1990s crisis and change

In an effort to broaden the people's power system of government introduced in 1976, the central committee of the Cuban Communist Party adopted resolutions in 1990 designed to strengthen the municipal and provincial assemblies and transform the National Assembly into a genuine parliament. In February 1993, the first direct, secret elections for the National Assembly and for provincial assemblies were held. Despite calls from opponents abroad for voters to register a protest by spoiling their ballot or not voting, the official results showed that 99.6% of the electorate voted, with 92.6% of votes cast valid. All 589 official candidates were elected. Delegates to the municipal assemblies of people's power serve a two-year term. Delegates are directly nominated in neighbourhood meetings (the PCC does not put forward candidates), and ballot boxes are guarded by primary school children. Provincial delegates and national deputies are elected for a five-year term. The slate consists of up to 50% of the municipal delegates and the remainder selected by a national commission on the basis of proposals from the mass organizations. In the October 1997 elections, 97.6% of the electorate voted and 92.8% of the votes were valid (7.2% blank or spoiled).

Economic difficulties in the 1990s brought on by the loss of markets in the former USSR and Eastern Europe, together with higher oil prices because of the Gulf crisis, forced the government to impose emergency measures and declare a special period in peace time (1990-1994). Rationing was increased, petrol became scarce, the bureaucracy was slashed and several hundred arrests were made in a drive against corruption. In 1993, Cuba was hit on 13 March by a winter storm which caused an estimated US$1 bn in damage. Agricultural production, for both export and domestic consumption, was severely affected. In mid-1994, economic frustration and discontent boiled up and Cubans began to flee their country. Thousands left for Florida in a mass exodus similar to that of Mariel in 1980 on any craft they could invent. It was estimated that between mid-August and mid-September 30,000 Cubans had left the country, compared with 3656 in the whole of 1993. In contrast, the number of US visas issued from January to August was 2059 out of an agreed maximum annual quota of 20,000. Eventually the crisis forced President Clinton into an agreement whereby the USA was committed to accepting at least 20,000 Cubans a year, plus the next of kin of US citizens, while Cuba agreed to prevent further departures.

As the economic crisis persisted, the government adopted measures (some of which are outlined below) which opened up many sectors to private enterprise and recognized the dependence of much of the economy on dollars. The partial reforms did not eradicate the imbalances between the peso and the dollar economies, and shortages remained for those without access to hard currency.

Cuba then intensified its economic liberalization programme, speeding up the opening of farmers' markets throughout the country and allowing farmers to sell at uncontrolled prices once their commitments to the state procurement system were fulfilled. Importantly, the reforms also allowed middlemen to operate. It had been the emergence of this profitable occupation which had provoked the government to close down the previous farmers' market system in 1986. Markets in manufactured goods and handicrafts also opened and efforts were made to increase the number of self-employed.

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