Looking at Cuba:
Essays on Culture and Civil Society

Rafael Hernández, translated by Dick Cluster

Forewords by John M. Kirk and Jorge I. Domínguez
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"A refreshing and insightful analysis of the real Cuba as seen by one of the country's leading intellectuals. Rafael Hernández should be commended for disclosing to the rest of us a complex, sophisticated, thoughtful, and realistic assessment of the relationship of culture and politics in the making of present-day Cuba."--Nelson Valdes, University of New Mexico

"An intelligent and provocative reading of the past and present of Cuban politics. Using the lens of contemporary debates about civil society to challenge prevailing conclusions and misperceptions, Hernández's reflections provide valuable insights on intellectuals, political culture, and participation in socialist Cuba."--Sheryl Lutjens, Northern Arizona University
This unprecedented inside look at Cuba offers the first discussion in English of the way radical changes in the island's economy and society in the 1990s created a new environment for rethinking the country's future. Written and first published in Spanish by a Cuban political scientist--who is also a socialist, a poet, and a sociologist--the essays set off sharp debate in Cuba about civil society, public opinion, culture, and politics.

Rafael Hernández, one of the most visible intellectuals living and writing in Cuba today, addresses such controversies as the current social diversity brought about by socialist policies, the presence of well-educated new generations, and the emergence of growing inequality that accompanied and has followed the crisis of the 1990s. He also discusses the role played by Fidel Castro in this transitional period; Cuban foreign relations; the revival of religious practices on the island; the new debate over racial prejudice and discrimination; and the new environment for artistic freedom of expression.

In contrast to most outside observers, he argues that future transformation of the socialist system in Cuba must not be discussed simply in political terms because the social and cultural fabric of the island is also integral to what makes the government socialist or not. His discussion of the political restrictions and civil responsibilities of the Cuban intellectual and artist emphasize his point that the future of socialism in Cuba will be more radical for its humanism.

Hernández's independent voice refutes the notion that within Cuba only "officialists" and "dissidents" speak out and that intellectual debate is the exclusive property of Cuban émigrés or the U.S. government.


Rafael Hernández is the editor of Temas, the leading Cuban magazine in the social sciences and the humanities, which is renowned for its contribution to intellectual controversy on the island. He is a senior research fellow at the Centro de Investigación de la Cultura Cubana Juan Marinello in Havana and is the author or editor of several books, including Cuba and the Caribbean and United States-Cuban Relations in the Nineties.
Dick Cluster, lecturer at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, has translated the work of a variety of Cuban literary figures including Abel Prieto, Pedro de Jesus, Mirta Yáñez, Aida Bahr, Mylene Fernández, and Antonio José Ponte. He is the author of novels and historical works including They Should Have Served That Cup of Coffee.

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"This collection of essays is by one of Cuba's most brilliant contemporary essayists, a scholar who has prospered within the island's intelligentsia and as such is allowed to travel abroad, to live in the comfort of academia, and to criticize Cuba's political structure. That is exactly what he does in this challenging book." Multicultural Review

"One of Cuba's most brilliant contemporary essayists." "A challenging book." Multicultural Review

"a significant contribution" "Our wish as readers of Hernandez's book is that the questions he raises will contribute to the good health of the political debate and suggest new strategies to improve the pitching of civil society in Cuba." The Americas

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