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Cuba Under Castro, Dissent and Economic Decline

Peruvian Embassy, left homes, policy failures, president Jimmy Carter, political asylum

Despite increased national debate as a result of the political reforms of 1976, the government did not tolerate criticism of its programs. Officials and experts who could have predicted policy failures were censored and even punished. With no outlet for frustration and no legally permitted dissent, tensions increased at the end of the late 1970s despite improved economic conditions.

In 1980 a small number of Cubans broke into the Peruvian Embassy in Havana asking for asylum. Several thousand more followed until they overflowed the embassy grounds. When U.S. president Jimmy Carter offered to take the people who wanted to leave, Castro opened the doors. Both presidents were shocked when 120,000 people spontaneously left homes and families to seek political asylum in the United States.

The exodus demonstrated that Cuba had serious problems centered around the lack of personal freedom and chronic economic austerity. Castro moved quickly to ease the difficulties of daily life. Between 1980 and 1985, the government allowed farmers’ markets to provide food to urban areas where rationed products had been inadequate.

But in 1986 Castro reversed this process, declaring that farmers were earning unreasonably large sums in the open markets. A new policy known as the Rectification Process gave priority to the production of exportable goods over goods made for consumption within Cuba. The government also tried to replace imported goods with domestically produced goods to prevent cash from flowing out of the country. Increasing efficient production and bureaucracy downsizing became paramount. Finally, the government increased the amount of “voluntary work” that it required from Cuban citizens and preached against the evils of a material world.

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