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Why Cuba is a democracy and the US is not

By Tim Anderson - posted Thursday, 15 March 2007


In an age of propaganda and pseudo-democracy, the strongest opponents of imperial power are subject to the most ferocious attacks. One result of this is that many of the firmly held opinions about democracy in Cuba and in the United States of America bear an inverse relationship to relevant knowledge. As the Canadian scientist William Osler said, “the greater the ignorance the greater the dogmatism”.

The US has run a powerful and illegal economic blockade against Cuba for almost 50 years, after its investment privileges were withdrawn. It now runs propaganda suggesting that the Cuban people need US-styled “democracy”. Well let’s look at democracy in both countries, including civil rights and participatory democracy, as well as representative democracy.

In representative democracy, Cuba is clearly ahead. Cubans have open elections for their National Assembly (as well as their provincial and local assemblies); this assembly then elects the ministers, including a president of the Council of Ministers.

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In the US, there is a directly elected Congress and a president indirectly elected through electoral colleges. This president of state then appoints ministers. Yet a majority of the elected US Congress cannot block many presidential “prerogatives”, including the waging of war.

So even when the majority of the population and the majority of the Congress oppose a war, the president can still wage it. In the US, then, the elected assembly does not really rule.

In Cuba, the Constitution (Art 12) repudiates wars of aggression and conquest, and all ministers are accountable to the elected National Assembly. The president of Cuba’s Council of Ministers (falsely called a “dictator” by the imperial US president) is not above the National Assembly and has no power to “veto” a law passed by his country’s National Assembly. In the US, the president can and does veto Congressional laws.

In the US, eligibility for election to office depends on subscription to one of two giant parties and substantial corporate sponsorship.

In Cuba, there are no electoral parties and there is no corporate sponsorship. The Cuban Communist Party is constitutionally recognised to promote socialist debate and policy, but has no electoral role. Citizens need not be CCP members to be elected, and many are not. National Assembly members (whether they belong to the CCP or not) do not represent any party, but rather their constituencies. The Cuban system bans foreign powers from funding electoral representatives or parties. The US Government, accustomed to foreign intervention, claims this law is “undemocratic”.

In the US, millions of people are excluded from voting, either because they have some criminal conviction or they belong to one or other group of second class citizens (for example, Puerto Ricans, who pay tax but have no representative in Congress).

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In Cuba, very few are excluded from voting, and well over 90 per cent of the adult population (those over 16 years of age) actually do vote at each election. In the US, voter participation is often around 50 per cent.

While there are constitutional civil rights in both countries, these rights are stronger under the Cuban system. Cuban citizens have the constitutional right to employment, food, free education, free health care, housing (including family inheritance), political participation, freedom of expression, personal property and freedom of religion. The Cuban state is constitutionally bound to guarantee these rights.

US citizens have the right to freedom of speech, unlimited private property and the right to carry arms. They also have the right to participate in a “market” where their education, health and general well-being is often a gamble.

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About the Author

Tim Anderson is a Senior Lecturer in Political Economy at the University of Sydney.

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