Cuban Geography in Higher Education: Survival in the ''Special Period''

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Geography and Geology


Biological, Environmental, and Earth Sciences


Geography in higher education survives in Cuba today, despite political isolation and a grave economic crisis. The interests, methodologies, and programs of Cuban geographers will be familiar to North American geographers. The "special period" in Cuba's history presents special issues, challenges, and opportunities for Cuban and North American geographers working in concert. Key words: Cuba, Caribbean, Latin America, higher education. In 1995, Cuba entered its fourth year of the "special period in a time of peace"--the country's transition period between dependency on the former Soviet Union and the greater economic self-reliance propelled by market forces (White 1991). Fidel Castro has declared this the most difficult period in Cuba's entire history. That may well be the case, particularly because Cuba had provided its citizens with such high expectations in areas such as education, health care, and professional advancement. Today, the country's population "survives," as many people describe their situation. Cuba's economic output has fallen somewhere between 30-60 percent (Mesa-Lago 1994). The country's young people are very well educated and trained, particularly by developing-world standards, but they face a life of no opportunities and "no options" in the words of one young, unemployed professional of our acquaintance. Developments in agriculture, tourism, and biotechnology--in addition to an acceptance of many free market activities--keep the country from economic collapse but appear to offer little short-term potential for progress. A burgeoning "second" economy thrives at the margins of a centrally planned economy, and new joint ventures with European, Canadian, and Latin American firms provide much of the needed capital to steer Cuba through these dire straits (Pérez López 1995; Dávalos Fernández 1993). The most important prospect for economic growth at this point, however, is the end of the United States embargo against Cuba. In March 1994, a bill to that effect was introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives. The re-establishment of U.S. relations with Vietnam may have created some momentum for a change in policy toward Cuba. On the other hand, a conservative congressional tide may militate against a more liberal Cuba policy. Regardless, many major issues remain to be resolved, including charges of human rights violations in Cuba, claims against nationalized properties, and the uncompromising position of many Cuban exiles in the United States. The Cubans recognize, also, that an end to the embargo would have massive impacts on every aspect of life in the country--positive and negative--which scarcely can be imagined today.

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Journal of Geography





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