A Power That Has No Power

Photo: Rebeca

In recent days there have been assemblies to “elect” the members of the National Assembly of People’s Power. This will start with electoral districts and municipalities, and continue with the provinces until the process will end with the selection of delegates to the National Assembly, who in turn will choose the country’s president and vice-president.

When the experiment initially started in Matanzas province many years ago, one of fundamental goals of People’s Power was to “bring power to the base, making all citizens participants.” This was attractive in theory, but not so much in practice when it was extended to the entire country. Those who were elected had no real power. The only thing could do was “cry out in the desert” since they lacked the material resources to resolve local problems, and the government did not provide them.

It is true that, legally, any citizen can aspire to be a delegate in his or her home base, but in reality it is not as easy as it seems. To do so, you have to share the ideology of “the model*” — at least in words and actions — if you aspire to be “elected.” If you have the courage to introduce yourself as a candidate who offers criticisms or espouses change, you are quickly sidelined by the mechanisms set up to do this  — mass governmental organizations under the direction of state security or the party — which apply the necessary pressure to make sure you are discarded as a possible candidate even before you can be introduced. This is confirmed by the fact that never, in the many years since People’s Power has existed, has a candidate been elected who did not share the views of the authorities.

The possibility of being elected only exists at the base since further along in the process delegates are chosen from among the candidates elected to represent all citizens — those in the municipalities as well as the provinces and throughout the nation. As a result, in some circumstances everyone is approved by unanimous vote. If prior to the voting there is some debate, it is essentially to support what the authorities have already proposed, never to debate it further or to change it.

This closed circular loop known as Cuban socialist democracy guarantees that nothing will change from one election to the next — even when names or secondary surnames** change after people pass away or fall from grace — keeping the principal figures eternally in power in spite of their mistakes and blunders. The population, committed to survival and protected by a double standard, participate in the voting process on a massive scale. They treat it as one more formality, knowing that nothing will change and that the outcome will not impact their daily lives, much less provide a solution to the nation’s problems.

A power that has no power lacks the ethical structure to support itself, and urgently needs to be brought up to date if all citizens, not just those chosen for their unconditional support of the “model,” are to actively participate political, economic and social life of the country. It must be able to make use of their knowledge, experiences and efforts. The nation is made up of all Cubans, wherever they may be, and not just the few.

*Translator’s note: In Spanish-speaking countries a person has two surnames – the father’s surname followed by the mother’s. The writer is hinting that political power can be passed down from father to son or daughter.

September 14 2012

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