Cuba's Changes Go Deep
By Jose Alejandro Rodriguez
August 17, 2011
HAVANA - But for some exceptions, the powerful
international media has ignored a recent Cuban
Parliament bill that would deepen democracy on the
island. The reason is obvious: the news is not
convenient. The initiative is made within socialist
institutionalism, not in terms of the "transition" whose
staging is highly anticipated and promoted by certain
hegemonic interests in this world.
The idea is to give the green light to an experiment in
the new provinces of Mayabeque and Artemisa, which, if
they bear fruit, would be extended to the whole country
through constitutional reform: the reassignment of the
duties of chairman of the local Assembly of the People's
Power and chairman of the assembly's territorial
Administrative Board to different people, in each
municipality and province.
This may seem a procedural trifle, but it implies much
more. In fact, it is a critical reconsideration of
Article 117, which was incorporated into the Cuban
Constitution following the Constitutional Reform of
1992. It gave to one person the chairmanship of both the
local assembly and its respective public administrative
The bill is part of the revision Cuba is making into the
shortcomings in its governing bodies and institutional
system to excise many burdens, formalities, unanimous
votes and routines that have sapped the operation of the
People's Power as the state's guardian of the interests
of the people and the nation. Yes, because you cannot
rule properly if you're both judge and jury as a result
of the duality mentioned above.
A good example is the People's Power municipal
assemblies, formed by the delegates of each district,
ordinary men and women nominated and elected by
neighborhood residents by direct and secret vote. They
are not professionals as in other societies and receive
not a penny for their services, which are volunteered.
And yes, they often take on lots of problems and
headaches by processing the citizens' proposals in the
face of bureaucratic sloth and silence.
In the Municipal Assembly, the chairman is also chairman
of the Administrative Board - something like the mayor
in other societies. Until now, the same person who heads
the assembly meetings and formulates the citizens' pleas
must satisfy those pleas through public and
administrative efforts. A conflict of interests.
Unfortunately, this arrangement has strengthened
vertical and centralized government in Cuba. Today, amid
enormous social and economic changes, our system should
be moved toward a socialist democracy that is more
participatory, decentralized and horizontal.
In a public document entitled "On the experience to be
developed in the provinces of Artemisa and Mayabeque"
(available on the Internet), the National Assembly noted
that this step is the result of a thorough analysis by a
commission composed of the Assembly, the Government and
The document states that the three institutions "took
into account, among other things, the deficiencies and
shortcomings in the activity of the local organs of the
People's Power, especially in the work of the
administrative boards and subordinate agencies, the
inadequacies in the attention given to the voters'
proposals, and the lack of links between the local
administrative leaders and the grassroots."
The document also notes that the institutions "took into
account the problems in the functioning of the local
organs of the People's Power, the inadequacy of the
working relationship between the leaders of the
municipal assemblies and the delegates, the limited
demands on the administrative goals, and the demand on
delegates to perform tasks that are not theirs."
Among the barriers that limit the exercise of democracy,
the commission listed "the commitment of the chairmen
and deputy chairmen to the results of economic and
administrative management, a product of their dual
responsibilities, causing them, in general, not to
maintain proper exigency toward the administration, and
to show bias and an administrative approach in their
In fact, the document calls for an end to the duality,
saying that "it makes it difficult for local assemblies
to fully exercise their functions, as the chairman is
absorbed by the administrative and government problems
of his territory, given their complexity. For that
reason, he cannot devote the time and attention required
by the assemblies, their committees, delegates, and
especially the population, whose demands for attention
At the same time, Cuba aims to empower the municipality
and save it from the global and centralized approaches
put forward for years, by encouraging experiments on
local development in several areas of the country. If
these spread, they will be the future of the
horizontality needed for the human, diverse and eclectic
communities that make up the nation.
These experiences, which are already bearing fruit in
places like Caibarien, Yaguajay, Marti and others, will
promote the self-sustainability of the municipalities
through the enactment of integrated local initiatives
that will become sources of revenue from the region and
for the region. This will allow local governments a
degree of financial autonomy and decision-making to
address the most pressing community claims, and not
always wait for the State Budget with an open mouth and
the anxiety of impotence.
Of course, this will generate a different dynamics in
governance, with voters better informed and demanding
about the use of local resources.
Cuba changes toward better and more socialism, and not
only in the economy, although some analysts who follow a
preset script do not detect the change. And not even the
Parliament itself - so popular and varied, but so marked
by unanimity because of "the perfect harmony that ages
the hearts" - can ignore that the biggest challenge is
to welcome, promote and bring together the best and most
authentic aspects of our diversity around a one-party
project. The formula for Vertientes need not be the same
for Marianao, but both must save us from inertia.
José Alejandro Rodríguez is a Cuban journalist. He lives
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