Saturday, May 12, 2012

No Cuban transition

Jonathan Benjamin-Alvarado and Gregory A. Petrow, "Stability, Transition, and Regime Approval in Post-Fidel Cuba." Political Science Quarterly 127, 1 (Spring 2012): 73-103.

Abstract (gated):

JONATHAN BENJAMIN-ALVARADO and GREGORY A. PETROW examine Gallup World Poll data from Cuba to evaluate both the level of Cuban regime approval, as well as its causes. They conclude that Cubans are satisfied overall with their leaders, and that part of this satisfaction stems from equating the regime with the state.

The authors come up with what they call a Collective Esteem Model, based on World Gallup Data. They call for a more sophisticated quantitative approach to understanding Cuban politics. Their basic argument is that dissatisfaction with the regime is the key requirement for political transition, but that dissatisfaction is not present.

It's not really clear to me, though, how this is different from qualitative analyses of Cuban politics, though it has an additional challenge that the authors address only briefly, namely the quality of the data. In a dictatorship, we would expect respondents to be more positive than in a democracy for fear of retaliation--even if the questions are framed in a way to make them non-life threatening, people will naturally be more nervous.

Whether you are a policy maker, media commentator, or scholar (of any methodological stripe) the fundamental point is the same: there is no sign of a Cuban Spring--see my recent article in Military Review on U.S. policy options--and we don't know when it will happen.


Justin Delacour 4:55 PM  

And it might also be that the Cuban state is relatively effective at (1) educating people and (2) protecting them from things like dengue epidemics and hurricanes. It ought to be acknowledged that many of Cuba's social indicators are very impressive by the standards of the developing world.

Anonymous,  6:23 AM  

That's a silly comment. The Cuban people are thanking the govt. for sparing them the ill effects of Dengue fever and hurricanes. How about enough food for the table? Thinking, discussing and expressing one's views freely? Free and fair elections? Freedom to travel within the country or outside the country? Without any evidence you suggest people respond to polls with data from govt. manufactured social indicators. In turn I speculate the absence of freedom and difficulties of day to day life weigh more on people's views. The difference is I did not need a PhD to arrive at my conclusion. I just talked to everyday Cubans.

Justin Delacour 1:06 PM  


If you remove the ideological blinders for a moment, you might come to recognize that it is possible for a country to have impressive social indicators at the same time that it lacks the kinds of political institutions that Western societies value. The FACTS that Cubans have impressive life expectancy, infant mortality rates and levels of education are just that: FACTS. Among those who are willing to deal with reality, these facts are not under debate. They have been acknowledged by prominent American figures who have no affinity for the Cuban regime, including the former U.S. presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, as well as the former head of the World Bank, James Wolfensohn. You and Greg may have some legitimate criticisms of the Cuban regime, but if you wish to fully understand the long-term stability of that regime, you shouldn't ignore basic facts.

Anonymous,  4:32 PM  

Of course facts are stubborn things. I don't ignore facts. I agree it is important that Cubans can decode the Spanish language in impressive numbers. However, they can't read, discuss and write what interests them. You may call the former an impressive fact but I would not label it education. The weight one gives to facts is what is at issue here. You accuse me of wearing ideological binders but refuse to address whether people respond to polls like this based on quantitative bureaucratic statistics or the fundamental measures of the quality of their daily lives. I suggest you re-read EP Thompson. Only an academic could be so stupid.

Justin Delacour 5:16 PM  

So first you claim that certain social indicators are merely the Cuban government's "manufactured social indicators," but now you acknowledge that they are indeed facts but somehow ones that we should ignore. I posit that, when people ignore such facts, they do so at the expense of any serious understanding of Cuban politics and society. Of course, there are other facts that one could point to in criticizing the Cuban regime, and nobody is arguing here that those facts are any less important. What I am saying, rather, is that, while you (and Greg) discount certain social indicators, you have yet to offer any serious argument as to why those indicators are somehow irrelevant to the discussion at hand.

Let's take one example. Without parsing the numbers, the evidence seems to indicate that the average Afro-Cuban has a considerably higher life expectancy than the average African-American. Do you honestly think that such a fact --assuming that it is a fact-- could simply be ignored in any serious analysis of Cuban politics and society?

Anonymous,  9:58 PM  

No contradiction on my part and no changing the topic for you. I agree that there have been impressive gains in the technical skills of literacy under the Castro dictatorship. I also believe many of the Cuban social indicators are manufactured and represent various degrees of BS. The question you don't answer is whether people in a country with such wonderful statistics would answer a poll because they were protected from Dengue fever while at the same time they were hungry. The reason you don't answer the question is that you are committed to defending the regime. Blindly.

Justin Delacour 1:19 AM  

"I also believe many of the Cuban social indicators are manufactured and represent various degrees of BS"

Sounds a bit like the climate denier who says that facts presented by scientists about global warming are "manufactured and represent various degrees of BS." Your mere opinion on the subject does not qualify as evidence that UN data on Cuba should be dismissed.

"The question you don't answer is whether people in a country with such wonderful statistics would answer a poll because they were protected from Dengue fever while at the same time they were hungry."

Well, given that the average Cuban's life expectancy is almost identical to that of the average U.S. citizen now, I'll go out on a limb here and posit that the level of genuine hunger in Cuba is probably a lot lower than you imagine it to be.

"The reason you don't answer the question is that you are committed to defending the regime."

Notice that you use a neo-McCarthyite style of reasoning. According to this style of reasoning, I'm supposed to stick my head in the sand and pretend that there can be nothing that the Cuban state has ever done well. Somehow, if I acknowledge basic facts about, say, Cuba's successes in protecting people from dengue fever and hurricanes and bringing down the infant mortality rate, I must be "committed to defending the regime" in its totality.

No, anonymous. A real social scientist is committed to recognizing basic facts and not dismissing those facts a priori because some folks (such as yourself) don't find such facts to be convenient to your cause.

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