Cuba: From Exception to Democratization?

  • Andrew Arato
Part of the Studies of the Americas book series (STAM)


I am not an expert on Cuba: although I have learned many things about Latin America from my students, I have not had the good fortune to learn about Cuba to the same extent. So, even the familiar notion of Cuban exceptionalism that Laurence Whitehead so eloquently describes in this book was new in a sense. From a familiarity with international history I knew, of course, that Cuba was not part of the wave of anticolonial, republican revolutions that swept through Spanish America during the first quarter of the nineteenth century, and I knew that the island was the last major Spanish colony in the Western Hemisphere until the Spanish-American War. And from U.S. history, I was also familiar with Cuba’s special status, as symbolized by the Platt Amendment that was forcibly incorporated into the country’s first republican constitution and was bolstered by repeated direct and indirect U.S. interventions in Cuban internal affairs. Finally as a student of comparative democratic transitions in communist Eastern Europe, I was very much aware that Cuba belonged neither to the set of democratizing countries of the 1980s or early 1990s. What I had not realized until reading Laurence Whitehead’s contribution to this volume is that these three separate and exceptional circumstances may very well be interrelated. I had always thought and hoped that Cuba might simply become a belated member of either sequence of transitions, or of both, and that it would simply take longer to begin and end that process in Cuban than in Latin America’s other most protracted case—that of Mexico. My view was that because the Cuban dictatorship, like the Mexican, was the product of an indigenous social revolution, this fact and the regime’s attendant special legitimacy resources might lead regime forces to initiate a protracted transition carefully controlled “from above.”1 Whatever the normative desirability of such a path as compared with others (such a lengthy process usually makes it more vulnerable to uncertainty and reversal), this seemed to be the most likely kind of transition in Cuba.


Military Intervention Democratic Transition External Intervention Hard Intervention Popular Sovereignty 
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  1. 1.
    Andrew Arato, “Interpreting 1989,” chapter 1, in Civil Society, Constitution and Legitimacy (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2000), pp. 1–42.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Janos Kornai, “The Reproduction of Shortage,” in Janos Kornai (ed.), Contradictions and Dilemmas: Studies on the Socialist Economy and Society (Harvard, MA: MIT Press, 1986), pp. 6–32.Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    See Andrew Arato, “The Occupation of Iraq and the Difficult Transition from Dictatorship,” Constellations, 10 (3), September 2003: 408–424.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 8.
    See Adam Przeworski, Democracy and the Market: Political and Economic Reforms in Eastern Europe and Latin America (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Andrew Arato, “The Round Tables, Democratic Institutions and the Problem of Justice,” in András Bozoki (ed.), The Round Table of 1989. The Genesis of Hungarian Democracy: Analysis and Documents (Budapest: Central European University Press, 2002).Google Scholar
  6. 12.
    See also Alfred Stepan (ed.), Democratizing Brazil: Problems of Transition and Consolidation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), particularly the introduction. See also Przeworski, Democracy and the Market.Google Scholar
  7. 13.
    Andrew Arato, “Interim Imposition,” Ethics and International Affairs, 18 (3), Winter 2004: 25–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Bert Hoffmann and Laurence Whitehead 2007

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  • Andrew Arato

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