Democracy exists more in Cuba’s government than in Canada’s, according to the Cuba Edmonton Solidarity Committee. The 12-member committee recently sent a letter to Stephen Harper asking him to stop supporting President Obama’s veto of Cuba at the Summits of the Americas until the country has a duly elected government.
The letter states that Canada might not be so democratic itself as the country is ruled by an unelected queen and that, as prime minister, Harper governs the country with a majority government that received less than half the vote. It also states the House of Commons may be elected, but is sworn to serve the queen and not the people and that the Senate and governors are appointed, whereas Cuba has a 31-member Council of State elected by the National Assembly of People’s Power. And while Canada’s population of 34 million are represented by 308 members or elected officials, Cuba’s population of 11 million are represented by 614.
Committee member Rod Loyola says people are under the impression that Cuba is a military dictatorship but that nothing could be further from the truth.
“We acknowledge that Cuba has a communist government, but the Communist Party is not an electoral party,” Loyola says. “So the way that the democratic system works in Cuba is that you can either belong to the party or not, but really it’s based on a very similar structure as the community-league model here in Edmonton.”
Loyola says just like you might belong to a central neighbourhood committee in Edmonton, Cubans choose to join neighbourhood CDRs—Committees for the Defence of the Revolution—which began after the 1959 Cuban Revolution as a measure to keep watch over everyone and to protect the country from invasion. Loyola says the CDRs of today are focused on bringing people from the neighbourhood together and trying to figure out what major problems they are dealing with while searching for solutions.
“Yes, in Cuba there is a level of scarcity of specific products,” Loyola says. “So, for example, if you need a sidewalk fixed in front of a particular house, or something like that, well, it may not happen because the concrete may need to be used for something else, like at a playground. But what’s really interesting is those decisions are made in common with the people right there in the committee.”
Each CDR elects a representative who has to win by more than a 50-percent margin, he explains. Before attending a music festival in Cuba a few years ago, Loyola says he’d heard all these things and was skeptical of Cuban politics, but ended up meeting university students who explained the system to him.
“The particular students that I was with were very happy with the system because they see that it’s serving the people of Cuba. Of course, many people go to resorts, for example, in Cuba and they speak to people who are working at the resorts who may not be as happy with the system. But I find that when you leave the resort area and you start exchanging with everyday Cubans that aren’t necessarily working in the resort industry, you get a much different point of view.”
He says the outside influence from tourists leads those in the resort industry to see money flowing freely and question why Cuba can’t be like Canada, Europe or the United States.
“But the reality is that what we may see as economic value through currency, they get through specific programs like free universal health care and free education,” Loyola says. “So they’re just getting it in different ways. Some people appreciate that and some people don’t appreciate that. Just like anywhere in the world, you’re going to have lumpenproletariat people who are like, ‘I don’t want to study, so they don’t go to university.’”
Loyola notes the committee is not implying that one country is better than the other, but is asking what can be learned from the Cuban experience and applied in Canada.
“Now no political system is perfect, but the main point that we’re trying to get across to Harper is that Cuba is a democracy and should be allowed to participate just like every other American State in the Organization of American States and they shouldn’t be penalized,” he explains. “This has gone on long enough. And part of this is the blockade against Cuba that the United States has perpetuated for all these years.”
The support for Cuba has been growing over the past decade—Loyola says at the last United Nations vote, only three countries voted to continue the embargo against Cuba—but as the United States has veto power at the UN, they can squash any motion to lift what Loyola calls a blockade but is referred to as an embargo at the UN. He says the difference between an embargo and a blockade is the first means the majority of countries at the UN level agree that a country is perpetuating human-rights offences, but a blockade is when one country makes the decision for everyone else.
“It would be one thing if the US just didn’t trade with Cuba, but what happens is that through the Organization of American States, the United States flexes its muscle and says ‘Well, if you trade with Cuba, then we won’t trade with you or we will find some way to punish you economically through our trade relations.’”