The Democratic Alternative for Cuba

By Pedro Campos

Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — Two paths are becoming clear to Cuba after the failure of “State socialism”: the authoritarian-capitalist one offered by the current “reform process”, sustained by an alliance between State monopoly capitalism (dressed up as socialism) and foreign capital, under the control of the same old government-State-Party, and the all-inclusive democratic one, which I will try to summarize here, while also exploring how we can reach it and what obstacles lie in the way.

The democratic way out, in order to be truly democratic, would have to be inclusive. It would entail a process aimed at democratizing and socializing the country’s politics and economy which would open these spheres to the participation of all Cubans on the island and abroad, impel the development of all forms of production and the creation of the conditions needed for a new type of democratic constitution, the rule of law and a new, multi-party electoral law.

This process would need to be sustained by a new social contract, one that would provide individual and collective undertakings broad financing possibilities, confront all of the repercussions stemming from the serious property issues created over more than fifty years of “State socialism”, on the basis of compensation, cooperation and independent arbitration, eliminate all State monopolies over markets, prohibit the development of private monopolies and establish fiscal policies to incentivize production.

It would particularly require the implementation of local, participative budgets, such that the bulk of taxes collected remain at the lower levels and can be handled to address community interests, as a guarantee of development.

The democratic socialist program encompasses very few points but, with a view to establishing a consensus and pulling society out of its current stagnation, we are subordinating all remaining points to a general, democratic strategy that will later allow us to better defend our positions and make them a reality.

Let it again be made clear that we reject any attempt at arbitrarily imposing on people the free individual or collective forms of self-managed production we support. That said, we do not deny we hope these forms of production will, of their own merit, prove better than the forms of salaried exploitation now in existence and, as such, encourage their development and any financial backing offered them.

As we understand that private capital still has plenty of ground to cover within Cuba’s economy and that its most progressive representatives could contribute to development efforts, we have no objections to its participation in the process, under laws that guarantee wages, vacation time and social security benefits, as well as the creation of independent trade unions and others that will defend the rights of wage laborers.

This way out of the current crisis only appears possible on the basis of dialogue, negotiation and an atmosphere of national consensus and harmony, where everyone can place the interests of the nation in the foreground, and where the people constitute the one, sovereign decision-maker. This involves the release of those who have been detained for political reasons and a number of fundamental, individual guarantees.

Independent civil society – the one that opts for non-violence and dialogue –, progressive and nationalist sectors of the bourgeoisie in Cuba and abroad and the wide democratic Left within Cuban society and the State will all contribute to this democratic process, to varying degrees and with no shortages of disagreements among them.

There are points of agreement across their demands that should be brought to the foreground, without thereby abandoning their respective identities. These strengths could be used to advance many actions and policies, to the point, even, of organizing a broad, nationwide democratic front.

The success of this alternative will depend on the ability of democratic forces – all democratic forces, regardless of their political leanings, whether they are in Cuba or abroad or within the government – to make their programs reach the population, earn its support and create the needed alliances.

Today, the democratic alternative has the fertile soil it needs to develop it never had before, precisely because of the change in US policy which neutralizes all of the stifling philosophy of the besieged fortress and eliminates pretexts for political repression and the lack of democracy and liberties of every sort. The United States’ new Cuba policy can eliminate all of the obstacles standing in the way of international trade, a step required for development.

This is the most important historical juncture since the revolution of 1959, an opportunity to bring about the democratic changes the country needs and will allow all political tendencies that favor such changes to work together.

There are no democracy gages we can use to identify how likely these forces are to prevail, but we could say that, despite how isolated the different actors are, the lack of means and resources to have an impact on society and the limitations imposed by the bureaucratic system, these forces, working together, could became a decisive majority in an atmosphere of tolerance and fundamental freedoms, through their identification with the interests of the people.

The prevailing system in Cuba was sustained by two major pillars: foreign aid and opposition to US imperialism. The first fell by the wayside with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the “socialist bloc,” shoes Venezuela never did manage to fill. The US executive has re-established diplomatic relations with the Cuban government, but many of the laws that make up the blockade-embargo are still in place and Cuban-Americans in Congress favor them, giving the forces within Cuba’s military that cling to the past an excuse not to budge. Quite simply, they play into each other’s hands.

The leaders of the Cuban military, government and Communist Party. Photo:

The small clique of original revolutionaries that controls the government opposes this democratic alternative and uses the “reform process” as the spear-head of the political and military apparatus that administer the country, to prevent the free development of all non-State forms of production that do not rely on joint or direct foreign investment. It gives no signs of being in favor of democratization and continues to repress dissenting thoughts, sometimes employing violence.

This group knows that its State wage model has failed and is promoting changes, but it is very much afraid that these will make it lose its power and that they will later be judged for all the wrong they’ve done for over half a century in the name of socialism. They do not realize that history has already judged them and condemned them to retirement. This verdict could however change if they stubbornly stick to their positions and continue to repress alternatives.

In the complex situation we have today, we cannot deny that Raul Castro and his clique have reacted positively to a rapprochement with the United States, even though their chief motivation is the lifting of sanctions that will allow them to tap sources of money and investments up north. We also cannot deny that his administration, as centralized and bureaucratic as his brothers, incapable of overcome the serious problems faced by Cuban society, has at least modified a number of absurd regulations and opened up a handful of small spaces for economic activities outside the State.

Everything indicates that, if there are differences at the high echelons of power regarding the scope of the changes and the policy of rapprochement with the United States, all of the elite has the same prejudices with respect to the crucial democratization of society and agree that repressive policies must be implemented against dissenting thought, as a means of guaranteeing the power in the hands of the bureaucratic elite, its descendants and loyal subjects.

The military officials who rule the country and could have more pragmatic stances could develop other initiatives in a freer context, without the pressures of the embargo-blockade or from internal groups that continue to support the old US policies. Such a situation could lead them to understand that they can be part of the future if they are able to share power with the workers and the people, in conjunction with diverse democratic forces.

The democratic alternative also runs into the “vendetta” mentality of the more radical groups in the émigré community and some on the island who are opposed to any dialogue with the government, groups that insist that the “Castroist” elite must first be swept away and that the United States ought to keep the blockade-embargo in place, place obstacles on the road to the normalization of relations and seek a regime change through political and economic stifling.

This, while standing in the way of the methods and aims of the peaceful and democratic alternative, reaffirms the intransigent sectors of the Stalinist elite in their stance, and these sectors must be given an option – otherwise, they will continue to cling to their positions.

Do these groups want democracy for themselves only, and a new dictatorship for the rest? Democracy, like freedom, is either for everyone or it is not true democracy. Those who oppose the democratic path, those who support violence and policies that exclude others, end up isolating themselves.

Those who ask for “justice first” seem to forget that horrendous crimes were also perpetrated in the struggle against Castro-communism and that people demand justice for these actions as well.

Should we try to overcome the problems that weigh on the Cuban people and keep development and happiness out of reach for them, or do we all start settling accounts, reliving the past, covering Cuban soil with blood once again, continuing the interminable cycle of violence?

Should we be driven by a thirst of justice or vengeance? Wouldn’t it be nobler, and entirely possible, to try and work for peace under justice, hand in hand with forgiveness, through methods such as dialogue and negotiation, and bury the hatchet and the eye-for-an-eye mentality once and for all?

That violence stems from the political system based on the “dictatorship of the proletariat” is not something we put in question. But let us try not to play into their hand with discourses and policies similar to theirs.

It is time for understanding to reach the core of Cuban society (including the émigré community), in the same way the governments of Cuba and the United States have done through dialogue, putting aside their profound differences. The Pope, who encouraged the rapprochement between the United States and Cuban government, could contribute to internal talks.

Espacio Abierto (“Open Space”), a Cuban civil society group, has just advanced a proposal for a debate to include everyone, including government authorities. It would be a serious mistake to reject or ignore this proposal. We hope that, sooner rather than later, the sense shown by the Cuban government in its talks with the United States will prevail also within Cuban society.
Cover illustration by Yasser Castellanos.

27 thoughts on “The Democratic Alternative for Cuba

  • If you had ever traveled outside your small corner of the world, you would realize that what you call “pizza” in your experience is nothing like the pizza in Italy, or the pizza in Japan, or the pizza in Cuba (oh, you really should try that!)

    You see, pizza is different in different countries, and no where does it ever compare to some idealized vision of the perfect pizza which you might cherish. That’s the difference between reality and idealized fantasy.

    Similarly, things like “democracy”, “socialism” and “communism” are defined differently around the world. You may believe your one true definition is the only correct definition, but you are wrong. All of the versions of those political concepts are true versions, if they have existed. The only false meaning is the one which has never existed in the real world, nor ever will exist.

    Your versions of democracy, socialism & communism are false, because they have never existed in the real world. They are figments of your imagination.

    Do you know what the real difference between an anarchist and a Stalinist is? The ideals are the same, but the Stalinist has power, while the anarchist is dead. History proves that is true.

    Think about it.

  • I have already exposed your continuing ruse to make it appear as if the dollar amount that the “average Cuban worker gets daily is worth the same as it is here. It’s more like 10-12 times in value for basic food and even worth more for rent, which most Cubans don’t pay as they are homeowners’ and it’s 10% of their salary for 10 to 15 years depending on the size of the house for their government mortgage (or so it was until last year). You don’t take into account free health and education, which is sorely lacking in the USA and less and less available in Canada under Harper. You also omit cheap, public transportation.
    And who cares about whether the USA or Norway is richer or how to asses it, this is a very repetitious MacDuff tactic to prove John wrong but not even about the main subject, not about Cuba but about NADA, nothing of any relevance to the article or the discussion and thus try to confuse the readers; this is a bullying tactic and nothing else. You tried the same with me and got a well deserved thrashing, and it will continue as long as I can expose and de-construct all of your underhanded techniques to twist, misinterpret or deny the truth about my country. Take a Hike, Mac.

  • I’d go into great detail about communism and state capitalism but Circles said not to bore you with facts which I would have to do again since you are repeating your same old tired Cold War stuff.
    You’ll have to bother someone else with your repetitions of what you see as reality.

  • In the future , things will be organized in a democratic fashion.
    Human do require personal incentive but not necessarily of the financial gain sort.
    People in any given society are responsible to each other and for each other as is human nature .
    People stopped employing what Kropotkin called “mutual aid” only with the advent of capitalism and the state ( which enforces it) .
    some few hundred years ago.
    The moral aberration that is capitalism comes to a fast end in 20-25 years and will enable the rise of democracies in place of the current oligarchies .

  • IMO,
    You are a small business owner.
    You are not the problem.
    You are a part of a free-enterprise capitalist system but you are not responsible for bribing the government and turning a representative democracy into an oligarchy and neither do you drive imperial U.S. foreign policy as do the mega-corporate capitalists.
    You’re penny ante in the big picture; you don’t have any power to affect those things that make FEC such an immoral force in the world.
    Again, you cannot have a democratic society living with and under totalitarian forms most of your waking moments.
    You can have FEC or you can have democracy.
    You can’t have both
    AND you can’t say democratic economies don’t work until one has been tried .

  • It wasn’t with Stalin, it wasn’t with Mao Tse Tung, It isn’t with the Kim family of North Korea and it isn’t with the Castro family in Cuba.

  • At long last I think I have solved the puzzle of the reason why Mr. John Goodrich can only speak repeatedly about the USA. He has never been anywhere else! That includes Cuba about which his utterances betray his evident ignorance.

  • Less than two dollars a day? ….more than the average Cuban I’d say.

  • So sorry to be boring you.
    I’ll try to avoid you in the future and we can both be happy..

  • “upper communist class ” is an oxymoron .

  • Half the people on the planet barely survive on $2.00 a day.
    Millions die of starvation while the world produces 119% of what it takes to feed every person on Earth adequately .
    All this under capitalism of a sort the American Empire has enforced upon weaker countries for 100 years or more .
    ( Sources ” Killing Hope” and ” Rogue State ” websites and books. which list scores of U.S. interventions of this sort)
    If that “something better” came along , you’d reject it. because
    that something better is a democratically-run economy .

  • Gotcha, Circles
    My point in referring to the faults of the U.S. systems is to draw attention to the deep anti-democratic faults in the very systems my opposition wish to impose upon Cuba.
    Using terms like “multi-party electoral systems ” which are high-sounding but meaningless bumper sticker sound bites when you consider the oligarchy the USG has devolved to but in a system that is called highly democratic by Cuba’s critics .
    My intention is always to advocate for democratic societies and for an understanding of what democracy is and isn’t both in the electoral and economic spheres .
    but I hear your message .

  • Your statement made quite an impression on me “boss – employee relation under capitalism, its called my way or the highway”. I’m not sure what your experience in the market place is, but as a small business owner, someone who manufactures certain components to specific tolerances, you had better believe that its “my way or the highway”. My education and training allows me to make certain decisions that my employees are unqualified to make. It was my money and hard work that allowed me to grow my business to the point where I needed to higher people to work for me. Its called free enterprise capitalism and is what enables the growth and creativity that allows you to, among other things, type in a computer in your mom’s basements. I am careful in hiring for my company. But these employees have the total freedom to leave whenever they want. I don’t force them to work for me. I value their input and advice in our work….but John, its still my business. …… And by the way that comes with certain responsibility. There have been many a time when in having to make my payroll I’ve been forced to forgo my paycheck to make sure my employees got paid. Its actually a little more complicated than that but it gives you a good idea.

  • Capitalism has done more to raise people out if poverty than any other system. So, until something comes along that is better, I’ll stick with it!

  • In Cuba it is a lot less than $1 per day. 5.2 million people receive an average of $20.68 per month and that has to sustain 11.1 million people. So simply, the average Cuban has to survive on less than $10 per month.
    You state that the US is the richest country to ever have existed…….. How does that compare with Luxemburg or Norway? Do you assess wealth on a per capita basis or a gross one?
    But frankly Mr. Goodrich your constant references to the US are boring in the extreme. The US isn’t Cuba which is the subject of these columns. You should visit Cuba for a period – not less than six weeks, to gain some knowledge of the country and its people and of the actual effects of a “socialist/communist regime. Don’t remonstrate with me about that description, take on Fidel Castro Ruz.

  • The U.S. government has packaged its version of so-called “democracy” while supporting dictatorships like Saudia Arabia and Israel. Some of the people on this list actually believe U.S. propaganda. The Cuban government needs to trust the Cuban people…socialism cannot be imposed. Real socialism requires the participation of the people…not having the people to listen to long speeches.

  • The concept or status of living in poverty is relative. Living in poverty in the U.S. Is comparable to upper communist class in Cuba…

  • John, we’d appreciate it if you could concentrate on the posts and Cuba. There are many other publications that specialize on the United States.

  • Every country on the planet but state-capitalist Cuba and the DRK have free-enterprise capitalist economies.
    Half of the people on the planet live in dire poverty and on US$2.00 or less per day. decidedly does not work .
    The US is the richest country to ever have existed under capitalism and in the best of economic times it had some 40 million of its people living in poverty.
    In short, you do not know what you are talking about.
    Democratic economic systems would never allow this sort of inhumanity and you oppose democratic forms ..

  • SFB,
    The USA is a self-proclaimed multi-party “democracy” .
    The reality is that both parties are under the control of the very wealthy, serve the needs of the very small but incredibly wealthy minority and decidedly not the needs or wishes of the electorate..
    It is an oligarchy and were the US electoral system to have 20 political parties, the big money people would control any of those that had any chance of election.
    In the US there is no right to basic human rights and freedoms like healthcare , sufficient food , homes for the great many homeless , and some 40 million people mostly kids , live in poverty.
    If you believe that these people voted to be permanently poor ( 70 percent of all people born in poverty in the USA stay in poverty. ) then you’re incredibly naïve.
    And ..FYI, my idea of a democratic society is quite specific and you can call it narrow if you’d like but here it is again:
    A democratic society in my view, is one in which all major decisions affecting the lives of the people are made by democratic processes . Democratic processes means specifically one-person, one-vote, majority rule.
    Anything less, like a representative democracy ( a republic) is corruptible as can be seen in the US electoral system and anything less is something less good than democracy..
    Further, I fully understand boss-employee relations under capitalism . It’s called : “My way or the highway” .
    Would you care to define democracy as you understand its literal meaning ( from the Greek: rule of the people) for me and how that relates in any way to a STANDARD boss-employee relationship under capitalist structures ?

  • I am quite open to criticism of the Cuban government and have made some criticisms myself, but I find it interesting that the author of this piece does not point to any other Latin American country, or to any country at all, as a positive example showing the kind of democracy he is advocating.

  • You don’t understand how employee – employer relations work.

    In your mind, a system with free multiparty elections and which guarantees full freedoms and rights for everybody is “totalitarian”, while your idea of a true democratic society is one which follows your one narrow ideology and no other.

    You display an astonishing lack of self-awareness, John.

  • State Socialism fail because complex systems break down with heavy central control models that lack adaptability and thus ability to reallocate resources efficiently. They also focus on distribution fairness versus balancing fairness to producers and consumers. Exploitation of workers never works out whether under capitalist or socialist systems. The exploitation can be even more sever under socialist systems. At least in a market system resources can more logically be allocated and discretionary production and creativity can be unleashed. A free market system for efficiency and social programs and safety nets are now the norm. Liberal democracies tend to be the systems that can deliver on these mixed models. Representative democracy can take different forms.

  • In your future world who organizes things and why ? Human’s require personal incentive. The no one is accountable, no one needs to sweat it model makes no sense. An imperfect system of check and balances and avoidance of state and private monopolies is better than other systems.

  • Free enterprise capitalism is the only economic system proven to work, period! Cubans know this, as shown by the success of the paladares when compared to the government restaurants.

  • My last survey indicated there are over four million people in the USA that are considered Cuban American. The vast majority have an Europeon lineage and this may cause majjor future problems.

  • Pedro,
    I was delighted with your pitch for the emergence of democratic systems in Cuba but, at times puzzled at your seeming advocacy for some forms of free-enterprise capitalism and a multi-party electoral system.
    Free-enterprise capitalism is like an infection . It spreads and it will kill the body democracy once introduced.
    It’s like only being a little pregnant.
    It is the camel’s nose under the tent.
    Combine that with a multi-party electoral system which is always totally controllable by the people with the most money and you have a recipe for the sort of oligarchy that now rules the U.S. .
    And… by its very nature, capitalism is totalitarian . The boss can always truthfully say:
    “I have more money than you , I own the means of production and as your superior , will tell you how you will work for me, how much you will be paid, the conditions etc. ”
    It’s the definition of totalitarianism .
    Once you go down this path , the enormous economic power at the top of the heap always exerts its will on the majority and you lose all chances for a democratic society.
    Let’s not forget that the U.S.G. and, in general, the U.S. electorate only care about democracy in theory while living in and enforcing upon wide swaths of the world totalitarian systems and IF the Cuban leadership maintains its Leninist ways after normalization , then the people of Cuba have both the GOUSA and their own government to face in their fight for democracy.
    As a futurist who believes that capitalism will die of near-total automation , I think that at most, Cuba will be free to rise or fall of it’s own merits or faults in fifteen years if the intransigent U.S. Congress keep the embargo on.

Comments are closed.