In early August, my companion Caroline Lund and I visited Cuba as part of the
Eighth US-Cuba Friendshipment, organised by Pastors for Peace. As with all
Friendshipments, this one openly defied Washington's blockade of the
revolutionary island. Almost 455 tonnes of medicines, books, computer equipment,
ambulances, bookmobiles and other humanitarian aid were collected across the US,
taken over the Mexican border and shipped from Tampico to Cuba.
Unlike previous Friendshipments, this one was not hassled very much by the US
About 150 of the "caravanistas"
- so called because the
material donated was collected by caravans of buses and cars that met at the
Mexican border, and then drove across Mexico to Tampico
- also went on for a 10-day
visit packed with activities.
One of these was the first US-Cuba Friendship Conference, which was addressed
by top leaders of the Cuban government and Communist Party (CP). All the
activities gave us a much better picture of Cuban realities than we had before.
One of those who addressed the Conference was Ricardo Alarcon, president of
the National Assembly of People's Power. He spoke on democracy in Cuba.
First, let me say that we were free to go anywhere and talk to whoever we
wished. People critical of the government seemed to have no fear of explaining
their views to us.
We were also able to talk to rank and file members of the Committees for the
Defence of the Revolution (CDRs), the People's Power (PP) assemblies and the CP
in various regions of Havana and two towns outside Havana, Santa Cruz del Norte
One of the things the CDRs do now is to organise the block to help neighbours
in need. For example, if someone is hurt and needs blood, the CDR will organise
people to donate blood. In Santa Cruz del Norte, there is a local hospital that
has only one old ambulance, which is used to transport more serious cases to the
modern hospital in Havana. If the ambulance breaks down, the local hospital can
contact the CDRs to find a car that can substitute.
Another function of the CDRs is to organise the nominations for the elections
to the local PP assemblies. The assemblies are the institutions of government,
from the local level up to the national.
I visited one of the local PP headquarters in one region of Havana (Havana is
divided into regions, each of which elects its own PP assembly). This region was
divided in turn into 22 electoral districts, each comprising about four square
blocks, and including about eight CDRs. Each district elects one representative
to the regional PP.
Each CDR calls a meeting of the citizens on its block to discuss and make
nominations for the election to the local PP. These are discussed among the CDRs
in the district, and eventually the final list of candidates is drawn up. There
must be at least two candidates and fewer than eight nominated. The elections
are by direct and secret ballot of the citizens in the district.
The CP doesn't nominate candidates. Candidates are nominated and elected by
their neighbours. Anyone who is over 16 years old can stand.
The style of the elections is quite different from those in the US or
Australia, where big money dominates. A short biography of each candidate is
posted in public places in the district. This, and discussions among the
citizens, are the only "campaigning" done, so the candidates don't
have to raise any money to campaign.
The PP elects a small body made up of a president and a vice-president and
some other posts, who are paid for working full time as the day-by-day
government of the region.
Each continues to receive the wages they were getting in their jobs before
they were elected, and their jobs are held open for them for when they leave the
PP. They are elected for a term of two and a half years.
Another feature of the electoral system is that everyone elected at any level
of government may be recalled at any time by his or her electors. This happens
fairly often, from what we were told. In one region of Havana, every president
was recalled since 1976, except the present one.
In addition to the 22 elected members of the PP I visited, there are nine
other members appointed by the mass organisations, one each for the CP, the
Federation of Cuban Women, the CDRs, the trade unions and so on. The PP tends to
work by consensus.
I was able to see how this regional PP works. First of all, it is the local
government, concerned about things like improving housing and replacing the
water system, which is old and crumbling. It also takes up various social
There was an interesting chart on the wall listing all kinds of things the PP
was concerned with, including the number of single mothers who need additional
help beyond child-care, which the PP finds ways to provide.
Delegates to the municipal PPs or the regions in Havana must report to
general assemblies of the citizens of their districts at least twice a year,
although they may be convened at any time by the delegate or by the electors.
Cuba is also divided into provinces, and each has its own provincial PP.
Nominations for the provincial PPs and for the National Assembly of People's
Power, the highest state body, are made by electoral commissions made up of
representatives of the Central Council of Trade Unions (which presides over the
commission), the CDRs, the Federation of Cuban Women, the National Association
of Small Farmers, the Federation of University Students and the Federation of
Students in Intermediate Education.
These nominees are then taken back to the municipal PPs for their
consideration and approval. The delegates to the provisional PPs and the
National Assembly are then elected in a secret ballot by the population. To be
elected, a nominee must receive 50% plus 1 of the votes.
Vote counting for elections to all levels of the government is done publicly
at the district level with all who want to observing.
Another aspect of Cuban democracy is the full national discussion held on
many topics in the PPs and mass organisations.
This system has far more direct democracy and citizen input than the most
" democratic" of the capitalist countries. It is also unlike the
system that was in effect in the former Soviet Union and the other Stalinised
As already noted, the Cuban CP is not an electoral formation, and anyone can
be elected to the government whether they are in the CP or not. At the same
time, it is clear that the CP wields power through its moral and political
Unlike the Soviet and other CPs, the Cuban CP is not a nest of corruption and
bureaucracy, something to join to get ahead. Those CPs were
"communist" in name only, and had long ago lost their revolutionary
The Cuban CP came about through the fusion of three groups that supported the
revolution. The first was the July 26th Movement, the principle force that
overthrew the US puppet dictator in 1959 and led the workers and peasants to
take political power.
Another was the Student Directorate, which had fought underground against the
dictatorship. The third was the old pro-Moscow Popular Socialist Party, which
supported the revolution after its triumph.
While the Cuban CP has gone through periods where it acted more Stalinist-
like than in other times, it never became the vehicle of a ruling, privileged
For example, to become a member of the CP, a candidate must be approved by
his or her fellow workers by majority vote. These same workers can remove a
member from the CP if there is evidence of corruption or other bad behaviour.
Today, all people who are vanguard fighters for the socialist revolution, and
against its major enemy in Washington, are in the CP.
Those described by the US establishment as "human rights fighters"
are not people who want to see Cuba's socialist democracy developed and
deepened. Rather, they want the revolution and the political power of the
workers and farmers overthrown, and the control of US capitalists and their
In the present situation, any political party formed by such "dissidents" would necessarily be a party of counter-revolution, and be funded and controlled by the US. That would not bring more democracy to Cuba, but more foreign domination by big capital.
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