Democratization: An Objective Priority for Cuban Society

Pedro Campos

Cuban post office. Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — This is a brief and concrete analysis of a decisive aspect of Cuba’s current situation.

The opinion that the economic, social and political model still in place is the chief cause behind the country’s current situation and the serious social problems we are facing is almost unanimous in Cuban society.

In one way or another, all schools of political thought in Cuba today, within or outside government circles, concur that we must work to bring about changes to this model.

The differences have to do with the scope and direction of these changes. Looking at the different proposals carefully and in depth, however, we can catch sight of a number of common elements. Let us see what they are.

The government’s traditional opposition – at first through violent actions and, in more recent decades, through peaceful approaches – has long been calling for democratic changes. It has paid a high price for its actions.

The broad democratic and socialist Left coalition, which gathers Trotskyites, anarchists, followers of Gramsci, libertarians, proponents of council democracies, social democrats, democratic communists, self-management proponents, supporters of cooperativism and other tendencies, has also been the victim of different degrees of repression since 1959. For a long time many in this group (myself included) believed that changes that favored their positions could be brought about within the existing system.

I believe very few people this side of the spectrum still believe that it is possible to move towards true, revolutionary socialism without a previous democratization of society, and many of us have put this goal at the top of our list.

In the meantime, Raul Castro’s government, convinced that the State-controlled wage system cannot of itself solve the serious economic problems faced by Cuban society, has introduced a number of minor reforms to offer some limited and tightly controlled elbow room to self-employment, small national private companies, government designed cooperatives and, more recently, large scale foreign investment.

The measures are of the same nature as those essayed by Fidel Castro in the 1990s following the loss of the enormous financial support afforded by the Soviet Union and the “socialist bloc” – “reforms” that began to be restricted when the government sensed that it could rely on Venezuelan oil, offered by the Chavez government.

The arrival of scarce potatoes to a local market. Photo: Juan Suarez

It has been demonstrated that Cuba’s economic model cannot stay afloat without significant foreign aid. Today, Raul Castro and his military subordinates are laying their bets on a new foreign investment law that will draw fresh capital to the country, and, on the lifting of the US blockade/embargo.

However, everything seems to indicate that, if Cuba does not take any significant steps towards the democratization of society, towards full respect for human rights and, most importantly, for freedom of expression, association and election, this inflow of capital that the State economy longs for will be difficult to secure.

Therefore, and considering the crisis in Venezuela, Raul Castro’s government will have to begin considering what it can do in terms of human rights if it wishes to erode the foundations of the embargo and Europe’s common position, and to win the trust of foreign capital, as a step beyond the limited economic measures implemented thus far.

Many of the steps that the traditional opposition and the socialist and democratic Left has been demanding, such as the ratification of human rights conventions, an end to the persecution of the opposition, the drafting of a new constitution, changes to the electoral law that will make it truly democratic, full respect towards freedom of expression, association and election, could therefore constitute steps towards untying the knots that hold back the foreign investment the State needs.

It seems naive to expect a democratic liberalization from the present government, as its more recalcitrant members believe that this could entail a loss of political power for them – hence many of the limitations of Raul Castro’s measures.

Anguish. Photo: Juan Suarez

The less conservative and more pragmatic members of Cuba’s political, military and State bureaucratic apparatus could, however, come to the realization that, without democratizing measures, there will be no lifting of the embargo, nor the foreign investment and development they aspire to.

Whichever way one looks at it, the fact of the matter is that, in order to advance their interests, the country’s traditional opposition, the broad socialist and democratic Left and the government require steps towards the democratization of society – even though the more conservative officials in the high echelons of power do not see it this way and oppose such measures. We are talking about an objective need.

Isn’t it time for the nation to come together in a peaceful and inclusive manner, so as to open the doors to progress for everyone?

True: we need tolerance from all sides, moderation in the way we express ourselves and, above all, an end to the repressive actions against dissidents and dissenting thought from the State apparatus.

Let us put Cuba and its people above our individual interests and work for peace, harmony, consensus, integration and the future we long for, “with everyone and for everyone’s benefit,” without coercion, hegemony or violence.

Could we Cubans really be so blind as to not see the historical moment we are in and let the opportunity offered by this coincidence of interests pass us by?

I hope this call for understanding, tolerance, peace and harmony will achieve something at this concrete point in time.

Some may not like it and find it a heavy burden, but democratization is an objective priority for all of Cuban society.

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9 thoughts on “Democratization: An Objective Priority for Cuban Society

  • The USA needs to recognize that it needs to change its economic model. It is doomed to fail as capitalist free markets only work for the wealthiest 1%

  • Capitalism is not democracy. Cuba was democractized back in 1959. The fact that Cuba has had a dictator doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have a legislative body that is elected directly by the citizens of Cuba. In fact, Cuba also has recall elections if people are unsatisfied with their representitive. The electoral process and the legislative process has been far more democratic than in the USA where the highest bidder controls legislation through lobbying. There is no money in politcs in Cuba.

  • Thank you for your response to my comments, Pedro.

    I agree with the overall point of your essay: democratization is essential. What I disagreed with was the assumption that there is an almost unanimous recognition that the economic, social and political model is the cause of Cuba’s problems and need to be changed.

    It seems to me the regime believes they can keep the political model as is while introducing just enough economic reform to keep the government afloat. This approach is doomed to fail.

  • To Patterson and Griffin. I didn’t say that. Please read carefully. The goverment is making some economic changes. Not enough for us but they are doing some.

  • Your example is absurd. Putin is destroying democracy in Russia.

  • That was a thoughtful analysis of the need for democratization in Cuba society.
    Democracy in both the electoral /governmental form and in the economy are essential.
    Having one and not the other ost of us can imaginein a totalitarian society.
    It necessitates the elimination of all political parties and the establishment of Poder Popular’s format-STRICTLY adhered to- as the ONLY way to run a true democracy which is from the bottom up .
    The PCC must go as it is largely responsible for the corruption and ossification that any party too long in power manifests.
    This is all in the anarchist tradition which calls for far more direct democracy than most of us are used to or can imagine.
    The current cadre-led, Leninist Cuba is simply too top down, too authoritarian for any true democrat’s liking BUT………Cuba is being economically attacked , not just to hurt the revolution but to kill it, reverse it and until that attack ceases and Cubans can go about their lives in peace and be allowed to try their autochthonous ( nice word eh) systems in a normal trade situation , that cadre-led society is what is needed.
    Last point: IMO Cuba can be as horrid as the old South Africa and people who invest will flock to any money -making possibility just as Henry Ford traded with the Nazis up until the U.S went to war with them .
    There is no morality involved in making money, you know..

  • A flawed understanding of how social democratic states emerge. Economic reforms that build the wealth of the nation is the first step. It is after a viable middle class emerges that democratic reforms take hold to respond to request of the people. As the economy grows more sophisticated the power structure evolves as those in power learn to control from the shadows. Look to Putin as the future model of governance for the Island.

  • I have to disagree with the second paragraph. Raul Castro and other members of the ruling elite have stated very clearly,

    “There will be no political reforms”.

    They may introduce some carefully controlled economic reforms, but absolutely no changes to the political system are contemplated by the regime.

  • Pedro, do you believe that the ruling elite share the otherwise common knowledge expressed in your second paragraph? In truth, how could they NOT know? In that case, even if a Polar Vortex were to drop Martian pixie dust over the entire Cuban island and the possibility “for the nation to come together in a peaceful and inclusive manner” were actually to take place, then the most powerful and most entrenched group among the various political perspectives would be the group least likely to win seats in the new parliamentary order. Who would choose to go backwards? After all, we know what DOESN’T work. As noble as your hope that the current tyrannical government would simply step aside to allow the voices of reason to prevail, there is simply no historical precedent for despots to concede power without demand. None.

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