How can we analyze the legitimacy of a political system?

Is it democratic to be elected by less than 20 percent of the vote?

Recently, in one of my articles for Progreso Weekly, I said that the capacity for resistance shown during half a century confirmed the "popular will" of the majority of Cubans in favor of socialism.

I still believe that this is the best evidence.

However, for some this is not sufficient and they argue the alleged lack of legitimacy of a regime that, in their opinion, does not meet the "democratic standards" required in the world.

Clearly, we start from different premises when we discuss the legitimacy of a political system.

Nevertheless, I tried to adapt to their logic to answer them and then I discovered that the problem does not lie on the premises, but on the use of different parameters to evaluate them.

I then decided to undertake the theoretical exercise of comparing the formal instruments of democracy in Cuba with the democracy observed in the U.S., considered by many to be the "perfect democracy," one which other nations should emulate lest they risk being overthrown at gunpoint.

To support socialism in Cuba, there is a Constitution that was approved by plebiscite in 1976 by more than 90 percent of the population.

Still, some consider it less legitimate than the U.S. Constitution, a document as sacred as the Bible, although it was signed by a small group of people when slavery still existed in the country and has never been subject to scrutiny.

I do not say that, for that reason, the U.S. Constitution is not legitimate.

In fact, its legitimacy is confirmed by the country’s history, but the same pattern should be acknowledged when we analyze the Cuban Constitution.

The same happens with the elections.

While the mayor of Miami-Dade was recently elected with less than 20 percent of the voter turnout, in Cuba the vote always exceeds 80 percent.

It is true that a direct vote to elect the president of Cuba was not established, but it is up to the National Assembly of the People’s Power, whose deputies are elected by direct, secret ballot by the voters.

But the same happens in the U.S., where a president can be elected despite not receiving a majority of the popular vote. This has repeatedly happened, yet it has never been considered a demonstration of illegitimacy.

Not even the worst critics of the system have argued that there is fraud in the Cuban electoral process.

However, it is quite common in U.S. elections, either locally or nationally, that one of the parties complains of being a victim of fraud. Suffice it to recall the monumental scandal created during the election of George W. Bush, which had much to do, of course, with the machinery of the Cuban-American extreme right.

Still, Cuba loses in the comparison, because critics argue that the elected officials are "tools of the regime," as if Bush and many others, including the "popular" Obama, served something else other than the major economic interests of the country.

I do not think that the Cuban political system is free of shortcomings, but that’s not the fault of the organization of the electoral system or the legitimacy of the elected officials.

Almost no one has stopped to analyze that, through this system, if the opponents had popular support, their candidates would win easily in many locations.

The problem lies in the system’s operation, where the capability of elected officials is limited, especially at the grassroots level, when it comes to meeting the demands of their constituents. That’s something to be resolved, while we work toward a popular democracy with all its attributes. However, we are not talking about the demagogy that characterizes American politicians, something so "normal" that no one expects them to fulfill their campaign promises.

Nor, in the opinion of critics, to legitimize socialism in Cuba, can we invoke the endorsement expressed in demonstrations or referendums, or even the people’s participation in the defense of their country.

It’s just "manipulation" by the government or the result of the existing suppression, as if us Cubans, who in barely a century staged four armed revolutions, were cowardly lambs controlled by leaders who don’t even need to beat us, as we often see on television, done by governments that are considered perfectly "legitimate."

The argument of human development achieved does not work, because universal access to education, public health and social protection, although they constitute fundamental aspirations of the peoples of the world, even in developed countries and the United States itself, in the case of Cuba are at best recognized as "minor achievements" of the system, not enough to explain the support of Cubans to socialism, because, apparently, we are also pretty dumb.

Because these arguments are not acceptable to capitalism’s fundamentalists, I chose to resort to one that comes from a source that seems to me impeccable, because it’s the worst enemy of the Cuban Revolution, namely, the U.S. government itself. It deals with the question why the United States, which invades anyone, has not decided to invade Cuba.

One reason is that the Americans are certain to meet resistance from the Cuban people, validating my main argument.

But even so, it is clear that Cuba’s military capacity is not what has dissuaded the ever ready and very powerful U.S. forces, but the political impact this resistance might have worldwide as a result of the legitimacy of the revolution everywhere.

This is not what the world press and the opinion of some "experts" reflect, but fortunately the U.S. leaders don’t rely on them to make their judgments, and in this case have been well advised, so far.

As the recognized Mexican intellectual Pablo González Casanova said, socialism is a project whose goal is to identify with communism, i.e., a classless society. At the same time, it is a social process to achieve this task, so the errors, inconsistencies or difficulties in the process, do not delegitimize the quality of the socialist project.

Of course, this reasoning is valid to analyze any other social project, including capitalism. That is why we are witnessing an ideological debate about the ideal society sought.

Herein lies the difficulty for agreement between the advocates of both ideologies, as well as the manipulations aimed at adulterating the practice in order to disqualify the theory. Especially when it comes to the dogmatists of any side, because the ideal becomes an act of faith and that disqualifies them from analyzing the quality of the processes with the objectivity required, as is often the case regarding Cuba.

Still, the solution is not to evade scrutiny, because legitimacy is not something that only contributes the virtue of the idea, the history of struggle, or even the benefits achieved, which justly are assumed as conquered rights, becoming part of the people’s daily life, which always sets higher goals.

Nor is an unchangeable condition, but a dialectic one, which must be renewed day by day, advancing in the social development and building the popular consensus, without which the socialist project is unsustainable by its very nature. 

This road has lots of potholes, but the idea of moving toward that ideal is not only in the official slogans, often counterproductive, because they simplify the message to the point of adulterating it, but it is part of a social conscience integrated into the Cuban identity.

Popular culture also is a factor that gives legitimacy to socialism in Cuba, because it lives in the minds of Cubans, even though some do not realize it and others attempt to deny it.

August 10, 2011