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3 The Cuban Political System Competing Visions of Democracy Freedom only for the supporters of the government, only for the members of one party— however numerous they may be—is not freedom at all. Freedom is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently. Rosa Luxemburg, The Russian Revolution Polemics regarding Cuba’s political system are as old as the revolution itself. The United States and several European governments consider Cuba a communist dictatorship. Most countries are more nuanced in their views but nonetheless tend to be critical. Several governments in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, however, view Cuba as a model to be emulated. Their perspective is shared by private citizens across the world who advocate an alternative to a global system dominated by neoliberal economic policies that frequently fail to deliver the basic needs people rightfully expect to be guaranteed by their governments. Cuban officials, while insisting on the democratic nature of their political system, are the first to agree that their country is not a typical Western-style democracy. The Cuban government emphasizes the substantive nature of the revolutionary process, with its excellent health-care and education facilities, and criticizes the priority given to “formal, representative democracy,” which focuses on competitive elections while neglecting social and economic democracy . It is one of the many ironies of history, however, that Cuba places more value on some aspects of formal political participation, such as maintaining the consistently high turnout that characterizes Cuban elections, than do the United States or other countries. In order to evaluate the Cuban model in a meaningful way, we need to understand the basic features of the Cuban political system. In this chapter, I trace the development of the Cuban system of government. Cuba has evolved from a system purely based on revolutionary legitimacy to one that seeks to emulate some features of the representative model. I examine the role of the Cuban Communist party, discuss the question of pluralism, and 38 / Gender and Democracy in Cuba assess the current state of Cuban civil society. Whereas most Cuban citizens have remained in a position of accommodation, there is a significant minority that openly defies the current regime. The Evolution and Structure of Cuba’s System of Government Political leadership in the Cuban system of government is located in two major structures: the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) and the Organs of People’s Power (Órganos Poder Popular, or OPP). Cuba is a one-party system, with party and state forming a symbiotic relationship. For example, Fidel Castro combines the positions of commander-in-chief of the armed forces, president of the Council of State, president of the Council of Ministers, and first secretary of the PCC in his person. Party and state share interlocking directorates . As in Castro’s case, the top party officials also hold the most important jobs in government. The Cuban constitution clearly assigns the party a hegemonic role. Thus, the center of decision-making power is located in the party structures. The most important government bodies, on the other hand, are the Council of State, headed by Castro, and the working commissions of the Cuban Parliament. It is in these permanent commissions that the work of the legislature is done, since Parliament meets only twice a year for a few days. In 1974 the Organs of People’s Power, the current Cuban system of government , were initiated in Matanzas Province. This first election was considered experimental, a test for the country’s redirection toward representative democracy . Two years later, in 1976, the process was institutionalized. The OPP are comprised of municipal and provincial assemblies and a national Parliament . The members of the National Assembly are elected in a direct vote. Contrary to the Western model, the Cuban voter is given no choice—apart from abstaining or voting invalid—since there is only one candidate for each seat in Parliament. The changes in Cuba’s government structures were codified in the 1976 constitution. The revised document was the result of an effort to “broaden the base of legal and political institutionalization in the early 1970s.”1 It greatly strengthened electoral democracy by instituting direct elections for People’s Power assemblies at the municipal level. Elections to the provincial and national assemblies, however, were initially indirect. In the elections from 1976 to 1986, the deputies to the National Assembly were elected by the municipal assemblies. This was also the case for the delegates to the provincial assemblies during 1976-89. Similar...


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