Cuba at the Onset of the 21st Century: Socialism, Democracy, and Political Reforms

Duharte Díaz

A Necessary Introduction Socialism in Cuba is in a transitional stage. It is obvious that the country has not yet reached a state of pure, mature, and complete socialism, and the Cuban political system and its democracy cannot but reflect this stage of development. The process of political transition,1 in the sense of necessary changes within the socialist system, is occurring under largely abnormal conditions, dictated by – apart from general conditions of underdevelopment – a lingering albeit partly surmounted domestic economic crisis and by the official US hostility, which, despite some expectations of change with the Obama administration, remains in effect and sets constraints on Cuba.

To give continuity to the process of building socialism, the system must steadily strengthen the factors that legitimize it. Political legitimacy2 is strengthened by continually improving the socialist political system3 through new reforms and new public policies that, in an effort to widen and deepen popular participation, introduce the necessary changes in the economy and in the components of the political system itself: the State, parties and other political organizations, political relations, political culture and ideology, as well as the country's laws, its Constitution – and especially the Electoral Law – and other regulatory elements.

The years 2006-09 in Cuba have been marked politically by several important events. In July 2006, President Fidel Castro handed power to a group of senior leaders of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) and of the State. Raúl Castro, being the first vice-president, assumed the reins of power according to the rules set forth in the Constitution. A set of ideas and proposals raised by the new Head of State have raised expectations. There have been changes in the way of governing – in the styles and methods of conducting government affairs and making policy.

The most recent cycle of general elections for municipal delegates, provincial delegates and national deputies began in September 2007. Such elections have taken place every five years since 1976. In October 2007, elections were held for delegates to the Municipal Assemblies of People's Power (town councils); these partial elections are held every two and a half years. Municipal delegates are directly elected by secret ballot from a pool of two to eight candidates for each seat, who are nominated by the citizenry in neighborhood assemblies. To win, a candidate must receive more than 50% of the vote.

Elections were held for delegates to Provincial Assemblies and for deputies to the National Assembly of People's Power (parliament) in January 2008. That February the VII National Assembly was convened and a new Council of State was elected. This Council represents the National Assembly between sessions.4 In the 2009 parliamentary session, at the behest of President Raúl Castro, the vote to form the new government of the Republic was postponed, pending a thorough analysis of the restructuring required for greater administrative efficiency. To that end, changes began taking place in 2008, such as: the elimination of structures parallel to government institutions that interfere with or supplant them, the restructuring of several ministries, changes in the bylaws of the current cabinet, and the replacement of several ministers and other officials.

Although many have traditionally posited an absolute antithesis between reform and revolution (defining the latter as a more radical and profound change), in the particular circumstances of a political transition to socialism – which is a revolutionary process – reforms are also valid and lead to corrective changes, thus rectifying processes that do not meet the requirements of the transition or that have taken a wrong turn or do not meet demands of the populace.

This is a vision based on Marxist socialism, by which we mean a revolutionary socialism, authentic, more human, more democratic and broadly participatory, more renovating and creative, country-specific, and free from the kind of doctrinaire, dogmatic preconceptions and other misrepresentations that caused the collapse of Eastern Europe and the USSR and that, to a certain extent, have also affected Cuban socialism, despite its significant achievements, its great feat of resistance, and the survival of the Revolution.

The essence of revolutionary, classical Marxist socialism, espoused by the great thinkers of critical Marxism including Marx himself, which incorporates reestablishment and renovation in its process, cannot be confused with the deformed models that claim to set themselves up as theoretical and practical standards par excellence. From this perspective, reforms cannot be limited to electoral processes or systems, or to rhetorical or formal exercises, but instead should be extended to other areas like combating corruption, demanding accountability of public servants, and moving toward more democracy and increased political participation by broader and more diverse sectors of the population.

Cuba has also experienced significant advances in foreign affairs in recent years and now enjoys relations with all Latin American countries. Cuba has served as Chair of the Non-Aligned Movement for the last two years, contributing to its greater activity and cohesion. In 2008, the UN general assembly adopted a resolution against the US blockade for the 17th consecutive time. Later that same year in Brazil, the Rio Group unanimously approved Cuba’s membership. Cuba actively participated in the Latin American and Caribbean Integration and Development summit and the MERCOSUR (Common Market of the South) conference. At the first meeting, a resolution condemning the US blockade against Cuba was unanimously adopted.

The country also hosted major international meetings such as the Third Cuba- CARICOM (Caribbean Community) Summit in December 2008, which for the first time was attended by the presidents of all the member countries, and the Ministerial Meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement Coordination Bureau in April 2009, in preparation for the subsequent presidents’ summit in Cairo. In addition, Cuba received many Heads of State/Government in 2008 and 2009, as well as important personalities from every continent in the fields of politics, economics, religion, science and culture.

The global movement for repatriation of five Cubans imprisoned in the US for fighting against terrorist groups operating with impunity in southern Florida is growing. The aid received in the wake of three powerful hurricanes in Cuba was substantial and urgently needed. The restoration of Cuba’s full participation in hemispheric organizations and events has become a demand of the region’s countries both at multilateral events and in bilateral talks involving a growing number of governments and parliaments. It was one of the central topics at the Summit of the Americas held in April 2009.

The purpose of this article to clarify the Cuban concept of democracy, via a brief analysis of the political reforms of the 1990s, and to propose for consideration possible further reforms.

Political Reforms of the 1990s: Strengthening Legitimacy Up until the late 1980s, the legitimacy of the Cuban political system had been increasing, as a result of various fundamental consensus-building factors:5 1) entrenched nationalism, understood in Cuba as revolutionary patriotism; 2) economic and political independence or national liberation; 3) the recognized authority and charisma of Revolutionary leaders who enjoy a strong connection with broad sectors of the population; 4) the incorporation of young people into the system of political leadership; and 5) redistribution of economic, social, cultural and social wealth based on equality, justice and broad social participation in an effort to satisfy the basic material and spiritual needs of the people. The institutionalization of the political system that began in the mid-’70s led to the adoption of a new socialist Constitution, the establishment of People's Power assemblies throughout the country, and the implementation of elections as a regular political practice.

Although the new institutions and political relations established in that historical period were positive overall, in the ‘80s weaknesses and mistakes became apparent. Some had internal causes but others originated from copying distorted aspects of the Euro-Soviet model. These included serious errors in economic and labor policy; excessive centralization; a marked tendency toward rigidity in administrative methods; bureaucracy and lack of control systems; formalism in political and ideological activities; triumphalism; lack of critical, objective analysis by the mass media; the closed nature of the Party’s internal operations (Machado 1990: 154-56); and other undesirable practices.

Cuba’s cultural, economic, political and social development, coupled with international events in the early ‘90s, compelled further democratization of the society in transition, leading to a new period of political change in Cuba.6 Democratization means the process by which democracy is exercised, developed and improved. From a critical Marxist perspective it is understood as a governmental system that first and foremost guarantees real power and the broadest and most effective participation of all social sectors in guiding economic, political, social, and cultural processes. This cannot be purely formal or restricted to electoral processes, but must instead cover all spheres of society as well as take different routes and forms. In a society in transition to socialism, democracy is also transitional and inclusive.

Most importantly, the IV Congress of the Communist Party (1991) recommended to the State several democratic reforms. It is worth noting that the Party, according to the Cuban Constitution, "is the highest leading force of society and the State." It does not nominate or elect candidates but it is undoubtedly the ruling party7 and, therefore, it makes recommendations to the State. It is noteworthy that political reforms were undertaken during the most critical period experienced by the Cuban Revolution. They came in the midst of the manifestly negative impact of the collapse of the socialist bloc of Eastern Europe and the USSR. The collapse itself was not a determining factor – as some claim – but it did accelerate the reforms.

The major changes of the ‘90s affected the entire system; they can be summarized as follows:8

1. Functional and structural changes giving greater authority to the Assemblies of People’s Power at all levels and especially to the municipal delegates. The most important changes were the establishment of People's Councils (Garcia Brigos 1998: 58-88) and free, direct, secret and universal elections for delegates to provincial assemblies and deputies to the National Assembly, complementing the direct election of municipal and district delegates already established in 1976.

The president, vice-president, and secretary of the National Assembly and the Council of State of the Republic of Cuba, including the Council’s own president, are elected from among the National Assembly delegates (Constitution of the Republic of Cuba 2002: Articles 69-75). The president of the Council of State must first be elected as a deputy, i.e., must first be proposed as a candidate, nominated by a municipal assembly, included on the ballot and elected by over 50% of the voters in the electoral district of the municipality in which the nomination was made. This is never spoken of in foreign publications. Instead they claim that Cuba’s principal political leaders are not subject to any kind of election.

It is necessary to clarify that the provincial and national elections are not competitive in Cuba, but rather there is a single slate of candidates. Municipal elections are competitive, but not in the sense of a race between parties. Municipal candidates are not nominated by the Communist Party; instead, the local electorate directly elects its municipal delegates based on their prestige, authority, professionalism and civic ethics. Up to 50% of the candidates for national deputies and provincial delegates are nominated from among the municipal delegates, and the rest are nominated by the nomination committees based on proposals made by social and mass organizations and other entities according to their particular interests.

2. Constitutionally recognized diversification of forms of ownership of the means of production, to include joint ventures, partnerships, associations and even a certain amount of small-scale private ownership. Political/economic perspectives on ownership under socialism remain controversial. Today's Cuba needs to further its study of the relationship between three issues: the socialist economy; the socio-economic prosperity of every individual; and private initiative in certain sectors, in order to urgently find ways to increase production, services and wages and to raise the citizenry’s quality of life. Prosperity, i.e. material and spiritual welfare, is essential also in socialism, but with rationality, not based on unsustainable runaway consumerism.

3. Reaffirmed recognition, respect and constitutional guarantee of religious freedom. The Cuban State was declared secular, and discrimination on religious grounds was expressly prohibited.

4. Recognition that religious persons may join the Communist Party. This far-reaching reform has expanded the party’s social base and contributed to the gradual disappearance of religious prejudices.

5. Simplification of Party structures in order to establish closer ties between the central leadership and rank-and-file members; changing the style and methods of the party, which are in need of renewal.

6. Revitalization of exemplary workers’ assemblies as the primary, and nearly only, route to membership in the Party. These changes are reflected in three regulatory documents: the Constitution of the Republic, as amended by the National Assembly in 1992;9 the New Electoral Law of 1992; and the Statutes of the Communist Party.

The Most Recent Elections in Cuba: Some Thoughts for Political Analysis The Cuban political system has historically enjoyed the support of the majority of the population, regardless of the shortcomings and errors mentioned in this article. This is illustrated by the results of the three general elections since 1992, when the New Electoral Law went into effect.10 Some figures will help us to understand this. Consider the most recent general election starting September 2007 and culminating on February 24, 2008 with the election of the president of the National Assembly and the president of the Council of State.

The October 2007 elections to choose municipal assembly delegates yielded the following results. In the first round, 96.49% of constituents voted. The valid ballots accounted for 92.99% of the total, 3. 93% were blank, and 3.08% were spoiled. In the first two rounds of voting 15, 232 delegates were elected, 27.3% of them women and 16.9% from the younger generations. Among those selected at the polls, 42.04% were incumbents, receiving important recognition of for their work; and 57.95% were new delegates, demonstrating the dynamism of the process, the rigor and exigency of the electorate, and the logical and necessary turnover of the Municipal Assemblies. In addition, more than a third of those elected were not Party members.11

Final official results of direct, secret elections on January 20, 2008 for provincial delegates and national deputies show the following. 8,231,365 citizens voted (96.89%), 614 national deputies were elected along with 1,201 provincial delegates. In the case of national deputies, 95.24% of ballots were valid, 3.73% blank and 1.04% void. Of valid votes 90.90% supported the united vote, meaning that they voted for all candidates on the slate as a whole (the slates for provincial delegates and national deputies are set by the nominating committees). In the election of provincial delegates, 95.46% of the ballots were valid, 3.46% blank and 1.08% void. The united vote won 90.94% of the vote.12

Observing certain trends in the Cuban electoral process is interesting and useful for political analysis and for providing recommendations to the Party and government. In a quick review, three results stand out. First, high rates of participation have been maintained, with very little sign of decline: 92.97% in 1993, the most difficult year of the "special period," 98.35% in 1998, 97.61% in 2003 and 96.89% in 2008. Second, the united vote (voting for the whole slate), although still the majority choice, has shown a slight downward trend: 95.96% in 1993, 94.39% in 1998, 91.35% in 2003 and 90.90% in 2008. Could this be interpreted as continued growth of what some call "the critical revolutionary vote," i.e., those who do not accept unanimity in everything and criticize aspects of the revolutionary process, while essentially supporting it? Is it a warning sign that there are possible cracks, insufficiencies or flaws in the candidate nomination processes?  Third, as to quality of voting: since 1993 the rate of valid votes has remained high, with minor fluctuations: 92.67% in 1993, 95% in 1998, and 96.14% in 2003 and 95.24% in 2008.

There are two more aspects to consider. First, regional differences in the degree of agreement with the Revolution as expressed by the vote and how that relates to the cultural, social, economic, and political peculiarities of different areas, merit in-depth study.13 In some cases differences may be understood by the complexities of the region, with the capital and other large cities showing higher rates of dissent. Or perhaps it has to do not with a decline of general revolutionary consensus but rather with concrete instances of discontent with Party and government management in particular locales, or with other factors.

The second aspect is related to the occasionally significant difference in the percentage of votes received by an individual provincial delegate or national deputy candidate. This could be seen as a warning regarding the quality of the process used for proposing and nominating candidates and the logical and natural demand for periodic turnover.

The Cuban Government’s Political Discourse 2006-09: In Search of a New Consensus? The smooth succession of power has inevitably brought with it changes reflecting socioeconomic and political factors, the international and regional environment, the particular moment in history and the personality, methods and styles of the leader. This is not just a matter of whether one or another person is president, or of whether there are differences between them. Cuba already experienced major economic and political reforms in the mid-’70s and again during the first half of the ‘90s under the direction of the same historic leader. The new economic and historico-political context likewise demands reforms. Key ideas were put forward by President Raúl Castro between 2007 and 2009.14 These should be subjected to extensive popular debate. They include:

1. Changes aimed at satisfying the basic material and spiritual needs of the people by continually strengthening the economy and its productive base. This requires a comprehensive analysis of the issue of dual currency.15 This analysis should take into account the production of material goods, the wage system, retail prices, free or heavily subsidized goods (gratuidades), and the millions in irrational and unsustainable subsidies.16 2. Respect for and improvement of political institutions.

3. The need to make state institutions and government management more efficient, create a more compact and functional government structure, ease bureaucracy, and utilize administrative offices better and make them more efficient.

4. Gradual elimination of excessive prohibitions and regulations after a comprehensive study of the more complex ones, looking at their political and legal implications as well as foreign influences.17

5. The need to determine priorities and the pace of addressing them on the basis of the economic and financial resources available and of a deep, rational and collective analysis by the Party, the State and government, after direct consultation with the citizenry, whether a particular sector or – on matters of great importance – the entire population.

6. Ensured fulfillment of the Parliament’s mission not just through its balanced make-up, but also through the ability of its deputies and standing committees to operate in an intelligent, organized, creative and energetic way toward solving the problems discussed.18

7. Party cadres to monitor the implementation of economic measures not through reports and meetings, but instead through direct dialogue with producers.

These ideas correspond to the essential needs of Cuban society and demonstrate a political will to change. Many of them reflect demands put forward by the public in the national political debate convened by President Raúl Castro following his speech on July 26, 2007. Raúl Castro initiated an "open" discussion about social and economic problems among the ranks of the Communist Party, the Young Communist League, the mass organizations, students, and workers at their workplaces. The result was majority support for the socialist project, but with criticism regarding inadequate wages, the dual currency system, high prices for goods in hard currency, low agricultural production, regulations and prohibitions on citizens, the housing problem, the State press, hypocrisy (doble moral), and other issues.19

After completing the round of meetings in October 2007, the information obtained was systematized and classified for consideration by the government. In response the government has been taking steps to eliminate bureaucratic obstacles and prohibitions that irritate the public. Structural reforms (related to the economy, government organization, etc.) require more time and thought and will come about gradually. In fact, so far (mid-2009), in addition to the aforementioned government changes, the allocation of idle land to individuals and groups in usufruct for food production has been stepped up and is seen as a matter of national security. Some prohibitions have been eliminated and the plethora of regulations is being gradually simplified in an effort to prevent over-criminalization, i.e. unnecessary laws, regulations and prohibitions that are obstacles to initiative, creativity and ethical behavior.

The people’s demands define national priorities, especially those pertaining to the economy. They emphasize: 1) basic socialist democratic principles, such as rational and collective political decision-making that includes wide public consultation; 2) ongoing improvement in political structure to achieve greater efficiency (entailing analysis not only of the State, but also of the entire political apparatus and its operations, including the Communist Party and other organizations); 3) respect for political institutions (a matter the public has been debating for some time and which must put an end to disorder, impulsiveness (espontaneismo), arbitrariness, corruption, and other negative practices); 4) a dynamic and creative Parliament, geared toward greater influence and control over the government apparatus and a greater willingness to debate issues, as society becomes more complex and as the range of alternative policies widens); and 5) direct dialogue between Party leaders and producers (which should be extended to include all manager-worker relationships).

A number of crucial questions, typical in socialist debate, will need to be resolved in order to assure the continued legitimacy of the Cuban regime. These revolve around the conflicted relationship between reform and revolution, between social and private ownership, between the need for developing productive capacity and developing socialist consciousness, between equality and egalitarianism, between moral incentives and necessary material incentives, between centralization and decentralization in economic management and governance, and between formal representation and real participation.

The political discourse of 2008 and 2009 has provided some preliminary answers, but specific and wide-ranging discussion must continue. First of all, a rational, flexible, and environmentally sound economic model, suitable to the present stage of socialist development, must be designed. It should employ management tools that raise the standard of living and encourage the role of labor as the main source of individual wellbeing and collective wealth. This requires giving priority to fulfilling the socialist principle of distribution, which Cuban socialism has not yet achieved: from each according to his ability, to each according to his work. It will also be necessary to identify feasible improvements in the political structure of society, in the operations of political institutions and organizations, and in the electoral system.

Transition to What? Some Possible Reforms of the Cuban Political System

Following the initial conceptual criteria, the Cuban political system can be defined as: the set of organizations and institutions (PCC, State, UJC,20 mass organizations, professional organizations, other social groups and workplace assemblies); the internal relationships established within that structure and between it and society as a whole; the Republic’s political or legal rules or regulations such as the Socialist Constitution, laws, and the statutes and bylaws of the Party and other organizations; as well as the cultural and ideological policies aimed at defending the achievements of socialism and ensuring continuity in Cuba’s revolutionary process of socialist development. The values of this system are clear, and have made it possible to keep a high level of political consensus. Flaws and shortcomings are also evident and have been recognized both in official political discourse and in Cuban academic circles.

Political debates have been abundant over the last two years (2007-09). A recurrent theme is rejection of the deep-rooted but long questioned thesis of the irreversibility of socialism. Until recently it was still taboo to challenge this thesis in Cuba, despite experts’ repeated calls for discussion. In 2005, then President Fidel Castro himself put it “on the agenda” in his speech at the Aula Magna of the University of Havana on November 17, stating that the Cuban revolutionary process could be reversed  not necessarily by external factors, but rather as a result of internal errors (Fidel Castro 2005). President Raúl Castro has also taken up the matter.

The purpose and length of this article preclude detailing shortcomings, although we mention the most relevant ones, and some of the reforms we discuss respond to them. Projections of possible new reforms also reveal shortcomings, either explicitly or implicitly.21 Our objective here is to understand the development of the reforms in terms of the totality of the process, viewing the economic, social, cultural and political dimensions in their interaction with one another. Further improvement of Cuba's political system could generate new reforms, along the following lines:

1. Gradually increase the still insufficient real power and authority of municipal and provincial delegates and national deputies, which should be more broadly and clearly reflected in the country’s laws and political practices. Municipal delegates should attain greater professionalism in government and a higher level of specialization and expertise. Delegates must receive adequate training as well as the time and the financial support to carry out their duties. This would reinforce the municipal assemblies of people's power as the highest local expression of state authority and the only one authorized by law to nominate candidates for election to provincial and national government.

2. Improve the mechanisms of public participation so that the people not only vote, but also share in developing and making all the country's strategic policy decisions, including economic policy, and in proposing and adopting key laws, without excessive formality or interference on the part of leaders and officials. How will the effectiveness of participation be determined? That is an issue left essentially unresolved by liberal theories and the capitalist system. Marxist political science and socialist experiences have not completely solved it either, although they have offered some advanced theories and practical examples in the pursuit of that political ideal.

Cubans’ previous experiences of national debate include the discussions used to approve the Socialist Constitution (1975-76), to prepare for the historic IV Party Congress (1990-91), and to organize workers’ assemblies (1994). All were landmark experiences of political participation. The workers’ assemblies of 1994 were held at the behest of the National Assembly in an effort to build consensus on implementation of the major economic reforms of the ‘90s. For the first time, the Assembly deputies could not reach consensus on the reforms. Opinions were so divided and polarized that they were forced to deepen the debate and study the matter further. This showed the deputies’ political maturity and ought to be a more regular feature of parliamentary practice. Instead of using "shock therapy" – fashionable at the time, but not typical of a socialist regime – the national parliament delegated some of its functions to workplace assemblies. Once consensus was reached among them, a special session of the National Assembly was convened to pass the reforms accepted by the majority of the country’s workers.

The other two aforementioned experiences were of similar scope, but are little spoken of abroad and even within Cuba itself. Taking into account the unique qualities of political and mass organizations, agencies and institutions, as well as the enormous potential and often ignored abilities of men and women at the grassroots, Cuban political scientists should identify future opportunities for such participation. It should be regularly encouraged in future debates on national strategies. All sectors and social groups have much to say on these matters. Initiatives "from above" (Party or government leadership) should be more strongly integrated with proposals “from below.” Through organizations and associations, the general population should be involved in making decisions, promoting new laws and repealing or modifying obsolete ones, as well as posing solutions to not only local problems but also national ones, such as designing the economic model and restructuring the government.

Particularly interesting is the aforementioned national political debate convened by President Raúl Castro to discuss the main points of his July 26, 2007 speech. That debate involved more than 5 million people, and nearly 50% of the proposals expressed a critical stance toward the country's problems. Those proposals are being taken into account in newly suggested legislation. Equally important was the national discussion by all workers regarding the 2008 draft Social Security Law, which Parliament approved.

3. Expand and improve delegates’ periodic reports to their constituents. In order for this process to be comprehensive and democratic, it needs to be less formalistic and not limited to elected bodies of People’s Power, where it does not operate efficiently, in that it is restricted in practice to the work of municipal delegates. It would make sense to have the presentation of such reports – whether to elected bodies or to the general public – be a regular duty of all elected representatives, including all leaders (elected or not) of State entities and political and mass organizations.

4. Strengthen and systematize the periodic replacement of political actors, including a gradual turnover of all officials of the political system and all positions (elected or not) within the representative bodies of the State and all State entities. This will contribute to a dynamic political system at all levels, help to systematize the necessary renewal of ideas for ways to build socialism, and stimulate the emergence of new and more democratic styles and methods of leadership and management.

5. Strengthen institutionalism and increase the efficiency of State institutions and, especially, of the government. No component of the political structure should confuse its own role and responsibilities with those of others, nor should any component supplant others. Such confusion was an unwise feature of the socialist model of Eastern Europe and the USSR. This type of error has also occurred in Cuba at various points in history. The institutional structure achieved by the Revolution must not be supplanted by non-institutional, parallel mechanisms, as it is this structure that has provided legitimacy to the political system and is one of the most significant achievements of Cuban democracy. Subverting institutions and replacing them with parallel decision-making mechanisms undermines legitimacy. This does not refer to non-governmental organizations (NGOs), but rather to certain mechanisms that in practice duplicate and replace the functions of ministries and other bodies. In the years 2007-09, many important steps of reflection and rectification have been taken to address these matters.

6. Improve the electoral system in the following ways:

a) Increasingly subject more positions to direct election by the citizenry. Direct elections for provincial delegates and national deputies since 1992 have been a very positive change, but potential has been left untapped, not only within the structure of People’s Power, but also within political organizations and the Party.

b) Enhance the composition of the candidacy commissions, which are the bodies created by the 1992 Electoral Law to assist the electoral commissions in proposing candidates for provincial delegates and national deputies. Their proposals are then submitted for nomination by the relevant Municipal Assemblies and then election by the people. Greater flexibility in selecting the members of these committees is needed, keeping the representatives of mass organizations and adding specialists, with solid scientific-political training and national or local prestige, as full members or as direct advisers.

c) Enhance democracy by restoring the role of the Municipal Assemblies in proposing and nominating candidates for provincial delegates and national deputies. It is advisable to prevent the candidacy commissions from monopolizing the power to propose candidates and depriving the assemblies – the highest bodies of authority in each territory – of this responsibility. The problem is that the 1992 Electoral Law gave the candidacy commissions greater power than the local assemblies in proposing candidates for provincial delegates and national deputies.

d) Redouble opportunities for municipal delegates to move up into the national and provincial legislatures. On this and the previous point, the 1992 Electoral Law would to some extent have to give way to the earlier law (Garcia Brigos 1998). A possible new electoral law should give greater power to local assemblies and reestablish as an inviolable rule that no less than 50% of the provincial delegates and national deputies come from the district. The current Electoral Law states "... up to 50 %...," which has resulted in lower rates (for example 46.5% in 2003). Given the strategic policy decisions made by the socialist parliament, this percent difference is not negligible. A new law could raise this proportion even higher than 50% as better delegates emerge from the base. This would thwart any tendency toward reducing the representative character of the local delegates in the national and provincial assemblies and would impede any open or disguised elitism. This issue is also important because new municipal delegates are elected every two and half years, meaning that many are replaced half way through the cycle of the provincial and national assemblies. This diminishes the percentage of municipal delegates in those assemblies.

e) Establish a longer interval between the elections for municipal delegates and for provincial delegates and national deputies, within the general election cycle, in order to ensure that the local delegates gain more practical experience and that the electorate is more familiar with them. This would result in a more conscious and effective nomination and election, by the assemblies and the electorate respectively, of the provincial and national representatives. Alternatively, the term of municipal delegates could be extended to five years, which would mean enhanced practical and political preparation and better utilization of their experience in representative, participatory and deliberative operations of the State. This would present no risk since the Constitution and the law provide mechanisms for recalling elected officials.

f) Strengthen the connection between provincial delegates and national deputies and the districts they represent, giving constituents more influence over their representatives.22 7. Further decentralize economic, social, political and cultural management, stimulating the masses to greater creativity.

8. Strengthen responsiveness to individually differentiated social demands and hence the rejection of egalitarianism (which is not the same as either equality or social justice). In this author's opinion, equality is a concept that refers to rules for distributing scarce resources (a function of the political system) in which there is parity in the treatment of people. However, not everyone necessarily gets the same allocation; instead the rules of distribution are applied in an unbiased manner. Egalitarianism, on the other hand, is an erroneous conception of equality that excludes individuality. It is an economic, political and cultural tendency that promotes an apparently equal treatment and allocation of goods for all. It rules out differential allocation of resources to sectors and individuals based on the quantity, quality and complexity of their work and the contributions they make to social wealth. It is an underestimation or even a denial of the Marxist principle of distributing resources according to the quantity and quality of one’s material or spiritual production.

Confronting unequal and unjust egalitarianism of course does not rule out compliance with another principle: distribution in accordance with the goals of social consumption funds created by socialism, that is, funds for social spending. One must thus allow both for allocations to the population as a whole and for subsidies not to products but rather to specific sectors or groups. "Socialism means social justice and equality, but equality of rights and opportunities, not income. Equality is not egalitarianism. This, ultimately, is a form of exploitation ... " (Raúl Castro, July 11, 2008). The relative and incomplete character of equality suggests that its most appropriate definition, in terms of a socialist goal, would be the greatest possible social justice. And that is a primarily political task. 9. Continually expand the political role of workplace organizations as basic components of the participatory democratic system.23 These represent a kind of "micro-system" within the “macro” political system. In them are concentrated, on a micro-scale, the main elements of the Cuban political system: the Party (represented by a cell or a committee); the State (by the managers); the UJC (by one or more local committees); Cuba’s labor federation, the CTC (by a union local or its executive committee); and diverse professional organizations. Thus, proper workplace relations are developed, based on rules and regulations and on a cultural and political ideology in line with the goals of the workplace and of the socialist society as a whole. To strengthen the workers’ political role is to give them greater power.

10. Establish complementarity between geographical representatives and workers’ workplace representatives, which was not achieved in previous socialist experiences and which has taken on new importance in light of continuing economic transformations, out of which new economic and social actors have emerged since the 1990s. A primary objective would be to reinforce socialist economic and political actors. Labor representation would mean the election of delegates and deputies in major enterprises and other entities around the country, giving more authority to the corresponding workforces and enabling municipal assemblies to exert greater popular control over the activity of these institutions.

11. Develop a democratic culture debate and discussion. This is a major challenge for the Cuban political system. As the distinguished Cuban social scientist Aurelio Alonso has clearly stated, the Leninist principle of "democratic centralism" should not be one of entrusting the centralist dimension to decide and leaving the democratic one to approve. Rather, it should mean that every centralized action is subject to what is democratically decided, through, of course, the necessary deliberative process (Alonso 2007).

Ideology would play a role in this; again, we see it as a system of plural ideas that advocates unity in diversity, that is, a unity that is not necessarily unanimous, with everyone thinking alike or having the same view on all affairs (an impossibility in our contemporary, complex and contradictory societies). In the words of Martí, it is a unity of organization, thought and action, but not of "subservient opinion"; unity regarding revolutionary socialist strategic objectives, but not regarding the tactics, methods and means for their implementation. It is an ideology of the Cuban Revolution, as discussed below in relation to the Party.

12. Improve the Communist Party’s internal mechanisms of democracy, its style and work methods, and its interrelations with other components of the political system and the relationships among those components themselves. Greater democratization of the Party’s internal operations and of its dealings with the entire political system – as a force that will bring together more efficiently and creatively all sectors of the population; whose leadership adopts a discourse that is increasingly well argued, updated, contextualized and scientific; that encourages more direct, participatory and innovative electoral processes within the party; that promotes wider and more open debate within its ranks; that is more sensitive at the personal level; and whose style and methods are increasingly participatory, clear and convincing in the eyes of its own members and the public – all this would allow the Party to remain a legitimate leading force of society and the State.

Some of the electoral mechanisms within the State – such as the expansion of direct elections – could be applied to the Party. As the only Party, it must be more democratic than those in a multi-party system. It must ensure popular control, at least by its base, over the entire Party structure and must guarantee accountability of Party leaders to rank-and-file members and, why not, to the public, given that there should be no organization or directive operating outside the Constitution, the law, or popular control. Its expanding leadership role must be based not on formal Constitutional sanction, but rather on popular support, thus ensuring unity around the broadest socialist objectives. Innovations related to the Party – the most immediate precedents being those of the ‘90s – would consolidate and legitimize it not as a party of just one class or ideology or worldview, but rather as representative of the broadest popular sectors of the entire Cuban nation, with an ideology of the Revolution common to all those who choose patriotism, sovereignty, national independence, equality (not egalitarianism), the greatest possible social justice, national unity, anti-imperialism, and an authentic and revitalized socialism appropriate to the characteristics of the country.

In any case, the Cuban political system must preserve and strengthen its socialist nature, the unity of the people, the nation’s sovereignty and independence, social justice, and the continuity of people’s power, while continuing to develop true democracy. The transition to socialism can only be irreversible if socialist political power is constantly improved. That power, in turn, can only be truly irrevocable if it is permanently legitimized through effective popular participation in political decisions and if, through this process, it succeeds in better satisfying the basic rational needs of individuals, both material and spiritual. Notes

1. The concept of transition is understood here in the classical Marxist sense, i.e., the transformation of society toward a higher stage of socialism as a system, as opposed to the notion of regressing to capitalism. In this article, transition refers to the revolutionary transformation from capitalism to socialism in all spheres of economic, political, social and cultural development. We are not talking about the “transition to democracy” that aims to restore liberal (bourgeois) democracy as the only model. The issue is more complex in the Cuban case because this latter concept of "transition" is part of the US interventionist and subversive project as outlined in the Report to the President by the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba that was approved by the Bush administration in 2004 and reaffirmed in 2006.

2. Political legitimacy in a particular system is achieved when there is a consensus, recognition and social acceptance of that system. Illegitimate power ceases to be power and becomes nothing more than domination. According to Maurice Duverger, "... the only basis, the only source of legitimate power, is when it conforms to the scheme defined by the system of values and norms of the community where it is exercised and there is internal consensus regarding said scheme" (Duverger 1983: 184). Political consensus – without which no legitimacy is possible – is agreement or affinity among members of a society regarding cultural values and norms, as well as social goals and means to achieve them. It is expressed in the acceptance and social recognition of a political system. Two factors that characterize the Marxist approach to legitimacy and consensus are: the emphasis on real and effective participation of broad sectors of the population in policy-making, and the prominence in political relations of an ethic that stresses socialist political values.

3. The point of departure is the idea of not limiting the concept of a political system to include only the political structure or organization of a society, but rather seeing it to include also other elements such as: relations within the political organizations and their relationship to society as a whole; regulatory elements of the system (political and legal norms, especially the Constitution and the laws of a country); and the political culture and ideology aimed at strengthening, developing and maintaining a particular social system (see Duharte 2004 and 2006). It also defines the concept of the political system of socialist transition to be a combination of: the Party; State; youth, mass, and professional organizations, and to comprise agencies and institutions that guide the process of building the new society and serve as vehicles for the increasingly active participation of the populace in the direction of economic, political and social processes (Duharte 2006b: 301f).

4. The president and vice president of the Council of State are known in other countries as President and Vice President of the Republic. But the Cuban political system is not presidential.

5. For details, see Duharte 2004.

6. For details on previous periods, see Duharte 2006b: 301-23.

7. At the end of the article I will revisit the theme of the Cuban Communist Party as a leading force and the ways to reform and improve it.

8. For a full exposition, see Duharte 2006c.

9. A new Constitutional reform was introduced in 2002. Articles were added that ratified the irrevocability of socialism, which does not mean that socialism is "untouchable" – a term that was used in an early stage of these debates but which is incompatible with the affirmation that the system is not static or inflexible, but rather can be improved by corrections and reforms.

10. The general elections of January 11, 1998 for delegates to the provincial assemblies and deputies to the National Assembly displayed high rates of participation, vote quality (percentage of votes that are valid), and full-slate votes. Women, young people, and other social sectors were well represented and there was significant turnover. A complex process of selection via meetings held by the candidacy commissions occurred at all levels (for details see Granma, January 13 and February 25, 1998). The results of the 2003 elections were not much different: a slight decrease in participation, an increased vote quality, a slight decrease in full-slate votes, an increase in the number of women, Afro-Cubans, and mixed race representatives. Municipal delegates made up just under 50% of the Parliament (See figures in Lezcano, 2003: 92; Granma, March 7, 2003).

11. For more detail see Granma, October 27, 2007: 1-2, and October 30, 2007: 1.

12. Granma, January 1, 2008: 3.

13. Studies of the vote-quality and of regional differences must be expanded. Such studies would be strategically important in making decisions. Sufficient data do not currently exist. Vote-quality is more often mentioned in Cuban publications, although it is not subject to rigorous political analysis. Regional differences are less frequently addressed and are only alluded to in the press and in a few studies (such as Lezcano 2003).

14. See bibliography for a listing of his pertinent speeches.

15. Cuba has two simultaneously circulating currencies: the Cuban national peso for use by the Cuban population, and the convertible peso which is pegged to hard currency and is for use in Cuba by foreigners and Cubans with access to hard currency.

16. Not all citizens have access to the convertible peso via their salary. Here gratuidadesdoes not refer to important social gains of the people, which will be maintained, but rather to claims that are irrational, unjustified and unsustainable.

17. Prohibitions have to do with such things as holding more than one job (which was approved in 2009) or staying in tourist hotels designed for foreigners (also resolved, although prices keep the hotels out of reach). There are still limitations on offering private services or running small businesses, as well as excessively strict migratory and foreign travel regulations, etc.

18. Standing committees are in most cases made up not of professional experts, but rather of deputies who at certain times of the year are granted leave from their jobs in order to carry out parliamentary duties.

19. Doble moral in Cuba refers to the psychological, political and moral attitude of individuals who manifest a double standard between their public stances and their private behaviors.

20. Unión de Jóvenes Comunistas or League of Communist Youth.

21. See Duharte 2008; Garcia Brigos 1998; Hernández 2003; Lezcano 2003; Machado 1990; Martínez Heredia 2005.

22. For more information see García Brigos 1998: 100-108; Duharte 1998, 2006c, 2007, and 2008.

23. In the theoretical canon, workplace assemblies were not viewed as part the political system of a society in transition to socialism. The idea began to take shape in the social science literature of socialist countries in the first half of the ‘80s, owing to the increasing sociopolitical role of these assemblies and the need to scientifically ground the ways of improving that role. Unfortunately this did not happen.


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Castro Ruz, Fidel (2005). Speech at the Commemoration of the 60th Anniversary of his admission to the University of Havana, Aula Magna of the University of Havana, November 17.

Castro Ruz, Raúl (2007). Speech at the main 26th of July celebration in the city of Camagüey and in the final session of the VI Parliament of the National Assembly of People’s Power (ANPP) in December.

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