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

  • August 22, 2013 at 3:07 pm

    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.

  • August 15, 2013 at 9:49 pm

    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.

  • August 14, 2013 at 8:33 pm

    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.

  • August 14, 2013 at 2:00 pm

    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%

  • August 14, 2013 at 12:50 pm

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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *