IS CUBA DEMOCRATIC?
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The Cuban revolution began with the struggle for democracy against the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. Being a country whose economy and political life were dominated by US interests, the revolution was also a struggle for democracy in the sense of winning the right of the Cuban nation to act as a sovereign power and shape its own future.
Out of the revolution there arose a number of mass popular organisations which to this day wield considerable influence in Cuban society. These organisations enable all Cubans to participate in decision-making and to ensure their voices are heard when consultations take place with a view to forming government policy. The right to participate and to be heard is enshrined in the Constitution and Cubans have the opportunity to participate in decision making both in their neighbourhoods and their work places. There are also numerous groups representing particular professions or social or cultural interests which play an active part in the consultative process so characteristic of political life in Cuba, such as the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP), pensioners’ and ex-combatants’ associations.
Eighty per cent of Cubans over the age of 14 are members of their local Committee for the Defence of the Revolution – a committee composed of members of about 60 households living in a district or area. CDRs are found in every neighbourhood throughout the country. They are responsible for a variety of aspects of the life of the neighbourhood, from civil defence (necessary in a country 90 miles from a world super-power which, since 1959, has not ceased to act in a hostile manner towards it), collecting waste for recycling and social events to voluntary work and discussing proposals of new laws from central government.
All Cuban workers have the right to join a trade union, although membership
of a union is voluntary. However ninety eight per cent of the active population
belong to one of the 19 trade unions in Cuba. Cuban law permits workers to
freely form trade union organisations and does not require such organisations
to register with any state agency in order to function or to acquire legality.
Unions are self financed from monthly dues, which are paid by members to their
local union official, and they receive no subsidies from the state. Elections
of union officers at the workplace are open and competitive. Different political
views are found within each of the unions.
In a broader context, the trades unions and their central organisation, the Cuban Workers’ Central (CTC) are routinely consulted by central government when new laws are being considered. In 1993, during the economic crisis, nearly 3 million workers in every work place, expressed their views in ‘workers’ parliaments.’ Their ideas formed the basis of government policy on taxation, prices and monetary issues. One view expressed was that workers should not have to pay taxes while experiencing severe economic difficulties, although they considered that social security (National Insurance) contributions should continue. This policy was duly adopted by central government.
In 1995 the unions’ expressed their opposition to sections of the Foreign Investment Law. They objected to the direct hiring of Cuban workers by foreign enterprises as they felt that the workers in question could be disadvantaged by practices of foreign management. Instead they advocated the hiring of labour through a state entity – an employment agency – to ensure full employment rights for workers. This became government policy.
During the reorganisation of the sugar industry in 2002, nearly one million workers participated in assemblies to express their views about redundancy arrangements relating to pay (they would continue to receive their usual salary), opportunities for retraining or further study and seeking alternative employment.
One cannot help but compare the formation of government policy in Cuba with
the way governments of other third-world countries are compelled to accept
policies prescribed by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
In such cases consultations with public bodies and the unions are virtually
In a similar way, Article 42 of the Constitution states that any form of discrimination
because of “race, skin colour, sex, national origin, religious belief
and any other form of discrimination harmful to human dignity is proscribed
The system for electing representatives to seats in the municipal and provincial
assemblies and to the National Assembly (Cuba’s parliament) is based
upon universal adult suffrage for all those aged 16 and over. Nobody is excluded
from voting, except convicted criminals and people with mental disabilities.
Electoral candidates are not chosen by small committees of political parties. Indeed, no political party, including the Communist Party, is permitted to nominate or campaign for any given candidates. Instead the candidates are nominated individually by grass-roots organisations and by individual electors. When a person is nominated, no election campaigning is permitted; instead, his or her biography and other personal attributes are posted in public places. The successful candidate is chosen by secret ballot. The Electoral Law of 1992 stipulates that delegates to the municipal and provincial assemblies and the 601 deputies to the National Assembly are all elected by popular suffrage using a secret ballot. The Head of State and the Council of State are elected from among the deputies.
Once elected, a delegate or deputy has to inform electors about his or her work and, as in other countries, can be contacted by people in the constituency.
Unlike the case in other states, which invariably criticize Cuba for being ‘undemocratic’,
voter turn-out in Cuba is high. In April 2005, 97.7% of electors came out to
vote for their deputies to the municipal assemblies.