THE HEMISPHEREWhy the Situation in Cuba Is Deteriorating

By Will Freeman

Published 3 May 2023

Cuba’s authoritarian regime has failed to avert an economic crisis, repair decaying state institutions, and prevent the country’s largest outflow of migrants since the 1960s.

Cuba’s communist regime is at its weakest point in decades. The island’s economic woes, brain drain, regime persecution of dissidents, and decaying state institutions are all exacting a high toll, but given authorities’ repressive hold on society, it’s unlikely that change is on the horizon.

What Major Challenges Does Cuba Face? 
Cuba’s centrally planned economy has been mired by stagnation for decades. But over the past five years, the pillars propping up the island’s already feeble economy collapsed one by one, sending it into a tailspin. First, Venezuela’s socialist autocracy, which had lavished cheap oil on Cuba, saw oil output diminish under that regime’s mismanagement, thus cutting down on Cuba’s energy supply. Next, conservative and right-wing governments, such as those of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and Colombian President Iván Duque, won office across Latin America and ended exploitative arrangements under which Cuba sent medics abroad and garnered most of their wages. And in the United States, the Donald Trump administration tightened sanctions in place for decades and cut off remittances to the island. 

Then came the COVID-19 pandemic. Cuba’s 2020 border closure decimated tourism and contributed to the second-largest economic contraction in Latin America that year, after Venezuela’s. But Cuba, unlike its Caribbean neighbors, never saw tourism fully rebound. By October 2022, the number of international visitors was still below half [article in Spanish] the total for the same month in 2019. And although Cuba pivoted to allowing some forms of small private businesses in 2021, progress on additional market reforms has stalled. Economic dysfunction is one of the primary reasons that hundreds of thousands of Cubans have left the island. 

How Has Cuba Fared Under President Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez?
In 2018, Díaz-Canel—a lifelong Communist Party insider—succeeded Raúl Castro, brother of revolutionary-turned-dictator Fidel Castro, as president of Cuba. This marked the first time that a Castro did not hold the position. Three years later, Díaz-Canel was appointed the first secretary of the ruling Communist Party of Cuba. Mismanagement and dysfunction, already acute before, have worsened under his leadership.