La Poblacion De Cuba Essay

This paper analyzes poverty and vulnerability in today’s Cuba. Poverty and vulnerability are important human issues in any context, but even more so in a society that, exactly 50 years ago, embarked on an alternative path of development – socialism – which prioritizes the emancipation of human beings and the fulfillment of their potential. This required as its point of departure a commitment to social development, justice, and equity, based on universal and multifaceted social policies. Below I reflect on current poverty and vulnerability in Cuba, their determinants and forms of expression. My thesis is that these are diverse and heterogeneous, and their analysis must be supplemented by a family- and gender perspective. Finally, I outline some ideas about how to improve social policies to address these issues.

Social development, justice and equity in the Cuban social model

When the World Summit for Social Development took place in Copenhagen in 1995, many of the world’s pressing social problems had already been solved in Cuba and several of the proposals agreed upon at this important forum were already an integral part of the Cuban concept of social development that had been devised and implemented since 1959. Among them are the promotion of social integration, especially of the most disadvantaged groups; access to a quality education and basic health care; gender equality; and the eradication of poverty.

While the rest of Latin America embraces the reigning belief that economic growth will solve the problems of poverty and inequity (“trickle down theory”) and has been pursuing policies of structural adjustment and privatization, Cuba has placed its bets on universal social policies and the central role of the State, to promote and achieve just and equitable human development.

Cuba’s concept of social development is defined by these basic principles: it is comprehensive and multidimensional in character; economic and social aspects are assumed to be interconnected; the State plays a central role in the design and implementation of social policies that ensure free and universal basic social services; there is broad public participation in the outlined social policies; individual and social consumption are both improved to provide for higher standards and consumer safeguards; and differential treatment of those groups considered vulnerable (children, women and the rural population) with appropriate policies is acknowledged as necessary. These principles give rise to multifaceted, coherent, and systematic social policies that are comprehensive and universal (Rodríguez & Carriazo 1987).

This Cuban model places special emphasis on equity, consistent with its aim of social justice. Equity does not pertain only to the distribution of income; it includes equal opportunities and universal access to social services, with specific attention to disadvantaged groups so they can benefit from the existing structure of opportunities. (Álvarez & Mattar 2004).

Elaborating on this premise, sociologist Mayra Espina links the promotion of equity and social justice in the Cuban social model to the consolidation of opportunities for equality, which she defines as “a mechanism for distribution through public consumption funds, which is characterized by universality; massive application; free or easy access; legally guaranteed equality of status; centralized public design and guaranteed access; social participation; priority of collective solutions over individual ones; homogeneity; increasing quality; opportunity for social integration on equal terms for all social sectors, regardless of income; and the aspiration to equal outcomes… [with regard to] basic nutritional needs, education, health, culture, sports and social security” (Espina 2008: 144f).

Cuban social policy regarding poverty attempts to eradicate it by addressing its causes, promoting equity as a means to integrate all sectors of society, fostering human development and well-being, and guaranteeing the entire population basic social protections. Above and beyond these objectives are more specific policies of social compensation and assistance for those sectors considered vulnerable. In keeping with the ethical and humanistic principles of Cuba’s social program, merely reducing, alleviating or mitigating poverty is not enough. The aspiration is to eliminate or minimize the conditions that produce and/or reproduce poverty and to promote human development in all its aspects.

As a result of implementing this concept of development and the social policies it implies, Cuban society for nearly three decades enjoyed a trend toward a more equitable distribution of wealth, which has been documented by renowned authors and institutions,1 and advanced significantly in terms of social development, as evidenced by very favorable social indicators – some of which are even comparable to those of developed countries – at virtually the same level throughout the island. Particularly outstanding among these indicators is the Human Development Index (HDI). Cuba’s rank has risen continually since 1998 and it currently holds 50th place, thus placing it among the highly developed nations (PNUD 1998-2006). According to the Human Development and Equity Index (HDEI),2 whose goal is to measure equity in the relevant aspects of human development, Cuba ranks among the top five nations of Latin America and the Caribbean – along with Trinidad and Tobago, Colombia and Costa Rica. It must be emphasized that these results were achieved by an underdeveloped country with limited resources and almost constantly facing adverse economic conditions.

Poverty and vulnerability in present-day Cuba

The crisis and economic reforms that occurred in Cuba during the 1990s not only severely hurt the country’s economy but seriously affected everyone’s quality of life. In particular, material insecurity grew and intensified. In this complex scenario poverty reemerged as a social problem and consequently the thesis that poverty was being eradicated in Cuba, which had been widely shared in all spheres – political, social and academic – and proven by indisputable social advances and achievements, began to be questioned (Rodríguez & Carriazo 1987).3

Special terms are used to discuss problems connected types of personal insecurity (precariedad), reflecting both the aforementioned social achievements and the specifics of the phenomenon of poverty in Cuban society. Among these terms are: social disadvantage, to describe adverse socioeconomic and familial conditions that place schoolchildren at risk (Díaz et al. 1990), vulnerable groups, defined as groups with incomes too low to provide a minimum standard of living (Torres 1993), and at-risk population, defined as that population in danger of not being able to meet some basic needs (Ferriol et al. 1997) – a term the authors explicitly prefer to use instead of poverty.4

The recognition of poverty in today’s Cuba requires acknowledgement of its sui generis character. It is limited in extent and one does not find critical or extreme poverty, of the sort that would produce malnutrition, poor health, illiteracy, insecurity, and social exclusion. It is also unique with regard to the social protection received by the entire population. Even those sectors with scarce resources are guaranteed access to basic social services (Zabala 1996). It is precisely this social protection – free and accessible health care, education and social security, guarantees of employment, wages and basic foodstuffs, and residential subsidies – that keeps social exclusion to a minimum.

It is this social protection that accounts for Cuba’s favorable ranking in terms of human development and poverty. According to the Human Poverty Index (HPI), Cuba has ranked among the top five developing countries over the last 10 years, with poverty rates ranging from 4.1% (2002) to 5.1% (1997). It has ranked between second and sixth, and in every case the results have been considered very favorable.5

The second report prepared by Cuba on the Millennium Development Goals explained that Cuba is doing very well at meeting those goals. Regarding the goal of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, unemployment fell from 7.1% (1997) to 1.9% (2004), a rate that can be regarded as full employment, benefiting all sectors of society, especially youth, women, the disabled, and the people of the country’s eastern provinces – the region where unemployment was highest during the economic crisis. Over this same period minimum and base salaries increased (by 125%, benefiting 1,657,191 workers) in various sectors. Social security benefits to low-income pensioners increased, benefiting 1,468,641 individuals, as did social assistance, benefiting 476,512. In terms of the goal of reducing the rate of hunger by half between 1990 and 2015, food availability increased between 1999 and 2003, from an average of 3007 kilocalories to 3165 per capita per day. The proportion of the population at risk of malnutrition fell to 2%. The incidence of low birth weight babies has fallen since 1993 and is consistent throughout the country. Likewise, the percentage children up to five years old who are moderately or severely underweight decreased to 2% – a very low incidence by worldwide standards – and with very little variation between the sexes. Specific programs now ensure proper nutrition of children, the elderly, pregnant women, and the chronically ill. Given all of this, the achievement of this millennium goal is quite possible for Cuba. Cuba has shown significant progress toward fulfilling other related goals such as universal primary education, women’s equality and independence, reduction of infant mortality, better maternal health, and combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases (INIE 2005).

Analyzing poverty is complex because of its multiple layers: regional and global development events and trends, national macroeconomic conditions, specific characteristics of the different zones, and individual and family situations and characteristics. Thus it is a multidimensional phenomenon that incorporates both causes and attributes that are economic, social, political, cultural and subjective in character, among others. It is a dynamic phenomenon, always in process, in which cumulative deficiencies, contextual elements and other factors feed back simultaneously and over time. Lastly, its production and reproduction intersect in a synergistic manner with the axes of gender, class, race, ethnicity, and generation. Poverty in Cuba is thus a heterogeneous phenomenon.

One should add that social vulnerability has increased to a degree in Cuban society. Major contributing factors are the aforementioned economic crisis and reform, the effects of the US economic blockade, and the natural disasters that frequently assault the country. Other factors are associated with the characteristics – gender, race, age, etc. – that can make individuals, households or groups more vulnerable. In addition, the most vulnerable can be identified by looking at poor people’s resources and assets – physical, financial, productive, and human and social capital – and particularly the types of strategies developed by an individual or household (Moser 1998).

Insufficient income

Most economic studies of this phenomenon, and in particular those using the income or Poverty Line (PL) method, have revealed insufficient income to be the essential determinant of poverty and its sole, most important and widespread most form. This view of poverty places emphasis on the inputs available to individuals or households to satisfy their material needs. Those individuals or households who do not have the monetary income to satisfy their minimum needs within the historically determined norms of a society are considered to be below the PL.

It is well-known that the income redistribution that took place during the first two decades of the Cuban revolution resulted in notable increases in the incomes of the poorest sectors.

This tendency toward equitable distribution of wealth in Cuban society is demonstrated by the Gini coefficient, which shows a continual decrease in values from 1953 to the end of the 1980s: 0.56 (1953), 0.25 (1978) and 0.22 (1986) (Zimbalist 1989, Baliño 1991). Although in later decades the value of this coefficient has increased somewhat, to 0.38 between 1996 and 1998, it still ranks among the lowest in Latin America and the Caribbean. Cuba’s rank is even more significant because these calculations only include monetary income and do not include transfers such as health care, education and housing. Cuban experts explain these low levels of income inequality recorded until 1989 by the high employment rate – 95% – in the state sector of the economy, the implementation of a unified salary system with a narrow gap between pay levels, the importance of salaries to household income, the effect of state-subsidized consumer items, and the maintenance of an overvalued exchange rate (Álvarez & Mattar 2004).

However, the crisis and the economic reforms reversed this trend in income distribution and equity. Various factors contributed to this: the declining purchasing power of salaries due to price increases; the dual currency system; the dual market system with different prices, currency, and quality of products;6 diversification of income sources; and the divorce of the pay scale from work effort and professional skill, among other factors.

Taken together, these factors led to an increase in social inequalities and socioeconomic differentiation. Mayra Espina studied these aspects in depth and found that they are expressed in the polarization of income and the emergence of vulnerable groups who do not enjoy high levels of consumption or material well-being (Espina 1997). In her most recent work, Espina links this tendency to the emergence of poverty: “Without producing a mechanism for restoring the relations of exploitation or of private property on a large scale, the Cuban reform has led to restratification, providing the context for the growth of poverty as a social problem, the expansion of the at-risk segments of the population, and a general trend of widening socioeconomic inequalities” (Espina 2008: 161). Such social restratification and growth of income-inequality are linked to the increased role of the market in distribution.

Insufficient Income

Macroeconomic studies designed to identify sectors of the population with insufficient income have found an increase over the last two decades. A study carried out by experts at the National Institute of Economic Research (INIE) and the Global Economy Research Center (CIEM) looked at the urban population at risk and found that this sector had more than doubled, from 6.3% to 14.7%, between 1988 and 1996; in both years, the income of the majority of the at-risk population was near the poverty line. By region, although the east was most affected (21.7% of the population at risk), the western region and the city of Havana showed the sharpest increase in risk. The urban at-risk population includes seniors, women, individuals with primary and middle school education, unemployed, state workers and large households (Ferriol et al. 1997). According to the most recent data (1999) 20% of the urban population was at risk. The data show that there is little variation within this group and that most of these people live close to the poverty line. Preliminary calculations for 2001 have indicated that this situation has not been reversed (Álvarez & Mattar 2004).

Insufficient income is directly associated with limited consumption of all kinds, but food most of all. A study performed in the city of Havana by researchers of INIE, the National Statistics Office (ONE) and the Population and Development Studies Center (CEPDE) highlights the insufficient food consumption of households in the two lowest income deciles and their dependence on the rationed goods from the state markets complemented by government-subsidized meals and other forms of social protection (Ferriol et al. 2004).7

Economist Viviana Togores combines the rates of dependence and salary income of households and an estimate of the basic food basket into a single index. From these she calculates income poverty, defined as a condition in which the household is not able to meet its basic food needs. According to her estimates, 48.4% of the Cuban population is in this category. But at the same time, she acknowledges that the redistributive effect of social expenditures – in education, health, social assistance, etc. – while it does not compensate for the loss of purchasing power, does have a favorable effect on the population, especially those in more needy sectors (Togores 2000, 2004).

In contrast with other countries, insufficient income in Cuba is not directly related to unemployment; even during the economic crisis, workers’ nominal salaries remained unchanged and the employees affected by company closings received subsidies. Moreover, as the economy recovered, unemployment dropped significantly. In 1995 the unemployment rate was 8.3%; by 2000 it had dropped to 5.4%. In 2006 it stood at only 1.9% and in 2007 just 1.8%, or nearly full employment (ONE 2008). In addition, nominal wages in the state sector have been gradually increasing in line with other wages in the country.

Furthermore, the social security program ensures universal protection for workers and their families, and also for sectors of the society whose essential needs are not otherwise met or who, due to life circumstances or health reasons, cannot meet their needs without social assistance.8 Expenditures on social security and services as well as pensions have increased substantially in recent years. The costs of social assistance programs and the number of beneficiaries have also increased dramatically.

Insufficient income is primarily related to the decline in purchasing power of salaries and social security and assistance programs provisions. According to Togores (2004) and Pérez (2008), this occurs because nominal wages have not kept up with increases in the consumer price index,9 so that real wages have fallen by 37% between 1989 and 2000 (Perez 2008). This particularly affects those whose main income comes from the State, such as traditional state sector employees who do not receive other benefits or perks and those receiving pensions and social assistance.

Though unemployment is not the main cause of insufficient income, households with low adult employment and high rates of economic dependence are among those with the lowest income levels (Zabala 1999, Ferriol et al. 2004).

Although these estimates reflect the significance of insufficient income in today’s Cuba, they should be analyzed with caution and in the light of important qualifications. For example, free public services, such as health care and education, satisfy important needs. Furthermore, the cost of the basic goods basket is difficult to calculate because basic goods are acquired in various markets with different prices; each household has its own formula for satisfying its needs. Moreover, such estimates are themselves questionable, because they do not take into account income not stemming from formal employment, such as hard currency income and various types of worker incentives.

Unmet basic needs

Poverty can be identified directly by examining whether or not individuals’ or households’ actual consumption of goods and services meets their basic needs (as opposed to being measured by income, which is an indirect approximation, as it only represents a portion of inputs). In order to identify the unmet basic needs, each household’s success at meeting a group of specific needs – housing, water, sewage, electricity, furniture and household items, etc. – is evaluated. In each case a minimum value is set. If the household falls below that level, the need in question is considered unmet and an overall lack of essential services exists (Boltvinik 1992).

Studies on spatial inequalities undertaken by the Center for the Study of Health and Human Welfare at the University of Havana have revealed interregional and intraregional inequalities; some of these are due to spatial inequalities inherited from before the revolution and the new inequalities that emerged during the crisis and the economic reform. Such inequalities involve differences in housing quality, access to consumer goods and social services, and levels of socioeconomic development that give advantages to certain regions over others, the so-called luminous and opaque areas, respectively (Íñiguez & Ravenet 1999; Íñiguez & Everleny 2004).

The housing question is, without a doubt, one of the most pressing problems facing Cuban society. Despite efforts and achievements, the latest data available indicate that 26% and 15% of Cuban homes were considered to be in fair or poor condition, respectively (Alvarez & Mattar 2004). Estimates made in 1993 indicated that fair and poor structural conditions were more common in rural areas (Hábitat 1996); nevertheless, the city of Havana was in a particularly critical state: not only are 20% and 16% of units, respectively, classified as fair or poor, but in addition 60,000 houses needed to be replaced, another 60,700 dwellings were located in multifamily units or rooming houses10 and 2,700 units were transition shelters that accommodate families whose housing is uninhabitable; in addition, there are 60 unhealthy districts and 114 precarious settlements with marked deterioration in the capital. (Coyula 2006).

Another housing problem is the accumulated housing shortage, which the National Housing Institute has estimated at about 530,000 units (Álvarez & Mattar 2004), and the overcrowding that this causes. Currently a do-it-yourself construction program is underway with the participation of the State. In 2007, 57.4% of homes were built without state involvement and of these 52% were do-it-yourself (ONE 2007); however, the construction is far from meeting expectations and existing needs.

The natural disasters endured by Cuba, steadily more frequent and intense, have had a damaging affect on the country’s housing situation by destroying dwellings entirely or partially and accelerating the deterioration of the housing base.11 Although reconstruction and rehabilitation of housing damaged by hurricanes are given priority in allocating the scarce resources available for construction, only 22% of the affected dwellings have been repaired (Rodríguez 2008).

In terms of safe drinking water, the coverage of households is high: 95.2%, according to 2002 data; although in rural areas the figure is only 85.4%, and only 75.4% of covered households have direct connections. In many homes water must be stored because water service is intermittent, affecting its quality and availability. 94.2% of households in 2002 have sanitation services, of which 38.4% are sewer connections and 55.8% are pits and latrines. The situation is worse in rural areas where 84.6% have services, only 9.8% of which are sewer connections. In general, the lowest levels of access to water and sanitation are found in the rural areas of the country’s eastern provinces (Álvarez & Mattar 2004).

Regarding electricity, 95% of households have service: 100% in urban areas and 83% in rural areas (ONE 2002). The state continues working to bring electricity to the more remote areas.

Some perspectives of analysis: family and gender

The diversity and heterogeneity of poverty are also evident when examined by gender and family status. This investigation also brings subjective and sociocultural dimensions into the analysis. Poverty studies from the family perspective12 have revealed the impact of poverty on family structure, dynamics, and functioning, as well as on the ways in which families respond to their situation – including survival strategies. Poverty also influences the ways people interpret their family situation, in plans, self-perception, self-esteem and values, among other things. The family perspective incorporates both analysis of the immediate socioeconomic impacts specific to families and analysis, over time, of the changes that occur through the entire life cycle of a family.

Along these lines, I have conducted studies of families living in poverty, based not only on their unfavorable living conditions, but also on family composition: high average size, predominantly young age structure, education level slightly lower than the national average, low rate of employment, overrepresentation of blacks, mixed-race individuals, and female heads of household. They are predominantly characterized by extended families and single mothers, unstable relationships, predominance of the maternal role in all areas of family life, patterns of early motherhood and high birth rates, and limited family role in education. In the family-society relationship, one can discern various strategies oriented toward family subsistence; a high degree of social integration, except in employment; a limited degree of social participation; and some conflicts with or alienation from social organizations. In subjective terms, one can observe the variable self-perception of families regarding their poverty, the predominance of a family-centered perspective instead of a social perspective, and the immediate role of the family in transmitting a sense of its own worth.

These studies reveal a reciprocal relation between the characteristics of structure, functioning and dynamics of families living in poverty and the organization of their daily life based on family survival via various strategies. This relation reinforces disadvantaged living conditions, family dysfunction and the insufficient use of opportunities offered by society, thus feeding the generational reproduction of poverty and the intensification of this phenomenon at certain stages of the family life cycle. The studies also highlight the importance of the family in the reproduction of poverty, expressed in three dimensions: traditional, situational and current. The traditional includes the lack of material wealth and other assets as well as some generationally transmitted patterns of behavior and values. The situational dimension is linked to the economic crisis and reforms. In this context, the current dimension refers to the promotion of some traditional characteristics and behaviors.

Subsequent research reaffirms some of these findings. A study by the Center for Psychological and Sociological Research (CIPS) confirmed that the most disadvantaged families were extended, single-parent, growing, and with female heads of households and many economically dependent family members. It also revealed that such families are most common in poor housing conditions, areas of little socioeconomic development, urban slums and resource-scarce rural areas (Díaz Tenorio 2008).

Families’ lack of various kinds of capital affects their poverty. According to psychologist Patricia Ares (2008), families with high cultural capital and declining economic capital – professionals and technicians belonging to the traditional state sector – and particularly those with low cultural capital and declining economic capital are financially insecure.

Other studies conducted in Havana city found that with regard to income, poorer families were those headed by single women and pensioners, those with more children, elderly individuals living alone, the unemployed, the chronically ill and disabled, women, full-time homemakers, the less educated, larger families and people of color (Ferriol et al, 2004).

From the foregoing it can be concluded that the diversity and heterogeneity of poverty is linked to specific characteristics of the family group, their living conditions, their links with society and their subjective representations.

The gender perspective in the analysis of poverty enriches the understanding of this phenomenon. In the Cuban context it acquires special significance because of the important achievements of women in the social sphere, and the social and legal protection they enjoy.

Regarding the problem of poverty, according to estimates of the at-risk population, defined as those with incomes below the poverty line, there were no significant gender differences in urban areas in 1997: females accounted for 50.7% of total population at risk (Ferriol et al. 1997). More recently, research on at-risk populations in Havana found that women were slightly overrepresented (57%) in the lowest monetary income groups – deciles 1 and 2 (Ferriol et al. 2004). Though there is no occupational or wage discrimination in Cuba, and though women have achieved high educational levels, their greater poverty could be due to their overrepresentation in lower-paying occupational categories, such as service and administrative, even though they make up the majority of professionals and technicians (Núñez 2000); unequal access to positions of leadership (Díaz 2004); the existence of a sector of the female population that has no economic autonomy because it engages only in homemaking; and the greater role of women as caretakers for children and the infirm.

In the realm of family, this analysis points to the possible vulnerability of households headed by women, and particularly single mothers, whose numbers are steadily on the rise in Cuba. These households are sometimes and in some cases in a state of poverty and vulnerability because of the structure, composition and conditions in which the mothers fulfill their roles and responsibilities. Several studies have shown that households headed by unemployed, single-parent females who lack technical training or have low educational levels are vulnerable and in poverty. This analysis highlights the importance of access to and control over job opportunities, training, education and social support networks available to women, which may be decisive in breaking the cycle of poverty.13

This demonstrates that women still suffer some disadvantages, which are made to seem natural or justified by symbolic representations of women, families and various social actors that are historically and culturally conditioned and that contribute in various ways to a certain level of vulnerability in women not only in the employment and social realms but also in the family environment. It is important to consider that such representations can be determinants of gender- associated poverty and thus contribute to the social exclusion of women.

Concluding Remarks

Comparative analysis shows not only that the conditions and manifestations of poverty in Cuba are unique, but that that uniqueness is strongly influenced by the social policies implemented in the country and the social protection they provide.

In Cuba as elsewhere poverty is diverse and heterogeneous in expression. Considered separately, its manifestations – insufficient income and unmet basic needs – can only offer a partial and incomplete view of the phenomenon. This issue was raised by Julio Boltvinik (1992) who proposed a comprehensive method of measurement, which if put into effect could produce results of special interest if a link between habitat and insecure income emerged.

Other dimensions of poverty, especially the subjective and cultural, complement that diversity and are reflected when poverty is analyzed qualitatively from the perspective of family and gender. The results of such analysis reaffirm the importance of Cuba’s educational and cultural policy. Poverty in rural areas remains to be studied adequately; the issue has been left unexplored in recent decades.

The goals of equity and social justice, inherent in a society that seeks to build socialism, make it essential to eradicate poverty. To that end it is critical to maintain existing social policies and continue improving them. In the present decade, these policies have been expanded through various social programs currently under way and have assumed a more personalized character. The further development of policy should take into account the diversity and heterogeneity of the phenomenon. Addressing the problem of low incomes would require changes in employment and wage policies, while the persistence of unmet basic needs would require prioritization of housing construction and repair and the improvement of technical services. Policy should also recognize the more specific needs of its beneficiaries. Another positive move would be to implement social policies affecting the family as a unit, transcending the traditional sectoral approach that focuses on particular members. Finally, it is necessary to encourage families and local actors to take a more proactive approach to solving their problems.


[Abbreviations of Cuban institutes not named below: CEDEM: Centro de Estudios Demográficos; CEEC: Centro de Estudios de la Economía Cubana; CIEM: Centro de Investigaciones de la Economía Mundial; CEPDE- Centro de Estudios de Población y Demografía; CESBH- Centro de Estudios de Salud y Bienestar Humanos]

Álvarez, Elena and Mattar, J. (coords.) 2004 Política social y reformas estructurales: Cuba a principios del siglo XXI (México: CEPAL/ INIE/ PNUD)

Arés, Patricia 2008 “Familia como red familiar compleja.” Paper presented at the Centro de Estudios demográficos (CEDEM) of the University of Havana

Baliño 1991 La distribución de los ingresos en Cuba (Havana: INIE)

Boltvinik, Julio 1992 “El método de la medición integrada de la pobreza. Una propuesta para su desarrollo” en Comercio Exterior (México) Vol. 42, No. 4

Brundenius, Claes 1984 “Crecimiento con equidad. Cuba 1959-84” en Cuadernos de Pensamiento Propio (Managua: INIES-CRIES)

Coyula, Mario  2006 “La Habana toda vieja” en Temas, no. 48 / October-December

Díaz, B.; Guasch, I.; Vigaud, B, et al 1990 “Caracterización del niño en riesgo por condiciones socioeconómicas y familiares adversas. Acción preventiva intraescolar y comunitaria.” Research report. Havana: Ministry of Education.

Díaz, Elena  2004  “Mujer cubana: el progresivo proceso de empoderamiento.” Research report (unpublished).

Díaz Tenorio, Mareelén 2008 “Investigación sobre grupos familiares en un cuarto de siglo” en: Cuadernos del CIPS 2008. Experiencias de investigación social en Cuba. Eds. María Isabel Domínguez et al. Havana: Editorial Caminos

Espina, Mayra 1997 Transformaciones recientes en la estructura socioclasista cubana. Barcelona: Editorial Servei de Publicaciones

____________ 2008 Políticas de atención a la pobreza y la desigualdad. Examinando el rol del estado en la experiencia cubana. Buenos Aires: CLACSO

Ferriol, A.; Ramos, M. and Añé, L. 2004a Reforma económica y población en riesgo en Ciudad de La Habana, Havana: INIE-CEPDE-ONE

Ferriol, A.; Carriazo, G.; U-Echavarría, O; et al 1997 Efectos de políticas macroeconómicas y sociales sobre los niveles de pobreza. El caso de Cuba en los años 90. Havana: INIE / CIEM

Ferriol, A., Therborn, G. y Castiñeiras, R 2004b Política social: el mundo contemporáneo y las experiencias de Cuba y Suecia. Havana: INIE

Habitat 1996 Informe Nacional Hábitat II

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Iñiguez, Luisa y M. Ravenet 1999 Desigualdades espaciales del bienestar en Cuba. Aproximación a los efectos de los nuevos procesos en las realidades sociales. Havana: CESBH.

Íniguez, Luisa and Everleny, Omar 2004 “Territorio y espacio en las desigualdades sociales de la provincia Ciudad de Havana,” in 15 años Centro de Estudios de la Economía Cubana, Colectivo de autores. Havana: Editorial Félix Varela

Moser, Carolina 1998 “The asset vulnerability framework: reassessing urban poverty reduction strategies,” World Development Vol. 26, No. 1

Núñez, Marta 2000 “Estrategias cubanas para el empleo femenino en los noventa: un estudio de caso con mujeres profesionales,” Caminos. Revista Cubana de Pensamiento Socioteológico no. 17-18

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_____ 2008 Anuario Estadístico de Cuba, Havana

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1. For more information, see Brundenius 1984, Zimbalist 1989, Baliño 1991.

2. This index was developed by a collective of Cuban researchers (CIEM/PNUD 1999).

3. Evidence of conditions of insecurity was already recognized before the crisis, as in research by the Cuban Institute for Research and Guidance on Internal Demand (ICIODI), which revealed socioeconomic variation among households and regions in the country, including some classified as disadvantaged. Consistent with this, some researchers believe that the current situation reflects a deterioration of poverty relief mechanisms, since total eradication has not been possible (Alonso 2002).

4. Subsequently they developed the concept of poverty with protection and guarantees, characterized by insufficient income to cover the cost of the basic goods basket, but with social protection in key areas, namely food, health, education, employment and universal social security services that are free and subsidized. This condition certainly distinguishes the Cuban situation from the destitution that characterizes poverty in the rest of the world (Ferriol et al. 2004).

5. The Human Poverty Index includes an estimate of the number of individuals who will not survive to the age of 40, illiterate adults, individuals without access to safe drinking water, individuals without access to healthcare and children under five with moderately low or severely low weight. This index came into use in 1997. In 1996 the Índice de Pobreza de Capacidad (IPC) was used. Cuba received a score of 7.8, placing it 10th among 101 countries. In 2001 the IPH was not calculated for Cuba, but it was in 4th place among 90 developing countries.

6. Two currencies circulate in the country: Cuban pesos (moneda nacional) and convertible pesos. The former are used for rations, subsidized meals, social consumption, domestically produced items for domestic consumption (with prices set by the State) and farmers’ markets (with prices determined by supply and demand). The latter are used in hard currency stores. Until 2004, US dollars also circulated in the hard currency market.

7. 1992 calculations regarding households with low incomes – 50 pesos or less – showed that this amount is insufficient to meet basic needs. As mentioned earlier, Julia Torres called these sectors “vulnerable groups”, due to their lack of food security (Torres 1993).

8. Currently the system provides social protection to those experiencing illness, maternity, work-related injury or illness, partial or total disability, or retirement, and to beneficiaries of deceased workers. It includes not only monetary provisions (direct income in the form of salaries, subsidies, and pensions) but also a package of benefits including services.

9. This due to the high price in Cuban pesos of products in the non-regulated markets – especially farmers’ markets – and the prices of food and non-food items in the hard currency stores, which reflect a high exchange rate.

10. These are mansions divided into apartments with shared bathrooms and kitchens called solares.

11. Hurricanes Gustav, Ike and Paloma alone damaged 530,758 dwellings (Rodríguez, 2008).

12. See Zabala 1996, 1999.

13. These issues were the focus of a soon-to-be -published study I carried out as a senior fellow with CLACS-CROP: “Jefatura femenina de hogar, pobreza urbana y exclusión social: una perspective desde la subjetividad en el contexto cubano” (2007).

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Cuban literature is the literature written in Cuba or outside the island by Cubans in Spanish language. It began to find its voice in the early 19th century. The major works published in Cuba during that time were of an abolitionist character. Notable writers of this genre include Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda and Cirilo Villaverde. Following the abolition of slavery in 1886, the focus of Cuban literature shifted. Dominant themes of independence and freedom were exemplified by José Martí, who led the modernista movement in Latin American literature. Writers such as the poet Nicolás Guillén focused on literature as social protest. Others, including Dulce María Loynaz, José Lezama Lima and Alejo Carpentier, dealt with more personal or universal issues. And a few more, such as Reinaldo Arenas and Guillermo Cabrera Infante, earned international recognition in the postrevolutionary era.

Most recently, there has been a so-called Cuban "boom" among authors born during the 1950s and '60s. Many writers of this younger generation have felt compelled to continue their work in exile due to perceived censorship by the Cuban authorities. Many of them fled abroad during the 1990s. Some well-known names include Daína Chaviano (USA), Zoé Valdés (France), Eliseo Alberto (Mexico), Pedro Juan Gutiérrez (Cuba), Antonio Orlando Rodríguez (Cuba) and Abilio Estévez (Spain).

Cuban literature is one of the most prolific, relevant and influential literatures in Latin America and all the Spanish-speaking world, with renowned writers including José Martí, Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, José María Heredia, Nicolás Guillén (the National Poet of Cuba), José Lezama Lima, Alejo Carpentier (nominee for the Nobel Prize for Literature and previously the Premio Cervantes winner in 1977), Guillermo Cabrera Infante (Premio Cervantes, 1997), Virgilio Piñera and Dulce María Loynaz (Premio Cervantes, 1992), among many others.


Spanish language literature began in the Cuban territory with the Spanish conquest and colonization. The conquistadors brought with them cronistas who recorded and described all important events, although they did so with the Spanish point of view and for the Spanish reading public. The most important cronista to arrive in Cuba in the 16th century was Bartolomé de las Casas, a friar who authored, among other texts, the History of the Indies.

The first literary work written on the island dates to the 17th century, when in 1608 Silvestre de Balboa y Troya de Quesada (1563–1647) published Espejo de paciencia, a historical epic poem in royal octavo that narrates the capture of the friar Juan de las Cabezas Altamirano by the pirate Gilberto Girón.

Cuban writing began with poetry, and there were few other significant works written in the 17th century.

18th century[edit]

It was not until 1739 that the first play by a Cuban appeared in Sevilla under the title El príncipe jardinero y fingido Cloridano ("The Garden Prince and the Hypocritical Cloridano") by Santiago Pita. It is a comedy portraying the artificial expressions of the time, with occasional reminiscences of Lope de Vega, Calderón de la Barca and Augustín Moreto.

True Cuban poetic tradition began with Manuel de Zequeira y Arango and Manuel Justo de Rubalcava toward the end of the 18th century, despite the fact that Espejo de paciencia had been published a century and a half earlier. This can be affirmed not only by the quality of their respective works, but also by their typical Cuban style, which had already grown apart from that of Spain. The ode to indigenous nature became the tone and primary theme of Cuban poetry. Among the best inaugural poems are the ode "A la piña" by Zequeira and "Silva cubana" by Rubalcava.

19th century[edit]

Cuban neoclassicism (ca. 1790–1820) was characterized by the use of classic forms similar to those of ancient Greece, with equaled invocations of Greco-Latin gods but with a singular prominence given to nature with the clear intention of distancing itself from Europe. Francisco Pobeda y Armenteros was a poet who can be placed midway between "high culture" and "popular culture" and whose style was one of the first to initiate the process of "Cubanization" in poetry. Soon afterward, Domingo del Monte attempted to do the same, proposing the "Cubanization" of romance. Del Monte also set himself apart by his fundamental work in the organizing and correspondence of literary circles.

Romanticism matured in Cuba due to one figure with continental status whose poetic works broke with Spanish-language tradition (including that of classical Greece), dominated then by varying levels of neoclassicism. José María Heredia was born in Santiago de Cuba in 1803 and died in Toluca, Mexico in 1839, and besides being the first great Romantic poet and Cuban exile, he was an essayist and dramaturge. He founded the critical and literary newspaper El Iris in 1826 together with the Italians Claudio Linati and Florencio Galli. He also founded two magazines: Miscelánea (1829–1832) and La Minerva (1834). Among his best known poems are two descriptive-narrative silvas: “En el teocalli de Cholula” (written between 1820 and 1832), which admires the great Aztec ruins of Cholula in Mesoamerica and reproves pre-Hispanic religion, and “Al Niágara” (1824), which covers the imposing and wild waterfalls of Niagara and develops a new voice: the romantic “I” attributed to nature.

Other notable romantic authors were Gabriel de la Concepción Valdés (“Plácido”) and Juan Francisco Manzano. Among the adherents to American regionalism was José Jacinto Milanés, while Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, a distinguished figure of Hispanic American Romanticism, triumphed on foreign soil and was criticized by the orthodoxy of Cintio Vitier in the 20th century.

The next milestone of Cuban poetry came with the rise of two poets: Juan Clemente Zenea (1832–1871) and Luisa Pérez de Zambrana (1837–1922), who, like Merecedes Matamoros, achieved high literary qualities in their works. Therefore, when the Modernist generation erupted on stage, there already existed a Cuban poetic tradition, but one that could be said to lack the degree of universality that was brilliantly reached by José Martí (1853–1895).

Foreign influences, French above all, came together in another essential poet: Julián del Casal. Most notable in his work was the cognitive, artistic production of word as art, not exempt from emotions, from tragedy or from the vision of death.

The 19th century saw Cuban philosophers and historians such as Félix Varela, José Antonio Saco and José de la Luz y Caballero paving the way for the period of independence. Cirilo Villaverde, Ramón de Palma and José Ramón Betancourt wrote abolitionist literature. Meanwhile, a national literature flourished with José Victoriano Betancourt and José Cárdenas Rodríguez and a late Romanticism with the so-called “reacción del buen gusto” ("reaction of good taste") of Rafael María de Mendive, Joaquín Lorenzo Luaces and José Fornaris. Noteworthy as a literary criticism was Enrique José Varona.

20th century[edit]

The 20th century opened with an independent republic mediated by U.S. occupation that, with the repeal of the Platt Amendment in 1933, began to create its own institutions. Cuba had finished a bloody war of independence from Spain with the help of U.S. intervention, by which Cuban literature in the first half of the century continued to be marked, not only with the influx of great writers such as Julián del Casal and José Martí, the first Cuban modernists, but also with a contradictory consolidation of Spanish culture with national identity, a reaction to the presence and influence of the U.S. on the island.


Above all, Casal was the great canonic figure of Cuban poetry at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th. “His energy, apart from that which he had in late-19th century modernism, which was decisive, reached to the level of Regino Boti and, above all, José Manuel Poveda – the latter dedicated his ‘Canto élego’ to him” – and even to the level of Rúben Martínez Villena and José Zacarías Tallet. “How would the lyrical exoticism of Regino Pedroso, the symbolist intimacy of Dulce María Loynaz, the poetic sentimentality of Eugenio Florit, the refined and solitary purism of Mariano Brull [...] or the neo-Romanticism of Emilio Ballagas and the part-romantic, part-modernist vein in some of Nicolás Guillén’s poetry be understood without an antecedent like Casal?”[1]

Before the definitive arrival of the vanguards, the 1920s brought the development of a kind of poetry that anticipated the social and human unrest of the next decade. In this category, Agustín Acosta, José Zacarías Tallet and Rubén Martínez Villena stand out.

Acosta was the most relevant of these poets, primarily for his work La zafra (1926), which poeticizes in pastoral verse the reality of working in the fields. Acosta furthered himself from Modernism with this poem, yet he still did not enter into the radicalism of some vanguards.

Modernism is considered to have ended with Poemas en menguante (1928) by Mariano Brull, one of the principal representatives of pure poetry in Cuba. Two nearly divergent lines developed in the course of the avant-garde: 1) the realist line of African, social and political themes in which Nicolás Guillén excelled and 2) the introspective and abstract line that had its most recognized representatives in Dulce María Loynaz and Eugenio Florit. Midway between both tendencies lies the work of Emilio Ballagas, the poet who, according to Luis Alvarez, caused the neo-Baroque of José Lezama Lima.

In 1940, the magazine Revista Orígenes, which concentrated on both Cuban and universal topics, was launched by a group led by Lezama Lima (1910–1976) that included Ángel Gaztelu, Gastón Baquero, Octavio Smith, Cintio Vitier, Fina García Marruz and Eliseo Diego.

Other distinguished poets of this generation were Lorenzo García Vega, Samuel Feijóo and Félix Pita Rodríguez, but Lezama Lima was by far the central figure of Cuban poetry by mid-century. Dense metaphors, complex syntax and conceptual obscurity define the Baroque poetic environment, which consisted in a struggle to reach a vision through which life would not continue seeming like “a yawning succession, a silent tear.” Lezama Lima’s work spans various volumes of poetry, including Muerte de Narciso (1937), Enemigo rumor (1947), Fijeza (1949) and Dador (1960).

The so-called “Generation of the Fifty” (authors born between 1925 and 1945) looked to master poets “del patio", such as Lezama Lima and Florit, although they broke off in different currents, including neo-Romanticism, in order to cultivate what would by the 1960s be the last current of the 20th century, as clearly accepted by numerous poets: colloquialism.

However, it is important to mention first the absurd and existential tone of Virgilio Piñera, the Creole sense conveyed by Eliseo Diego and Fina García Murruz, the late but effective outcome of José Zacarías Tallet’s book La semilla estéril (1951), the dialogue with the common man in the second part of “Faz” by Samuel Feijóo, the intertextuality reached by Nicolás Guillén in “Elegía a Jesús Menéndez,” the aforementioned conversational emphasis of Florit in “Asonante final” and other poems (1955), and finally the then-closed intimacy of Dulce María Loynaz with her distinctive work “Últimos días de una casa” (1958). It is said that poetry began to “democratize” by exploring the “common dialogue” or that it tried to discover lyrical referents with epic notes.

“In the initial years of the Revolution, the intimate tone predominate in the previous decades seemed insufficient, and preceding social poetry (of protest, complaint and combat) was no longer appropriate for the new social circumstances.”[2]

The use of conversational tone converged with a dose of epic style with symbolic interests. This class of poetry narrated everyday life circumstances while exalting a society engaged in social revolution.

A politicized poetry began to form that avoided tropology and traditional uses of meter. It lasted at least two decades, although it was still practiced throughout the 20th century by poets who did not change their discursive attitude.

Almost all major writers and poets from the class of 1930 to 1940 (Fayad Jamís, Pablo Armando Fernández, Rolando Escardó, Heberto Padilla, César López, Rafael Alcides, Manuel Díaz Martínez, Antón Arrufat, Domingo Alfonso and Eduardo López Morales, among others) were essentially colloquialists. Notable women poets of this era included Emilia Bernal, Dulce Maria Loynaz, Carilda Oliver Labra, Rafaela Chacón Nardi, and Serafina Núñez.

The first class of poets (the Generation of the Fifty born between 1925 and 1929) had neo-Romantic, Origenist and even surrealist traits. These included Cleva Solís, Carilda Oliver Labra, Rafaela Chacón Nardi, Roberto Friol and Francisco de Oráa.

The third class, born between 1940 and 1945, were not much different from the more radical prose writers and some of them identified with such writers. Colloquialism survived strongly at least until the mid-1980s in writers such as Luis Rogelio Nogueras, Nancy Morejón, Víctor Casaus, Guillermo Rodríguez Rivera, Jesús Cos Causse, Raúl Rivero, Lina de Feria, Delfín Prats, Magaly Alabau and Félix Luis Viera.

The class of poets born between 1946 and 1958 were marked by two tendencies: those who followed the meter (mainly décimas and sonnets) and those who employed free verse with lines of individual ranges. Both tendencies moved toward a formal, linguistic experimentalism, but the conversational tone was maintained as is evident, for example, in the works of Osvaldo Navarro, Waldo González, Alberto Serret, Raúl Hernández Novás, Carlos Martí, Reina María Rodríguez, Alberto Acosta-Pérez, Virgilio López Lemus, Esbértido Rosendi Cancio, Ricardo Riverón Rojas, León de la Hoz, Ramón Fernández-Larrea and Roberto Manzano.

A new generation of poets made themselves known during the latter half of the 1980s, when those born after 1959 began to publish. This generation was also identified by their diversity and existed on equal terms with the preceding generations. This was a notable phenomenon—the confluence of poets born after 1959 with many of those born in the 1940s and 1950s, all of whom continued contributing to a revitalized poetry, as can be seen, for example, in books by Mario Martínez Sobrino, Roberto Manzano and Luis Lorente.

The stylistic and formal sign most distinctive of this last generation of poets had been decisively influenced by the poetic giants José Lezama Lima and Virgilio Piñera, to whom the majority of these poets recognize as maestros. Other writers who reached full maturity during these times were Sigfredo Ariel, Chely Lima, Jesús David Curbelo, Antonio José Ponte, Rita Martín, Orlando Rossardi, Emilio García Montiel, Carlos Alfonso, Frank Abel Dopico, Damaris Calderón, Teresa Melo, Nelson Simón, Juana García Abas, Ronel González, León Estrada, Reinaldo García Blanco, Rito Ramón Aroche, Caridad Atencio, Ismael González Castañer, Carlos Esquivel Guerra, Alpidio Alonso Grau, Alberto Sicilia Martínez, Ricardo Alberto Pérez, Manuel Sosa, Sonia Díaz Corrales, Norge Espinosa, Pedro Llanes, Edel Morales, Arístides Vega Chapú, Francis Sánchez, Ileana Álvarez, Rigoberto Rodríguez Entenza, Berta Kaluf, Luis Manuel Pérez Boitel, Laura Ruiz, Odette Alonso, Dolan Mor, Alberto Lauro, William Navarrete, Carlos Pintado, Alfredo Zaldívar, Yamil Díaz and Edelmis Anoceto Vega.

In the 1990s, a new current of Cuban lyric rose that broke with the colloquialism of the generation before and explored traditional verse forms and free verse with its rhythmic and expressive possibilities, in accordance with the work of preceding authors such as José Kozer. The canon of new poetry appeared in the independent magazine Jácara, particularly the issue in 1995 that compiled an anthology of the generation. There were many young authors who participated in what amounted to a revolution of Cuban literature that distanced itself from political themes and created a clearer and more universal lyric. These poets included Luis Rafael, Jorge Enrique González Pacheco, Celio Luis Acosta, José Luis Fariñas, Ásley L. Mármol, Aymara Aymerich, David León, Arlén Regueiro, Liudmila Quincoses and Diusmel Machado.

“The work of poets who emigrated from Cuba generally reflected the creative threads developed by the evolution of poetry taking place within Cuba. Many of these poets belonged to the Generation of the Fifty, such as Heberto Padilla, Belkis Cuza Malé, Juana Rosa Pita, Rita Geada, José Kozer, Ángel Cuadra, Esteban Luis Cárdenas and Amelia del Castillo. The majority of the most active authors were born between 1945 and 1959, and as a general rule they adopted the conversational tone and usually distanced themselves from the themes of aggressive, political militancy. Furthermore, they treated the island home with the nostalgia so typical of Cuban emigration poetry from Heredia to the present day. Any political components were very discreet. As a rule, they did not write a poetry of militancy against the Revolution like that which can be found in the lyrical work of Reinaldo Arenas, for example. Also, varieties of form, style and content were prominent, mostly because the territorial centers of these poets were more dispersed than those of the island, the central cities of immigrant Cubans being Miami, New York, Mexico City and Madrid. Two maestros of Cuban poetry, Eugenio Florit and Gastón Baquero, were a part of this emigration, as well as Agustín Acosta, José Ángel Buesa, Ángel Gaztelu, Justo Rodríguez Santos and Lorenzo García Vega, among other figures of the national lyrical tradition.” [4]

Among the poets born after 1959, especially in the 1960s, and who resided outside Cuba were Antonio José Ponte, María Elena Hernández, Damaris Calderón, Dolan Mor, Alessandra Molina, Odette Alonso and Rita Martin.

Narrative literature[edit]

By far the highest figure of Cuban narrative literature in the 20th century was Alejo Carpentier (1904–1980). Novelist, essayist and musicologist, he greatly influenced the development of Latin American literature, particularly by his style of writing, which incorporates several dimensions of imagination—dreams, myths, magic and religion—in his concept of reality. He won a Miguel de Cervantes Prize, regarded as a sort of Spanish-language Nobel Prize in Literature, and was nominated for a Nobel Prize. José Lezama Lima and Guillermo Cabrera Infante were two other important Cuban novelists of universal stature.


Toward the end of the 19th century, with the publication of Cecilia Valdés (1882) by Cirilo Villaverde and Mi tío el empleado (1887) by Ramón Meza, the Cuban novel began to lose its semblance.

However, during the first 30 years of the 20th century, the production of novels was scarce. The most distinguished narrator during this time was Miguel de Carrión, who built a readership around the subject of feminism in his novels Las honradas (1917) and Las impuras (1919). Other distinguished novels of this period were Juan Criollo (1927) by Carlos Loveira and Las impurezas de la realidad (1929) by José Anotonio Ramos.

The Cuban novel could be said to have experienced a revolution by the mid-20th century, at the pinnacle of which came the publication of El reino de este mundo (1949) and El siglo de las luces (1962), both by Alejo Carpentier, along with authors such as Lino Novás Calvo, Enrique Serpa, Carlos Montenegro, Enrique Labrador Ruiz, Dulce María Loynaz, and Virgilio Piñera. In early works by Lisandro Otero, Humberto Arenal, Jaime Sarusky, Edmundo Desnoes and José Soler Puig, social realism converged with magic realism, absurdism and the “marvelous reality” of Carpentier.

Another significant moment for Cuban novel writing occurred in 1966 with the publication of Paradiso by José Lezama Lima, not to mention other notable novels of the 1960s, such as Pailock, el prestigitador by Ezequiel Vieta, Celestino antes del alba by Reinaldo Arenas, Adire y el tiempo roto by Manuel Granados and Miguel Barnet’s part-historical, part-literary novel Biografía de un cimarrón.

Between 1967 and 1968, a significant burst of literature took place inside and outside of Cuba with works such as Tres tristes tigres by Guillermo Cabrera Infante, El mundo alucinante by Reinaldo Arenas and De donde son los cantantes by Severo Sarduy.

The 1970s was a period of digression in the overall development of the Cuban novel. With the exception of Alejo Carpentier in his twilight, Severo Sarduy and the return of José Soler Puig with El pan dormido, the Cuban novel entered a low period characterized by Ambrosio Fornet. However, the novel Antes que anochezca by Reinaldo Arenas, especially its film adaptation, had an international impact.

Neither Manuel Cofiño nor Miguel Cossio were able to come close to the caliber of the previous period. The nascent police novel still was not producing good results, and beginning novelists were too constrained by the superficial division between the Revolution’s past and present. Toward the end of the decade, the novel form began to recover with the first books written by Manuel Pereira, Antonio Benítez Rojo and Alfredo Antonio Fernández, who turned their attention to the Latin American “boom,” at which time another genre was born inside and outside of Cuba—la memoria novelada (“fictionalized memory”)—with De Peña Pobre by Cintio Vitier and La Habana para un infante difunto by Guillermo Cabrera Infante.

Between 1983 and 1989, another change was effected that again brought the Cuban novel to national and international interest. Works including Un rey en el jardín by Senel Paz, Temporada de ángeles by Lisandro Otero, Las iniciales de la tierra by Jesús Díaz and Oficio de angel by Miguel Barnet received acclaim from critics and readers during the phenomenon of a rebirth of Cuban novel writing.

With regard to the current scene, debated studies from the International Colloquium “El mundo caribeño: retos y dinámicas” (“The Caribbean world: challenges and dynamics), which took place in June 2003 at the Michel de Montaigne University Bordeaux 3, concluded that we are now encountering “a literature that does not shut up or stop joking, a literature of disenchantment and natural pessimism that is very realist, sometimes violent, and that touches on themes that beforehand were taboo, inhibited and censured, such as homosexuality, religious discrimination, marginality, the incidents of the war in Angola, the debacle of socialism, double standards, new riches, corruption of the white collar class, prostitution, drugs, the uncertain future, the pain of exile, etc.” The symposium’s distinguished authors included Leonardo Padura, Fernando Velázquez Medina, Abilio Estévez, Miguel Mejides, Julio Travieso, Jorge Luis Hernández, Alexis Díaz Pimienta, Ronaldo Menéndez, Mylene Fernández, David Mitrani Arenal, Arturo Arango, Guillermo Vidal, Antonio Rodríguez Salvador, Reinaldo Montero, Alberto Garrandés, Eduardo del Llano, Rodolfo Alpízar, Jesús David Curbelo, Raul Aguiar, Luis Cabrera Delgado, Andrés Casanova, Ena Lucía Portela, Alberto Garrido and Francisco López Sacha.[5]

However, there are many exiled authors whose works have gained enormous recognition and have spread internationally, such as Eliseo Alberto Diego, Daína Chaviano, Antonio Orlando Rodríguez, Pedro Juan Gutiérrez, Zoé Valdés, Antonio José Ponte, Amir Valle, Jocy Medina, Armando de Armas,Norberto Fuentes and José Manuel Prieto. Also, Uruguayan-born Daniel Chavarría lives in Cuba and has won multiple international prizes for his writings.

Short stories[edit]

The first book of integral short stories by a Cuban author was Lecturas de Pascuas by Esteban Borrero, published in 1899. For the next forty years, the genre began a slow rise on the island, and few are the authors who belonged to it: Jesús Castellanos with De tierra adentro (1906), Alfonso Hernández Catá with Los frutos ácidos (1915) and Piedras preciosas (1924), Luis Felipe Rodríguez with La pascua de la tierra natal (1928) and Marcos Antilla (1932), and Enrique Serpa with Felisa y yo (1937).

The period of maturity began in the 1930s, with writers who included Virgilio Piñera and his Cuentos Fríos (1956), Alejo Carpentier with La guerra del tiempo (1958) and Onelio Jorge Cardoso with El cuentero (1958). Onelio Jorge Cardoso portrayed the simple life of the countryside and has been dubbed El Cuentero Mayor ("The Best Storyteller").

Among other works published before 1960 are Cayo Canas (1942), by Lino Novás Calvo, El gallo en el espejo (1953), by Enrique Labrador Ruiz and Así en la paz como en la guerra (1960) by Guillermo Cabrera Infante.

From 1960 to 1966, there was a decrease in national short story writing, but from 1966 onward, a new boom began with the publication of “Los años duros” by Jesús Díaz. From 1966 to 1970, many short story collections were written, including Condenados de Condado (1968), by Norberto Fuentes, Tiempo de cambio (1969) by Manuel Cofiño, Los pasos en la hierba (1970) by Eduardo Heras León, Días de guerra (1967) by Julio Travieso, Escambray en sombras (1969) by Arturo Chinea, Ud. sí puede tener un Buick (1969) by Sergio Chaple and Los perseguidos (1970) by Enrique Cirules.

The years from 1971 to 1975 are known as the “Quinquenio Gris” (roughly “Five-year Grey Period”). The National Congress of Education and Culture, held from April 23 to April 30 in 1971, set out to establish a policy to abolish the inquisitive and questioning role of literature, which bore negative consequences for the short story writing of those times. Despite that, works published during the five-year period include El fin del caos llega quietamente (1971) by Ángel Arango, Onoloria (1973) by Miguel Collazo, Los testigos (1973) by Joel James and Caballito blanco (1974) by Onelio Jorge Cardoso.

The decade of the 1970s finished its course with works that included Al encuentro (1975) by Omar González, Noche de fósforos (1976) by Rafael Soler, Todos los negros tomamos café (1976) by Mirta Yáñez, Los lagartos no comen queso (1975) by Gustavo Euguren, Acquaria (1975) by Guillermo Prieto, El arco de Belén (1976) by Miguel Collazo, Acero (1977) by Eduardo Heras León and El hombre que vino con la lluvia (1979) by Plácido Hernández Fuentes.

Cuban short story writing continued to increase in the 1980s. Relevant books from this decade include El niño aquel (1980) and El lobo, el bosque y el hombre nuevo by Senel Paz, Tierrasanta (1982) by Plácido Hernández Fuentes, El jardín de las flores silvestres (1982) by Miguel Mejides, Las llamas en el cielo (1983) by Félix Luis Viera, Donjuanes and Fabriles (1986) by Reinaldo Montero, Descubrimiento del azul (1987) by Francisco López Sacha, Sin perder la ternura (1987) by Luis Manuel García Méndez, Se permuta esta casa (1988) by Guillermo Vidal, El diablo son las cosas (1988) by Mirta Yáñez, Noche de sábado (1989) by Abel Prieto Jiménez, La vida es una semana (1990) by Arturo Arango and Ofelias by Aida Bahr.

A true peak in publishing occurred from 1990 onward with the generation known as the “Novísimos.” Some of the members of this generation had already been published toward the end of the 1980s. They include Alberto Garrido, José Mariano Torralbas, Amir Valle, Ana Luz García Calzada, Rita Martín, Guillermo Vidal, Jesús David Curbelo, Jorge Luis Arzola, Gumersindo Pacheco, Atilio Caballero, Roberto Urías, Rolando Sánchez Mejías, Sergio Cevedo, Alberto Rodríguez Tosca and Ángel Santiesteban.

However, these writers only became established in the 1990s, a decade that gave rise to many authors: Alberto Guerra Naranjo, Alexis Díaz-Pimienta, David Mitrani Arenal, Alberto Garrandés, José Miguel Sánchez (Yoss), Verónica Pérez Kónina, Raúl Aguiar, Ricardo Arrieta, Ronaldo Menéndez, Eduardo del Llano, Michel Perdomo, Alejandro Álvarez, Daniel Díaz Mantilla, Ena Lucía Portela, Waldo Pérez Cino, Antonio José Ponte, Karla Suárez, Jorge Ángel Pérez, Mylene Fernández Pintado, Adelaida Fernández de Juan, Anna Lidia Vega Serova, Gina Picart, Carlos Esquive Guerral, Félix Sánchez Rodríguez, Marcial Gala, Rogelio Riverón, Jorge Ángel Hernández, Lorenzo Lunar, Marco Antonio Calderón Echemendía, Antonio Rodríguez Salvador, Pedro de Jesús López, Luis Rafael Hernández, Michel Encinosa and Juan Ramón de la Portilla.


Cuba has an important tradition of essay writing that began in the first half of the 19th century and includes many world-famous authors. Some of the most renowned essayists were Alejo Carpentier, José Lezama Lima, Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Ramiro Guerra, Emilio Roig de Leuchsenring, Cintio Vitier, Jorge Mañach, Graziella Pogolotti and Roberto Fernández Retamar.

Before 1959, essayists who stand out are the ethnographer Fernando Ortiz, author of works including Azúcar y Población de las Antillas (1927) and Contrapunteo cubano del tabaco y el azúcar (1940); Emilio Roig de Leuchsenring with works such as Cuba no debe su independencia a los Estados Unidos (1950); José Lezama Lima with Analecta del reloj (1953) and Tratados en La Habana (1958). Among many other writers of note are Jorge Mañach, Ramiro Guerra, Juan Marinello, Medardo Vitier, José Antonio Portuondo, Carlos Rafael Rodríguez and Raúl Roa.

During the second half of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st, the development of essay writing accelerated, with dozens of writers cultivating the genre: Cintio Vitier, Fina García Marruz, Roberto Fernández Retamar,Roberto Friol, Ambrosio Fornet, Graziella Pogolotti, Adelaida de Juan, Rine Leal, Leonardo Acosta, Justo C. Ulloa, Enrico Mario Santi, Rafael Rojas, Jorge Luis Arcos, Enrique Sainz, Luis Álvarez, Raúl Hernández Novás, Virgilio López Lemus, Enrique Ubieta Gómez, Alberto Garrandés, Beatriz Maggi, Emilio Ichikawa, Madeline Cámara, Rita Martín and Vitalina Alfonso.

Women's literature[edit]


After the Cuban Revolution of 1959, writers of all backgrounds were challenged by the material constraints that immediately took place. Supplies such paper and ink were difficult to come by, and the lack of materials was compounded by the lack of publishing and binding houses. Though such companies had existed within the private sector, at the time of the Revolution, these businesses were in the process of being nationalized by the new Cuban government. The result was that immediately after the Revolution, no Cuban publishing houses existed that were capable of sustainably carrying out the publishing and binding needs of the Cuban body of writers, though some were available to do “short runs” of several hundred copies. This may help to explain why women writers in Cuba experienced a publishing lull, though creatively and culturally encouraged through the establishment of Casa de Las Américas and Imprenta Nacional in 1959. Despite these challenges, the establishment of free education allowed for a drastically higher literacy rate, so writers had wider and more diverse audiences than ever before. Such developments are thought to contribute to the “boom” in women’s writing that occurred in the 1970s, especially among younger women writers.[6]

Cuban women writers have been able to change Cuban national discourse by reexamining themes that many people thought the Cuban Revolution of 1959 had put to rest. Their writing is diverse, and no one perspective, technique, or medium can be said to be characteristic of women’s literature in Cuba. Poetry is by far the most widely used genre for Cuban women writers, followed by the short story, although they work within genres such as testimonial literature, autobiography, essay, and the novel as well.[7] Their subject matter and treatment of such are exceptionally varied. They do, however, hold in common several themes especially prevalent in their works.

One such collection of themes is that of the social construction of motherhood, sexuality, and the female body. During the decades immediately following the Cuban Revolution, women were encouraged to embody ideals such as self-sufficiency and moral superiority as a mother figure.[8] A growing trend in the depiction of motherhood is that of a mother and daughter pair alienated from one another, in which the writer rejects the assumption that a mother is perfect or that she is a symbol of home or nurturing love. Lina de Feria subverts the idea of the tender mother figure in her poem “Protected from the Years,” in which the mother is a source of anxiety, and is someone whose accusations she must hide from to survive. Georgina Herrera speaks of a void between herself and her mother in “Mami,” which scholar Catherine Davies characterizes as an overwhelming sense of “lack” surrounding the mother figure.[9] Depictions range from merely distant to sometimes disparaging, but in doing so, these writers are asserting the freedom of the mother figure to be human, imperfect, and of her own free will or desire. This is not to say that all Cuban women writers illustrate mothers negatively—Nancy Morejon, for example, is known for her “matrilineal consciousness” which subverts the idea of the patriarchal male in its own right. She does this though her preference to trace ancestry and formation of identity through her mother, which reinforces a female solidarity.[10]

Female eroticism in literature has been another tactic used to reinforce feminine subjectivity, even as early as the beginning of the 20th century, although the views of such literature, as well as the views expressed within it, have changed. Until as recently as the 1980s, topics such as female sexuality (especially if it was homosexual or happened outside of marriage) as well as female sexual desire were considered taboo.[11] Women writers have attempted to empower themselves by expressing a woman’s sexual desire, and showing her as an assertive and sometimes aggressive sexual partner. In Marilyn Bobes short story “Somebody Has to Cry,” for which she won the 1995 Casa de las Américas Prize, differing points of view are utilized to discuss the stories of multiple characters. These characters deal with real problems, such as the tragedy of unwanted pregnancy from rape, or adultery. The story buzzes with sexual consciousness, focusing on women’s views of their bodies, as well as the objectification that comes with beauty.[12] Renowned poet Nancy Morejon is known for, among many other things, her depictions of lesbian love, further reorienting the perspective and asserting the right to agency.

Afro-Cuban women writers found their voices after the revolution, fueled by the national effort to define Cuban culture. An additional factor to their booming success was the increased access to greater educational opportunities than ever before for all Cubans through the free education system. These works often seek to subvert the traditional stereotypes toward mulatto women, especially the idea of the exotic, sexualized mulatta that dominated representations of mulatto women before the revolution. An especially famous example is that of the 19th-century character Cecilia Valdés from the novel of the same name, who is also known as “the little bronze virgin”. She embodies sexuality and sensuality, as well as the perceived danger to marriages and families that might be damaged by her seductive ways.[13] This has been combated by reorienting the perspective to that of the woman herself, which reinstates her subjectivity and denies such discourses that make her an object or commodity.[14] Often the writer identifies sources of strength through cultural means, such as in the poem “Ofumelli” by Excilia Saldaña, in which a mulatto woman, prized as a sexual object, is able to fall back on her Lucumi religion as a source of power, and rains down curses against her oppressor.[15]

Another theme throughout AfroCuban women’s literature is the idea of the African motherland. Mother Africa is sometimes depicted as a physical mother figure, such as Minerva Salado’s poem “Song of the Acana Tree” in which the author expresses kinship with Africa. With other writers, such as poet Nancy Morejon, mother Africa represents what Mirar Adentro calls the “theme of origin”.[16] From this second perspective, Cuba is the homeland, and Africa is the historical root that helps to explain identity. A consciousness of the past, including African heritage and slavery, are part of the construction of character today, which is often expressed by Morejon’s poetry.[16] Two famous examples of such poetry by Morejon are “Black Woman” and “I Love My Master,” which illustrate traits that are characteristic of Morejon’s poetry: they call upon historical events and collective experiences to help establish identity as an AfroCuban and as a woman.[17] Though such themes are prevalent among black and mulatta women writers, even white female writers often focus on themes of Africa and African cultural roots—Minerva Salado is one example.[18] Some have explained this unique characteristic of Cuban literature as stemming from the fact that Cuban national culture is a transcultured one, in which neither the Spanish or African cultural elements are dominated or eliminated, but instead combined into a cohesive new culture.[19] This unique characteristic allows non-black Cuban women to identify with the themes of AfroCuban women, and Davies argues that the real question is simply to what extent each author identifies with Africa and how she identifies herself as a Cuban.[20]

The Special Period that began in the 1990s posed a considerable challenge to Cuban women writers. Paper and materials were scarce, and dwindling housing opportunities meant that many Cuban women had little personal space in which to write, as many lived in often cramped multi-generational homes. Hand-made “plaquettes” have helped to keep women’s literature afloat until joint publishing ventures could accommodate the needs of writers. Many Cuban writers endeavored to publish in other countries, such as France and Mexico. Despite serious setbacks, Cuban women writers have continued to write, develop, and go on to win national and international claim, including the National Critics Prize and the Casa de las Américas Prize.[21]

Children's literature[edit]

Literature written for children and young readers in Cuba started around the beginning of the 19th century. In the works of two poets, José Manuel Zequeira and José María Heredia, lyrical elements identified with this genre can be found, while Heredia’s El ruiseñor, el príncipe y el ayo was written completely for children.

Others children’s writers of the century include Cirilo Villaverde with El librito de los cuentos y las conversaviones (1847), Eusebio Guiteras Fonts with his reading books used as official texts in elementary education, and Francisco Javier Balmaceda with Fábulas morales (1861). However, in the 19th century, the genre gained momentous value only with the works of José Martí and primarily his collection of poems entitled Ismaelillo (1882), besides other poems and short stories published in the magazine La edad de oro (1889).

Literature for children and young people continued to be written in the first half of the 20th century. To this period belong Dulce María Borrero and her Cantos escolares, Emilio Bacardí Moreu with Cuentos de todas las noches (published posthumously in 1950), René Potts with Romancero de la maestrilla (1936) and Emma Pérez Téllez with Niña y el viento de mañana (1938) and Isla con sol (1945). However, the most prominence was achieved by Hilda Perera Soto with Cuentos de Apolo (1947), a central work within children’s literature in Cuba.

The 1940s also saw Raúl Ferrer and his Romancillo de las cosas negras y otras poemas. Dora Alonso became known in the 1950s, especially with the play Pelusín del Monte, named after the main character, a puppet that went on to become a national icon.

Two important authors appeared in the 1970s: Renee Méndez Capote, who wrote Memorias de una cubanita que nació con el siglo (1963), and Herminio Almendros with Otros viejos (1965) and Había una vez (1968).

Two paradigmatic books published in 1974 were Juegos y otros poemas by Mirta Aguirre and Caballito Blanco (short stories) by Onelio Jorge Cardoso. Afterward, other essential works were published, such as Por el mar de las Antillas anda un barco de papel (1978) by Nicolás Guillén, Palomar (1979) by Dora Alonso, El libro de Gabriela (1985) by Adolfo Martí Fuentes, Rueda la ronda (1985) by David Chericián, Soñar despierto (1988) by Eliseo Diego and La noche (1989) by Excilia Saldaña.

At present, Cuban children’s literature has broadened and includes many others, such as Antonio Orlando Rodríguez, José Manuel Espino, Aramís Quintero, Ivette Vian, Enid Vian, Emilio de Armas, Deysi Valls, Joel Franz Rosell, Julia Calzadilla, Julio M. Llanes, Freddy Artiles, Enrique Pérez Díaz, Alfonso Silva Lee, Luis Cabrera Delgado, René Fernández Santana, Emma Romeu, Nelson Simón, Ramón Luis Herrera, Froilán Escobar, Esther Suárez, José Antonio Gutiérrez Caballero, Omar Felipe Mauri, Niurki Pérez García, Mildre Hernández Barrios, Nersys Felipe, Luis Rafael Hernández, Teresa Cárdenas Angulo, Luis Caissés and Magali Sánchez.


Main article: Afrocubanismo

During the 1920s and 1930s Cuba experienced a movement geared towards Afro-Cuban culture called Afrocubanismo.[22] The beauty of Afrocubanismo in literature is that is captures something indispensably Cuban. It incorporates the islanders’ African roots while mixing it with their own creativity to produce something that is truly magical. They have all grown up with rhythm as a daily part of their life, so the incorporation of rhythm into literature was a rather smooth transition.

The idea of introducing rhythm into literature was brought about by several Cuban composers who were also writers. Alejandro García Caturla, Amadeo Roldán, and Gilberto Valdés were all interested in supporting black culture as well as adding musical elements to written word.[22] Composers Eliseo and Emilio Grenet also established a bridge between the literature and the music of the afrocubanismo movement.[23] Using onomatopoeia, the goal of rhythmic literature is to get the reader to experience the reading like a dance without using actual instruments. Afro-Cuban music genres such as the rumba, afro and son were particularly important during the afrocubanismo movement. The claves, a percussion instrument, was the main inspiration for incorporating rhythm within Cuban literature.[24] It sounds very different from Western percussion rhythm and was a way to introduce Africanrhythm into art. These characteristics of the clave and the importance of dance to the Cuban people became a catalyst for integrating musical patterns into their literature, especially within poetry.

See also[edit]



General references[edit]

  • Adentro, Mirar. Looking Within. Detroit: Wayne State University Press. 2003.
  • Arnedo-Gómez, Miguel. “Introduction”, Writing Rumba: The Afrocubanista Movement in Poetry. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press. 2006: 1-170.
  • “Afrocubanismo,” Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th Century. Ed. Lenard S. Klein. 2nd ed. 4th vol. Continuum: Continuum Publishing Company, 1989: 20-21.
  • Davies, Catherine. A Place in the Sun?: Women Writers in Twentieth-Century Cuba. New York: St. Martin’s Press. 1997.
  • Franzbach, Martin. Sozialgeschichte der kubanischen Literatur (1608-1958). Frankfurt am Main: Valentia, 2012.
  • Franzbach, Martin. Historia social de la literatura cubana (1959-2005). Vol. I. Frankfurt am Main: Valentia, 2014.
  • García, Cristina. “Introduction”, Cubanismo! New York: Vintage Books, 2002: 1-364.
  • Gonzales, Reynaldo. “A White Problem: Reinpterpreting Cecilia Valdes”, in Pedro Perez Sarduy & Jean Stubbs (eds), Afrocuba: An Anthology of Cuban Writing on Race, Politics and Culture. New York: Ocean Press, 2005.
  • “Literature of the Recolutionary Era,” Encyclopedia of Cuba: People, history, culture. Ed. Luis Martinez Ternandez. 1st Vol. Wesport: Greenwood Press, 2003: 345-346.
  • Henken, Ted. “Cuban Literature-The Avant-Garde vs the Vanguard: Colonial Literature”, Cuba: A Global Studies Handbook Global Studies: Latin America & The Caribbean. Santa Barbara: ABC_CLIO, 2008: 363-385.
  • Moore, Robin D. “The Minorista vanguard: Modernism and Afrocubanismo”, in Nationalizing Blackness: Afrocubansimo and artistic Revolution in Havana, 1920-1940. Pittsburg: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1997: 195-200.
  • Ortiz, Fernando. “For a Cuban Integration of Whites and Blacks”, in Pedro Perez Sarduy & Jean Stubbs (eds), Afrocuba: An Anthology of Cuban Writing on Race, Politics and Culture. New York: Ocean Press, 2005.
  • Ródriguez-Mangual, Edna M. “Introduction”, Lydia Cabrera and the Construction of an Afro Cuban Cultural Identity. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004: 1-167.
  • Smith, Verity (26 March 1997). Encyclopedia of Latin American Literature. Routledge. ISBN 1-135-31424-1. 
  • Yanez, Mirta, ed. Cubana: Contemporary Fiction by Cuban Women. Boston: Beacon Press, 1998.
  1. ^Jorge Luis Arcos, Prologue to Las palabras son Islas. Introducción a la poesía cubana del siglo XX. Editorial Letras Cubanas, 1999.
  2. ^Muestrario Antológico de la poesía cubana. Cien poetas (CubaLiteraria). Virgilio López Lemus, prologue.
  3. ^Virgilio López Lemus. Ob. Cit
  4. ^Le monde caraïbe: défis et dynamiques. Visions identitaires, diasporas, configurations culturelles. Actes du colloque international. Publications de la Maison des Sciences de l'Homme d'Aquitaine, France, 2005. Sous la direction de Christian Lerat. Université Bordeaux 3, p. 171.
  5. ^Davies, Catherine, A Place in the Sun?: Women Writers in Twentieth-Century Cuba. New York: St. Martin’s Press. 1997, p. 117.
  6. ^Davies, A Place in the Sun? (1997), p. 124.
  7. ^Davies, A Place in the Sun? (1997), pp. 199-200.
  8. ^Davies, A Place in the Sun? (1997), p. 205.
  9. ^Adentro, Mirar. Looking Within. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2003, p. 31.
  10. ^Davies, A Place in the Sun? (1997), p. 119.
  11. ^Yanez, Mirta (ed.), Cubana: Contemporary Fiction by Cuban Women. Boston: Beacon Press, 1998, p. 22.
  12. ^Gonzales, Reynaldo, “A White Problem: Reinpterpreting Cecilia Valdes”, in Pedro Perez Sarduy & Jean Stubbs (eds), Afrocuba: An Anthology of Cuban Writing on Race, Politics and Culture, New York: Ocean Press, 2005. 200.
  13. ^Davies, Place in the Sun? (1997), p. 172.
  14. ^Gonzales, Reynaldo. “A White Problem: Reinpterpreting Cecilia Valdes”, in Sarduy & Stubbs, Afrocuba (2005), p. 61.
  15. ^ abAdentro, Looking Within (2003), p. 47.
  16. ^Adentro, Looking Within (2003), pp. 196-203.
  17. ^Davies, A Place in the Sun?, (1997), p. 165.
  18. ^Ortiz, Fernando. “For a Cuban Integration of Whites and Blacks”, in Sarduy & Stubbs, Afrocuba (2005), p. 29.
  19. ^Davies, A Place in the Sun? (1997), p. 170.
  20. ^Davies, A Place in the Sun? (1997), p. 224.
  21. ^ abArnedo-Gómez, M. “Introduction”, Writing Rumba. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2006, p. 1.
  22. ^Manabe, Noriko (2009). "Reinterpretations of the Son: Versions of Guillén's Motivos de son by Grenet, García Caturla, and Roldán". Latin American Music Review. 30 (2): 115–158. JSTOR 40800937. 
  23. ^García, C. “Introduction”, Cubanísmo! New York: Vintage Books, 2002: xiv.

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