Democratizing Cuba? (Part II)

Isbel Diaz Torres

HAVANA TIMES, Feb 14 — My previous post, “Democratizing Cuba (I),” concluded with the expression “behind closed doors.” As this is so closely related to the topic I’m dealing with, I’d like to make some comments about the discussions that took place during the recent National Conference of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC).

The first is that — unlike what happened with last year’s famous “Guidelines” document, around which mass national debate was promoted beforehand — such discussions didn’t happen this time.

Even though discussion of the “Guidelines” wasn’t structured so that rank-and-file assemblies could actually change its content (nothing of what was raised at my job was later reflected in the final version), at least people could vent.

This time was it worse. The discussions were excluded from the majority of the Cuban population, who aren’t members of the PCC or the Young Communist League (UJC) – though we’re subordinate to the party by virtue of Article 5 of the Cuban Constitution.

That was the first closed door.

Next, the changes made to the conference’s draft document were reported numerically [i.e. “…16 guidelines had been moved to other points, 94 remained unchanged, 181 were modified in content and 36 new guidelines were incorporated”], however no mention was made of the contents that were moved, modified or added.

In other words, if 300 commas were changed and 200 adjectives replaced, for those people who didn’t participate in the conference it was the same as them having changed the single-party system to a multi-party one. We simply didn’t know what the members changed in the discussions.

That was another locked door.

Finally, the discussions in plenary sessions were televised days after these took place to allow time for any necessary editing. I learned about some comments made in some critical discussions that occurred there, but apparently our people aren’t prepared to see such things.

They did, however, allow us to see a few snippets of Mariela Castro, who they certainly didn’t allow in as a delegate; she was a guest, which isn’t the same.

Mariela argued for people not to be discriminated against because of their gender identity, an issue that’s not reflected in the laws, nor in the constitution, and still not in the goals of PCC either.

Their rights were left “pending,” just like what occurred in last year’s party congress concerning the issue of workers’ control of state enterprises.

Added to all this was our not being able to see the full debate. Rather, we had to suffer through unfortunate, uninformed, unsupportive, and insensitive addresses by City Historian Eusebio Leal and writer/ethnographer Miguel Barnet.

Nonetheless, a brief phrase by Politburo member Esteban Lazo made me raise an eyebrow.

The party leader said he “did in fact know” the number of suggestions made on the point concerning discrimination.

That revelation made me wonder: How was it that he knew but the rest of us didn’t? Him having the privilege to the key to that door didn’t seem either fair or democratic.

Days later I read an article saying there were 11,285 suggestions, but they didn’t even say how many were for or against discrimination based on sexual orientation.

This indicated yet another one of the problems of democratic practices here: if this involves the power of the majority over the minority, then they shouldn’t have approved a point with so much opposition. Yet fortunately that didn’t occur.

Rights are important, even those of one man or one woman, and this includes those who have a gender identity that’s different from the one arbitrarily assigned by society.

It’s obvious that there’s a long way to go for democracy to flourish here. It just seems that neither last year’s 6th Communist Party Congress nor the recent National Conference of the Party are suitable places for it. They have too many closed doors.