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The Cuban nation’s Communist Party congress and democracy
This unique heritage takes its roots going back to the revolutionary party established by José Martí in 1892; it was so successful in its political orientation, military strategy and organisation that the Revolutionary Party of Cuba actually led the nation to defeat the Spanish colonialists in 1898; this victory was robbed at the last instant by the United States.
In the Sierra Maestra from December 1956 until January 1st 1959, the victory which escaped the Cuban people in the previous century was finally achieved. This took place, among other factors, thanks to the unbreakable ties between the leading forces at the time, on the one hand the July 26 Movement and its Rebel Army led by Fidel Castro, and on the other hand the most humble sections of the Cuban people.
However, to describe this relationship in terms of simple ties and links is to really underestimate the fact that the leadership and the people were really one. How else could such a relatively small leading force defeat such a powerful enemy as the United States and its allies in Cuba? The historic victory in Playa Girón proved to be a second instance, demonstrating the unity of the leadership and the people who in fact fought a defensive war of all the people against the United States-backed mercenary invasion. This is the tradition on which the Communist Party of Cuba, as the organized vanguard of the nation, is based and has been nurtured.
The Sixth Party Congress is the latest of many examples of this tradition. Cuba, at a critical juncture in its history began discussion at the grassroots level in 2007 following the now famous Raúl Castro July 26 Camagüey speech of that year; he exhorted his compatriots to openly present their preoccupations and suggestions in order to deal with the many profound problems facing the nation. They did so, and after a serious and methodical process the leadership drafted the Economic and Social Policy Guidelines for the Party and the Revolution. As soon as they were released, the de facto Party Congress was initiated with debates and discussions in the labour and educational centers as well as in the neighbourhoods.
Raúl Castro announced in his Report to the Congress on April 16 that from December 1, 2010 to February 28, 2011 close to nine million people participated in more than 163,000 meetings in which over three million contributed with their opinions and suggestions. Raúl described this consultation as a “popular referendum”; this is not an exaggeration at all. The Introduction to the discussions, changes, proposals, modifications, additions and suppressions constitutes an irrefutable testimony in itself to the effective debate which took place at all levels of the Cuban society. The document was elaborated and modified as a result of this process. It was this version which the elected delegates to the Congress received. They were handed the revised document even before the deliberations so as to be in a position to further work out their thinking based on the opinions of the basic organisations from which they were elected.
The Congress deliberations in Commissions proved to be an impressive and lively scene of debates, discussions and proposed changes. This process resulted in a series of reports, findings and opinions (dictámenes) to be taken into account in order to work out what will probably be a new and final version whose goal is to strengthen socialism and the Revolution.
The theme of close indestructible ties between the leadership and the people, the Communist Party vanguard and the nation, took on a sort of personal and emotional turn with the three Reflections by Fidel during the four-day period of the Congress.
The first one dealt with the April 16 military parade and demonstration by the Habaneros and Habaneras in support of the Revolution and socialism. Secondly, he offered his thoughts on the Congress debates, and thirdly on the composition of the Central Committee and his absence on this important body. In the unique style which is characteristic of this iconic revolutionary leader, his ideas addressed what was on the mind of the vast majority of the Cuban people (and many of us foreign observers as well).
It was in this manner that he dealt with the peasant allies in 1957-58; in a similar fashion he addressed people from all walks of life in the First and Second Havana Declarations (1960, 1962) through exchanges with crowds numbering close to one million on each occasion. There is of course the April 16th 1961 proclamation of the Socialist Character of the Revolution which seemed to spontaneously emerge out of the dialectical relationship between the leadership and the people.
The title of this article includes the term ‘democracy.’ However, nowhere is it used in the article itself up until now. There is no universal definition of democracy; universalism is used by the big powers, based mainly in the United States and in many European countries, as a pretext to define democracy in a most arbitrary way. They then use their own definition in an even a more glaring double-standard manner to try and impose their domination over the world, especially the Third World. Cuba, as exemplified in the examples given above, forges its own democracy in the course of struggles which includes the relationship of the Communist Party and the nation.
For those of us who pay close attention to this very controversial issue of democracy as exemplified in the Congress, its preparation and actual proceedings, the valuable lessons seemed to be coming to an end. However, the President of the National Assembly of People’s Power, Ricardo Alarcón, took the podium. He dealt with an entirely different institution which is not the Communist Party, but rather the State, Government and Elections to these instances. He presented the “Resolution on Perfecting the Organs of People’s Power, the Electoral System and the Political/Administrative Division” of the country. Its essence is to further perfect People’s Power and the electoral system striving to make it them even more democratic and participatory. Once the suggestions are worked out and proposed to the National Assembly, those elected by all the citizens will deal with the suggested changes.
For those of us anywhere in the world who have a sincere interest in Cuban democracy, here are the most recent events: the experience of the Congress and the call to perfect and improve even further People’s Power. What better arguments to oppose any ideological and political pressure against Cuba and its political system. In any case, it will always be the Cuban people who determine its type of democracy, no one else.
Arnold August is the author of Democracy in Cuba and the 1997-98 Elections, available from Amazon. His new book, Cuba: Participatory Democracy and Elections in the 21st Century, will be published in 2012.