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The emergence of democratization theory The negative case of Cuba Xhensila Gaba

Course: intro to political science / comparative politics Instructor: Tom Hashimoto Time: Thursdays 9.00-12.00 Date: 26 January 2010


Because most of the states have become democratic, especially during the late 1990s, it seems like this will be the final shape for each governance model, meaning that the future of all regimes would be their democratization. However, the transition process has not taken part in the same way in different countries and the differences are viewed in the time period when the transition occurred and on the reasons that initiated the transition. Democracy is presumed as the most necessary achievement for further development. Even though nowadays the majority of the governments are democratic, still we cannot neglect the presents of non-democratic governments, and this reality leads to continue the research on the factors that would promote a democratic transition for these regimes. The democratization theory has emerged from studying and observing empirical cases that have experienced transitions to democracy, leaving behind their old authoritarian regimes. These theories on democratization process have passed through different steps and have developed their points by widening their range. These theories include the “first wave” until the “third wave” of democratization by including the transition happened in Latin America, Southern Europe and Eastern Europe. However the democratization theory has been in the focus of the comparative analysis, because of its flaws in categorizing variables of transition into indispensable and dispensable ones for the transition. Because of the theory not correlating properly the variables with each other, there is space for contradicting it. One negative case for the democratization theory is Cuba. The case of Cuba confronts with each other the democratization theory on one side and the non-transitions to the other side, showing another flaw of this theory, which is taking into consideration only the successful transitions to democracy and leaving out of focus the non-occurrence of the transition at all. Countries like Cuba that have experienced regime stability for long term period, should be compared to the countries in which a regime change has happened, which means making the range of cases


wider, so we can conclude more adequately on the variables that cause democracy and also of the valuables that are not enough for causing a transition. The scope of this paper is to compare the case of Cuba to the democratization theory in order to identify the absent factors that are holding back the transition in Cuba. On the other hand, I want to analyze if there are present any pro-transition factors in Cuba, but still failing to start a transition. Why these factors that according to the theory can stimulate democratic transition, are not functioning in Cuba? Probably what is happening is that in Cuba do exist variables that lead to transition, but they are not enough in the Cuban domain. If we expand the range of dependent variables, then it will be more exact to group the independent variables in two groups-- the ones that for sure initiate transition and the ones that without a correlation with other variables or without a certain domain (political, economical, and social) cannot lead to transition to democracy, therefore they produce ongoing stable authoritarian regimes. Even though Cuba is a single case, still it opens new avenue for rearranging the theory, meaning that the previous conclusions are not to be totally changed, but just reviewed. First I would explain what the democratization theory consists of and how has it emerged. Then I would focus on Cuba and compare it with the theory, focusing on the variables pro-democratization found there but that still fail to give the expected outcome (democracy). I would analyze two of these variables: the economic crisis and the international actors. The question I pose here is why have they failed in Cuba? I will analyze carefully the factor related with the economic crisis. How has Cuba passed through that crisis in the early 1990s, when almost all the post-communist states couldn’t escape the collapse of the Soviet economy and therefore they became vulnerable to the democratic transition? Then, I will focus on the factors that are missing in Cuba, which are the soft liners and the civil society. Why are they absent? Is 3

this group of variables (soft-liners and civil society) more important and necessary for starting a transition compared to the other group dealing mostly with structural pressure (economic crisis and international pressure)? Before starting my comparative analysis, it would be necessary to show that the case of Cuba, although it is considered having many distinguished features, still cannot be considered exceptional, meaning incomparable with other cases, but rather it would be called different. Cuba has some common characteristics with both Latin America and Eastern Europe, which are states that have travelled down the road of transition. Some shared features with Latin America are: both were Spanish colonies, constantly intervention from the U.S. , similar levels of economic growth, including GDP per capita and also a heterogeneous population (in terms of race). Similarities with Eastern Europe are: the non-existence of a functioning civil society, their history marked by the Communist rule, past Soviet influence (Hawkins, 2001). Also, Cuba shares some common characteristics even with other states that survived the collapse of the economy after the secession of the Soviet Bloc, such as China, North Korea, Vietnam; all states that were based on their legitimacy or nationalism. The existence of some distinguished features, such as being an island, favors it in being isolated from other countries; also experiencing a popular revolution or having a very charismatic leader who exercise strong repression, still do not make the case of Cuba unique, but probably different. Thus we can draw a comparative line on Cuba for comparing it with other cases studied by the democratization theory, and trying to find out why is it different, why does it have a different outcome, which is non transition to democracy. Now, let’s focus on what the democratization theory consists of. The theory emerged when many governments started to change their regime from authoritarian to democratic ones in 4

1974 and continuing through the early 1990s (Munck, 1994). Although they have the same outcome (democracy) still the latest cases differ from the classic ones (referring to the first mass democracies in Western Europe). In the classic ones, the previous old regimes were bureaucratic authoritarian, state socialist, post-totalitarian, which are very different from the oligarchic regimes of the late 19th century. The actors participating in the transition are also different. At the beginning, the Western European transitions studies have lead to the theory to conclude that if the right to vote was applied among different levels of population, then it would excluded the rise of democracy through elite non-approval, and this is the main characteristics for these transitions (Munck, 1994). But the latest transitions to democracy made political scientists focus more on the democratization theory and expand it. Huntigton focused on the Eastern Europe transitions and called them the third wave of democratization. In 1986, O’Donnell and Philippe Schmitter publish “Transitions from authoritarian rule: Tentative conclusions about uncertain democracies”. Then, Mainwaring, O’Donnell, Valenzula publish “Issues in democratic consolidation” which is a companion volume for the previous one, which expands its studies not just in the transitions from the authoritarian regime, but also on the process of democratic consolidation (Munck, 1994). Adam Przeworski develops more the democratization theory by publishing “Democracy and the market”, in which he aims to compare political transitions and economic reforms both in Latin America and Eastern Europe. Przerworski outlines the results of the choices made by four important groups of the society, soft-liners and hardliners within the regime, and moderate and radicals within the opposition part (Munck, 1994). Also he draws the theoretical base for “Economic reforms in new democracies: A social democratic approach” (Remmer, 1995). Huntington is distinguished for expanding the theory by having a more detailed focus on what he called the third wave of democratization, meaning the rapid and most


large number of states in Eastern Europe mainly becoming democratic. He focuses on the prerequisites or the initial condition for the transition to take off and also on the consolidation of democracy. The most important question that the theory tries to give an answer is why, when and in what way do the transitions occur? According to O’Donnell-Schmitter model, the clear separation of the hardliners and soft-liners is necessary for the transition to initiate. Przeworski maintains, “It is easier to explain why communism had to fall than why did it actually fall” (Munck, 1994). He argues that the incentives in Eastern Europe to start were internal, but still the pressure was from external forces. On the other hand, O’Donnell-Schmitter state that Latin America and southern European transition started as a response to internal factors and pressure from domestic answers. Huntington sees the initiators of transitions as following: legitimacy problems, pressures from external factors, the effect of demonstrations. So, the democratization theory emerges in the effort of establishing variables that lead to the democratic transitions. Yet the theory leaves avenues for further research in the comparative analyses. The main problems or flaws of the theory are; first it takes into consideration only successful case studies that have experienced democratic transition, leaving out of focus the other possibility, which is non-transition to democracy. Moreover, the theory fails to wellcategorize different forms of dictatorship, and by not distinguish properly the differences between them, then the initial conditions that lead to the breakdown of transition are not enough to explain many questions on this field. For example, why did the Eastern Europe experienced later the transition compared to Latin America? Or if we pose the question differently: why did socialist regimes (communist) started later than bureaucratic authoritarian (Remmer, 1995)? This empirical cases show that the theory must distinguish the primary conditions before the transition takes place. Third problem of the theory is that it is very difficult to give an adequate 6

generalization, but instead it seems like each author establishes new variables pro-transition, but they are not correlated to each other through a comparative analysis or that they are not put into the proper domain. Thus, I decided to compare the case of Cuba to the other cases included in the democratization theory, in order to find out which part of the theory works and which does not. One structural factor that is believed to contribute in initiating transition is economic crisis. As Huntington states, “The combination of both high expectations of people to continue to improve their lives and a short term economic crisis can cause political instability; therefore it would serve as an incentive for democratic change� (Hawkins, 2001). Still this hypothesis seems to fail in the case of Cuba. The Soviet Union was the most important partner of Cuba because it supported Cuba in many sectors of economy, and therefore after the collapse of the Soviet Union, every political scientist was expecting Cuba to fall, and the transition to begin. This did not happen, even though in the years 1991-1993, Cuba was suffering a big recession of the economy. The GDP decreased from 20.8 million pesos in 1989 to 16.7 million pesos in 1993 (Corrales, 2004). It is believed that the collapse of the economy converges with the collapse of the political regime, but Cuba demonstrated the contrary, showing that the economic crisis is not enough for initiating a transition. Now the question is—how it is possible that Cuba could pass through the crisis and avoid the expected transition? In 1991-1993, Castro undertook some reforms, and probably this is the period in which Cuba was more open to FDI (foreign direct investments), liberalization of agricultural markets, and some forms of self-employment (Corrales, 2004). Although these reforms were more constraint compared to Latin America or Communist China, still these reforms resembled a progressive step in the hermetic policy-making of Cuba. Cuba experienced a significant reform 7

and change in some areas, while in others it avoided reforms at all. As many would have thought, economic reform and opening would yield political liberalization, too. But why did this not happen? One possible factor is the uneven or disproportionate economic reform, which contributed to regime survival (Corrales, 2004). Those partially reforms helped for annexing (misleading) the internal and external influences who were pressuring for deep economic and political opening, giving them the impression that the regime was changing to a more open economy. This was the movement to cope with the pressures coming from reforms advocates. The uneven nature of economic reforms amplified the power of the state by letting the others know that the state is the one who can control incentives as well as constraints. In Cuba, limited reforms enhanced the power of the state by converting it into a gatekeeper, a notion used for describing the Cuban state as the only actor who has total access to the profit generated by the partially liberal economy, a remote and distant part of the true economy infrastructure in Cuba (Corrales, 2004). By increasing the state rewards to societal loyalty, the number of winners decreased (because they didn’t have access to benefit from open market), the reward that actors win for showing loyalty towards the state is becoming more valuable. Castro avoided the economic crisis by allowing a small opening to soft liners in 1993-1995. The cabinet was renewed, but only 5 technocrats were present, meaning that the other new members were coming from military, high-ranking officers, who had higher levels of loyalty and also some technological knowledge. Castro has always backed the hardliners by reforming carefully and leaving reserves for them. When the economy was recovering, Castro interrupted the reforms for not risking. The small winning coalition of Cuba enjoyed the benefits of this opening market period, thus the loyalty is paid more and therefore the result is a stable ongoing authoritarian regime. The case of Cuba also doubts the correlation between market reform and


democratization as Przerwoski states (Munck, 1994). The case of Cuba does not object in total the hypothesis, but it makes the function between those two variables not linear, but rather exponential function, meaning that the amount of the input (market opening) does not give the same amount of output (democracy). In this case, because the economic reform was uneven and because it touched only some sectors, it didn’t yield transition. Now let’s move on to the other pro-transition variable that didn’t function in Cuba, which is the international pressure. According to the theory, the international actors include pressure from the U.S. and Europe, international human rights organizations, important NGOs, the collapse of regional partners (the domino effect), etc (Hawkins, 2001). Until 1990s, Cuba was supported by the Soviet Union. But still, when it collapsed, Cuban regime continued to resist to the domino effect. Moreover, the U.S. has pressured Cuba through interrupting trade relations or financial embargoes. Also it has tried the propaganda for isolated Cuba diplomatically. For example, during the Cold War it threaded that would penalize the companies in third countries if they invest in Cuba (Hawkins, 2001). Also, the NGOs have accused Cuba for its human rights violation and have promoted change through diplomatic ways. Most of Cuba’s regional neighbors have democratized and they show clearly their disapproval for the domestic policies of Cuba. Why have the international actor failed in Cuba? One possible hypothesis is the absence of will between people to oppose Castro; the sovereignty is one of Castro’s most important achievements. Also, Castro has used the U.S. embargo as a boomerang, meaning it served for blaming America for many economic problems in Cuba, and rallying people against a common enemy. Now, let’s see what are some of the variables missing in Cuba and let’s try to give some reasons for their absence. First factor that is necessary for the initiation of transition, as 9

O’Donnell and Schmitter state is the division between hardliners and soft liners (Hawkins, 2001). The soft liners are more elastic and predisposed to the political liberalization, meaning that they think that in the long run it is important to establish new political institutions that would be controlled from the authority. In this way, the authoritarian can avoid a strong and widespread opposition. But in Cuba the soft-liners are absent and they have very little space to say their opinions. The only soft-liner that spoke in public about his reform ideas, Carlos Aldana, who was pro the Gorbachev’s model of Perestroika (the economy should go gradually to an opening market) was removed from his post and disappeared from view (Hawkins, 2001). Another factor missing is the civil society. It is weak, controlled by the state, has little resources and with no political influence. Their voice cannot be heard. But according to that part of democratization theory which focuses mostly on the democratizing actors rather than structure, the presence of a strong and independent civil society is very important, because it serves as catalysts for making the transition more widespread and radical, although the transition has to be initiating by the soft-liners. But why are both these factors missing and therefore postponing the transition in Cuba? One explanation can be the charismatic leader, Fidel Castro and its regime owning some legitimacy. When the domestic institutions have lost some of their functioning effectiveness, the personal influence of Castro has increased. He is the central decision makers in Cuba. He has undertaken the right decisions in the right time by altering its strategies. He has worried mostly to keep satisfied the loyalty by being the one who has access on the reward or punishment. Also, he has secured to discourage regime opposition and demands for change by repressing them. He has taken reforms in economy to endure the crisis (the case of 1993-1995, when he applied little opening to soft-liners), but still its reforms have been carefully structured to not allow soft-liners or NGOs to emerge. According to the 10

legitimacy, the Cuban regime came to power by a popular revolution motivated by Castro’s charisma. This is a characteristic that differentiates Cuba from the other Communist countries (Hawkins, 2001). The lack of protests, low levels of blank ballot box and the support for the socialist program show for at least minimal levels of legitimacy. Also because the social groups have difficulties in gaining independence, Cubans expect the state to secure them their needs, so for them it is useless engaging in independent social groups. In conclusion, the case of Cuba strongly demands for the democratization theory to expand its range, meaning that the studies should consider not only the positive cases (the ones that have experienced a successful transition) but also the negative case, including the nontransitions. In this way it is possible to separate the variables that are necessary for the transition to occur and the variables which are just complementary to democratic transition. In the case of Cuba, we can say that the democratizing actors, such as soft-liners or civil society seem to be necessary for the transition to happen, and on the other hand we can say that the structural factors, such as economic crisis and international pressure, are not enough variables, and that if not correlated with the previous actors do not yield the expected outcome (transition). Factors that are holding back the emergence of the democratizing actors are the leadership, meaning that a skilful leadership can stimulate reforms and democratize further the state, or can keep stable an authoritarian regime for a long period, making it immune to many pro-transition factors. Also, because of the fact that the regime in Cuba was established by a popular revolution, makes the regime have minimal legitimacy, therefore, people believe in their state more than any other option, as far as they expect the state to guarantee them all the needs, since the Cuban cannot act in autonomy. Last, this paper may suggest for finding new cases that have escaped the


democratic transition and comparing it both with the Cuba case and the democratization theory in order to test our hypothesis listed above. References

Corrales, J. (2004). The Gatekeeper state: limited economic reforms and regime survival in Cuba, 1989-2002. Latin American Studies Association, 39(2), 35-65.

Hawkins, D. (2001). Democratization theory and nontransitions: Inside from Cuba. Comparative politics, 33(4), 441-461.

Munck, G. (1994). Democratic transitions in comparative perspective. Comparative politics, 26(3), 355-375.

Remmer, K. (1995). New theoretical perspectives on democratization. Comparative politics, 28(1), 103-122.


Democratization theory and the case of Cuba  

conditions for democratization and why Cuba failed to become democratic although it was part of the domain

Democratization theory and the case of Cuba  

conditions for democratization and why Cuba failed to become democratic although it was part of the domain