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A Submission to the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review
Cuba holds an admirable place in the international community regarding the protection and promotion of the rights of its citizens. In Cuba everyone is guaranteed an education and access to universal and free healthcare. In Cuba no one is “disappeared” or the victim of extra-judicial execution. In Cuba there are no homeless roaming the streets, no one left to fend for themself, eking out an existence in a dog-eat-dog society. Cuba is not a haven for the economic violence that reigns in so many countries. This submission will briefly summarize Cuba’s domestic achievements, as well, as the island’s considerable contribution to the well-being of the world’s nations and peoples.
Cuba & Human Rights: The Social Sphere
Cuba admirably fulfills its responsibilities under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The annual United Nations Human Development Report (HDR) attests to the success in this regard of the Cuban Revolution. These annual reports are recognized as the most comprehensive and extensive determination of the well being of the world’s peoples. Since its inception, the HDR has repeatedly confirmed the advances and progress of the Cuban Revolution. Cuba is firmly placed in the High Human Development category. Moreover, Cuba ranks 1st in terms of the relationship between economic means and capacity for human development. In other words, Cuba’s ranking in the Human Development Report outstrips its per capita world ranking. Thus, in the effective use of resources for human benefit, Cuba out-performs the much richer countries of the so-called “developed world. In short, Cuba is a country that effectively uses its very modest resources for the benefit of its citizens.
It bears noting that for any country to try to cope with and overcome the current worldwide economic crisis in a manner that favours its people, not the global monopolies, is no small feat. This is all the more true for a country such as Cuba that is subjected to a brutal all-sided economic war from the United States. One cannot forget that Cuba’s impressive achievements in human development have occurred in the face of all-sided aggression by Washington, which has never accepted the January 1, 1959 verdict of the Cuban people. Washington’s objective is the negation and extinguishing of Cuba’s right to self-determination and independence. The U.S. economic blockade is the principal obstacle to Cuba’s social and economic development, having cost the island nation in excess of $1 trillion U.S, constituting it is a flagrant violation of the human rights of the people of Cuba.
Cuba and Human Rights: The Political System
Cuba is almost invariably portrayed as a serious violator of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; a totalitarian regime, a veritable “gulag” guided and controlled by the Castro brothers: first, Fidel and, now, Raúl. However, this position cannot be sustained once the reality of Cuba is assessed on its own merits. Extensive democratic popular participation in decision-making is at the centre of the Cuban model of governance. The official organs of government in Cuba are the municipal, provincial and national assemblies of the Poder Popular (People’s Power) structures. The National Assembly is the sole body with legislative authority, with delegates – as in the provincial and municipal assemblies – directly elected by the Cuban electorate. The National Assembly chooses from amongst its members the Council of State, which is accountable to the National Assembly and carries out its duties and responsibilities, such as the passage and implementation of decrees, when the National Assembly is not in session.
Cubans are not preoccupied with a mere mechanical implementation of a rigid, unchanging model. Contrary to dominant misconceptions, the Cuban political system is not a static entity. Cubans are involved in an intense learning process whose hallmark has been experimentation and willingness to correct mistakes and missteps by periodic renovation of their democratic project. Thus, the system responds to popular demands for adjustment.
In 1992, the Constitution and electoral laws were modified to require the direct popular election of all members of the national and provincial assemblies. Previously, only the municipal assemblies were directly elected, with the make-up of the provincial assemblies determined by a vote of municipal delegates and, in turn, the National Assembly composition established by provincial representatives. Also, the creation of the popular councils was directly aimed at increasing the power of local government and reducing the impact of bureaucracy.
Second, the function of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) is significantly circumscribed, as it does not operate as an electoral party. Cuban law proscribes the PCC from playing any role in the nomination of candidates. At the municipal level, the nominations occur at street meetings, where it is the constituents who directly participate in and control the selection. Each municipality is divided into several circumscriptions, or districts, comprised of a few hundred people. Each circumscription nominates candidates and elects a delegate who serves in the local municipal assembly. There is a high degree of popular participation in the selection of candidates, marked by active and uncorked citizen interaction and involvement.
The elections at the municipal level are competitive and the casting of ballots is secret. The organization of the elections and counting of the ballots are transparent and free of fraud. Even Hildebrando Chaviano, a government opponent who ran and lost in 2015, admitted the validity of the elections, stating, “The vote was clean. The count was clean. The people don’t want change. They still want the revolution.” By law, there must be at least two candidates and a maximum of eight. In the 2015 elections, 27,379 candidates competed for 12,589 municipal assembly posts, the first rung on Cuba’s political ladder.
At the provincial and national levels, candidacy commissions select and sift through thousands of people. The commissions are comprised of representatives from the various mass and grassroots organizations and are presided over by workers’ representatives chosen by the unions. The PCC is prohibited from participation in the work of the commissions. Therefore, it is the norm for ordinary working people to be both nominated and elected. The commissions’ recommendations are then presented to the municipal assemblies for final approval. By law, up to 50 percent of National Assembly deputies can be municipal assembly delegates. The other members of the National Assembly are persons from every sphere of Cuban society: the arts, sports, science, religion etc.
The selection process ensures a broad representation of society.In the 2013 national election of the 612 representatives in Cuba’s National Assembly of the People’s Power, a record number are 299 women (48.9%), up from 43.2, 37.09 percent are black and 82.68 are university graduates. The average age is 48.
Each member of the National Assembly, including President Raúl Castro, is directly elected and must receive more than 50 percent of the vote in her or his constituency. In Cuban municipal, provincial and national elections, the turnout is very high, usually in the ninetieth percentile. The vote, as in municipal elections, is by secret ballot. Also, although a single national delegate list is put to the electorate, not all candidates receive the same number of votes as Cubans exercise their discretion in a very serious, deliberate and definite fashion. There is no formal campaigning, which curtails the role of money in Cuban elections. Instead, a month before the election, a biography of each candidate is displayed in various public places, where they can be perused at the convenience of the entire electorate.
The objective of circumscribing formal campaigning is avoid the development of professional politicking in which money and backroom deals become the driving force of the political system. Elections in Cuba are free of the commercial advertising that dominates and has come to denote the political system in capitalist countries. Professional politicking and politicians are viewed as symbolic of the corrupt past and marginalization of the citizenry that characterized pre-revolutionary Cuba. Consequently, the sons and daughters of workers and peasants comprise virtually all the delegates of the national, provincial and municipal assemblies.
Third, an intimate relationship exists between the elected municipal delegates and the people they serve. Each delegate must live in the electoral district (usually comprising a maximum of 2,000 people). Each municipal assembly meets four times a year and elects from its membership a president, vice president and a secretary. These are the only full-time, paid positions in Cuban local government; all other members of the municipal assemblies are unpaid and continue in the jobs they had before they were elected. Delegates have a high degree of familiarity with their constituency and are constantly on call. Every six months, there is a formal accountability session at which complaints, suggestions and other community interests (planteamientos) are raised with the delegates.
The delegate must then attempt to resolve the matter or provide an explanation at the following accountability session. Consequently, the delegate must account for her or his work carried out since the previous session. Each planteamiento is carefully recorded, and approximately 70 percent are resolved. These planteamiento sessions have resulted in local issues being taken to the national level where they are examined and discussed, thus, ensuring popular input into government policy. If constituents are dissatisfied with the performance of their representative, then she or he can be recalled or voted out in the next round of elections. From election to election there is high turnover in representatives. For example in 2013, 67% of the delegates were newly elected, entering the municipal assemblies for the first time.
Fourth, the Cuban system eschews the adversarial approach that dominates the western political processes. In the work and meetings of the municipal, provincial assemblies and the National Assembly, the goal of achieving unity and consensus is central. The unanimous votes that occur are not indicative of a rubberstamp mentality but a consensus that is arrived at through extensive and intensive discussion, dialog and debate that precedes the final vote in the National Assembly: the end-point of a long, conscientious and sometimes arduous process. The National Assembly has 10-permanent commissions that discuss and debate a wide-range of topics, including, among many others, the economy, foreign investment, industry, the environment, constitutional and legal affairs, education, culture, science and technology.
Fifth, the Cuba political system is augmented by a very active and vibrant civil society. A critical aspect of the Cuban political system is the integration of a variety of mass organizations into political activity. No new policy or legislation can be adopted or contemplated until the appropriate organization or association representing the sector of society that would be directly affected has been consulted. These organizations have very specific functions and responsibilities. In addition to the Communist Party, the Young Communist League and the Confederation of Cuban Workers, there are the Cuban Federation of Women, the Committees to Defend the Revolution, the National Association of Small Farmers and the Federation of University Students.
The mass organizations are supplemented by numerous professional and other associations that represent the specific interests of other sectors, including for example, lawyers, economists, journalists, writers and artists, the physically challenged and stamp collectors. As Ricardo Alarcon, former president of Cuba’s National Assembly underscores, “these associations and organizations embrace practically the entire universe of activities, interests and problems of all Cubans.” Mass organizations, unlike the Communist Party, are granted through Article 88 (c) of the Constitution the right to propose legislation in the areas that fall under their jurisdiction. Hence, these organizations have a dynamic existence, and Cuba is replete with almost daily assemblies, meetings and gatherings of various organizations to discuss and examine particular issues, in conjunction with the participation of government officials. This daily engagement of the citizenry with government is the essence of the Cuban political process.
Additionally, when critical decisions have to be made regarding the direction of Cuban society, the country is transformed into a vast island-wide parliament. For example, in 2010-2011 a mass discussion was held on Los Lineamentos, the proposals to renew and update the Cuban economic model. From December 2010-February 2011: 163, 079 meetings, involving almost 9-million people, were held to discuss the various proposals and guidelines. As a result of this mass national discussion and debate across the island and in Cuba’s National, Provincial & Municipal Assemblies more than two-thirds of the original 291 proposals were modified: eventually 311 guidelines emerged. These 311 guidelines were further debated and discussed at the 6th Congress of the PCC Congress in which 86-guidelines (28%) of the 311 were amended, with 2 new ones adopted, resulting in 313 guidelines. However, this has not been the end of the national discussion and debate. The three documents that outline Cuba’s future path – Los Lineamentos; la Conceptualización del Modelo Económico y Social Cubano de Desarrollo Socialistaand Plan 2030 – are the product of this profound mass engagement with Cuban citizens. These documents were subjected to another nation-wide scrutiny and analysis by Cuban citizens in 2016.
Cuba in the World: Internationalism
Cuba’s contributions to advancing and defending human rights extend beyond the geographical boundaries of the island nation. Since its inception, the Cuban Revolution has made – and continues to make – an invaluable contribution to the global struggle for human rights, justice, social development and human dignity. Cuba has established an unparalleled legacy of internationalism and humanitarianism, embodying the immortal words of José Martí: “Homeland is Humanity. Humanity is Homeland.” For example, Cuba played a crucial role in African national and anti-colonial liberation struggles (from Algeria to South Africa). In the struggle to defeat the racist apartheid regime in South Africa more than 2,000 Cubans gave their lives. This has not been – nor will ever be – forgotten by Africans. The late Nelson Mandela stated: “The Cuban people hold a special place in the hearts of the peoples of Africa. The Cuban internationalists have made a contribution to African independence, freedom and justice, unparalleled for its principled and selfless character…Cubans came to our region as doctors, teachers, soldiers, agricultural experts, but never as colonizers.”
Today this Cuban commitment to humanity is mirrored in the tens of thousands of medical personnel and educators who have served and continue to serve across the world, battling in the trenches against disease and illiteracy. In 2014, for example, Havana responded without hesitation to the Ebola epidemic in the West African nations of Guinea, Liberia & Sierra Leone. The Cuban medical mission was the largest sent by any country, consisting of 461 Cuban doctors and nurses chosen from more than 15,000 volunteers. Africa called and Cuba answered.
Even at this difficult time, when the island-nation is dealing with the havoc wrought by Hurricane Irma’s, Cuba’s deep internationalist spirit has once again been profoundly demonstrated by the sending of more than 750 Cuban health workers to Antigua & Barbuda, Dominica, Haiti, Saint Kitts & Nevis, Saint Lucia, and the Bahamas.
The Cuban doctors serving across the world are motivated not by financial gain but by the profound internationalist values of solidarity inculcated since the triumph of the Cuban Revolution. Since 1959, more than 300,000 Cuban medical workers have served in 158 countries. Currently, 50,000 Cuban doctors and nurses are serving in 66 countries across Latin America, Africa and Asia, with more than 4,000 Cuban healthcare personnel treating people in 32 African countries. As Dr. Jorge Perez Ávila, the director of Cuba’s Pedro Kouri Institute for Tropical Medicine, noted: “Our principle has been to share what we have.”
Cuba’s achievements occur within a very specific political context. It is the political base of the Cuban Revolution that has been the guarantor and motive force upon which these achievements rest.
The Cuban revolution is an outgrowth of Cuba’s long struggle to achieve independence and establish an autochthonous nation-building project rooted in its historical legitimacy as the vehicle for the realization of these historical aspirations. Periodically, the Cuban people reaffirm these historical aspirations, which are expressed in a political consensus to defend the revolutionary project. The Human Development Reports, for example, bear out this reality and demand reflection; they validate the revolutionary path chosen by the Cuban people.
Cuba’s very existence reaffirms the inalienable right of the people of Cuba – and all other peoples – to determine their future and their political, economic and social system without external interference: a right enshrined in the United Nations Charter, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Declaration on Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations and Co-Operation Among States in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.
The example of Cuba assumes even greater significance as the 21st century unfolds, fraught with grave dangers that threaten the well being of the peoples of the world. In the midst of these profound challenges, Cuba refutes those who argue that relations within and among the world’s nations and peoples are — and can only be — determined by self-interest, the pursuit of power and wealth. Cuba illustrates that societies can be centred on social justice, human dignity and international solidarity.