Democracy in the USA and in Cuba

Opinion

Presidential elections will be occurring just over seven months from now. The American people are constantly told what a great a democracy we have. In my 83 years, I have yet to witness truly democratic elections in the national arena.

The 2000 presidential election was the worst. That was the case of stealing an election by denying voting rights in Florida and using the right-wing Supreme Court to select the president, although the popular vote went to Al Gore.

George W. Bush and his cronies in the White House, along with most in the Congress, preach that American democracy is the only democracy. But in the last 50 years, less than half the registered voters have voted. One reason, I believe, is the candidate says, “I will represent your needs and desires,” yet usually ends up voting the needs and desires of some fat corporate rat and not the conscience of the people.

Today the Bush administration has embarked on a mailed fist policy of preemptive war and open imperialist regime change, buttressed by lies, deception and a policy of “If you’re not with me, you’re against me.” Bush is also responsible for the slashing of the living standards of the American people, and giving to the wealthy and robbing from the poor. His administration is hell-bent on further undermining democracy and making our country a dictatorship. He must be defeated.

Despite these attacks on democracy here at home, the Bush administration and the mass media never miss an opportunity to self-righteously denounce Cuba as “totalitarian.” The truth, however, is quite different, and a recently published book written by Canadian Isaac Saney – “Cuba: A Revolution In Motion” (Fernwood Books, 2003) – sheds interesting light on the democratic process in Cuba today.

Saney begins his analysis of the Cuban electoral system thusly: “The central task for Cuba-watchers and specialists of all hues is to account for the resilience of the Cuban revolution in the face of the economic collapse of the early 1990s, a collapse which could have sunk almost any system without a trace.”

Saney focuses on the last three national elections on the island: 1993, 1998 and 2003.

He points out that these elections were open to foreign observers, that 90 percent of the electorate voted, that no one was forced to vote, and that the election was by secret ballot.

Saney writes, “Cuban elections are founded on a rejection of conventional electoral politics on the grounds that it creates a class of politicians and divorces economics from politics.”

The ruling Communist Party plays the role of a guide in the democratic institutions of the country, including the electoral process. Each time it holds a national Party Congress, a wide spectrum of the Cuban people bring their problems to the Party and gives substance to the Party’s guiding role.

Saney writes, “The 1991 Congress (immediately after the economic collapse) was preceded by discussions involving 3.5 million Cubans from 89,000 meetings directly raising 500 issues and concerns ranging from the structure of the Party to foreign policy.”

Saney further points out that the Cuban electorate is divided into 14,948 districts consisting of a few hundred people. Each district elects a representative. Mass organizations, labor unions, women’s groups and student associations form commissions, which spend over a year selecting candidates to guarantee that all of Cuban society is represented in provincial and national assemblies.

He further states that the Communist Party, per se, is prohibited from participating in the candidate selection process. On Election Day, each Cuban citizen is presented with a list of 601 candidates for the National Assembly, Party and non-Party, which they can vote up or down.

To be elected to the National Assembly, a candidate must receive at least 50 percent of the votes in their district. This also holds for Cuba’s President Fidel Castro.

Candidates are not permitted to campaign through the media. Instead, the names of all nominations are placed on a bulletin board alongside their pictures and a short biography at the polling place.

Elections are just one facet of Cuba’s democratic process. How economics figures into it is summarized in Saney’s conclusion, which includes a quote from Cuban Vice President Carlos Lage: “Each day in the world 200 million children sleep in the streets. Not one is Cuban.”



John Gilman heads the Wisconsin Peace and Justice Committee and can be reached at johngilman@aol.com.