Cuba’s Undeniable Democracy

Elio Delgado Legon*

The University of Havana.

HAVANA TIMES, March 7 — Democracy has a long history that begins in Athens, Greece, in the fifth century BC. The word “democracy” means government by the people, but under Athenian democracy, 90 percent of the population did not participate in government because they were excluded because of their status as slaves, women, farmers and workers.

Some authors claim that other ancient civilizations had democratic political systems long before Athens.

What arose in Athens, or much earlier, did not begin tied to political parties. Instead, it was connected to the people, who governed according to their own interests.

Modern and contemporary versions of democracy have taken various forms ranging from constitutional monarchies to representative democracy in which citizens’ participation is reduced to the act of voting.

Generally, citizens vote for candidates, who they don’t know, after receiving an avalanche of propaganda in which millions of dollars, euros, pounds, etc. are spent.

Consequently elections become a competition in which the winner is usually the person whose party invests the most money, not the one with the best intentions or the best plan for governance.

What also occurs is that the candidate’s program that is voiced during the election campaign is forgotten after the elections. Though voters feel cheated, they have no mechanism to place demands on or to revoke the elected politicians.

Those who win the competition and assume the responsibilities in whatever of the branches of government are more concerned about the return on their interest group’s investment and  on “winning” much more, as opposed to taking care of people’s problems. Politics is big business for them, nothing more.

Can this system be called a democracy? I would call it a plutocracy (rule of the wealthy). It is not a government of the people therefore it’s not a democracy.

Democracy in Cuba

In Cuba, the political system is organized so that there is no need for parties, propaganda or money to win an election.

Any citizen from among the people who has prestige in the community where they live can become a deputy to the National Assembly, which is the legislature and the supreme organ of state power.

Reading the news. Photo: Michelle Rankin

Deputies to the People’s National Assembly do not receive any remuneration for this role. Everyone has their own paid occupation and performs their functions as a deputy outside of working hours. At times, if necessary, the workplace may offer some facilities for political activity.

Elections in Cuba are done in stages: every two and a half years delegates are elected to local municipal assemblies, and every five years delegates are elected to the provincial assemblies and to the National Assembly. Fifty percent of the candidates for deputies are made up of delegates to municipal assemblies.

Delegates are nominated by local residents during neighborhood meetings in each district of every municipality. In these elections there must be between two and eight candidates, while to be elected the winner needs to receive more than half of the eligible votes.

No parties are necessary for the nomination of candidates. Every citizen has the right to nominate and be nominated, which in my opinion makes this the best example of democracy in the world.

Elections are conducted by direct secret ballot and voter participation is more than 90 percent, even though voting is not compulsory – instead, it is a right of all citizens.

Representing all of the people, the deputies to the National Assembly in turn choose the Council of State by direct and secret ballot during their first meeting after the election.  This council is made up of the president, the first vice president, five vice presidents, a secretary and 23 other members.

After learning about this process, can anyone say that there is no democracy in Cuba?


(*) I am a Cuban who has lived for 75 years, therefore I know full well how life was before the revolution, having experienced it directly and indirectly. As a result, it hurts me to read so many aspersions cast upon a government that fights tooth and nail to provide us a better life. If it hasn’t fully been able to do so, this is because of the many obstacles that have been put in its way.

10 thoughts on “Cuba’s Undeniable Democracy

  • In Havana recently, I saw apparently well-fed children laughing and smiling, dressed in their school uniforms at school or walking home. They were unafraid to speak with me, a stranger and were monitored by all the adults standing in the vicinity. They could get health care without worrying about how to pay for it. As much education as they were capable of was free to them. They all had homes to go to and food to eat.

    There were not a lot of big, new cars or large modern houses in evidence. Not too many private boats floating on the water. In fact, they did not seem to possess at all a lot of the big boy toys that we covet in the US. Our constitution quarantees us a lot of political rights (speech, assembly, weapons, voting) but no human social or economic rights (food, homes, jobs, health care, education).

    There are probably bureaucrats everywhere. Small minded selfish people cannot be avoided. That is why politics is a labor-intensive job-everybody’s labor! But for the children’s sake, they are better loved and better off in Cuba. Take a look.

  • Abraham Maslow, the Cuban Constitution, the US constitution and the reality of life for most people in both countries. Check them out.

  • Ooops seems I have contradicted myself about ‘reality’ 🙂

  • “If by that label Maciej means to describe a representative or deliberative form of democracy whose participation is dominated by the wealthy, I agree completely.”

    That’s plutocracy, and that’s the case of Maciej’s label.

    “Barack Obama proved that without family name or wealth, having come from a single parent, middle class biracial home, solely based on determination and hard work, against incredible odds, that democracy, however feebled still works.”

    But when he took office, he had to comply with the norms dictated by the military-industrial (and financial) complex. And acted responding to the interests of the ruling class.

    Lula here in Brazil had to negate many of the principles of the PT in the famed “Letter to the Brazilians” and had to negotiate with the “ideology-less” PMDB an alliance in order to keep the “governability” of the thing. Not that I dislike the guy, on the contrary. In fact, I think Brazil, with all its flaws, is a more democratic regime than the US’s.

    Overall, the crude reality is that simple: what the rich says, the poor obeys. Everywhere.

  • “It does take a great deal of money to win a US presidential election.”

    Exacly – that’s why I consider the so-called liberal democracies as plutocracies in reality. One thing is the code of laws, reality itself is much more complex.

  • “After learning about this process, can anyone say that there is no democracy in Cuba?”

    Yes. Cuba’s National Assembly is by design a meaningless rubber stamp which meets only a few days a year while real power resides in the upper echelons of the Communist Party. The Parliament’s ineffectiveness is reinforced by the failure to hold contested elections between candidates and parties with different political programs.

    The claim that big money buys elections is for the most part not accurate especially at the local or state level, or in countries with strict campaign spending limits. It does take a great deal of money to win a US presidential election. But the USA is a large and wealthy country with the means to finance expensive campaigns. I think US campaign finance rules should be changed especially to reduce the influence of third parties (so-called Super PACs). But that doesn’t mean the outcome of US elections are necessarily tainted or not reflective of the will of the people.

  • Bourgeois democracy? If by that label Maciej means to describe a representative or deliberative form of democracy whose participation is dominated by the wealthy, I agree completely. The other form of democracy is generally identified as a direct democracy which would be unwieldy and inefficient for a multicultural, multiligual and highly economically diverse nation of 335 million free-minded people. However, I must heartily disagree with your minimization of the OWS protests as “laudable but inexperienced”. Any protest of that breadth, magnitude and duration merits full respect. As a result, the media had no choice but to treat this as front page news. Finally, I take umbrage at the comparison you make giving Cuba equal but opposite standing as a democracy. Let me remind you of the first Tuesday in November 2008 in the United States. Barack Obama proved that without family name or wealth, having come from a single parent, middle class biracial home, solely based on determination and hard work, against incredible odds, that democracy, however feebled still works. There is NO WAY this could have ocurred in Cuba over the last 53 years or will occur any time in the near future. Winston Churchill said “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried”. So true.

  • Moses fails to recognise that the United States have a bourgeois democracy rather than a genuine democracy. He does not mention that the capitalist class sponsors their preferred candidates’ election campaigns, owns the opinion-making press, and lobbies elected politicians up to and including outright bribery. It furthermore commands a standing army and police force.

    A laudable but inexperienced movement such as Occupy, on the other hand, which the media deemed harmless enough to feature, does not possess this power. What we have in the United States is the rule of a rich minority, which may choose to throw a few crumbs to the poor, drop a few conciliatory words about the protesters, or ignore them altogether.

    The truth is that the US and Cuba are undemocratic in different ways – there is a ruling class in the former and a ruling bureaucracy in the latter. Ironically enough, it is the uncaccountable ‘communist’ bureaucracy that will facilitate handover of Cuba to US capitalists – and with no avenues of independent political organisation, the working class will be unable to defend itself against this development.

  • Senor Delgado fails to recognize the most significant aspect of respresentative democracy. Thusly, he fails to see that this aspect is sorely missed in the form of “democracy” that Cuba possesses. That is to say that true democracy not only permits freedom of expression but encourages it. This expression can not and is not limited to those ideas which conform to existing norms but must include all the extremes, left and right which make the ruling parties uncomfortable. This discomfort invigorates and motivates. Mr. Delgado has likely never experienced true freedom of expression and therefore can not estimate its value. The Occupy Wall Street protests in the United States, for example, demonstrate a democracy that although auncomfortable with the premise must by its laws permit those without millions of dollars to propagandize to nonetheless have their opinions and disagreements with the current leadership become international news. If Mr. Delgado were to respond to this with intellectual honesty he would admit that this freedom does not exist in Cuba and therefore democracy as defined does not exist. Elections, Mr. Delgado are but a small part of democracy. The ability to openly express your disagreement with government, the “demo” in democracy is the essence of true demcracy.

  • What kind of democracy is this, where candidates for the popular assembly do not stand for any particular policies or politics? Are there no controversial political questions in Cuba that the people might want to discuss and influence? What about the ‘reform’ of the public sector, for instance? Surely, opinions on Raul’s measures will differ – would it then not make sense for candidates to put forward distinct policies?

    Are there no classes in Cuba? Is there no petty bourgeois class in the cities, for instance, that rents out Casas Particulares to tourists? Are their interests the same as those of the common workers? And if not, would it not make sense for workers, as a distinct part of the people, to have an independent political party that fights for its interests? If there is only one political party, that party will soon be packed with all manner of alien class elements, whether it calls itself ‘communist’ or not.

    The truth is that what you describe as there being ‘no need’ for politics, propaganda, and parties simply amounts to a suppression of political freedom, a suppression of free speech, a suppression of the right to assembly, and a suppression of working class independence. The election of delegates according to ‘prestige in the communities’, depoliticised as it is, is then a mere popularity/personality contest akin to presidential elections in US. It’s on the far side of believable that this popular assembly has any meaningful decision-making power anyway – the real power lay in the hands of the unelected, unrecallable, and unaccountable bureaucracy.

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