From May 14 through May 16, the National Assembly of People’s Power of Cuba met in extraordinary session to approve eight new laws. Its constitutes yet one example more of the advanced character of Cuban people’s democracy, a superior alternative to the representative democracy of the Western capitalist societies. It is an alternative that is invisible to the Western media and the defenders of the capitalist world-economy and the neocolonial world-system; yet it is an alternative that has emerged precisely in a historic time period in which the inherent limitations of representative democracies are increasingly evident to their own peoples.
The Cuban system of people’s democracy in historic context
The Cuban wars of independence against colonial Spain provoked the U.S. military intervention of 1898, which provided the foundation of an “independent” republic under U.S. control. The Cuban neocolonial republic of 1902 to 1959 was characterized by a ruling political class totally subordinated to U.S. economic interests. Its two-party system of representative democracy was interrupted by four dictatorships that accumulated more than twenty years. Its indignity was accentuated by highly visible gambling and prostitution in the capital city of Havana, controlled by the Italian-American mafia in cooperation with the Cuban government. It was structured to ensure that the nutritional, housing, educational, and health needs of the people were systematically ignored.
On July 26, 1953, a young lawyer named Fidel Castro led an armed attack on the Moncada military barracks in Santiago de Cuba, with the intention of seizing arms to initiate an armed struggle from the mountains. Although the attack failed, the political conditions enabled him to put forth a revolutionary political program: the taking of political power by the people through armed struggle; and the taking of decisive steps by the revolutionary government in defense of the sovereignty of the nation and the needs of the people. Such steps, clearly formulated in 1953, included: agrarian reform and land redistribution; profit-sharing for industrial workers; expansion and diversification of industry; expansion of education and more secure employment for the professional classes; and attention to universal needs in education, housing and health, especially evident in the countryside.
The implementation of the revolutionary project in the period 1959 to 1962 changed the political dynamic of the nation. The political class, many of whom were complicit in corruption from 1952 to 1959, fled. The Cuban industrial elite was initially included in the revolutionary project, invited to participate in the process of independent industrial development; but the Cuban industrial elite opted to leave the country and to participate in the U.S. project of regime change. Foreign ownership of land and companies was eliminated through nationalizations by the revolutionary government, a necessary step to ensure the sovereignty of the nation. The revolutionary government sought to transform the neocolonial relation with the USA; it did not desire to terminate U.S.-Cuban relations. Accordingly, the revolutionary government offered compensation for the extensive nationalizations, to be financed through a fund connected to the USA-Cuba sugar trade. The U.S. government rejected this proposal, embarking instead of a program of regime change, with the support of the emigrant Cuban bourgeoisie.
The political vacuum caused by emigration was filled by mass organizations, which were created or expanded in the period 1959-1961. They included mass organizations of workers, farmers, women, students, and neighborhoods. The participation rate in the mass organizations was in excess of 90%. They have internal democratic structures, in which leaders are elected at the base, and higher levels of leadership are elected by the elected delegates. The leaders of these organizations have played a central role in the nation’s decision-making process, beginning in the early 1960s and continuing to our days, even though there has been a degree of ossification.
In the context of the delegitimation of the traditional political parties and the emergence of mass organizations, the revolutionary leadership undertook the development of a vanguard political party, which was established as the Communist Party of Cuba in 1965. As a vanguard political party, the Party does not seek to develop a mass membership; it selects its members from the most politically aware and committed among the people, arriving to constitute between ten and fifteen percent of the people. As a vanguard political party, the Party guides and educates; it does not decide. The Party calls the people to a certain direction, but it is the people themselves, in their various organizations, that decide. As the guiding voice of the people, the Party plays a central role: but its authority is moral, not legal or constitutional.
The Constitution of 1976 established the structures of people’s power, which stand as the principal alternative structure to those of the representative democracies. The Constitution was developed on a foundation of ample popular participation, and it was approved in referendum by more than 90% of the people. Said Constitution established elections (with secret voting) among two or more candidates that are nominated by the people in a serious of neighborhood nomination assemblies. Some 12,513 delegates of people’s power are elected to five-year terms in voting districts across the island. The elected delegates, who form 169 municipal assemblies, in turn nominate the delegates of the fifteen provincial assemblies as well as the 605 deputies of the National Assembly of People’s Power, whose nominations are confirmed in a second round of voting in the 12,513 voting districts.
Thus constituted, the National Assembly of People’s Power is the highest authority in the nation. It enacts the laws of the nation, and it elects the highest members of the executive and judicial branches to five-year terms, who must render accounts to the National Assembly on a regular basis. The great majority of the deputies of the National Assembly are not professional politicians; they continue with their careers as they serve in the assembly, which generally meets three or four times per year, in regular sessions or in extraordinary sessions when there is need.
In the early 1990s, there were significant changes in Cuban society, which included adjustments in the socialist economy as a result of the collapse of the socialist bloc. And there had been an evolution in values in the nation and the world. Accordingly, the Party leadership arrived to the view that a new constitutional foundation was needed, and it proposed to the National Assembly of People’s Power the development of a new constitution. Responding to the request of the Party, the National Assembly formed a Constitutional Commission from its deputies, which led the nation in the development of various drafts of the new constitution on a foundation of extensive consultation of the people and with the people’s organizations, as well as with specialists in relevant areas. The Constitution of 2019 was approved in referendum by 86.85% of the people.
The Constitution of 2019 preserves the structures of people’s power established in the 1976 Constitution, and it reaffirms the principles of the political, civil, and socioeconomic rights of all citizens. At the same time, it advances further in the development of the structures for the protection of such rights.
The development of a new Constitution required the formulation of new laws, so that the legislation that guides the nation would be fully consistent with the new Constitution. The process was delayed by the pandemic, but it is now proceeding forward. In 2022, seventeen laws are being enacted, all tied to the Constitution of 2019.
Extraordinary Session of May 14 to May 16, 2022
Eight projects of law were approved at the Fifth Extraordinary Session, May 14 to May 16, of the Ninth Legislature of the National Assembly of People’s Power. In Cuba, laws are named by their content, not after particular legislators, because they have numerous authors, and they are understood as laws by and for the people. Before being formally presented to the National Assembly at the Extraordinary Session, the proposed laws had been sent to the deputies, who had discussed and debated the laws in detail in the various legislative commissions of which the deputies are members.
The Food Sovereignty and Food and Nutritional Security Law was presented to the delegates on the first day of the Extraordinary Session by Ydael Jesús Brito, Minister of Agriculture. Its goal is to organize local food systems in order to strengthen food and nutritional security and to attain the food sovereignty of the nation. It seeks to mobilize local resources in a participatory and intersectorial form, thereby strengthening municipal autonomy, one of the goals of the 2019 Constitution.
The foundation to the law was established by the Constitution of 2019, which affirms that the state creates condition for strengthening food security of the entire population; and that all persons have the right to consume goods and services of quality, in accordance with health needs. Cuba supports the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which has the objective of eradicating all forms of hunger and malnutrition, as well as to promote practices of sustainable agriculture and adequate economic and social development.
The Natural Resources and Environment Law protects the environment and natural resources of the country. It was presented to the National Assembly by the Minister of Science, Technology, and Environment (CITMA), Elva Rosa Pérez Montoya. The law recognizes CITMA as the integrating regulator of the policies for the protection and sustainable use of natural resources and the environment, responsible for strategic environmental management. Taking into account international treaties and environmental laws, the law seeks to confront climate change, control contamination, and promote sustainable production and distribution.
The Law on the Protection of Personal Data has been developed in response to the development of advanced digital technologies and the corresponding need to regulate public and private registers, archives and data bases and to regulate the storage and treatment of personal information, including sex, age, image, voice, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, skin color, ethnic origin, migratory condition, physical challenges, religious beliefs, civil state, residence, health data, economic/financial information, academic formation, and employment; including information obtained through the use of protective security cameras. The law establishes the right to the protection of personal data, with recognition that the free access to personal data makes vulnerable the rights of the citizen.
A new Penal Code was presented by Rubén Remigio Ferro, President of the People’s Supreme Court. It replaces the current code, which was approved more than thirty years ago. Remigio noted that the new code was developed with the participation of various relevant ministries as well as judges and professors of law. He noted that the proposed law has various new aspects, including an expanded application of infractions and illicit acts with respect to the environment and stronger sanctions with respect to all forms of discrimination, gender and family violence, and acts against minors and persons with physical challenges. Moreover, with new economic actors present in the Cuban economy, there are stronger penalties for economic or administrative corruption, price speculation, or hoarding. In addition, responding to the U.S. sponsored attack on Cuba in July of this past year, stronger sanctions were developed in relation to the abuse of constitutional rights, participation in subversive activities, and aggressions involving information technology.
The President of the Supreme Court affirmed that the principal sanctions for the most serious crimes continue to be life imprisonment and imprisonment for thirty years. The death penalty is maintained for twenty-three types of serious crimes, to be applied in exceptional circumstances. The death penalty, he noted, has not been implemented since 2005, and all persons who have received the death penalty sentence have had their sentences commuted to life imprisonment. However, in the international conditions in which Cuba lives, the death penalty is maintained, to be applied in any exceptional situation that calls for it.
Remigio further noted that penal sanctions are greater for those crimes related to defense, national security, cyberspace, and activities prioritized for economic development. He also indicated that new types of sanctions have been developed, including house arrest and community services. Longstanding principles, such as the presumption of innocence and the rights of due process, remain in effect.
The Penal Implementation Law also was presented to the deputies of the National Assembly by Rubén Remigio. The law intends to fix with precision the rights, duties, and guarantees of the accused as well as the victims of crimes. Judges, professors and specialists from relevant ministries participated in the formulation of the law. The proposal passed through seventeen drafts before being finalized. The law recognizes the rights of persons deprived of liberty, such as access to work and study as well as family visits and minimal health conditions. The law complies with international standards that have been developed by the United Nations.
The President of the People’s Supreme Court also presented the Law for the Protection of Constitutional Rights. It seeks to make effective the protection of constitutional rights before damages caused by negligent action or omission on the part of the institutions of the state, its directors, functionaries, and employees. Specialists and relevant ministries were consulted in the development of the law. It is foreseen that demands against the state or any of its entities can be presented by individuals damaged or by the attorney general, acting in defense of public interests. This right includes demands with respect to the denial of constitutional rights in previous judicial decisions.
Luis Toledo Santander, President of the Commission for Constitutional and Juridical Affairs, pointed out that the new law is an important step in the construction of a socialist state, because it goes beyond mere declaration of a wide variety of human rights, establishing the legal means for the citizen to make them effective, when they have been ignored or violated by the public administration.
The Law on the Protection of Literary and Artistic Creations was presented to the National Assembly by the Minister of Culture, Alpidio Alonso. He noted that the content of the proposed law had been extensively debated by specialists, creators, artists, and other professionals, and there also has been great interest among the population. The law defines literary and artistic creation as including the fields of literature, art, journalism, science, and education; and accordingly, it includes any written or oral work, drama, choreography, pantomime, audiovisual or cinematic work, photography, architecture, as well as design, painting, recordings, sculpture, and digital programs and applications. It protects the original work of the creators as intellectual property and the right of the author.
The law further reaffirms the right of all persons to access to culture, in accordance with the objectives and principles of the revolution with respect to the diffusion of culture, education, and science.
The Law for the Protection of Natural and Cultural Heritage also was presented to the National Assembly by Alpidio Alonso. He noted that there was ample distribution of the law on various platforms, and the discussion included the participation of great personalities of Cuban culture. The preservation of the heritage of the nation, he noted, has been a concern since the beginnings of the Cuban Revolution, which has seen democratic access to culture as a necessary dimension for the preservation of the cultural heritage of the nation.
Martha del Carmen Mesa Valenciano, President of the Commission on Education, Culture, Science, Technology, and Environment, praised the high value of the proposed law, given its emphasis on the importance of Cuban values and national identity in the context of a cultural war directed against Cuba. The law promotes the defense of the historic memory of the nation and the protection of monuments, historic sites, and popular traditions. It therefore is significant for the construction of socialist society that Cubans today carry forward.
Some socialized in the context of the structures of representative democracy may not like the Cuban system of people’s democracy, with its mass organizations, vanguard political party, and structures of people’s power. But to dismiss the Cuban approach to democracy without having observed and analyzed it violates modern principles of scientific observation and reasoned consideration on a basis of universally held moral principles. Unfortunately, fidelity to science and reasoning is no longer required. We live increasingly in a post-modern philosophical universe, in which a relative truth is invented on a basis of group interests and personal preferences, a situation forged during the twentieth century by the Western bourgeois response to the challenges to its rule constituted by fascism from within, communism from without, and anti-colonial revolutions from below. Central to the necessary creation of a more just, democratic, and sustainable world-system is the forging of a new epistemological consensus on a basis of synthesis of renewed socialisms and anti-colonial revolutions.
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Cuba has an exemplary model of participatory democracy that the US and all nations could learn from.