Introduction: Overview of Cuban Political Institutions1

By Peter Roman

Cuba’s Organs of People’s Power (OPP) function at three levels: municipal, provincial and national. There are 168 municipal assemblies. The City of Havana, because of its size, is divided into several municipalities, with the city as a whole considered as a province. Municipal assembly delegates represent districts (circumscripciones) within the municipality. Candidates are nominated by constituents in street meetings held within the districts.2 The Cuban Communist Party (PCC) has no role in selecting municipal assembly candidates. Delegates must reside in the district they represent. Elections are secret and, by law, competitive (there must be between two and eight candidates), and are held every two and a half years. Campaigning by the candidates is not allowed.  Rather, biographies of the candidates are posted in neighborhood windows. Candidates may go together to meet with constituents in neighborhood gathering and answer questions. If no candidate receives a majority of the vote, a runoff election is held between the top two candidates. All delegates are subject to recall elections by the voters. Except for those in leadership positions, delegates are non-professional, that is they receive no salary as delegates, and maintain their regular jobs.

At the beginning of the term, the municipal nominating committees (comisiones de candidatura)3 present a list of candidates for leadership positions in the newly constituted assemblies. Delegates are assigned to committees such as construction, public health, and education. People’s councils (consejos populares) are constituted, consisting of the delegates from approximately ten contiguous districts, with one of the delegates elected president by the council members. Also present on these councils are representatives from governmental, economic and social entities located within the councils’ borders. The people’s councils, according to Jesús García Brigos, are a major precursor to socialist government in Cuba.

The municipal assemblies meet about four times a year, but the committees meet more frequently. The purpose of municipal assemblies is to monitor and control municipal economic, social, educational, public health, and other activities, mainly using the assembly committees and people’s councils.

As a result of the nomination procedure and contact with neighborhood residents, most constituents know their delegates, or at least know who their delegates are. Delegates hold weekly office hours to meet with constituents regarding individual problems, and are also constantly approached by constituents in the neighborhood and at home seeking help to solve personal problems. One of the main responsibilities of individual delegates is to record complaints, suggestions and demands (planteamientos), made by constituents at biannual neighborhood accountability meetings (rendiciones de cuenta). These planteamientos usually regard local issues. During the six months between these meetings delegates are obliged to seek answers, and possibly solutions, which they must communicate to constituents. During these gatherings they also report on the assembly’s activities, and respond to planteamientos brought forward in previous meetings. These meetings have particular importance, since citizen participation is considered to be a defining element of socialist politics. In his article Julio César Guanche evaluates the strengths and inadequacies of this and other types of political participation in Cuba, pointing out that citizen participation, while important, has been mainly reactive, and has not sufficiently included formulation of policy.

The provincial assembly delegate elections and the National Assembly deputy elections take place simultaneously every five years under similar rules. Provincial delegates and National Assembly deputies are elected by and represent voters by municipalities within the province. The lists of candidates from each municipality are selected by the provincial and national nominating committees respectively, and must be ratified by the municipal assembly delegates of the municipality they will represent. They are elected by the voters of that municipality. Up to fifty per cent of the candidates may also be elected municipal assembly delegates.  The elections are not competitive. There is only one candidate per slot. While campaigning in the sense of presenting a platform or attacking other candidates is not allowed, biographies are posted in neighborhood windows and candidates meet with groups of constituents and answer questions. To be elected, candidates must receive at least fifty per cent of the vote. Prior to the 2013 elections, slate voting was encouraged, i.e. voters were urged to vote for the whole slate of provincial assembly and National Assembly candidates. This was de-emphasized in the 2013 election, and the percentage of slate voting dropped ten percentage points to around 81 per cent. Candidates do not have to reside in the municipality from which they are elected or in the province they represent. Candidates may run for both positions simultaneously. Aside from those in leadership positions, they are non-professionals, thus not paid for their service. The provincial and national nominating committees select the candidates for the assembly leadership positions, who must be ratified by the members. The national nominating committee also selects candidates for the Council of Ministers, the Council of State, and the leadership positions in the Council of State, including the President of Cuba. The elected provincial and national representatives are subject to recall by the municipal assembly delegates of the municipality they represent.4 In contrast to the municipal assembly delegates, the voters usually do not usually know who their provincial delegates and National Assembly deputies are.5

The four authors presented all advocate more active involvement of citizens and municipal delegates in choosing candidates for the provincial and national assemblies. Daniel Rafuls also favors presenting more candidates than slots available, requiring candidates to reside in the municipalities which they represent, and direct election for members of the Council of Ministers and Council of  State. Guanche calls for candidates at all levels to be able to present proposals and goals when they meet with constituents prior to the elections. Garcia Brigos and Rafuls call for a higher percentage of provincial delegates and national deputies to come from the ranks of elected municipal delegates. Emilio Duharte stresses the need to lessen the role of the PCC in choosing assembly and other government leadership positions, as well as influencing legislation.

There are 15 provinces. Through the assembly committees made up of delegates, the provincial assemblies monitor economic, social, educational, and public health activities within the province, and the activities of the municipal assemblies within the province. They meet two to three times per year. Provincial assembly delegates are required to report yearly to the municipal assembly delegates from municipalities from which they were elected.

The National Assembly (ANPP) has 612 deputies. The ANPP is the only governmental body with the authority to pass legislation. It also monitors the municipal and provincial assemblies, and all national economic and social entities and activities, including the budget. It meets twice per year. Most of the work of preparing legislation is done through its committees, which hold hearings, perform investigations, and consult with affected constituents, the PCC, and organizations and government ministries where relevant. Such extensive consultations provide another forum for citizen participation.6 Except in one recent instance, votes in the National Assembly have been unanimous.7 Between National Assembly sessions the Council of State issues decree-laws, which must later be presented for parliamentary approval. The president of the Council is considered to be the Cuban President. The Constitutional Affairs Committee rules on the constitutionality of pending legislation.

Article 5 of the constitution establishes that the Communist Party is the guiding entity of Cuban society. The PCC is not supposed to be either an electoral or a legislative party. It does not officially nominate OPP candidates, nor does it have an official representative on the nominating committees on any level. It is not allowed to submit legislation to the National Assembly. However, the lines of authority between the PCC and the OPP are blurred, since proposed legislation tends to follow resolutions passed by the ANPP, and bills are reviewed by the PCC and other entities before being submitted to the ANPP.

Regarding the recent status of the OPP and proposed changes, there has been discontent with the diminished power of the municipal assemblies, the people’s councils, and the delegates, especially compared to the 1980s and 1990s. There seems to be less interest in attending the accountability meetings, especially among young people, due to loss of confidence in the ability of the delegates to deal with constituents’ problems and concerns. There have also been instances of neglect, where, for example, elected delegates have quit in midterm, and no special elections have been held to fill the vacancy, leaving constituents without representation. Garcia Brigos discusses how municipal assemblies could be reformed within the framework of socialist transition, stressing the importance of strengthening the people’s councils and redefining the concept of representation.

Regarding the ANPP, there is debate about cutting down the number of deputies, and eliminating the insistence on unanimity. Emilio Duharte discusses pending political reforms advocated by the PCC. These include decentralization of the OPP by giving more authority to the municipal assemblies, increased popular participation, term limits for Cuba’s top leadership, a new electoral law, and limiting the role of the PCC in relation to the OPP.8 In a survey taken by the Cuban newspaper Juventud Rebelde, Cubans called for direct popular election for the President of Cuba.9

Notes

1. For a complete discussion of the Cuban OPP see Peter Roman, People’s Power: Cuba’s Experience with Representative Government. (New York: Rowman & Littlefield,  2003)

2. In a recent municipal delegate election process, two dissidents were nominated at a street meeting, but both lost the election. “Two Cuban dissidents stand in local municipal vote,” http://www.bbc.com/world-latin-america-32370843, 19 April 2015.

3. Nominating committees, which exist at the municipal, provincial and national levels, are chaired by a union representative and include representatives from the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR), the Federation of Cuban Women, and high school and university student groups.

4. Peter Roman, “Electing Cuba’s National Assembly Deputies: Proposals, Selections, Nominations and Campaigns,” European Review of Latin American and Caribbean Studies 82, April 2007.

5. For coverage of the most recent National Assembly elections see Arnold August, Cuba and its Neighbors. London: Zed Books, 2013, and Arnold August, “Democracy in Motion: The 2013 Election Results in Cuba,” International Journal of Cuban Studies, Vol. 6, No. 1, Spring 2014, 89-94.

6. For a study of the Cuban lawmaking process see Peter Roman, “The Lawmaking Process in Cuba: Debating the Bill on Agricultural Cooperatives,” Socialism and Democracy 38 (Vol.19, No. 2), July 2005.

7. The one opposing vote in the National Assembly came recently from Mariela Castro, President Raúl Castro’s daughter, who opposed a civil rights bill for not emphasizing adequately gay, lesbian, and transgender rights. Andrea Rodriguez-AP, “A Castro Breaks Tradition with ‘No’ vote in Cuba,
http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/C/CB_CUBA_VOTING_NO?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT, August 19, 2014.

8. http://en.granma.cu/cuba/2015-02-24/pcc-central-committee-holds-tenth-plenum

9. “Concluyó entrevista on-line sobre el sistema electoral cubano,” Juventud Rebelde, March 5, 2015, http://www.juventudrebelde.cu/cuba/2015-02-28/que-desea-saber-sobre-el-sistema-electoral-cubano/

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