By Joaquim Marques de Sá


November 4, 2018

Elections were held in Cuba March 11, 2018.

Six hundred five deputies were elected to the National Assembly of People’s Power — 322 women and 283 men. Two hundred sixty-five deputies were also elected to the Provincial Assemblies.

In Cuba the vote is secret and all those over 16 years old, with exceptions provided by law (as in other countries), have the franchise. Participation in the elections is not mandatory. Despite this, 85.65% of the more than eight million Cubans with the franchise went to the polls, and 94.42% of the cast votes were valid (that is, neither blank nor invalid). These figures, announced by the National Electoral Commission are already by themselves indicative of the people’s participation in  Cuban democracy. [1]

In Cuba, everyone who has the right to vote can propose candidates. And all voters can vote in favor of any number of candidates on the candidate list or of none at all. It should then be noted that if the majority of the people were against socialism they could very simply propose and vote for their anti-socialist candidates. As Fidel Castro said “Who prevents them from doing so? This means that our democratic-revolutionary system inexorably presupposes the majority of the people.” [2]

In the 2018 elections the 605 deputies — with 49 years of average age and more than 330 new deputies — were distributed as follows as regards the sector of activity [3]:

Organs of People’s Power, 133 deputies; Production and Services, 83; Education, 47; Political leaders, 46; State and government bodies, 41; Culture (writers, artists, etc.), 39; Leaders of mass organizations, 39; Health, 34; Peasant and co-operative sector, 28; Research, 24; Military, 22; Administrative leaders and experts, 18; Sports, 12; Social organizations, 11; Student leaders, 9; Administration of justice, 7; Comptroller General of the Republic [4] , 4; Non-state sector, 4; Representatives of religious institutions, 4.

Cuba has been, since the revolution, one of the most maligned countries, constantly under attack by imperialism. Among the attacks the famous US invasion and defeat at the Bay of Pigs stands out. But the attacks have also involved other CIA actions, such as the dozens and dozens of attempts to overthrow Cuban socialism and assassinate its leaders, prominently Fidel Castro. The attacks continue to this day, focusing now on the economic blockade. The calumny also goes on, covering a wide range of subjects.

A widespread slander by the dominant media is that there is no democracy in Cuba, that it is a dictatorship. According to the imperialists, the “Castro brothers” were dictators and the present one, Miguel Diaz-Canel, is too. Such statements are made without any objective description of the Cuban political system. It is a system that virtually the whole public in capitalist countries is ignorant of. The lies can thus be implanted with impunity. Capitalism’s famous “freedom of information” is the “freedom” for only the mass media controlled by big capital reaching to the masses and having the monopoly of “information”. And, naturally, the “information” that matters to big capital is misinformation accompanied by truckloads of omissions on how socialism works.

The article below is a contribution towards demolishing the capitalist misinformation regarding the socialist democracy in Cuba. It was written by a Brazilian journalist (Elaine Tavares) who interviewed a Cuban university professor working in Mexico at the time of the interview. The interview took place just after the October 2012 elections. The interpolations in the article are ours.

Joaquim Marques de Sá

Democracy in Cuba

by Elaine Tavares

October 25, 2012

The island of Cuba experienced last Sunday (October 21, 2012) its general elections. People from everywhere chose their municipal, provincial and national delegates. Voting is not mandatory, but the percentage of voters exceeds 80%. It is socialist democracy expressing itself in such a way that a person who only knows the liberal [capitalist] democracy can never understand.

Professor Mylai Burgos Matamoros of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, explained the principles of Cuban political life. She was in Florianopolis for the VII Conferência Latino-Americana de Crítica Jurídica [Seventh Latin American Conference of Juridical Critique], a part of of the Research Program Derecho y Sociedad, coordinated by Professor Antônio Carlos Wolkmer and Oscar Correas from Revista Crítica Jurídica.

According to Professor Burgos-Matamoros, Cuba must be understood as a democracy that is not capitalist, and therefore is instead anchored in another way of organizing life. Assessing the island through liberal [capitalist] glasses is not adequate to understand the reality of that country. Mylai says that Cuba has gone through three great phases of political organization.

The first phase was from the triumph of the revolution until 1968, when the whole system began to be structured. The foreign enterprises were nationalized, a radical agrarian reform was carried out and the Social and Mass Organizations began shaping up, as a concrete space of Cuban democracy. These organizations are entities that bring together specific sectors of the population such as women, students, farmers, artists, sportsmen, etc..It’s out of these organizations that people actively participate in political life. Adherence to a federation or a mass organization is optional; they only sign up those who want to join, but it is common for all to join because of a traditional attitude of participating in decisions.

The famous Committees for the Defense of the Revolution ( CDRs )were also born in the 1960s, because Cuba was — and still is after a half century of blockade — a country at war with the greatest power in the world. Thus, it was necessary that in every street in the cities there should be a Committee to watch and be vigilant, preventing aggression and terrorist attacks by the empire. “It is these Committees that are the root of popular participation in Cuba. Everyone in Cuba wanted to be part of it, taking care of the revolution, and from the CDRs to go to other organizations was a natural step. In Cuba we are most critical. We criticize everything, because we have a quality cultural background and we want to strengthen socialism.”

Mylai recalls that the island has only one party, but unlike the structure in a liberal [capitalist] democracy, it is not the party that governs. It has only the function of applying what is defined by social and mass organizations in their democratic structures. “In the liberal world there are many parties but only a small group governs. In Cuba there is only one party that directs the policies, but it is the population who governs on basis of the organizations. This is radically different.”

The second phase of Cuba’s political organization runs from 1968 to 1986. It begins with the death of Che Guevara in Bolivia and the intensification of the US economic blockade. The defeat of Che’s mission, which was to make the socialist revolution throughout Latin America, frustrated a whole line of action that Cuba had in view for the continent. Without the support of the Latin American countries and totally suffocated by the Yankee blockade, there was no alternative but to turn to the then Soviet Union. “It was a time of reconfiguration of the system. We had to nationalize everything, even the shoemaker, the electrician, everything; it was a time of great difficulty. New institutions were created, new laws, new forms of resistance.”

The third phase of political organization began in 1986 with the fall of the Soviet regime. Without partners in Latin America, blockaded by the US and without the Soviet Union, the tiny Caribbean island found itself in a very difficult situation. She was alone and had to solve her problems by herself. Thus, amidst a gigantic crisis, Cuba decided to open herself up to tourism, with all the good and bad implications that this could bring. Today, this is still a much discussed topic on the island. “I myself am part of a group that has been very critical of Cuba’s new directions. We want changes to strengthen socialism.”

Asked whether there is really democracy in Cuba, Mylai reaffirmed that socialist democracy is not the same as we are accustomed to in the liberal [capitalist] world. “For us, democracy is not only representative, it is also direct democracy. It is a dialectical articulation between party, organizations and representatives. Our municipal, provincial and national representatives are elected by direct and secret ballot. Everything starts in the neighborhood [borough]. It is there that appear the names that will contest the election. Organizations get together, discuss and indicate their names. These names present themselves for election. There is no propaganda in the liberal [capitalist] way. People know each other and each one knows whether such and such candidate is a serious one, whether he/she is honest, whether he/she has done community work.”

[The Communist Party of Cuba is not an electoral party. It does not participate in the electoral process, nominating or proposing candidates or campaigning for certain candidates.]

Once the national deputies who will constitute the National Assembly of People’s Power have been elected, they define [by secret voting] a group of 31 members who shall form the State Council, an organ that will have the role that, in our [capitalist] model, is that of executive power. [This is not entirely correct. The State Council has some legislative powers — to prepare decree-laws — and some critical executive powers — to declare war and peace, to appoint ambassadors, and so on. The usual executive power resides in the Council of Ministers.] That is, policies discussed and approved from the bottom up are implemented by this Council. Finally, this group of 31 people elects the president of the [State] Council which is the legal representative of the country [The President of the State Council is the Head of State and President of the Council of Ministers, whose constitution is proposed by the president and submitted to approval of the National Assembly of People’s Power]. “This means that through all these years that Fidel was President of the [State] Council, he had to go through the whole election process that everyone goes through. His name was indicated by the neighborhood [borough] organization to which he belonged, went to the ballot paper and people voted for him. All these years that he was elected, he was democratically elected. It makes no sense at all to speak of dictatorship.”

Another difference of the Cuban regime compared to existing ones in the liberal [capitalist] world is the level of commitment that elected representatives have with the people who elected them. Every six months these municipal, provincial and national representatives, have to report their actions to their grassroots organizations. The control is done directly, in people’s assemblies. And if, for some reason, the promises and commitments made have not been fulfilled, these deputies have their mandates revoked by the voters. In Cuba, none of the deputies receives money for serving the people. Each deputy goes on with his life and his work; serving as such is just another assignment. Deputies who have only state tasks are just a few.

It should be remembered that in Cuba there is no division of powers as in the liberal [capitalist] world, which are divided into Legislative, Executive and Judiciary, each separated and managing itself. In socialist democracy the basic principle is that of the unity of power. What does this means? That the dominant power is the one of the people. Everything is concentrated in the National Assembly of People’s Power. The members of parliament as well as executives and judges are held accountable to the National Assembly of People’s Power. In the judicial system there is also an element very different from the bourgeois capitalist system. The whole court, in any instance, is formed by a career judge and two lay persons, because Cubans understand that the law is not just a dead letter that must be fulfilled under iron and fire. It is necessary to take into account other variables that only a layman can perceive. “This gives more security to the population about the sense of justice.”

With regard to the economic and social system, socialist democracy is also quite different. Socialist democracy has planned economy, but this does not mean that there is no private property. What there is not is the free market. “As almost all Cuban production goes abroad, the government needs to plan the distribution of resources in such a way that everyone has access to food and basic goods. We have totally free health and education, medicines are very cheap and Cuba is a leader in this area. Therefore, the resources are centralized so that they can be distributed fairly”, says Mylai.

Since 1992 Cuba has opened space for private activities. What the state does control are the fundamental means of production. But there are many cooperatives and there are still many private lands. It is also common in Cuba the right to free use and enjoyment of goods such as land and housing. More than 90% people live in their own homes. If a family lives in a house that belongs to another person, and that other person has more than one house, the family acquires the right to live there forever. There is no incentive for the accumulation of assets.”

According to Mylai, the Cuban Constitution, discussed and approved by the population, maintains limits on three rights: freedom of expression, association and manifestation. The limit of freedom of expression applies only to the official media. They cannot promote content that is against socialism. But, alternative media can exist, they do exist and are many. Some of them are even funded by US organizations. “The Cubans implemented these limits because they are a people who live under the systematic attack of the United States. It’s a protection. Any system protects itself and Cuba is no different. If we are to evaluate the systems of protection of capitalism we will also find things that some people will not like.”

For the Cuban Professor, the historic course in Cuba is a unique experience, full of advances, setbacks and contradictions. But it is a process that has been built by the Cuban people, and it is only up to them to change or continue to strengthen socialism. “It is true that we have today a generation that did not live the revolution, which is very connected with the promises of capitalism; after all, the island has never been isolated. We have always been a country open to all. So it is natural for changes to happen, new ideas, new ways of organizing. There is a great desire to know the world, to travel, to live the experiences that the quality of culture created in Cuba demand for. And at the same time, there is an impossibility due to financial difficulties. So it’s always a permanent tension.” Mylai is part of a group that discusses and claims the strengthening of socialism. She sees with reservations some openings and proposals being worked nowadays by the government. “I am part of the third generation, which has grandparents and even parents who made the revolution. By living in Mexico, I fully experience capitalism on my skin and I am convinced that the socialist system is better. We must improve it.”


[1] The vote counting was supported by organizations and institutions of the state central administration, the University of Computer Sciences, companies of the Ministry of Communications and other institutions.

[2] Speech of Fidel Castro, March 15 1993.

[3] Data from Elecciones en Cuba: Elegidos 605 diputados a la Asamblea Nacional, where further details are given.

[4] Functions of the Comptroller General of the Republic: “Assisting the National Assembly and the State Council in the execution of the highest level of control over State and Government bodies, proposing a comprehensive policy on preservation of public finances and economic and administrative control, execute and verify its compliance; methodologically guide and supervise the national audit system, carry out the necessary actions to ensure the correct and transparent administration of public assets, prevent and combat corruption.”
[5] We transposed to Portuguese from Portugal.

[6] In the original was “in the group,” which we removed because it seemed entirely redundant.

This first appeared in Revolução e Democracia A Blog on Matters of Politics, Economic and History

Joaquim Marques de Sá can be reached by email at