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?

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(*) 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.

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