Cuba and the High Cost of Political Apathy

Pedro Campos

 “The price good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.” – Plato

Havana foto by Caridad
Havana photo by Caridad

HAVANA TIMES — The debates surrounding Cuba’s new Labor Law are starting on the island. In this connection, it is not enough to express our opinions, to say what we think at the meetings – based on the top-down administrative model – to be held around the country. As this is an issue that affects us all, we must, all of us, demand that the final draft of the bill be subjected to a free and democratic nationwide referendum.

Unfortunately, owing to the Cuban government’s long-standing policy of excluding the public from decision-making processes, many will likely say: “I don’t care what they finally approve. I’m indifferent to everything this government does.”

This is a serious mistake. The labor law is something that involves all Cuban citizens.

Recently, my friend Felix Sautie, a fellow activist who is also struggling for a participative and democratic form of socialism, published an article on the patent lack of motivation he has perceived in some sectors of Cuban society, as regards to participating in the reform processes underway in our country.

This apathy is not only evident in people’s response to the extremely modest changes being implemented as part of the “reform process”, but also to Cuba’s socio-economic and cultural ailments in general.

In effect, no few citizens opt to distance themselves from the country’s problems, aware that it is next to impossible to have any real say in these processes, which the State-Government-Party attempts to control as though they were a private affair and not something that ought to be decided by each and every one of the citizens who are going to suffer their consequences later.

The sad truth of the matter is that the profound disappointment that has built up in Cuba because of the failure of the huge efforts of the Cuban people and the insignificant progress that has been achieved at the level of the majority’s concrete, daily lives, has ended up convincing many that nothing is really worth saying or doing.

The bureaucracy itself took care of propagating the conformist and counterrevolutionary saying which goes: “no one can fix this, but no one can change it either.”

The Party is the vanguard of the revolution. Photo:  Caridad
The Party is the vanguard of the revolution. Photo: Caridad

This is the way in which Cuba has been governed for over fifty years, through methods that create spectators rather than political actors, for everything is decided at the top and declared through abusive presidential decrees.

Those who have taken action, proposing a different way of governing, have ultimately been crushed by the apparatus, silenced and excluded, in the best of cases, and imprisoned or exiled, in the worst. All the while, the Party’s “cadre policy” has taken care of promoting those who are loyal.

The “revolutionary leadership” that has controlled the country, government, State and Party for over 50 years has hijacked the nation’s politics and, since coming to power, anyone who has dared promote policies different from theirs, be it for Cuba’s economy or other sectors of its society, have been and continue to be labeled “counterrevolutionaries”, “imperialist agents” and a whole slew of other manipulative appellations typical of neo-Stalinist governments.

The fact is that there always exists a direct relationship between an authoritarian government, such as Cuba’s, and low levels of citizen participation in decision processes.

Cuba’s authoritarian government and undemocratic system have their roots in the concrete military circumstances that led to the triumph of the revolution in 1959, in the context of the Cold War, when a State-controlled and centralized form of socialism was predominant. These circumstances allowed the Cuban leadership to unfold its authoritarian potential.

In this connection, a decisive aspect was the fact that the people blindly trusted their leaders, accepted the indefinite postponement of democratic elections and accepted the struggle for “social justice” demanded by the Sierra Maestra rebel commanders as a priority.

This doesn’t mean the people are to blame for their lot. What it means is that the authoritarian government that still rules Cuba took advantage of their nobleness and devotion. It is not those who refuse to participate in political processes who are most to blame for the country’s apathy, but, rather, those who have impeded and continue to impede others from participating, or to restrict such participation to voicing opinions in the “place, time and venue” decided by those at the top.

Photo: Caridad
Photo: Caridad

We cannot, however, resign ourselves to a situation in which people do not participate in debates, do not express their opinions, and do not seek to take part in decision-making processes. If we did, we would also have to resign ourselves to having authoritarian governments forever.

Bertolt Brecht once said: “The worst illiterate is the political illiterate. He hears nothing, sees nothing, takes no part in political life. He doesn’t seem to know that the cost of living, the price of beans, of flour, of rent, of medicines, all depend on political decisions. He even prides himself on his political ignorance, sticks out his chest and says he hates politics. He doesn’t know, the imbecile, that from his political non- participation comes the prostitute, the abandoned child, the robber and, worst of all, corrupt officials, the lackeys of exploitative multinational corporations.”

If we want to move forward, if we want to break out of Cuba’s current economic, political and social state-of-things, then we have to take action, we have to shake away the apathy of those who have lost hope, encourage their participation in society, the voicing of opinions, the struggle against the violation of other people’s rights, against impositions and authoritarianism and, of course, continue the struggle for freedom of expression through all possible peaceful means.

All Cubans must feel free to express what they wish, no matter what others think, no matter whether absurd provisions that impede the free and respectful expression of one’s opinions are in place.

All Cubans have the right to demand participation in decision-making processes that affect them, beyond official debates, to demand, in all possible places, at all podiums, at all meetings, their right to express themselves freely, that laws cease to be dictated in the form of decrees and that they be submitted to everyone’s consideration and vote, by referendum.

It is up to us, to all of us, to put an end to the generalized oppression of our society, to a State whose bureaucratic elite controls and decides everything.

Let no one level absurd accusations at us, saying that we are calling on the people to rebel or anything of this nature. We are calling on the people to peacefully demand their participation in decision processes. What socialism could we even speak of, if they do not?

Given its importance, the workers, the entire population, must demand that the labor law be submitted to a referendum.

The costs of political apathy are very high.
To contact Pedro Campos: [email protected]


22 thoughts on “Cuba and the High Cost of Political Apathy

  • The neighbourhood CDR is comprised just about every adult there. I know that you would prefer that US corporations and the CIA station chief organize such vital matters as the nomination of candidates? Sorry, not in Cuba.

    Some background on the CDR’s from a Cuban source:

    Committees for the Defense of the Revolution

    The Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) were founded on September 28, 1960, on the initiative of Fidel Castro, the leader of the Revolution. Taken together, they constitute the largest mass organization in Cuba and almost eight million Cubans, the vast majority of the population over 14 years of age, belong to them.

    Their origins are intimately linked to the U.S. government’s aggressive policies ever since the revolutionary victory on January 1, 1959. They arose out of the need to unite the people in defense of the Revolution.

    Their primary organizational structure is in each neighborhood, where the neighbors get together and form their defense committee. Revolutionary vigilance was the main initial task, but other important ones were added gradually, like organizing blood donations, vaccination campaigns, neighborhood cleanup and beautification, collection of recyclable materials and environmental protection. All of this is done with the chief aim of safeguarding the citizenry and protecting community property. More recently, the difficult economic situation brought about the need for the creation of collective gardens for the cultivation of produce and medicinal plants, as well as aquiculture.

    This mass organization prioritizes the ideological orientation of its members through the study and debate of documents dealing with the most important national and international topics, as well as those related to sex education, social matters and children’s education. It also organizes neighborhood debates so that people can learn more about new laws or any important national event. It also carries out cultural, sports and recreational activities for children and reinforces the relationship between the schools and the community.

    There are nearly 122,000 defense committees in the country and each of them is directed by a group of neighbors nominated and elected in democratic community meetings.

    The Committees for the Defense of the Revolution are non-governmental organizations that finance their own activities through annual dues paid by their members.

    Original link at: (no longer available)

    Were it not for the vigilance of the CDR’s, the Cuban revolution would have been crushed a generation ago. No wonder you hate them.

  • If Sanchez wants to put forward his “alternative program” (if he actually has one), he can do so. But, as I have pointed out, he and his dissident pals (your “hundreds of critics”) must start by getting involved in their communities at the grassroots level, demonstrate real leadership and the ability to get things done, get onto the Municipal Assemblies and eventually to the National Assembly. But they want to start at the top — from obscure propaganda hacks in the pay of the Empire to the Presidency over night. They want it all, and they want it now! It doesn’t work that way in Cuba, but that doesn’t make the Cuban system any less democratic. Quite the contrary.

  • You can find hundreds of critics of Cuba’s political system, many of them in Castro’s jails. But you will ignore them all. Your regurgitated sloganeering is so tiresome, Give it up.

    But then again, you do display the totalitarian mindset: constantly repeating the same lies over and over again and in that way you do us all a great service. You remind the readers of Havana Times that narrow minded ideologues, from the easy comfort of free & democratic Canada, prefer that the Cuban people should remain locked in a brutal dictatorship all to satisfy your intellectual and psychological prejudices. You don’t wish to hear what the Cuban people want, which is why you insist they should be given no choice.

    “To be truly democratic, besides being free (the elections) should be competitive and the people able to choose among alternative programs and in the case here there is only one program, that of the government,” said Elizardo Sanchez, a dissident who runs the non-governmental Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation.

  • You are just making this up as you go, aren’t you, Griffy?

    The 2008 Cuban national elections were widely covered in the international media since they were the first since Fidel stepped down. And there was no suggestion from any quarter — not even the rabidly anti-Cuban Miami media — of any kind of irregularities. Likewise for the elections this year, although they were not as extensively covered.

    From the official results for the 2013 vote, 94.17% of votes cast supported at least one of the slate of candidates. Voter turnout was 90.88%

  • Yes there have indeed been suggestions that Cuba’s so-called elections are anything but clean. They are a farcical exercise in totalitarian dictatorship.

  • In no way did I intend to downplay the very real dangers and violence that American Civil RIghts activists faced.

    However, they still had allies in the media and in government. Just one example: President Eisenhower sent in federal troops to Little Rock, Arkansas to enforce school desegregation. While not all US media was supportive, some were, and the Civil Rights cause received enormous publicity through TV and print. The US Supreme Court made several rulings in support of Civil Rights.

    None of that is possible in Cuba. Pro-democracy dissidents have no supporters in the government. The media is 100% controlled by the State which uses it to denigrate and propagandize against the dissidents. The internet does not exit inside Cuba, in so far as very few Cubans can access it and dissident websites are blocked. The judiciary in Cuba serves the State as a tool for suppressing human rights.

    On every score, the challenge faced by Cuban dissidents is far greater than that faced by US civil rights activists of the 1950’s and 1960’s.

    By the way, don’t get carried away by your American-centric point of view. MLK changed America, but he did not change the world. While he was successful in bringing civil rights to American blacks, the Castro dictatorship had seized power (from the Batista dictatorship), and was busily constructing the instruments of totalitarian rule which systematically denied human right to every Cuban, black, white and brown.

  • Can you cite even a single case of anyone being prosecuted for simply possessing a “banned book?” I have been monitoring reports on Cuba from Amnesty International for over a decade now. I don’t recall any such reports.

    Also, I can’t comment on your parents’ situation, but generally speaking, in a democracy, the majority rules. In times of conflict, there may be less tolerance of minority views even in the most progressive societies, especially if they appear to be sympathetic to “the enemy.” It is human nature, I’m afraid.

  • If it’s so democratic why are certain books banned? Why was I restricted in what I could read? Why was I unable to say what I thought? Or more specifically why were my parents always afraid to speak openly in public? It was especially bad when I was going to school in Cuba in the 70’s and 80’s What type of “democracy” is that?

  • I have no illusions about how hard it is to make ends meet for the average Cuban. You can thank your beloved genocidal embargo for most of their hardships. You must be so proud.

    Of the many things that must change and are changing, the political system is not one of them. But it is not up to me or you to say. It is up to the Cuban people. And whenever they get the chance, they invariably show their overwhelming support for their unique one-party system. There has been no suggestion from any quarter that the votes in Cuba are anything but clean — unlike those in, say, Florida.

  • No kidding Dan, you sense the frustration? The frustration that is daily life in Cuba for those who had to live it. You wear blinders Dan, only seeing the “Potemkin Village” the Castro’s make available to those living on the outside. But even you can not believe the drivel you write. making your disingenuous comments all the more reprehensible.

    No one has any illusions of Cuba being a free society much less we Cubans who lived it! ….any real authority and power rests with only one surname.

    “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others” eh Dan?

  • A blatant lie! Candidates for the Municipal Assemblies are nominated in open public meetings in every neighbourhood. Candidates for the National Assembly are nominated by the Municipal Assemblies in a secret vote. I have asked you and your pal (alter ego?) many times now, but it seems you cannot cite even a single case of such a nomination being disallowed by any central authority. The whole electoral process is controlled at the grassroots level — not by any political parties, corporations or fat-cat political action committees.

    Too much democracy for you, “Ernesto?”

  • Cuba is one of the most democratic countries in the world.

    I’m not sure what point you are trying make about electoral rolls, but every Cuban over the age of 16 gets to vote. Can you cite even one case of anyone not being allowed to vote?

  • Could your wife be telling you what you want to hear regarding her voting preference on a secret ballot? From what you are saying, if she did vote, then she must have supported at least one of the candidates. Her excuse for not submitting a protest vote sounds rather lame since there is no requirement to vote for the next slate of candidates, or the one after that. The fact that so few Cubans choose this option speaks volumes.

    Most of the work of members of the National Assembly is done in committee meetings. Maybe you would like to see more public disagreements, but the vast majority of Cubans seem to understand that, in the face of relentless US aggression, as in any war, it is necessary to present a united front.

  • The answer is oppressed and apathetic. My Cuban wife never thought to protest her government by submitting a blank ballot. Why? Because she knew that the next slate of candidates would represent the same set of choices. Your argument to support the farcical Cuban electoral system fails to acknowledge that Cubans realize that the people they elect have no real power to change anything anyway. Members of the National Assembly do not introduce laws nor do they vote NO against the laws that the dictatorship submits for unanimous approval. Public “debates” are meaningless. No law will pass that the regime does not approve nor will any proposal not become law if it is supported by the regime. Cuba is a DICTATORSHIP.

  • I understand your comparisons Griffin. However, at the time of these civil rights marches, the fear of the worst, including imprisonment and death, was real and justified. While these fears were not directed entirely towards the national government, they were largely as a result of a local corrupt and racist law enforcement or state government and very bit as real. Just ask the families of James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Henry Schwerner. All were young civil rights workers like my mother who lost their lives at the hands of a local sheriff in the struggle against racism in the US. I do not presume that you are unaware of the life-threatening dangers these boys and many others faced but you may be well to visit this link memorializing civil rights martyrs.
    While Cubans face an entirely different set of circumstances, Castros’ tyranny, like the racism of 1960’s, can only be defeated by individual resolve. People like my mother, ignored the odds stacked against them and took to the streets to air their grievances. Still, fewer than 1 out 20 African-Americans at the time participated in any publicly-organized civil rights protest. Yet, that one brave soul who did was able to change the world. By the way, while MLK did have access to, at times, friendly but mostly indifferent media, Yoani Sanchez has the internet.

  • All your “dissident” pals have to do to get on the ballot is to obtain the support of their neighbours when it comes to time to nominate candidates for the Municipal Assemblies. To do that, they have to somehow establish themselves as effective leaders in their respective communities. Aye, there’s the rub!

    As your own man in Havana, former USINT chief, Jonathan Farrar, lamented in a top secret report to his superiors, these “dissidents” don’t seem to have any interest or ability in this area (thanks again Pvt Manning and WikiLeaks!). For the most part, they are nothing more that money-grubbing losers who couldn’t get elected dog-catchers (my paraphrasing).

  • I sense a certain frustration on the author’s part. The vast majority of Cubans just don’t seem to be taking him and his “alternatives” very seriously at all. Or those of any other of his “dissident” pals either.

    The “apathetic” vast majority just keep showing up to election polls in huge numbers, as they did yet again earlier this year, to support of the government that the author hates so much. And Cubans voters have the perfect opportunity to protest, in secret at every national election (held every 5 years). By simply handing in a blank or spoiled ballot, by simply folding a piece of paper and putting it in a box, they can reject every candidate on the ballot and call for an entirely new slate of candidates — real power that US voters only dream of.

    But Cuban voters are so oppressed, apathetic or just plain stupid that they will not even do this much, right, Campos? Perhaps your real frustration is that the vast majority of Cubans are entirely TOO active in the political process!

  • To be fair, Moses, firehoses and police dogs were the worst the Civil Rights activists had to face from the US authorities, in addition to the violence and murders committed by a few criminals. They even had allies among US politicians and an engaged and free press to report on their marches. Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream” speech was broadcasted on US television.

    In Cuba, there is no comparable support for dissidents among politicians, no free press, and the regime is willing to use the full powers of their repressive Tate security apparatus to suppress, arrest, beat, imprison, torture and murder anybody they consider an enemy.

    It took a civil war to end slavery in America. What will it take to end dictatorship in Cuba?

  • Thanks Pedro, while I sense that we may disagree on which new political direction Cuba should take, I believe we share the conviction that a new direction is not only necessary but inevitable. Your article speaks nobly about what Cubans as a whole must do to advance society. However, taking a page out what I understand took place here in the US during the Civil Rights movement, until Cubans are brave enough to make a personal commitment to change, nothing will change. My mother, who stood a tiny 1.55 m and 50 kg, decided 45 years ago that she did not want her two infant sons to grow up in the same racist country that she had grown up in. As a result, she faced down firehoses and police dogs to march for a more just America. When Cubans, individually, reach the point where they are willing to take to the streets, if necessary, to bring about change in Cuba, in whatever direction, then change will come.

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