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Conceiving Cuba

Reproduction, Women, and the State in the Post-Soviet Era

Elise Andaya

Publication Year: 2014

After Cuba’s 1959 revolution, the Castro government sought to instill a new social order. Hoping to achieve a new and egalitarian society, the state invested in policies designed to promote the well-being of women and children. Yet once the Soviet Union fell and Cuba’s economic troubles worsened, these programs began to collapse, with serious results for Cuban families.

Conceiving Cuba offers an intimate look at how, with the island’s political and economic future in question, reproduction has become the subject of heated public debates and agonizing private decisions. Drawing from several years of first-hand observations and interviews, anthropologist Elise Andaya takes us inside Cuba’s households and medical systems. Along the way, she introduces us to the women who wrestle with the difficult question of whether they can afford a child, as well as the doctors who, with only meager resources at their disposal, struggle to balance the needs of their patients with the mandates of the state.

Andaya’s groundbreaking research considers not only how socialist policies have profoundly affected the ways Cuban families imagine the future, but also how the current crisis in reproduction has deeply influenced ordinary Cubans’ views on socialism and the future of the revolution. Casting a sympathetic eye upon a troubled state, Conceiving Cuba gives new life to the notion that the personal is always political.

Published by: Rutgers University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xiv

My heartfelt thanks go out to all the people and institutions who nurtured this project over the many years from its conception to fruition. First, I am deeply grateful to the people in Cuba who welcomed me, trusted me, and thereby made my research possible. My affiliation with the Centro Juan Marinello would not have come about without the support of Ana Vera Estrada, who became a...

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-23

By the time the family doctor clinic opened its doors to the waiting line of patients at eight thirty in the morning, the streets were already bustling in this densely populated Central Havana neighborhood. Flower sellers set up their brightly colored stands on the broken pavements. Convivial groups of people on their way to work gathered under the peeling, wrought- iron balconies of...

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2. Producing the New Woman

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pp. 24-45

It is diffi cult now to capture the profound utopianism that emanates from the writings of the Cuban revolutionaries as they imagined a new society into being. The 1959 revolution was framed as the culmination of a long battle for national sovereignty and the authentic, idealistic, and moral society articulated most cogently by the nationalist poet José Martí in the nineteenth century wars...

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3. Reproducing Citizens and Socialism in Prenatal Care

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pp. 46-67

It had been a chaotic week at the family doctor clinic where I observed weekly prenatal and neonatal consultations. Dr. Tatiana Medina, one of the two clinic physicians, had taken a month- long medical leave, and Janet was struggling to absorb her colleague’s patients as well as her own. When Janet called in Tatiana’s next patient she frowned immediately at the sight of this very thin young...

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4. Abortion and Calculated Risks

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pp. 68-92

On a cool February afternoon in one of Havana’s outer suburbs, I climbed the steep stairs to the second fl oor apartment of Idaly Santos. Idaly was a single mother whose gregarious manner concealed a fi erce independence. Over the past decade, her mother and siblings had slowly scattered to the United States and to France, leaving her the sole occupant of her large apartment. These...

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5. Engendered Economies and the Dilemmas of Reproduction

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pp. 93-113

Time and again, women’s reproductive dilemmas underscored a wider debate, articulated both within familial relations and in state policy, about the responsibility for nurturing children and citizens in post- Soviet Cuba. As the narratives of the previous chapter demonstrated, women attributed low fertility and high abortion rates not simply to the expense of raising children, but also to the...

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6. Having Faith and Making Family Overseas

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pp. 114-136

Near the end of my fieldwork, I sat in the modest living room of a small, low-ceilinged building with Lisette Fuentes, a young homemaker in her late twenties. Periodically interrupted by the antics of Lisette’s rambunctious young son during the interview, I posed once again my routine question about changes in familial life since the fall of the Soviet Union. As I have demonstrated in...

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7. Conclusion

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pp. 137-144

This project was initially conceived as a study of the local practice of reproductive health care in Havana. As feminist scholars have long reminded us, however, reproduction is intricately enmeshed in broader cultural, social, and political- economic systems. Following the threads of women’s reproductive narratives and practices led me far beyond the medical clinic to consider how...


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pp. 145-152


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pp. 153-164


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pp. 165-170

About the Author

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pp. 171-172

E-ISBN-13: 9780813565217
E-ISBN-10: 0813565219
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813565200
Print-ISBN-10: 0813565200

Page Count: 192
Publication Year: 2014

OCLC Number: 878263693
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Conceiving Cuba

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Human reproduction -- Political aspects -- Cuba.
  • Reproductive rights -- Cuba.
  • Family planning -- Government policy -- Cuba.
  • Women's rights -- Cuba.
  • Women -- Government policy -- Cuba.
  • Women and socialism -- Cuba.
  • Cuba -- Population policy.
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