International affairs major is working on an honors thesis with John McCartney, professor of government and law
Karen Bouldin ’08 (Everett, Wash.) is an international affairs major. She is studying Cuba’s economic organization and development strategy during the 1990’s for her honors thesis. Her thesis adviser is John McCartney, professor of government and law and head of Africana studies. The following is a first-person account of Bouldin’s research experiences.
Cuba is an island located only 150 km south of Key West, Florida. Yet, Americans know so little about the island. Our lack of information about Cuba can be attributed to our nation’s strained relationship with the Cuban government.
In general, most Americans know of Fidel Castro, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, and Cuba’s communist history. If we had a better relationship with the nation perhaps we would know that over the past 40 years Cuba has influenced revolutions in Latin American, the Caribbean, and Africa that have led to positive changes in these regions. Cuba has a healthcare system that is comparable to developed nations. It has provided doctors to nations around the world and has even provided medical degrees to U.S. citizens.
My introduction to Cuba took place when I read an article in the Smithsonian magazine, which highlighted the nation’s preserved environment and the vast species that live on the island. From that point on I began to learn more about the nation and became intrigued with its history, politics, and culture.
At Lafayette, I have expanded my knowledge of Cuba by taking courses such as Cuban Revolution, Modern Latin America, Colonial Latin America, and Contemporary Span-American & Hispanics U.S. It was only fitting that I continued to expand my knowledge of this island by working on a thesis about it.
My thesis examines “The Special Period in a Time of Peace,” which was declared by the Cuban government in 1990. The Special Period was the government’s economic organization and development strategy to deal with the economic crisis that occurred as a direct and indirect result of the collapse of the Soviet Union and Soviet bloc nations in 1989. Specifically my thesis will look at how values and institutions were restructured during this time.
I have been working on this project with Professor McCartney for the past several months and will continue to do so next semester. He is very knowledgeable in this area of study and has provided me with personal anecdotes, extensive sources, and direction for my thesis.
Thus far I have learned which events led to the Special Period in Cuba. The collapse of the Soviet Union and Soviet bloc nations were key factors that led to the economic crisis in Cuba. For instance, due to the collapse of these nations, Cuba lost more than 70 percent of its import capacity and by 1993 lost over $700-million in exports. Moreover, this led to the termination of foreign aid, reduction in price subsidies, and foreign oil.
The declaration of the Special Period was proof that Cuba could survive after the collapse of the Soviet Union and despite the U.S. embargo. During this period Cuba went through drastic change. Since 1959 the Cuban economy has been state run, during the Special Period capitalism and entrepreneurship were encouraged by the Cuban government to aid in the stabilization of the economy.
In addition, the Special Period allowed for the nation to be open to new global trading partners. The European Union, China, Venezuela, and Bolivia became some of the important international partners that Cuba gained. The EU and China gave aid and loans to Cuba, while Venezuela and Bolivia provide the nation with valuable resources such as oil and gas. The actions of the Cuban government, for the most part, were successful as the Special Period ended in 1998.
Understanding the Special Period offers insight toward recent development in Cuba. During this period the Cuban government had to rebuild its economy through diversifying agricultural production, economic reforms, and encouraging foreign investment.
Understanding the steps that the Cuban government took during the Special Period to stabilize their economy may aid me in the future. I plan to obtain a master’s in international development. After I get my master’s I would like to work for an agency that is dedicated to helping nations develop, or to work for the U.S. Department of State as a foreign service political or economic officer.