HAVANA TIMES — Before 1959, democracy was formal in Cuba, not real; in fact, Fidel’s victory came at one of the times in Cuban history where the democratic building process occasionally came to a standstill. However, this formal democracy was no small thing, it was the much-needed preliminary step to reach a real democracy and it was the breeding ground where civil-democratic consciousness was born in society.
Therefore, I’m not saying that Fidel ended Cuban democracy, what he did do away with though was this civil-democratic “spirit”, an institutional culture of great regard which the Anglo-Saxons call “rule of law”, constitutionalism.
Even in the Republic before 1959, there were “strongmen” and dictators (Jose M Gomez, Machado, Batista), but also a counterweight system of democratic institutions made up of organized and legal opposition parties with socially recognizable leaders, independent unions and activists, critical and plural press, and an active civil society who were financially independent from the State.
This structural framework made sure that no matter how much power one person could hoard within the island, it was never absolute or definitive, and as a result, they couldn’t take away society’s political spirit, individual initiative or the shared symbolism over the individual they governed.
The Party/government, Fidel’s tool before and Raul’s afterwards, made Cuban society top-down and concentrated not only power, but also initiative and national symbolism.
Opposition parties disappeared and political hegemony and the monopoly of one party alone, which is the undisputed government at the same time, were established in the Constitution, thereby getting rid of not only other groups but also any possible opposing individuals.
The monopoly of power via the Party developed into the inexistence of institutional counterweights, legislature is just bizarre theater, while the electoral and judicial systems are obscenely subordinated to the Party.
Unions were tampered with, instead of representing workers in front of the power, it now represents the power in front of workers. They only continue to exist due to the near obligation workers have of being a member and they are also the government’s gift distribution network, from giving access to a summer holiday facility to an electrical appliance via the right to preschool education or a job promotion.
National press became monolithic in its triumphalist message which served the Revolution’s leadership. While the Central Committee’s Ideology Department, the body which regulates symbolism in Cuba via the Party’s control of press, education, Social Sciences and editorial policy, in Raul’s time superficial critique of superficial elements such as agro prices, low-level cases of corruption or bureaucracy have been allowed, but criticizing centralized political decisions is still taboo.
Civil society lost all of its ability to drive initiatives or organize itself independently, “voluntary” is now a synonym for compulsory. The Government formalized the “mass” organizations it needed to involve and control the population: student, professional, farmer, worker, neighbor, intellectual associations. There was only one organization for every social class and all of these depended on the government. Not belonging and obeying what you’re supposed to do is a dangerous matter, thinking about doing anything else is just mere fantasy.
The economy was nationalized 100%. Today, this is shaded with marginal “self-employment” which even though is allegedly in private hands (and it is in actual fact with them as managers), their legal business status isn’t recognized, their ability to organize themselves is minimized and they are kept in underdevelopment, with the Government more busy trying to stop them from prospering rather than making their development easier.
With the “temporary” suspension of licenses today, the government has proved that self-employment isn’t a private economy but a distributive economy with the State’s monopoly, which can wipe out self-employment whenever they fancy, something which it has already done on more than one occasion.
The symbolic manipulation of what is Cuban is just as important as these are transcendental aspects in a social project which began to galvanize as a Nation after 400 years of being a colony stratified into races and classes. Therefore it elaborated the corresponding symbolism, taking on the historic values that could be cross-sectional and a source of compacting of the society inherited in 1898 with the Cuban-American victory against Spain.
The Party/Government took charge of this momentum and used it to exacerbate argumentative nationalism abroad with its artificial and forced dispute with the US in order to justify the constant state of siege and urgency, while in Cuba, it has combined the idea of nationality with loyalty to the leader, the party and even an ideology.
After these 60 years of Revolution, with our civil-democratic consciences broken and wiped out, will we be able to return to the democratic path? This uncertainty is Fidel’s original sin which his Revolution has handed down to us.