Confirming Whether Cuba is a Democracy

Erasmo Calzadilla

The National Assembly plenary sessioned on July 23, 2012. Photo:

HAVANA TIMES — Every six months, during the plenary session of the National Assembly, we have the opportunity to confirm whether democracy exists in Cuba.

For me it is clear that it doesn’t. The few televised fragments present the shameful images of deputies deferring to government functionaries while imbued with a theatrical patriotism akin to a “behique” (a type of leader among the indigenous Tainos who first inhabited Cuba).

Still, looking at the world as it is, I sometimes wonder whether a system such as “ours” isn’t better for poor people than Latin American-style capitalism.

Knowing it from the inside out, sometimes I accept that it is, but on other occasions I have my doubts.

Its organized approach to natural disasters, its rational distribution of scarce resources, the possibility of avoiding extreme poverty and its massive health care and educational services are too important to be overlooked.

The problem is that dictatorships — even a “charitably benign” one — inevitably degenerate.

This is true not only in the economic realm, due to the crushing of any independent initiative, but also (and worse in my point of view) in the blow struck against the tradition of struggle – politically disarming and alienating people and perverting common sense.

Batista didn’t get old in power because the tradition of struggle was alive back in his day.

But fifty-odd years later, the combination of experiences, skills and ethical reserves that allowed us to organize ourselves to fight against that tyrant — even at the risk of one’s own life — lie virtually extinct, something we can confirm twice a year during the plenary session of the Cuban parliament.

That’s my opinion, what about yours?


9 thoughts on “Confirming Whether Cuba is a Democracy

  • Surely there are many other possible options between the false dichotomy of the Castro version of Socialism versus American capitalism?

    But these other options will only be possible when the Cuban people have the freedom to decide.

  • Moses,

    Your contention that the electoral system in the U.S . is flawed but reformable or in any way aimed at perfection is sadly lacking in any factual content.
    To explain;

    No candidate for higher office can win election without the support of the big money contributors, this even more true given the Supreme Court “People United” decision that allows unlimited corporate expenditures to back or oppose their interests.

    It is a given that no third party has any chance of electing a senator or president because of their anti-status quo positions that deny them the resources of the very wealthy entities.

    The party hierarchies in the Democratic and Republican Parties in putting up their respective nominees for office, first and foremost, have to only put up candidates who have the approval of those monied interests in order to get their huge campaign donations. Either party would be committing political suicide to put up someone even as moderately different as Denis Kucinich or Ron Paul. They know this and any such candidates are given short shrift by both their respective parties and by the corporate media.

    Any candidate who seriously intends to change the status quo in a way that would negatively effect the fortunes of the monied classes would have never risen to the heights within the twin parties of capitalism where they might then be considered for a senatorial or presidential nomination .

    The field is quite effectively limited in a most efficient way and no candidate who is moral or who intends change will even make it to the conventions .

    Obama; President Hopey-Changey is clear evidence of this.
    In public he was presented as something totally opposite the Bush administration thinking.
    In private he swore an oath to the status quo and his subsequent acts have shown him to be, if anything,
    outdoing Bush in his fealty to empire and the .0001% .

    This totally eliminates any vestige of democratic selection in 99% of the congress and 100% of the presidential candidates.

    It is the end of any sort of representative democracy in the U.S. and to claim otherwise is naive or disingenuous.

  • Michael you missed my point. The official response to protests in the US has turned fascist and violent on many occasions. But my point is that Americans, despite the risks, are still willing to go to the streets when we disagree with our leaders. What has happened to the “cojones” in Cuba that motivated a small band of rebels to mount a revolution from their Sierra Maestra outposts? As Raul said in Guantanamo on July 26, Cubans like to dance and to sing. Unfortunately, it appears that is all they like to do. Defending their human rights seems to be a lost cause.

  • Michael, such a cartoonish portrayal of the police killings in Anaheim and the subsequent protests (some of which turned violent) does a disservice to those trying to find positive solutions and improve relations between the police and Anaheim’s growing Hispanic community. And what any of this has to do with Erasmo’s diary entry is completely lost on me.

  • I won’t bother disputing all the one-sided assertions in your post, Moses, but just one example–the latest example–of what happens when citizens take to the streets (in this case, to protest out-of-control cops who murdered an unarmed local citizen) you have but to look to YouTube, where we can see the Anaheim cops pepper-straying, rubber-bulleting, and unleashing police dogs on men, women and children. In the melee, the police dog overturns a stroller and bites the toddler therein. Also, a pre-teen boy is carried away, unconscious. Middle-class folks might still have the right to demonstrate (at least until, in the wee hours of the morning, their Occupy encampments are ripped down by the police), but the poor, disenfranchised folks are already suffering under the fascist yoke.

  • To imply that US democracy and Cuban totalitarianism are equally flawed is intellectually dishonest. While the form of democracy practiced in the US is far, far from perfect, the goal is always towards perfection. The influence of money has indeed corrupted the ideal of one man/one vote but the “will of the people” somehow manages to prevail in the overwhelming majority of cases. The election of Bush II first-term being the obvious exception. In Cuba, the flaws in representing the “will of the people” are too numerous to count. Name one Cuban who supports the “tarjeta blanca”? Is there one Cuban who has ever voted for Raul as President? The Castros survive because of a fearful and flaccid nation. Americans may be easily duped by pricey negative campaign adds and were led like sheep to believe Iraq was more dangerous than Saudi Arabia but when we disagree with our leaders, whoever they may be, we are the first to go to the streets to express our grievances, come what may. Cubans, on the whole, remain trembling and whispering behind closed curtains and doors hoping change will someday come but unwilling to risk their minimum comforts to fight for it. The US system, however flawed, has little in common with our Cuban neighbors.

  • Just as nowhere exists–or has ever existed–communism, likewise, nowhere exists democracy. Both have never really existed, though the “forms” of both exist in the realm of ideas. Cuba is not a democracy; neither is the United States. Yet we both long for democracy–political and economic–as the best solution for overcoming inequality and injustice, and harnessing the potential of our species. Your question is a hard one to answer. Taking into account the failures of the Greek city states and the Roman Republic, the founders of my own nation tried to establish a system that would correct for these problems. Not for lack of trying, they failed. How could they have foreseen the subtle methods used by money and power to subvert their system? The Cuban Revolution has perhaps arrived at a similar historical dead-end, but by a different route. Perhaps during Its first decades, those leading the Revolution felt they had no alternative but to adopt the Leninist model of “democratic centralism” in order to insure Its survival, but now that policy strangles the Revolution. We can only do what we can, do what we are able to do, to work towards the joint goals of economic and political democracy. We should view this as a long, historical process, however, and not goals which will be accomplished in our own lifetimes.

  • It’s fortunate that you bring this question, Erasmo, for I myself have been wondering about democracy, not in my country or in Cuba, but generally speaking. First we must state an axiom for what ‘democracy’ means. I say that is the rule by the majority of the people, nothing more, nothing less. In Aristotle’s ‘The Politics’ we find no moral differentiation between three types of government: monarchy (one rules), aristocracy (a few rule), and republic (all the citizens rule). But he speaks of the forms of degeneration these regimes can suffer: tyranny, oligarchy, and – surprise! – democracy, from which we can find the first observations of the ‘tyranny of the majority’. Observing the recently-formed USA, Tocqueville argues that a democracy can be direct (and he again warns about the ‘tyranny of the majority’) or representative.

    We, of course, must understand the social-political context that these authors lived – neither in Ancient Greece or early USA there was universal suffrage. One can argue that the vision they had of a republic was an aristocratic one, that they feared the will of the masses, so they had to have no political force.

    Anyways, I think that all political regimes degenerate at some point. We in Brazil have experienced this, 20+ years after the finish of the military dictatorship the democratic spirit has dwindled and the political debate is merely a specter. We, as a whole, see *all* politicians as ‘corrupt thieves’ and care little about our vote, and the elections are little more than a popularity contest.

    Overall, I say that Cuba is in fact a bureaucracy (the ‘office people’ rule), in the rest of the so-called democratic world we can observe plutocracies (the rich rules).

  • I often wonder myself, how such an otherwise proud and mostly dignified people such as Cuba can appear so neutered in terms of political expression. I am equally curious to read commentary to your post.

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