Posts Tagged ‘democracy’

Gerardo : We were subjected a grossly unfair trial

September 30, 2015


An Interview with Gerardo Hernández one of the three Cuban agents
released following the Havana-Washington agreement.

We were subjected a grossly unfair trial

Eduardo Febbro
translated by Sean Joseph Clancy

*If there is a story within the story that might serve as a synopsis
of the bitter history between the U.S. and Cuba, it is that of Cuban
agents condemned to serve sentences in North American jails,
disproportionate to what they had actually done.

A few stops beyond the stairs to a station in North Brussels, where an
elderly orhestra are making an unholy mess of the “Besame Mucho” song,
one of three Cuban intelligence agents released as part of a
settlement partially mediated by the Vatican on the reestablishment of
diplomatic ties.

If there is a story within the story that might serve as a synopsis of
the bitter history between the U.S. and Cuba, it is that of Cuban
agents condemned to serve sentences in North American jails,
disproportionate to what they had actually done.

Gerardo Hernández is one of 5 Cuban intelligence agents who along with
Ramon Lanañino, Fernando Gonzalez Llort, Rene Gonzalez Sehewerert and
Antinio Guerrero Rodriguez who during the mid 1990’s  undertook
special missions within the U.S. in order to discover and prevent
terrorist actions, including attacks on hotel and tourist resorts and
sabotage by counter-revolutionary groups planned in Miami and later
carried out in Cuba.

The Five were uncovered and arrested in 1998. Later in what was one of
the longest trials in North American judicial history, the Cubans were
issued sentences which essentially were political punishments
orchestrated by the U.S. administrations obsession with Cuba.
Gerardo Hernandez, accused of “conspiracy to commit murder” was given
two life sentences.

Generally speaking, cases involving unregistered foreign agents
discovered operating in a foreign territory are dealt with behind
closed doors and resolved by negotiation. The case of the Cuban Five
was the polar opposite. Amid espionage and other outrageous
accusations, they were tried by a court in Miami and used as
implements of political manipulation.

Free today, the refreshing intelligence of Gerardo Hernandez reveals
no trace of the 16 years spent in North American penitentiaries, the
abuses suffered nor the long months of detention in rigorously imposed
solitary confinement.

Thanks to interventions by U.S. senator Patrick Leahy, one of those
who has most fervently  advocated for the lifting of the U.S. blockade
of Cuba, Hernandez had a son while still in prison.

The senator helped organize for Gerardos wife, Adriana Perez, br
artificially inseminated.
Following 18 months of secret negotiations with Pope Francis as
guarantor, the seemingly impossible dreams of freedom of the three
agents still behind bars in U.S. jails – Antonio, Gerardo and Ramon –
became a reality on the day of the historical declarations, December
17th 2014.

–The theme of the Cuban agents was what had been blocking, but that
also eventually unlocked the key to, negotiations with the U.S.

–Yes, exactly, our case remained very much in the air because of more
than 50 years of adversarial or non-existent relations with the U.S.
which are what led to the politicized nature of the trial of the Cuban
Five and what underpinned the cruel nature of our treatment.

Remember, there was a case a few years ago regarding the arrest of
Russian spies.  That was speedily dealt with  by negotiation and they
were repatriated without ever having to stand trial.

Our case was complicated by the history of conflict between the U.S.
and Cuba, which is paradoxically what eventually facilitated a

For certain, the resolution of our case cannot only be attributed to
the negotiations, because the solidarity we experienced over so many
years was also relevant.

The Five of us had become very well known, there were presidents, and
religious, cultural  and political personalities, all calling for our

Ours had become a most embarrassing case for the north Americans. It
had taken a lot of work for us to develop any awareness of our case.

It had been one of the longest in U.S. legal history; lasting 7 months
during which more than 100 witnesses testified. The press however
maintained an amost blanket silence.

Little by little the solidarity work of comrades who took to the
streets  protesting became necessary.

–Today we know that the Pope played a leading role in the agreement.
The Vatican was the  guarantor of the liberation process. Were you
aware of the Vaticans intervention?

–No, I did not know about it. It came as a surprise because we were
removed from that entire negotiation process. I did not know about the
role played by the Vatican.  It was afterwards that I learned about
the parts played by various cardinals, amongst them the Archbishop of
Havana and Cardinal Jaime Ortega, who I hold in high esteem. We are
truly grateful.

We have always accepted the help of all persons of goodwill. It must
be remembered that in addition to the political connotations
surrounding our case that there was a profound human tragedy also
unfolding. I am glad that  Pope Francis, being a Latin American was

I can honestly express great admiration for him. He has demonstrated a
very courageous attitudes, worthy of respect. On behalf of the Five
and our families, beneficiaries of this attitude, I send him our

–If one examines the terms of negotiation, Cuba did not really concede
anything at all. Washington always maintained that they would never
deal with Cuba in the present political context, but did so

–My personal opinion is that for a very long time the U.S. held that
line, that as long as there was a Castro in power in Cuba –which is
how they refer to the Revolution with the Cuban people in power – and
that they would also  never negotiate with Cuba while the Communist
Party remained in power and the Revolution remained.

All of these conditions still exist and we nevertheless have talked
under the only condition always imposed by Cuba, that the talks are
between equals and absolutely respectful  of our independence and

–Did you at any point feel the weight of history on your shoulders?
The Five were, to a very great extent , the key to the knot

–I never saw the case as being of that magnitude. More towards the
end, when there were rumors of a solution, and especially when our
release was announced I began to feel it somewhat. I did then —
without knowing the extent of the progress — imagine that this might
be the route to further progress. When Raul Castro spoke with our
family members by his side is when I fully realized.

The three released Cubans knew nothing about the talks. We were
informed one day prior to our releases and we learned about the
reestablishment of diplomatic relations through Raul’s speech.

–Your case in an example for the world about the use of the justice
system as a weapon in a conflict with another state.

–Yes, the case of the Five was a revenge attack against the Cuban
Revolution and Cuban Revolutionaries. The U.S. saw an opportunity to
score a point and did so by taking Five men hostage. We accepted that
we had, by possessing false passports and operating as foreign agents
unregistered with the State Department, violated U.S law.

Ok, but we had a legal right to enter a “necessity” defense and to
outline why, but that was not permitted. The trial was held in Miami
where we, in reality, had no rights whatsoever. This was a totally
biased trial.

We were found guilty and given the maximum possible sentences on every
count. They thought that by punishing the Five meant punishing the
Cuban Revolution.

Their initial plan was to have all of us betray Cuba and mount a media
show against the Revolution.

That did not happen and so came 17 months initially — and later many
more —  in punishment cells without ever hacing committed and
indiscipline. This is why our wives were denied visits.

–Paradoxically, while you were being condemned , there were people
distributing a very thick manual in Miami.

–Incredible! The US claims to wage war against terrorism.  Young North
Americans serve in the Army and die in other countries in the name of
this war on terror. But the terrorists are here!

Luis Posada Carriles remains at liberty to stroll around the Miami
streets despite being responsible for the attack on  the Cubana
Airlines plane in 1976 in which 73 people lost their lives and the
bombing of hotels in Havana in which a young Italian man was killed.

He has an long record of terrorism but freely walks the streets.
Carriles and others were trained by the CIA to bring down the Cuban
Revolution. There have been points in history when the CIA had nothing
to do with them, but during these they turned a blind eye to them as
they continued uninhibited to do as they wished.

–Was this the mission you were dispatched to Miami on, to investigate
such groups?

–Yes, to investigate terrorist groups such as Alpha 66, The F4
Commandos, Brothers to the Rescue… and these groups still exist,
still have their training camps there

Cuba had certainly complained many times to the US Government about
the activities of such groups, but they continued to carry on with
impunity, creating the necessity for Cuba to send agents to monitor
and infiltrate them and to send information back to Cuba to prevent
acts of terrorism.

–Have your views on the US or the Revolution changed?

–They have changed in that today my character and my revoltionary
convictions are more solid now, as is my love for the Cuban people.

I lived for 16 years in those jails and that society and during that
time encountered within the prisons a great number of experiences,
human dramas,  young people – barely twenty years of age — who might
have been doctors or engineers condemned to life sentences. This is
because there is a system that, from the moment of their birth,
instills in them that they must aquire more, that they should walk
over anyone to get ahead in life and get what they want.

This is absolute brutalization, it is truly a human tragedy. Those
years spent in the US, both on the streets and behind bars have
reaffirmed my conviction that, no matter what problems we may have in
Cuba, we must continue to work to improve our system and our

I do not anything like I witnessed in the U.S. for Cuba. But I do not
feel any resentment or bitterness to the U.S. No, I feel compassion
and no hatred for anybody.

–You were also confronted by the great change that the one time great
enemy of Cuba might be transforming, even into a potential ally.
The Cuba of your time in prison is not the Cuba to which you been freed.

–For sure! It would be strange if it were the same Cuba because that
would require a denial of our own we would be denying our own dialect.
I am happy that Cuba has changed and that most of the changes are for
the better.

No revolution can remain static. We are confident that the Cuban
people can confront the challenges posed by this process. They are
significant challenges. There are thise who suggest that they (the
U.S.) will attain by the embrace of a bear what they could not during
more than 50 years of Blockade, aggression and threats….

Book Review: The incredible case of the CUBAN FIVE

September 9, 2015


Review by: Leo Juvier

On December 17, 2014 presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro announced the beginning of a new chapter in U.S.-Cuba relations. Also, on this day President Obama released the last three of the five Cuban men imprisoned unjustly by the American government with charges of conspiracy to commit espionage, and conspiracy to commit murder. Those three prisoners were Gerardo Hernandez, Ramon Labañino, and Antonio Guerrero.
The case of the Cuban Five is truly like no other legal case in the history of the United States and Cuba. Their case was particularly plagued by misinformation and concealment of evidence which made their saga a nightmare. During their trial the U.S. government paid millions of dollars to journalists to write stories with lies and incendiary commentary against the Cuban Five, resulting in a biased jury.
The injustices of the case caused international indignation and it mobilized thousands of people across the globe in a show of solidarity. Since their arrest in 1998, the Cuban Five and their families have endured innumerable injustices by the U.S. government, from the denial of visas to family members who wished to visit them in prison, to keeping them in solitary confinement without a reason for long periods of time.
The Book “The incredible case of the Cuban Five” chronicles the nightmare these five cuban men endured for over 16 years in prison. The book is a compilation of testimonies and opinions gathered at the International Commission of Inquiry into the case of the Cuban Five held in London on March 7th and 8th, 2014. The commission counted with over 300 people from 27 different countries, among them distinguished members of the international legal community.
While reading the book it is difficult to ignore the cry for justice.
The relationship between U.S. and Cuba has been characterized by aggressive foreign policies, blockade, and acts of terrorism to destabilize the Cuban nation. Since 1959 Cuba has been the victim of 703 acts of terrorism against its civilian population by the U.S. government and Cuban-American organizations operating from Miami. These attacks have resulted in the death of more than 3478 people, and 3000 people being disabled. One of the attacks that will always remain a scar in the memory of the country was the explosion of a Cuban airplane in mid-air in 1976. During this terrorist attack masterminded by Luis Posada Carriles, (a terrorist who enjoys freedom in Miami) 73 people died, 53 of them were Cubans including the youth fencing team who were returning home from Barbados after winning all the medals in their last competition.
During the 1990’s while Cuba was trying to develop the tourism sector in the wake of the Special Period, organizations like the Cuban American National Foundation was financing terrorists to plant bombs in hotels and resort areas. Those activities resulted in the death of a young Italian tourist named Fabio and many others injured.
In response to the terrorist attacks the Cuban government sent the Five with the mission to infiltrate the organizations who were plotting the attacks and to end the terrorist campaign that was punishing Cuban civilians. Their mission was to protect the Cuban people from the wrath and hatred of the extremist exiles which continues to cause damage and prevent full normalization between both nations.
Today it is still very difficult to hear the other side, and the true story of the Cuban Five from American soil. Unfortunately the biggest enemies for the normalization of relations with Cuba is no longer the American people, but the Cuban-American right wing exiles in Miami. They control (or at least try) the public opinion with lies and intimidation.
This book offers an unbiased inquiry into the case the Cuban Five. I recommend it to anyone who wishes to gain a deeper understanding for the case as well as for Cuban-American relations.
For more on the Cuban Five visit:

Official Film report on the Commission of Inquiry:

And what about Washington’s terrorists in Miami ?

May 22, 2015


Andrés Gómez talks with Ricardo Alarcón

by Andrés Gómez, director of Areítodigital

Miami —Everything seems to indicate that once Cuba is removed from the U.S. List of States Sponsors of Terrorism at the end of May — given the prohibitions imposed on the countries on that List— a major stumbling block to the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Washington and Havana will be overcome.

Another major obstacle that impedes the reestablishment of those relations is the reluctance of the U.S. government — once relations are reestablished — for its diplomats in Cuba to adhere to the functions permitted to any diplomat accredited in a given country, according to the regulations established in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961, the international treaty regulating such functions to which both countries are signatories.

With the renewal of diplomatic relations will then begin a long, controversial and harsh negotiating process between both governments, towards achieving the long-awaited normalization of relations between both nations, between both peoples.

Long, controversial and harsh, to put it mildly, it will be if the United States government maintains the announced objectives of its new policy towards Cuba. According to Roberta Jacobson, Assistant United States Secretary of State, presently the highest-level official in charge of these issues: “My country is changing its tactics or the form of implementing its policy, but it has not abandoned its goals.”

What process of normalization of relations is possible between both countries if this is the supposed new U.S. policy towards Cuba?

In a negotiating process of “give and take” between the United States and Cuba, what can Cuba give to the United States in exchange for the U.S. government to eliminate the Helms-Burton law and all the regulations that make up the genocidal policy of Embargo? What can Cuba give the United States government so that it eliminates the equally genocidal Cuban Adjustment Act? What can Cuba give the United States for that government to return the illegally and forcibly occupied territory in Guantánamo bay where for more than a century the U.S. has had a naval and military base, and in recent years, it also maintains an infamous concentration camp? What can Cuba give the United States for Washington to end and condemn its policy of State Terrorism maintained against the Cuban people since 1959?

What can Cuba give the United States, for it to bring to trial the Cuban extreme right wing terrorists living in the United States who are responsible for countless and odious crimes, who are the executioners of this policy of State Terrorism?

What can the Cuban people give to the United States government so that it ends the policy of permanent aggression against Cuba that Washington has maintained since the revolutionary triumph in 1959?

What can the Cuban people give the United States government in such a negotiating process, if not its sovereignty, its right to self-determination, its independence, its socialist revolution, all its rights and freedoms, its exceptional gains, its enormous sacrifices, its spilled blood and its dead of more than 56 years of aggression?

Is this the negotiating process that the government of the United States is offering the Cuban people to achieve a normalization of relations between both countries?

The only thing that the U.S. government can sensibly do to really normalize relations between both peoples is to unilaterally and unconditionally dismantle all the framework of war that it has had in place for the last 56 years against the Cuban people; all the structure that has constituted its policy of permanent aggression against the freedoms and rights of the Cuban people, against the inalienable right of Cubans to live and develop in peace.

But now, how is the U.S. government — in this process of normalization of relations between both countries — not just terminate and condemn its policy of State Terrorism against the Cuban people, but rather, how will it bring to justice those terrorists of Cuban extreme right wing organizations before the courts and try them for their crimes? These are indispensable decisions that have to be achieved for the normalization of relations between both countries be attained. It will not be easy for Washington to achieve justice as the victims, their relatives and the rest of the Cuban people demand.

How many victims of that policy of terrorism have there been in Cuba? According to official figures there have been 3,478 people killed and 2,099 maimed. Given the horror that has resulted from the imperial policies of aggression and war against other peoples around the world in the last decades, perhaps the number of Cubans killed and maimed as a result of those years of a sustained terrorist campaign doesn’t seem to be so terrible…

Fidel knew how to place it in the proper context in a memorable speech on October 6, 2001, on remembering the 73 victims of the infamous attack, perpetrated by those same beasts, against a civilian airliner of Cubana de Aviación, on October 6, 1976.

Fidel explained: Comparing the population of Cuba [on October 6, 1976) with that of the United States last September 11, it is as if 7 U.S. planes, each one with 300 passengers onboard, had been downed the same day, at the same time,… And if we estimate the same proportion of the populations, the 3,478 Cuban lives lost due to those terrorist actions that originated in the United States, it would be as if 88,434 people had been assassinated in the United States from terrorist activities, the equivalent of the number of U.S. soldiers who died in the wars of Korea and Vietnam.”

Endless has been the experience and terrible the result of the U.S. State Terrorist policy against the Cuban people. And, obvious differences aside, it has also been hard for us Cubans who for decades have defended the rights of Cuba in the same places where those monsters live and thrive.

Last April 28 marked 36 years since the assassination of our comrade, member of the National Committee of the Antonio Maceo Brigade (Brigada Antonio Maceo), Carlos Muñiz Varela, in San Juan, Puerto Rico. His assassins, all Cuban extreme rightwingers residing in Miami and Puerto Rico, have still not been brought to justice before the courts. The federal authorities in charge, mainly the FBI, are to blame for the fact that justice has not been achieved. They refuse to reveal the proofs in their possession that prove the guilt of the murderers.

But in Puerto Rico the family members and comrades of Carlos, Cubans and Puerto Ricans alike, led by his son, Carlos Muñiz Pérez — today older than his father was in 1979 when he was assassinated at 26 years of age — and our comrade Raúl Álzaga, have not ceased in their efforts to achieve justice for him and for Santiago Mari Pesquera, a young Puerto Rican independence fighter.

So then, what of Washington’s terrorists in Miami, Puerto Rico and other places, the ones who’ve carried out the U.S. policy of State Terrorism that has cost the Cuban people so much blood and suffering all these long decades?

They are here in Miami, still alive. Some of them are: Félix Rodríguez, Luis Posada Carriles, Pedro Remón, Frank Castro Paz, Santiago Álvarez Magriñat, Osvaldo Bencomo Robaina, Sergio Ramos Suárez, Secundino Carrera, Ramón Saúl Sánchez, Guillermo Novo Sampol, Antonio de la Cova, Virgilio Paz Romero, Héctor Fabián, José Dionisio Suárez Esquivel and Luis Crespo. Not many of them are named here, this is only a sample, but many are their hateful crimes.

In these times of change those terrorists ought to feel very vulnerable. The bosses who have protected them, if still alive, are very old and without the power they once enjoyed. The assassins know that many, many, things are changing. As Roberta Jacobson maintains, her government has not abandoned the objectives of its policy with respect to Cuba, but has changed its tactics, the form of implementing its policy… Now anything is possible.

Those terrorists, lackeys of the worst of imperialism, know that imperial powers throughout history, the United States in particular, have shown that they don´t have friends; what they have always shown is that they only have interests. Self interests.

Do these terrorists realize that maybe their days are truly numbered?


Cheap propaganda and a serious subject

March 11, 2015

_1-foro (1) (2)

René Gonzàlez

This post is also available in: Spanish (,)

A propaganda article from (,) reviews -or speculates about- the implications that the changes to the electoral law could represent for the immediate future of Cuba. Somehow pompous, sprinkled with some little lie, embellished with a touch of ignorance, spotted with cliché phrases and also some truths, seasoned with inventions or perhaps psychological projections, it touches on a subject of interest for the future of the island through a Web Forum on the Journal “Juventud Rebelde”.

The subject, as well as the interactive forum on JR, are good for a debate without the mediation by either the Washington Post or ourselves. The mediation by the Washington Post is also good for debate without our mediation. Although we would stay with the Forum on JR we’d rather leave the reader with the three: The forum, the propaganda article and this brief intrusion by the administrator.
Is Cuba on the verge of major political reform?

By Nick Miroff

HAVANA — An online forum published in Cuban state media this week offers the most intriguing sign to date that communist authorities may be preparing to make significant changes to the one-party system Fidel and Raul Castro have controlled for 55 years. self righteous

A new “General Election Law” approved by the ruling Communist Party was announced in state media last month, with few details given.

But in a Web forum on the site of Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth –,), one of the two main state-run daily newspapers, Cubans this week got a glimpse of what the changes might entail, with readers asking openly for direct election of the country’s top leaders and the ability to remove them through a recall vote.

To be clear, the readers’ questions do not amount to a formal announcement, and the responses to them by Cuban election officials revealed little.

Yet the mere publication of such proposals in Cuba’s tightly-controlled state media is remarkable, and not likely a coincidence. Questions and comments from readers on Cuban government sites are carefully filtered, if not planted by editors and party loyalists.

There were several queries like this: “I’d like to know if the possibility of a direct vote for the top leadership positions in the country is under consideration,” asked reader “GCR,” who added that “the current system is (in my view) highly unpopular.”

President Raúl Castro has set the next Communist Party Congress for April 2016, and the events are typically the occasion for reform announcements. With Castro, 83, saying he’ll step down in 2018, next year’s meeting would, in theory, set the stage for the formal transition to a post-Castro era.

Next in line to succeed Castro is Cuba’s first vice president, Miguel Diaz-Canel, 54.

Under the existing, complicated electoral system, Cubans vote among pre-screened parliamentary delegates who in turn elect the government’s top executives, with a Castro always at the helm. There are no political parties, no public debates and no dissenting views. No other political model in the hemisphere is so rigid.

And with U.S.-Cuba tensions easing, Raúl Castro may see a narrow window to make major changes while he and his brother Fidel, 88, are still alive.

Some of the reader questions in the forum seem unprecedented in state media. One reader wanted to know about mechanisms to remove the president or vice president through a recall vote “even before their term is complete.” Another commentator, listed as Carlos Gutierrez, asked for direct elections and for Cuba’s parliamentary sessions to be broadcast live on radio and television.

It is possible that such queries reflect nothing more than a decision by Juventud Rebelde’s editors to opt for less censorship and more open engagement. But that’s unlikely in a country where so little is left to chance.

Raúl Castro has repeatedly insisted that the changes to Cuba’s system he’s implemented are in response to pressure from below, and this type of Web forum may be a way to create a perception of democratic give-and-take.

After a near-fatal illness forced his older brother aside in 2006, Raúl Castro organized public debates in Cuban neighborhoods about the country’s economic model, then presented the reforms that followed — “updates” is the official term — as an expression of popular will.

With the Cuban parliament preparing to return to the long-abandoned halls of the Havana Capitolio as soon as this year, there have also been rumors that the 600-or-so-member body will be downsized and its seats earned through more competitive elections.

Raúl Castro has already proposed term limits for top leadership positions in the government, which his brother ran for 47 years.

Such changes, and even a few of the ones floated in the Web forum this week, would not make Cuba a multi-party liberal democracy overnight. But they would, without a doubt, represent the most important overhaul to Cuba’s ironclad political system in decades.

International Journal of Cuban Studies Book Review of Cuba and Its Neighbours: Democracy in Motion by Arnold August

January 23, 2014

Review by David Grantham
‘It is my intention through this book’, author Arnold August writes, ‘to provide readers with some tools for following the future situation independently, without the blinders of preconceived notions’ (p. 232). For August, the future situation is a rejuvenated Cuban Revolution, and the preconceived notions involve the supposed superiority of United States democracy, which has jaded, even blinded, its citizens against alternative versions of democracy. August aims to remove those blinders through a systemic, comparative analysis of political practices carried out in Cuba and other surrounding countries. However, comparing governing strategies is no novel idea. Where August sets himself apart is in reimagining the practice of democracy. In so doing, August redefines Cuban politics as a form of democracy. Part political science, part history, Democracy in Motion is an intimate unveiling of Cuba’s political process designed to explore the island nation’s ‘approach to democracy’ (p. xiii).
For full three-page Book Review:,

About David Grantham:
He is a PhD Candidate in Modern Latin American History with supporting fields in Modern Middle East History and Modern U.S. Diplomacy at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas. He specializes in Latin American and Middle East diplomacy, politics, and cultural exchange, and has published work on oil diplomacy and Cold War foreign relations. Before coming to academia, David held positions as an area specialist and international security advisor for the United States Air Force.,

Book review: “Cuba and its Neighbors – Democracy in Motion”

October 5, 2013

by: W. T. Whitney Jr. October 4 2013 (PEOPLE’S WORLD)
Many justice-seeking North Americans are standoffish about Cuba. Residual red scare and Cuban ties to the former Soviet Union plus perceptions of a top-down governing style often serve to distract them from democratic realities there. Veteran Cuba watcher Arnold August, based in Montreal, has authored a book, reviewed here, that establishes the fact of Cuban democracy. “Cuba and its Neighbors – Democracy in Motion” enables the reader to broaden his or her understanding of Cuban political life. Biases may slacken, and silence on U.S. assaults on Cuba may become less tolerable.

The author took on an immense task. Relying on interviews with Cuban activists and analysts, he surveys particulars of Cuba’s recent political evolution. He draws upon Cuban history and reviews democratic and socialist innovations unique to Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia – and touches upon the seemingly fixed limitations of U.S.-style democracy. His narrative, at times slow moving, is factual, coherent, and non-polemical in tone.

August characterizes democracy as an ongoing, unfinished process. He prioritizes political participation by all but would exclude those bent on accumulation. He applies these parameters to features of revolutionary struggle in Cuba from slaveholding and colonial times to the present. Political participation and strivings for unity and consensus are constant themes.

Social justice was on the agenda of Cuba’s independence wars in the 19th century. The author shows how constitutions written then influenced Cuba’s 1976 Constitution. August pays homage to the mentoring and ideological legacies of liberation hero José Martí. Revolutionary stirrings of the 1930’s receive attention. Cuba’s Communist Party is portrayed as unique: its model was Martí’s Cuban Revolutionary Party. Two non-communist revolutionary organizations and the former Communist Party joined in its formation in 1965, and the party claims no role in electoral politics.

August indicates the new revolutionary government took reassurance from majority opinion that old-style elections could be dispensed with. Democratic openings flourished, among them: the Federation of Cuban Women, the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, the 1961 literacy campaign, and a people’s militia.

The 1976 constitution, however, set forth ground rules for elections to municipal assemblies, provincial assemblies, and the National Assembly. Planners had considered and rejected Soviet Bloc parliamentary and electioneering precedents. Constitutional reforms in 1992 provided for popular election of half the delegates of the National Assembly and barred the Communist Party from naming members of nomination commissions. As one of his signal contributions, the author describes parliamentary structures in revolutionary Cuba in some detail, and explains how elections work.

He contributes also by highlighting community meetings where big problems are discussed and solutions debated. Attended by almost every adult Cuban, these sessions taking place episodically across the island have yielded recommendations showing up later as decrees and legislation. They materialized prior to a referendum approving the 1976 constitution, again in 1991 in anticipation of constitutional changes the following year, in 1994 amidst economic crisis following the demise of the Soviet Bloc, in 2007-08 as troubles with social security, food production, and low wages loomed, and in 2010 as the Communist Party prepared “Guidelines" for dealing with economic challenges and strengthening Cuban socialism. August cites consensus emanating from these instances of participatory democracy as justification for the National Assembly’s frequent unanimous decisions.

Municipal assemblies are prime venues for participatory democracy, August suggests. They are a potential tool for realizing the decentralization part of current reform efforts. Yet day-to-day functioning of the assemblies is inadequate to the task, he reports. They have difficulties in attending to local needs and taking on administrative tasks performed by the central government. “People's councils” that assume governmental responsibilities have emerged in districts within municipalities.

For Arnold August, movement toward democracy in Cuba proceeds on a rocky road. Bureaucracy and corruption are major obstacles. Tension prevails between hierarchy and popular sovereignty, discontent and consensus, and representative and participatory modes of democracy. We would note that stress, hardship, and shortages caused by U.S. economic blockade lasting half a century also are no help.

August says he wanted “to provide readers with some tools for following the future situation [in Cuba] independently, without the blinders of preconceived notions.” He achieved this while also documenting that democratization has proceeded in Cuba over many years. The message is taken that Cuban democracy is unique, especially because pains have been taken to promote political participation, unity, and consensus on behalf of a socialist future. That’s perhaps one explanation for Cuba’s lonely survival as a socialist nation following disappearance of the Soviet Union, and for its capacity to withstand U.S. siege.

Cuba and its Neighbors – Democracy in Motion
By Arnold August
Fernwood Publishing, Halifax, Winnipeg, 2013
ISBN 978-1-55266-404-9,


July 18, 2013

Some basic features of the book including the role of the so-called “left” dissidents.

Arnold August author of Cuba and Its Neighbours: Democracy in Motion
Watch YouTube:,

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