Vanier scholar studies whether socialism can still exist in Cuba through its ongoing movement towards the private sector

Photo courtesy of Vanessa Linares

Cuba is going through reform. Since 2008, President Raul Castro has permitted its real estate market to go public, increased the number of small and middle landowners to boost agriculture exports to other countries, allowed its small businesses to develop, and improved the ability for its residents to travel and work abroad. Recently, Castro renewed diplomatic ties with the United States of America (which were severed in 1961). As a result, U.S. President Barack Obama has, among other things, made it easier for Americans to visit Cuba, approved the use of U.S. credit and debit cards in Cuba, and let banks in both countries facilitate transactions.

With all of these changes, many people are questioning whether Cuba will hold on to socialist ideals and lean towards democracy. Daniel Salas-González, a 2014 Vanier Canada Graduate Scholar, is researching whether it is possible for the Cuban government to prevent the public from moving towards free speech and debate.

“My goal is to understand the mechanisms that limit or foster these debates for reform,” he says, “and under what circumstances they bring about desired or undesired results.”

A native of Cuba, Daniel holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism (2007) from the University of Havana and a Master of Arts in Cuban Cultural Processes (2011) from the Higher Institute of Arts in Havana. He is currently working on a PhD in sociology at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Daniel decided to study Cuba’s ongoing reform at Dalhousie because of the strength of the university’s academic exchange program and faculty. He also respects the Canadian political system.

“I always liked Canada as a country committed to peace and development with social justice,” he says. “To come here to work on my PhD was a dream come true.”

Daniel is a proud and grateful Vanier Scholar. He is studying the potential impact of social movements that could reform Cuba. This will be done by analyzing recent debates about social policy regarding racism in Cuba, the possibility of legal and financial changes within the Cuban film industry, and the impact of its artists and academics in building a democratic culture.

“I have a lot of recorded and processed material on most of these cases,” he says. “But things continue changing every day. Right now, I am visiting Cuba, and I want to make some contacts to follow up on the development of these debates.”

For students who want to pursue social science research in another country, Daniel has the following advice.

“It is a practical way of coming into contact with different ways of thinking and acquiring a plural set of references and points of comparison, which underpin innovative thinking in social sciences,” he says.

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