Did any areas / countries have an indult from Friday abstinences prior to Vatican II? From what I’ve read / heard, the “culture” of abstaining from meat every Fridays was very deeply ingrained among Catholics in North America. I was speaking with an elderly priest in the Dominican Republic who grew up in Cuba pre-Vatican II, and he has no memory of anyone abstaining on Fridays outside of Lent. Is it possible that some countries such as Cuba had an indult, perhaps for reasons of poverty and difficulties of substituting other foods?
Yes, there were such indults. In the case of Cuba, (“Latin America” in general, as well as the Philippines) there was an indult from 1910 which relaxed the Friday penance outside of Lent. After the issuance of the 1917 Code, this indult was somewhat modified but the basics were renewed. This occurred in 1919.
Rules about Friday abstinence (and Holy Days, etc) are set by the Council of Bishops for that country or region (mine is the USCCB). An individual Bishop may override the Council for his Diocese, but this is rare (and would be a source of considerable confusion).
There are still many Catholic jurisdictions that impose Friday abstinence year-round.