After a pause of two years caused by the pandemic, Cuba is renewing the rendering of accounts by the delegates of People’s Power before the voters that elected them. The process was initiated on Wednesday, November 10, and it will continue to December 23.
People’s democracy and People’s Power
The delegates are the core dimension of the Cuba’s system of People’s Power. The 12,513 delegates are elected in small voting districts (Cubans say circumscriptions) of 1000-1500 voters (Cubans say electors) across the nation. The elected delegates form 169 municipal assemblies, which elect the deputies of the National Assembly of People’s Power, the highest authority in the nation. In electing the deputies of the National Assembly, the delegates of the municipal assemblies receive recommendations for candidates from representatives of the municipality’s mass organizations of workers (including professionals), farmers, women, and students. I have previously discussed people’s power, placing it in the context of the Cuban system of people’s democracy, which includes an active presence of mass organizations and the guiding and educating role of a vanguard political party, the Communist Party of Cuba.
In addition to electing the deputies of the National Assembly, the delegates of the municipal assemblies have the responsibility of representing the interests of the electors in their circumscriptions before the various entities of the municipal governments. In this duty, the delegates are required to “render accounts” to the electors periodically, at least once a year by law, explaining what they have done since the last rendering of accounts, informing the electors of principal activities being developed in the municipality and the province, and listening to new proposals and concerns of the people. The people have authority over the delegates, inasmuch as they can elect another delegate at the end of the delegate’s term, and they can recall any delegate with a simple majority vote. The elections of delegates normally occur every five years; the electors (voters) cast votes for one of two or more candidates, who are nominated by the people in neighborhood assemblies, without the participation of political parties and without political campaigns. In Cuba, the system is designed to facilitate control of the political process by the people.
The rendering of accounts is a process that is inherently full of tension between the needs and aspirations of the people and the limited resources of the nation. As I have observed the process, I have felt sympathy for the delegates, placed in a difficult situation by the system. I have heard people say that they would never want to be a delegate.
The Constitution of 2019, which established reforms designed to respond to the growing demands of the people for improved satisfaction of material needs, should strengthen the capacity of the delegates to respond to the demands of the people, inasmuch as it gives municipal governments greater control over local resources. Seeking the empowerment of the local community, the reform should revitalize the process of people’s power, for it gives the delegate a greater capacity to get something done.
In anticipation of the reestablishment of the rendering of accounts, the evening radio/television news program Mesa Redonda dedicated its November 8 broadcast to the reactivation of the rendering of accounts. Among the panelists was Yumil Rodríguez Fernández, Vice-President of the Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs of the National Assembly of People’s Power. Rodríguez noted that the delegates of People’s Power, elected directly by the people, are central to local government. They elect the governor of the provinces (of which there are fourteen in Cuba), and they represent the interests of the electors in their circumscription. He noted that key historic moments in the development of people’s power in Cuba include the Constitution of 1976, various congresses of the Communist Party of Cuba, and the Constitution of 2019. He further noted that at the present time a new structure, the Secretariat of People’s Power, is being established in each of the provinces; it will play an important role in improving the quality of People’s Power. He maintains that the participation of the people in the structures and process of people’s power is the key to forging consciousness among the people.
The second panelist, Mirian Brito Sarroca, is President of the Committee for Attention to Local Organs of the National Assembly of People’s Power. She noted that her committee is constantly evaluating the comportment of the delegates. When delegates do not respond to the problems and claims of the people, this gives rise to a lack of participation of the people in the structures of people’s power. For this reason, the economy has to be improved, so that the delegates can more effectively respond to the demands of the people. At the same time, in cases where the economic situation prevents a response to a demand, an alternative response ought to be developed, which many times is a response aided by the active participation of the people. Brito noted that the capacity of a delegate to develop alternative responses to the demands of the people says much about the level of revolutionary consciousness of the delegate. There are many delegates with much experience in this regard, including twenty-seven delegates across the nation who have served for more than forty-five years. We should keep in mind that the delegates are not professional politicians; they continue with their professions and occupations.
The participation of the people is a right and a duty, Brito insisted; participation in public assemblies and in the discussions of the municipal assemblies. We must continually ask, how can the right of participation be strengthened?
Brito noted that the Committee for Attention to Local Organs presented proposals to the National Assembly which were approved in December 2019 and October 2020. Their implementation has been delayed by the pandemic, and their implementation is now being initiated. The approved proposals are oriented to the functioning of people’s power in the context of a situation of economic insufficiency.
The third panelist in the Mesa Redonda broadcast was Carlos Rafael Fuentes Leon, Vice-President of the Committee for Attention to Local Organs of the National Assembly of People’s Power. Fuentes declared that the rendering of accounts is an essential component of Cuban democracy. He cited Article 101 of the 2019 Constitution, which states that the elected delegates and deputies have the duty of rendering accounts periodically. In the rendering of accounts, the delegate informs the electors of his or her management for a determined period, and the electors evaluate it.
Fuentes noted that the rendering of accounts is a distinctive element of the Cuban political system. It gives citizens the opportunity to participate in the solution of the problems of the community, with their perspectives, ideas, and suggestions, influencing the design of the policies and increasing their capacity to resolve problems.
The delegate, Fuentes observed, should define the administrative entities which have responsibilities for the greatest number of problems, or the most acute problems pending in the area, in order that representatives of these entities can accompany the delegate in the rendering of accounts. The presence of relevant local government officials increases understanding of the situation and enhances the possibility for concrete results.
Fuentes maintained that the emphasis at the present time is on the strengthening of local government. The people must participate in the resolution of problems, joined with the delegates. The people ought to participate directly, for example, in the municipal assemblies. The people have the right to participate in the municipal assemblies of People’s Power and in the solution to problems.
The Committee for Attention to Local Organs, Fuentes noted, has been preparing the 12,513 elected delegates of the nation for the rendering of accounts before the electors (voters). The Committee is helping them to analyze their work, to understand how to respond to the demands of the electors and how to participate effectively in the popular councils (which is a structure between the circumscription or voting district and the municipal assembly).
At the recent Second Plenary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba, the First Secretary of the Party and President of the Republic, Miguel Díaz-Canel, insisted on continuing to defend the concept of People’s Power. He declared that to defend the concept of people’s power is to defend the sustainability and the viability of socialism in Cuba. “People’s Power, questioned and attacked by those who do not know or fear its example, constitutes the foundation and the essence of the Cuban political system; to strengthen it is to increase the initiative and direct action of our people in the consolidation of socialism.”
People’s Power is the best kept secret of the Cuban Revolution. The defenders of Cuba often don’t talk about it; some of the “friends of Cuba” don’t know about it; and even the Cuban Revolution itself, in defending itself before the world, instinctively turns to speaking of its gains in health, science, education, culture, and sport. But as Díaz-Canel declares, People’s Power is the essence of Cuban socialism; it is the foundation of Cuban socialism’s sustainability and viability, its gains in health and education, and its consolidation.
Perhaps this reticence in regard to speaking about People’s Power is now being cast aside by the reforms of the past ten years. The Cuban Revolution has been developing new laws and customs in a quest to increase productivity, in response to the demand of the people for a higher material standing of living; and it has decided that increasing productivity requires greater local power, and this requires a strengthening of the local structures of popular participation and people’s power. Perhaps now, the essence of Cuban socialism, namely, the alternative democratic structures of people’s power, will be proclaimed to the world. Perhaps the world will come to understand that Cuba not only has democracy, but indeed a more advanced form of democracy than what we find in the nations with advanced capitalist economies, where structures of representative democracy are experiencing a crisis of legitimation.
The structures of people’s power in Cuba function in a context that includes: a historic, advanced anti-colonial and anti-imperialist movement; the development of mass organizations of workers (including professionals), farmers, women and students; and a vanguard political party that educates, guides, and exhorts. It is this integrated combination of elements that provides Cuban socialism with its political stability and popular legitimacy. These structures are the foundation to the absence of confusion and division among the people; and to the possibility of establishing scientifically-informed projects, with the backing and participation of the people, in response to any challenge.
There were various, historical factors that led to the development of these interrelated structures of people’s democracy in Cuba, and they are impossible to replicate in the conditions of the North, at least in the present historic moment. However, intellectuals and activists of the North, through study and observation of Cuban socialism, could arrive to some ideas applicable to their own political contexts. They could arrive to appreciate, for example, that the principal role of a revolutionary political party is to educate the people, orientating the people to politically intelligent and effective action in their own defense. Or they could give greater stress to the notion that political campaigns should be conducted without the need for candidates to finance electoral campaigns.
The peoples of the North, including many of the left, find it difficult to believe that the U.S.-financed counterrevolutionary media campaign against Cuba is failing to generate a sustained and significant popular opposition to the Cuban government. They lack an understanding of the established structures of people’s democracy and people’s power in Cuba, which provide the people with a systemic channel for the expression of demands, and that provide the elected delegates and deputies with a systemic incentive to respond to popular demands.
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