Almost by definition, the relationship between the state and society is fraught with tension. While the state enjoys a relative advantage over citizens (decisions are made at the political center, and enforced by centralized mechanisms of coercion), attempts at resisting and negotiating state power are common. More often than not, defiance results in the confirmation of the status quo, but it may also lead to change. Therefore, the tension between power and resistance is not only crucial to the understanding of the dynamics of governance, but to our understanding of how states are created, maintained and reformed. The rapid and profound changes in government policy over the last few decades pose interesting questions regarding state-citizen relations in Cuba.
Facing severe material deprivation as a result of the breakdown of the socialist bloc, the government was forced to implement dramatic economic reforms, which have since evolved into a permanent overhaul of the economic and political system. While the issue has been mainly examined through the interaction between nongovernmental and religious organizations and state agencies, the meeting points between state agencies and individual citizens remain virtually unexplored. This dissertation aims to fill that void by examining the negotiation of power between the judges in the People’s Popular Courts (a state agency par excellence), and the individual citizens who appeared before them. Drawing on civil law documents pertaining to litigations brought before the courts between the years 1986 and 2010, I focus on the ways in which citizens challenged the authority of the state and its hegemonic discourse, as well as examine the changes that have taken place in the implementation of state socialism in Cuba over the last two and a half decades. In order to do so, I trace how ideas of individuality, community, solidarity and morality were coercively transmitted, but also blatantly contested and, eventually, re-defined; this process re-reformed the socialist state in unprecedented ways. The courts are thus seen not only as an arena for political indoctrination, but a site of political contestation as well. As we shall see throughout this dissertation, citizens appear to have moved during the time period under study from apologetically requesting that their cases be revised, towards forceful demands for transparency, revision of procedures, and better service from government agencies. The reactions of judges to the claims made by citizens changed dramatically as well; judges moved from repeatedly attempting to either ignore the demands made by citizens or re-educate the demander to speak and behave according to revolutionary values, to addressing those demands and concerns at great length, in the manner of well-trained customer representatives. By focusing on the extent that the (increasingly defiant) arguments of litigators became acceptable, or at least tolerated by judges, this dissertation brings forth three main arguments: a) generally speaking, state power, whether in democratic or authoritarian regimes, always entails the possibility of resistance, regardless of the final outcome of such efforts, b) a transition to a more participatory model of governance is taking place in Cuba, both at the grassroots and the governmental levels and c) state socialism in Cuba is being re-defined as to include an enhanced focus on decency in interpersonal relations, rather than economic doctrine. In coming to terms with contemporary Cuba, where a substantive political transition is said to be taking place in these very moments, this examination becomes all the more compelling.