The Fall of the Socialism
When the Soviet Union broke up in late 1991, a major boost to Cuba's economy was lost, leaving it essentially paralyzed because of the economy's narrow basis, focused on just a few products with just a few buyers. Also, supplies (including oil) almost dried up. Over 80% of Cuba's trade was lost and living conditions worsened.
A "Special Period in Peacetime" was declared, which included cutbacks on transport and electricity and even food rationing. In response, the United States tightened up its trade embargo, hoping it would lead to Castro's downfall. But Castro tapped into a pre-revolutionary source of income and opened the country to tourism, entering into several joint ventures with foreign companies for hotel, agricultural and industrial projects. As a result, the use of US dollars was legalized in 1994, with special stores being opened which only sold in dollars.
There were two separate economies, dollar-economy and the peso-economy, creating a social split in the island because those in the dollar-economy made much more money (as in the tourist-industry). However, in October 2004, the Cuban government announced an end to this policy: from November US dollars would no longer be legal tender in Cuba, but would instead be exchanged for convertible pesos with a 20% tax payable to the state on the exchange of US dollars cash — though not on other forms of exchange.
Cubans had to resort to eating anything they could find. In the Havana zoo, the peacocks, the buffalo and even the rhea were reported to have disappeared. Cuban domestic cats disappeared from streets to dinner tables.
Extreme shortages of food and other goods as well as electrical blackouts led to a brief period of unrest, including numerous anti-government protests and widespread increases in crime. In response, the Cuban Communist party government formed hundreds of "rapid-action brigades" to confront protesters. According to the Communist Party daily, Granma, "delinquents and anti-social elements who try to create disorder and an atmosphere of mistrust and impunity in our society will receive a crushing reply from the people."
Thousands of Cubans protested in Havana and chanted "Libertad!" during the Maleconazo uprising on August 5, 1994. The regime's security forces dispersed them soon. A paper published in the Journal of Democracy states this was the closest that the Cuban opposition could come to asserting itself decisively.
In 1997, a group led by Vladimiro Roca, a decorated veteran of the Angolan war and the son of the founder of the Cuban Communist Party, sent a petition, entitled La Patria es de Todos ("the homeland belongs to all") to the Cuban general assembly requesting democratic and human rights reforms. As a result, Roca and his three associates were sentenced to jail, from which they were eventually released.
In 2001, a group of activists collected thousands of signatures for the Varela Project, a petition requesting a referendum on the island's political process was openly supported by former US president Jimmy Carter during his historic 2002 visit to Cuba. The petition gathered sufficient signatures, but was rejected on an alleged technicality. Instead, a plebiscite was held in which it was formally proclaimed that Castro's brand of socialism would be perpetual.
In 2003, Castro cracked down on independent journalists and other dissidents, which became known as the "Black Spring". The government imprisoned 75 dissident thinkers, including 29 journalists, librarians, human rights activists and democracy activists.
In 2006 Fidel Castro took ill and moved out of the public light and into a hospital, and in 2007 Raul Castro became Acting President. In a letter dated 18 February 2008, Castro announced that he would not accept the positions of president and commander in chief at the 24 February 2008 National Assembly meetings, saying "I will not aspire nor accept—I repeat I will not aspire or accept—the post of President of the Council of State and Commander in Chief."