowns in the internal organization of repressive bureaucracies and lack of supervision of lower echelon officials. Many official actions are unnecessarily violent, such as the killing of returning war veterans (#O’Relly, 1991; see also #Quintero, 1991). As in Northern Ireland and Palestine, killings by police officers or other official representatives of the regime are followed by funeral processions that become protest marches (#Cueva.pm4, 1991; El Nuevo Herald, 8 April 1994; Bower, 1995; compare with Peretz, 1990). Cases of police brutality occasion instances of public protest that vary in their length and complexity. In prototypical fashion, a gathering of people protests the killing of a citizen by the police and is met with violent acts of repression from special units of the Minint and rapid action brigades (#Disturb, 1994). Through this process local traditions of protest are being created in Cuba and the dissident organizations gain credibility and legitimacy as they become involved in protesting and denouncing official actions. The August 5, 1994 protest in Havana is the best known most recent instance of this form of protest (#Pueblo, 1994; see also El Nuevo Herald, 14 August, 1994, pp. 1A, 16A; for a first hand account see Garcia Suarez, 1996; Fogel and Rosenthal, 1994, 552-554; #Ramirez, 1994; #Habanaz, 1994; #Petit, 1994)).

The system also cannot completely stop the use of discrete symbols of dissent. Modes of dress, body language and adornment, gestures, presence in places where the CO is practiced (for example the Malecon (or seawall, see Fogel and Rosenthal, 1994, 11; El Periquiton, in La Ceiba, Playa municipality, a popular place for illegal sex, CN #130; for gay life in Havana see Arenas, 1992, 130), words (Cubanews, 1995a; 1995b), form part of the subterranean, persecuted, shadow world of alternative realities in Cuba. Fernandez (1993) mentions the evocative anti-establishment power of the word “teque teque” when used by Cuban youth to characterize the tired, stilted phraseology of state bureaucrats and the liberating power of the word “frikis” (or freaks), an identity conferred on youths who are not connected with or participating in the official vision. Unsurprisingly, the commingling of sanctioned and unsanctioned institutions is an inexhaustible source of comic relief. As in other societies, in Cuba humor is used to express political skepticism and complaints (since 1994 an annual Festival of Humor takes place in Havana during end-of-year festivities, El Nuevo Herald, 5 January 1997, 1B). As part of the CO, humor is a genre for the anonymous expression of political dissent that includes grumbling, rumors, gossips, and anonymous written statements (Scott, 1990).

It is also incapable of stopping dissidents’ use of the new electronic means of communication and their forging relationship with international associations. Despite the effective censorship of the Internet inside Cuba, the new electronic means of communication are playing a key part in energizing and transforming the organizations and affinity groups that are part of Cuba’s CO. While they do not have access to the Internet they have access to the recently improved international telephone services. Increasingly, they also have organizational representatives and cooperating organizational affiliates and representatives outside Cuba that have access to the Internet. They are key sources of organizational resources. Once contacted via telephone, these transnational organizational resources broadcast their needs, experiences and information to other Cubans via radio as well as to members of the international community. Using this simple communication system, independent journalists in Cuba devoid of access to the Internet, facsimile machines or office equipment other than antiquated typewriters practice their profession (Rivero, 1997; CN #64; Ackerman, 1996). Likewise, individual Cuban citizens report events and state actions (CN #12). Increasingly, antihegemonic political collective action by Cubans in and out of Cuba is not a national but an international process. As is the case in other social movements in the US and elsewhere (McCarthy and Zald, 1977), events in Cuba and South Florida often coincide with political sensitivities and agendas of agencies and organizations that are distant from the place of action. Distal political participatory events occur as reflections of events elsewhere.

Conclusion. The useful distinction in sociology between external and internal social control becomes blurred in societies like Cuba where both are part of a state sponsored, centralized, planned program for preserving the legitimacy of the ideology of the leading class and its domination over the society. This paper has endeavored to show some of the most important features of its system of social control and the ways in which it succeeds or fails to repress dissent.

In Cuba, Smelser’s “metamorphoses of forms of collective action” under conditions of effective repression occur. The ability of formal social control systems to neutralize social movement organizations has pushed dissent into less organized and institutionalized forms such as mass behavior, riots, and rumors. The activities of the movement organizations that exist are mostly limited to collective acts outside the island, in which they have the support of organizations and governments throughout the world. Such acts, of course, are often unknown by the majority of the population in the island. The authorities and governing elites purposefully do not recognize, acknowledge, or encourage norm and value oriented movements, do not give fair hearings to complaints, do not encourage the legitimate expressions of grievances, are clearly opposed to the movements that have emerged, and use the formidable resources at their disposal to repress them. So far, their radical intransigence has had excellent results in destroying organized efforts to bring about peaceful social change. In these terms, the Cuban case is an important reminder of the impact of social control and the actions of mobilized and radicalized governing political elites on repertoires of collective action.

Most present day theoretical perspectives on collective action do not place sufficient emphasis on the analysis of social control programs, technologies, and activities of states. In the main, this is true of the resource mobilization approaches (RMA) to social movements, which assume the presence of a liberal constitutional system of government as backdrop to the activities of resource acquisition and use by social movement organizations (Aguirre, 1994). This assumption is also made by new social movement theory (Johnston, Larana, Gusfield, 1994, 3-10), with its emphasis on life style and value issues such as sexual orientation and the protection of the environment. Yet a third dominant theoretical perspective, frame analysis of social movement activities, while concerned with symbolic manipulation and encapsulation of movement identity and purpose, by and large ignores the impact of state-generated social control activities on the construction and adoption of plausible interpretative schemes. State action in this sense is important, for as the Cuban case study shows, framing activities occur with great frequency but are opposed by the prevailing revolutionary culture. Moreover, with numbing regularity state security destroys the organizations and block the broadcasting of their frames. Still a fourth current theoretical perspective, models of political opportunity, usually considers mostly collective action events during the transition of political systems from one party to multi party systems. They are less useful to understand collective action in one party states that are in a pre-transitional, pre revolutionary stage in which civil society is undeveloped and there has not been increases in legal rights (O’Donnell et al., 1986; Munck, 1994; Puerta, 1996).

There are exceptions to this dearth of interest on the effect of state action on collective behavior and its metamorphoses of forms, as the works of Piven and Cloward (1978; 1992) and Fox and Starn (1997) show. These authors emphasize the importance of the “cultural politics of protest” (Fox and Starn, 3) and of emerging cultural understandings of the subjective meanings and structural imports of anti-hegemonic collective political participation. They show that such anti-hegemonic collective action is the result and the means through which a shared symbolic understanding of selves and collectivities occur in the absence of revolutionary upheaval and under the rigors of state repression and control. Thus, it is a useful theoretical perspective to understand the Cuban case, for Cubans’ collective protests are not parts of normal politics or of interest group politics. Instead, their participation in collective action and political dissidence is risky behavior undertaken in an unsupportive political climate created by the elites in control of the state.

Appendix 1.

Method. The literature on the topic of social control in Cuba is sparse (for example Salas 1979; Clark 1990). This paper concentrates on the more recent post 1989 period. It looks at all manifestations of social control. It uses information from the archives of the Miami-based Information Bureau of the Human Rights Movement in Cuba ( The Bureau is an important source on post-1989 collective behavior events and social movements (and social movement-like) organizations and activities. Its electronic files, available upon request, are identified in the text by year and an “#.” The Bureau is a good source of information on human rights, but it underrepresents unplanned street actions, emergent collective behavior, unorthodox and sudden transformations of complex organizations, and the seemingly unplanned and often counterproductive collective behavior of police and other social control collectivities. A second source of more general information is news items distributed electronically by Cubanet ( It includes articles from Cuba authored by independent journalists working for the following mass media organizations: Agencia de Prensa Independiente de Cuba (APIC), Buro de Prensa Independiente de Cuba (BPIC), Havana Press, Pinar Press, Oriente Press, Centro Norte del Pais (CNP), Union de Periodistas y Escritores Cubanos Independientes (UPECI), Agencia Ambiental Entorno Cubano (AAMEC, also available at, Agencia de Prensa Libre Oriental (APLO), Desde mi Barbacoa and the occasional columns of three independent journalists. These articles, written by independent journalists from Cuba, are available at and at Cubanet items are identified in the text with the initials CN (see below).

The information in the archives of the Bureau and in Cubanet appears to be both reliable and valid. The internal reliability checks are satisfactory. The names of leaders of social movement organizations coincide over many separate reports. The youth of most victims is a near constant in the records. The names of the prisons where prisoners are kept reappear. Similar patterns are found about the reasons for their repression, techniques used by state security to neutralize opposition groups and leaders, and other matters that would be almost impossible to fake. Reports are usually very detailed, giving information about the names of the persons involved, the places and dates of the incidents’ occurrences, the types of abuse, and other characteristics of the incidents. Partial external validity to the information on these sources about social movements is provided by Altuna de Sanchez’s (np; see also Endowment for Cuban American Studies, 1993) independently drawn, participant observational analysis of social movement organizations and their members. Forty of the 52 social movement organizations and quasiorganizations mentioned in the reports of the “Bureau” (available upon request) are also included in Altuna de Sanchez’s list of 103 social movement organizations.

This information is cross-checked and augmented with information from other sources: a) systematic review of all post-1988 articles on Cuba published by El Nuevo Herald (Miami, Florida; and Diario Las Americas (Miami, Florida;, b) in-depth cultural analyses published by Cubanews, a newsletter on Cuba published by the Miami Herald (, c) systematic search through all post-1988 news items on Cuba included in the National Newspaper Index, d) content analysis of Amnesty International USA’s reports on Cuba (1988; 1990; 1992; for the AI’s 1997 report on Cuba see Freedom House; 1997) and the sections devoted to Cuba in Amnesty International’s (AI) annual reports (1981, 135-138; 1982, 128-130; 1983, 128-130; 1984, 145-147; 1985, 140-142; 1986, 143-146; 1987, 150-154; 1988, 106-108; 1989, 117-119; 1990, 75-78; 1991, 73-75; 1992, 97-100; 1993, 108-111; 1994, 111-114), e) occasional hearings and reports on Cuba from the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (The Endowment for Cuban American Studies, 1993), the US Congress (both House and Senate, see references and US Department of State (1994; its reports on human rights are in gopher// 1D1%3a23367%3aLA%20%26%20Caribb.%20copy), f) other information on human rights available from Of Human Rights (; see also; g) electronic news items selected from CubaWorld ( and Habaguanex Ciboney (, which includes home pages with news and information from various social movement organizations, and h) papers in the annual proceedings of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy ( All of the Cuban state’s social control procedural patterns and practices and many of the experiences of citizens and communities presented in this paper (as well as many other similar cases not included here) are documented repeatedly by AI and these other sources.

The paper lacks information on germane matters such as the sex ratio of victims of state repression and on individual level variables such as perceived grievance that is customarily ascertained in reseach on collective action and on the likely causes for many of the social patterns described. The recency of these protests in Cuba limits the insights of this study. Despite its disciplinary importance (Minkoff, 1993), the historical fluctuation of the patterns described here is outside the scope of this study. At time unknown by me, many of these patterns have been permanently suppressed and probably no longer exist while others have taken their place. Perhaps most crucially, the study is limited by the present day inability to conduct in Cuba interviews with participants and field observations of antihegemonic political participation. Researchers of collective action cannot make good-faith guarantees to respondents regarding their protection as human subjects. Moreover, they are vulnerable to the actions of state security.

The generalizations in this paper about selected aspects of

Cuba’s system of formal social control are based on many reports by

Cuban journalists and other observers. They should be expanded by

the results of longitudinal studies and as information becomes

available about control of individual and collective acts of

protests such as boycotts and strikes for which literally nothing is

known at present. Prison, police, and court records and the archives of social movement organizations and the organs of state security contain invaluable but unavailable information which will undoubtedly allow more nuance understandings than are possible at present.

Cubanet Material: #1. “Mensaje interesante.” Lourdes Arriete, 9 Abril 1997; #2. “Preparan nueva ley para preservar garantias procesales.” AFP, 27 Deciembre 1995; #5. “Lo funebre es fiesta. HabanaPress, 16 Septiembre 1995; #12. “Declaraciones del padre de Yndamiro Restano hechas desde Cuba via telefonica a la oficina en Miami del Buro de Periodistas Independientes.” 11 Enero 1996; #21. Desalojo frustrado en la Habana.” 13 mayo 1997; #22. Handicapped evicted and companions repressed. 2 April 1997; #23. “Neighbors come out in defense of independent unionists.” 17 Febrero 1997; #24. “Paid thugs beat independent journalist.” APIC, 14 January 1997; #25. “Arresta la policia al director de Linea Sur Press.” BPCI, 15 Junio 1997; #28. “Un cubano mas.” 10 Septiembre 1995; #29. Habra festival para ellos? 26 Mayo 1997; #30. “Falsos debates de documento partidista en Cuba.” 5 Julio 1997; #61. “Denuncia desde Cuba.” 15 diciembre 1995; #62. “Continua la desercion laboral.” 18 marzo 1997; #63. “Desalojan familia ante protesta de vecinos. 1 marzo 1997; #64. “La verdad, una vez despierta, no vuelve a dormirse.” 17 febrero 1997; #69. “Protestan escritores por agresiones en Cuba.” 20 febreo 1997; #78. “Desalojan a antiguos empleados de Gaviota.” 5 febrero 1997; #100. “Women activist beseiged in home.” 10 August 1995; #101. “Divulgan listas parciales de presos politicos.” 7 julio 1995; #102. “Index of prisons by province.” 22 febrero 1997; #103. “Ola de despidos en provincia por razones politicas.” 23 diciembre 1995; #104. “Murio un joven a consecuencia de brutal golpiza policiaca.” 15 abril 1997; #106. “Asesina la policia a dos jovenes en Colon.” 3 febrero 1997; #109. “Continue hostigamiento contra la prensa independiente en Cuba.” 22 febrero 1997; #110. “Distinguished professor is expelled for his activities in the opposition. 27 febrero 1997; #111. “Reprime la policia protesta de incapacitados.” 2 abril 1997; #113. “Asesina a un joven en Limonar custodio de granja avicola.” 3 febrero 1997; #114. “Declaraciones de Yndamiro Restano ante la detencion de sus padres.” 15 enero 1996; #124. “Brutalidad policial en Pedro Betancourt.” 1 agosto 1997; #129. “Los escribas clandestinos.” 12 agosto 1997; #130. “Gobierno cubano arremete contra los homosexuales. “ 29 agosto 1997.


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