Society for Economic Anthropology
Volunteered - Oral Presentation Session
Tamarys Bahamonde (University of Delaware)
A severe economic crisis looms in Cuba. It is still unclear if it will be as devastating as the 1990s, when economic activity fell some 35 percent and Cubans faced rampant energy and foodstuff shortages, regardless of socioeconomic status. Some scholars argue that the impending crisis will not be as severe as the 1990s, even if they admit that resource shortages have already begun, and economic growth is stagnant. Recent research on the current crisis mostly focuses on macro-economic indicators and rarely considers how social inequities/inequalities shape access to resources and income opportunities, as well as interactions with strict political-economic regulatory apparatuses. This paper addresses these shortcomings through a case-study analysis of two municipalities in Havana: El Cerro and 'Plaza'. We combine other ethnographic research on inequalities in Cuba (1990-present) with participant observation and 36 systematically diversified semi-structured interviews, both conducted recently. We find that the impending economic crisis will be distributed unequally – hitting some sectors of the Cuban population much more drastically – largely because of the very things that are saving Cuba from utter economic collapse: e.g., market driven reforms, a growing international tourism industry, and more access to remittances. Furthermore, we explain how privilege and oppression coalesce around personal/individual factors like race, gender, age, and geographic location and shape outcomes and experiences in accessing resources, gainful employment, and social network opportunities – all critical in managing economic decline and ineffective resource distribution systems. This research contributes to conversations on (post)development, economic crisis, economic transformation, and inequities/inequalities.