By: Mónica Baró
With the theme of ongoing transformations, I get concerned about the prevailing conception of participation, because they often stressed the need for people to engage, but also find that there is no real answer of participation. So to what extent can participation function as something that is ordered?
What you say has to do with the design of distribution of real power that exists in Cuba, which is very little redistributive, which concentrates much in one place and creates a depletion of effective power in the other pole. You cannot concentrate power in the party, in a vertical management structure, decision maker and controls time and space that makes the decisions, ensuring its continuity, but the other side is a very weak public in the sense of weakened, which may speak and that is consulted, but has little chance of deciding or co-deciding
What we may be seeing with people who supposedly do not want to participate, is that they are living much wear processes in which they can be consulted, but very have little power of decision on the matters on which they are consulted. So instead of demanding more from rhetoric to the apathetic individual we would have to rethink the design of participation to build the capacity to take part in decision-making processes.
If people take ownership of the policy as how to defend their rights and used the policy to determine the price of bread, oil, tomato paste or soap in Cuba (and so the international relations of the country) we would have much more participation. Because politics is that, not deciding on dimensional spaces but to be able to modify the conditions on which it is decided.
El incentivo de la participación no viene solo del discurso, viene de la capacidad real de ejercer la participación. Una vez que la gente participa, ya se hace una cultura que se incentiva por sí misma cuando se empieza a ver los frutos de lo que se está haciendo.
About this issue, usually arise questions of why people do not mobilize more, what if many consider traditional organizations do not represent their interests, they do not then create alternative forms of association, when we have a government that doesn’t repress at levels others do in Latin America. Okay, we do not have the most ideal structural conditions to generate meaningful participation, but why do not people mobilized and organize to transform these conditions? How would you explain this?
It seems to me that there has been so much wear and accumulation of power in a pole, State party pole in respect to the pole of social, people have stopped seeing in politics a real possibility of change. As a practice they have discouraged the political organization of the people themselves. That’s one explanation. There are other possible, but I think the fundamental value is that we must regain the confidence that playing politics can change things.
In that sense we have had great involutions. And that is the opposite of a revolution. A revolution is the politicization of everyday life, the ability to put the possibility of living and sharing of best ways under an order regulated by collective decisions. The politicization of everyday life speaks of a cultural failure of what should be a revolution. Those ideas that you find in so many people that are not interested in politics, that is useless, that is corrupt, they have more to do with politics is alien. And when policy is foreign to you because the policy is not yours, and if not yours, you’ve been deprived of it, and the first condition that makes us citizens is to possess the capability of doing politics.
However, it is necessary to address other experiences that are organized and do it well, as the LGBTI community and other anti-racist groups, although greater coordination between these actors beyond specific situations would be necessary.
There is research which is titled Estado, participación y representación políticas en Cuba. Diseño institucional y prácticas políticas tras la reforma constitucional de 1992, which addresses these issues very deeply. I would be interested to share a little from that study, what are the main obstacles you see in the current institutional design for direct participation of the people and control of their representatives?
One of the main deficiencies of the system of popular power, which is the Cuban state system, it is very little state. It has very little state power. The decision lies in areas that are linked with the State but do not go through the representative structure of the State, as the parliamentary deliberation, local accountability meetings, and so on.
It is a vertical system, in which, as regulated by the Constitution, the supreme bodies directed to the lower. The design produces an inverse relationship which should happen, because citizenship becomes an agent of the state rather than the state an agent of citizenship. And that has many ways to materialize in institutional design. It takes place when, for example, any number of citizens grouped together cannot trigger a constitutional referendum and only the National Assembly of People’s Power (ANPP) can do it
Right now, the constitutional reform is underway should be submitted to popular referendum. The Constitution provides for conducting referendum if the organizational structure of the Cuban State, which was revised in Artemisa and Mayabeque when the state government is separated into these two provinces are modified, and the catalog of rights and duties of citizenship, which also is being modified, for example, the issue of development of the non-state sector and labor and trade union rights.
However, if the Assembly decides not to modify either of these contents I mentioned, it decides to reform them itself. What no Cuban could do citizen, even if they were five million, is to say that they, as citizens will bring the text to a referendum. The ANPP can do as deemed legal requirements such as occurred in 1992, which estimated as necessary to the referendum popular-but from our place as citizens, we do not have that possibility. And this shows that we are in a different relationship than it should be, where we would be the first generation in politics and the state that should become an instrument of that policy.
Another thing that goes in this direction is that the electoral law defines as part of the activities of the deputy to explain to their constituents the State policy. “The deputies to the National Assembly of People’s Power have the duty to perform their work for the benefit of the people’s interests, maintain contact with their voters, listen to their problems, suggestions and criticisms, and explain the policy of the State”. At no point it is talking about developing government policy with their constituents and defend that policy over other state agencies. What happens is that the State makes politics and its representatives explain it to citizens.
Revocation, another example, which is a fundamental value of a democratic political relationship between the voter and the representative is designed in a way which is very difficult, almost impossible, to revoke a municipal delegate at the end of a term. First you have to spend a year before filing the appeal, but cannot reverse in the last six months the mandate, and if the municipal assembly meets only twice in that year, and are twice which has to pass the project revocation by the municipal assembly, at the end it is very difficult to achieve.
So revocation is designed, but the design itself hinders it. Furthermore, the operation discourages revocation, because the representative is someone with so little power of decision does not make much sense to ask if it is revoked will improve something, because the condition will not change is the condition in which he unfolds. Whoever comes afterwards will have the same capacity for decision and you should revoke him again and so on.
I think that is about changing the structure of the participation of the Cuban State and making it independent of party for it to effectively belongs to its citizens. So far, the Constitution stipulates that the state belongs to the party, while the party goes to the state, but sovereignty must file on citizens, to make true Article Three of the Constitution: “In the Republic of Cuba sovereignty resides in the people from whom originates all state power.”
Faced with these obstacles, what possibilities exist to promote effective changes from citizenship? Or is expected to occur to decision makers? What alternatives are perceived?
Open to social proposals, direct, recognized dialogue, on which all information is provided, is a first step. To think that there are no alternatives is the first condition so that nothing changes. Official policy has remained motionless around the popular power. Since 1991 there has been strong official statements about the situation of people power in party congresses, making showing awareness of the seriousness of the problems it faces. There has been an accommodation in that wear befitting a continuo style that has not taken responsibility for realizing the huge problem that the shortcomings mean real state power, facing its legitimacy and acceptance by citizens.
The last of interest has happened in this field are experiments developed in Artemisa and Mayabeque. However, these should be exposed to information, discussion and proposed alternatives among all citizens. Now it has been reported to be widespread (without knowing what they are specifically, how it has been done, assessments, opinions of the inhabitants of these provinces, etc.) so “concurrent with the implementation of the new Division Administrative Policy “. I think this shows the administrative account that has the issue, not its eminently political character of civic construction.
The possibilities go through achieving much greater social demand. You need to reappropriate politics and reappropriate means demanding a much more powerful, democratic, binding, decision making, relationship between citizens and their state, and establish increasingly controls from citizenship. Not only is an institution control another – that exists and is important, but also controls exist from bottom to the institutional apparatus, there is a permanent need for control that puts officials in a public sphere, accessible all where they are challenged and have to give answers to what they do, beyond the formal spaces which are accountable, and from which solutions arise.
There are experiences that are well tested, not followed here and would be useful, for example, implement the temporal limitation of the mandate across scales -for only nationally decided they were five-year terms each, and up to two terms, declared incompatible functions and rotation in office; and open to the public the ability to legally challenge the administration, which means power to prosecute or sue for mismanagement to administrative bodies. For there are a range of alternatives that can be developed in addition to others linked to the self-organization of citizens to answer and create state decisions.
About this constitutional reform process that is expected to occur, how do you think it will develop and how you think should be developed?
I imagine is going to be a fairly controlled process. A committee will draft a document to be queried as other documents, and will be changed somewhere, but its strongest senses come determined by the initial project.
However, what I strongly believe should happen is a national constitutional process in which alternatives become visible, they can communicate and discuss, to appear in the Granma newspaper and on any website. And that society has legitimate ways to organize, which channels are enabled not only for the state to consult a specifically organized way for citizens but also organized by itself contribute their proposals and build complementary communication channels, not necessarily substitutes state, to add demands, projects, and other imaginations. Because documents are dimensioned so that the discussion is about gradations of a measure to take, and sometimes the problem is not the measure itself but of imagination that leads to that extent. A problem with more or less the same imagination that created the problem but with a different imagination is not resolved.
Such action would regain political trust. Otherwise they lose, again, because they have lost others, a great opportunity. A constitution is not something that is done every day, but neither is beginning or end of anything. Social History shows that, what really changes a political era is that people appropriate ways of doing things for themselves. A constitution means nothing as text only. What determines new is the novelty in the forms of organization of people. We should judge the ability to change the future and what we are today by the ability of people to organize themselves and not by the final document to come out of that organization.
I am not an optimist but a person that trusts social capacity to create. There is no way that a draft made by three, ten thousand people, no matter how capable they are, can exceed the creativity of millions. If problems affect us all, solutions have to be compulsorily of all. People know of his life because he has to stay and keep their children, send them to school, buy shoes, educate and try to be happy. And that wisdom, the experience, you have to listen, because politics is about responding to the needs of everyday life, not a huge future projects, which will only be stronger to the extent that respond to everyday projects. If a constitution manages to include the world of values of people, it becomes more powerful as a document regulating national life.
As a citizen, and as a jurist who has studied the Constitution and its Articles minutely, what three essential changes would you make if you could?
I think they have to admit entry to any form of organization of society, as an expression of popular sovereignty, ie, there is a legal framework for any organization that meets the frame is authorized by law. It’s what he does, for example, the Constitution of Ecuador, which contains enormous values and, like all, many problems.
Another thing I would do, related to the first, would enable strict autonomy of social organizations and avoid subordination to any political organization, to respond only to their bases. If they are are unions they will respond only to workers, whether they are students, responding only to students. But that no superior political organization should subordinate them. That would be a more pluralized and legitimized civil society.
We have to think a lot today, too, on rights to property, for use of the property must not be arbitrarily deprived of it, so if someone starts a small business tomorrow cannot be stripped of the ability to exercise because disallow it. I am talking of property not only about physical goods but as ability to control the dynamics of economic and social processes in which they participate. But also, and this is part of the same problem, we need rights to the property, which means controlling the capitalist use of the property, that which is used to accumulate unlimited gain excluding others from exercising her and mocking social and environmental commitments.
Do not be afraid to property per se. We need properties to live. We need a house that is ours in that it cannot get someone -a person or a bank, and evict us. But also, we need to prevent the property can concentrate in a way that dispossess others the opportunity to own property. They are the rights to the property. The Cuban institutional discourse is saying today in terms of avoiding the concentration of ownership, but I must also enable political, social, institutional, legal mechanisms to avoid it daily, protect the dispossessed and promote access to the property.
We should also remove any reference to a state doctrine, which exists in both the Constitution retains the appeal of Marxism (-Leninism) and content of educational and cultural policy, and the duty of every citizen to “observe standards of socialist coexistence “. I am a committed socialist, but I do not want socialist morality is the morality of the State, or that “Marxism-Leninism” is the official ideology, because the state must belong to all its citizens, and cannot have a moral or an ideology imposed by law on all members of society. They have different ideologies and choice between them and moral existence. The state must be able to enable public conditions for the exercise of freedom distributed, but not determine the moral or ideology to follow for their citizens. The latter should be an individual choice, if we defend both individual and social freedom.
Finally, what do you think Cuba can learn from the new Latin American constitutionalism, particularly the experiences of Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador?
All these constitutions were made with large constituent processes with large social movements, who recorded many of the contents that are now enshrined in constitutions. When the genealogy of the contents that are placed in these texts is made, is that there is only a committee, a small group, a party. What they have is are hundreds, or thousands, of groups, groups, movements.
I think it’s very important that we can learn the value of collective mobilization and popular organization to generate consecrations of rights and a more favorable to the same political majority. I think that’s a great learning experience. They are governments who have gone to the left, or center-left, as desired, but are governments imaginations in several areas related to Cuba and make the field more favorable alliances to Cuba in Latin America today. And far from suspecting the pluralization of politics, the explosion of politics, is born precisely from these explosions.
In Cuba we pay too much attention to the institutional organization of power and think these reflect major changes have been the work of great leaders, and looks less how they have grown, organizing, and the amount of movement that live within them, found their strength and virtue in this political accumulation and its diversity. Beyond this or that article, of certain rights that fascinate me in some of these constitutions, some guarantees do not exist here, which I think is fundamental is to aspire to a vivid politics as much amplified social process, a creation much more collective order.