Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy
24 November 2022

Cuba in Conversation

A new podcast explores the relationship between Cuba and the European Union.

By the early nineties, after the fall of the Berlin wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union which left Cuba isolated and without its main source of economic support, many thought that the Cuban regime would not survive. However, more than three decades later, the regime is still there.

The current regime does not neglect or hide the radical changes taking place in the global and domestic scenarios. Further, it is open to exploring these changes and the new paths that these open to the country, at least in terms of opening the economy to the national and international private sectors. From a political and institutional approach, in 2008, Fidel Castro stepped down after almost half a century in power. His brother Raúl replaced him until 2018, when he also stepped down. Then, Miguel Díaz Canel assumed the executive power, launching a constitutional replacement with massive popular participation and tight elite control. Given that the legitimacy of the government is based, historically, on the mystique of the revolution rather than on any current political process, this generational change has had an impact on the population’s perception of the government, which has become increasingly critical. Indeed, from a socio-economical perspective, while the country has introduced substantive reforms to open the economy and towards monetary unification, this has not helped to improve the difficult living conditions. Inflation has been estimated by non-official sources at 500%, while shortages of basic goods and a fall in economic growth are alarming indicators.

Perhaps unsurprisingly when one considers Latin American trends, for the first time in decades on the Island, protests spread along the country in 2021. Many more Cubans opted for migration recently. From an international perspective, the Obama administration in the United States was unable to end the embargo, and, later, Donald Trump’s administration further hardened the measures against Cuba. Then, the pandemic and the war against Ukraine initiated by Russia also worsened the global situation. Is in this dynamic context that the European Union (EU) is looking to establish a special relationship with Cuba, expressed in the Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement (PDCA) signed by both in December 2016. Our new podcast series Cuba in Conversation analyses this myriad of transformations with a focus on the relationship between Cuba and the EU.

Cuba in Conversation is addressed to disseminate the main findings and outcomes of the Jean Monnet Network Europe-Cuba Forum. The Forum is an initiative that began in 2017 and involves a consortium of 11 leading institutions with consolidated experience in researching Cuban affairs and relations between Europe and Cuba. The main coordinator of the project is the Barcelona Centre for International Affairs (CIDOB) and the Albert Hirschman Centre is a member of the network.

The three first episodes in this series are connected to the thematic cluster in the project: economy, institutions and international relations (in English) and the last one summarizes findings in Spanish.

Conducted by Yanina Welp and produced by Michelle Olguin and Valentina Saponara.


Trailer: Cuba has experienced a myriad of reforms as well as multicausal crises and tensions in the past years. The trailer introduces the main focus on the podcast series.

Episode 1: Cuba, then and now. A constitutional replacement produced with massive citizens participation was conducted. The new constitution was ratified in a referendum in February 2019. However, waves of protests emerged shortly after. Which kind of changes introduced the new constitution and to what extent has contributed to solving the economic, social, and political deficits observed in the Island? Participants: Bert Hoffmann (GIGA-Germany) and Rosa María Voghon (University of La Habana-Cuba, independent researcher).

Episode 2: A Socialism of the XXI century? After more than a decade of economic reforms with difficult implementation and contradictory results, in 2021 was launched the so-called ‘Ordering Task’ (Tarea Ordenamiento) that involves monetary unification and, among others, price readjustments, increases in salaries and pensions, as well as the expansion of activities authorized to be carried out on self-employment basis. How is the economy of the Island changing and with which consequences? Participants: Elisa Botella (University of Salamanca-Spain), Denisse Delgado Vásquez (University of Massachusetts-United States), and Tamarys Bahamonde (Cuban Economist, currently at the University of Delaware).

Episode 3: To support or to sanction? There are back and forths and ups and downs in the relations between Cuba and the European Union. The global order is in movement, in economic terms with the growing relevance of Asia, and in political terms with the increasing relevance of autocratizing countries and nationalist ideologies that add new challenges to international democratic governance. This leads to permanent tensions in the multilateral system. How all of this shape the Cuba-EU relationship? Participants: Susanne Gratius (Autonomous University of Madrid-Spain), Eduardo Perera (Cuban independent researcher) and Laurence Whithead (Nuffield College, Oxford University, UK).

Episode 4: Cuba, Quo Vadis? The three preceding episodes, in English, focused on analyzing the economic and political reforms that have taken place in Cuba and the relations between the island and the European Union. Today we will address in Spanish a summary of the topics covered in the podcast, all based on the years of work in the Forum. Participants: Anna Ayuso (CIDOB-Spain), José Choffre (University of Alicante-Spain) and Raynier María Pellón (CIPI, Cuba).