PEOPLE POWER: Cuba goes to the polls

2008 is an election year. Early in the new year, the US presidential election campaigns were front-page news in the British media, keen to show the merits of ‘democracy’, as candidates of war, poverty and bourgeois rule compete for power. The election doesn’t take place until November 2008 – billions of dollars will be spent on the whole charade and millions of working class people in the US will see no reason to vote. Meanwhile in Cuba, the opposite has been taking place. Under a system known as People’s Power, Cuba’s recent local and national elections involved the vast majority of the population taking an active part. Real democracy is alive and kicking in Cuba. LOUIS BREHONY reports.

Local elections
Under socialism in Cuba elections involve the masses in every step. The election of representatives to the 169 municipal assemblies of people’s power took place on 21 October 2007, but the process began on 1 September. Over the course of 26 days, more than 50,670 meetings took place in community halls, centres and on streets to nominate candidates to stand in the election. Over 7 million Cubans took part in debates about who should represent their area. On 27 September it was announced that 37,328 candidates had been nominated for election, with a significant 17% rise in women nominees.

 

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Cuba news / FRFI 203 Jun / Jul 2008

FRFI 203 June / July 2008

Bank of ALBA founded
ALBA member states have officially established the Bank of ALBA with initial financing of US$1bn. The bank will promote economic integration between ALBA countries and invest in infrastructure and social projects within them.

ALBA (an acronym in Spanish for Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas) is an anti-neoliberal alliance of countries that now includes Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Dominica. The bank aims to free member countries from dependency on the World Bank and the IMF, which has caused havoc in Latin America through the oppressive loan conditions these institutions impose on debtor countries. In contrast the ALBA bank will not impose loan conditions. All member countries have an equal vote on funding decisions, and contribute capital according to their ability to pay. Each member state will host a branch of the bank, with the head office based in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas.

 

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Cuba: strengthening socialism not consumerism

Recent measures introduced in Cuba have led to wishful thinking among Cuba’s enemies in the corporate media, who have seized on them as evidence of a return to capitalism. In reality they are the result of a profound process of self-criticism and debate within socialism.

On 24 February, following his election as President of the Council of State in the National Assembly of People’s Power, Raul Castro said that ‘the people’s mandate to this legislature is very clear: to continue strengthening the Revolution at a historical juncture which demands from us to be dialectic and creative’. He called for less centralisation and bureaucracy, giving the example of better milk production and distribution as testimony to local decision-making and arguing that this approach could work in other areas of the economy: ‘a more compact and operational structure is required, with a lower number of institutions under the central administration of the State and a better distribution of their functions’. There is, of course, no suggestion of a ‘Chinese-style’ market economy, so destructive to socialism: ‘Good planning is most important for we cannot spend more than we have.’

 

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A Cuban communist speaks

Teresita Trujillo works for the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party. From Cuba, she kindly agreed to answer a wide-ranging series of questions from FRFI.

The EU has recently voted to formally end diplomatic sanctions against Cuba. To what extent does this open the way to improved diplomatic and commercial links with European countries? What barriers to these, if any, remain?

The recent decision adopted by the Council, to end the diplomatic sanctions introduced in 2003, is a step forward in the rectification of EU policy on Cuba and a defeat for the present US Administration, which put enormous pressure on its European allies to prevent such a decision.

 

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Exposing Cuba’s enemies in the British press

Recent changes in Cuba’s wage system, removing the cap on bonuses for workers who meet or exceed production targets, were portrayed in the international media as a step towards capitalist restoration in Cuba. Guardian reporter Rory Carroll, a long-standing critic of Cuban socialism, was cock-a-hoop. But his crowing is premature for, as HELEN YAFFE points out in this response, salary scales are not new in Cuba, and this measure has nothing to do with the return of capitalism.

Rory Carroll’s article ‘Cuban workers to get bonuses for extra effort’ (The Guardian, 13 June 2008) was yet another misrepresentation of recent developments in Cuba. There has never been an ‘egalitarian wage system’, nor has ‘every worker’s wages been the same from a doctor to a street cleaner’ – as stated in the website interview with Carroll.

 

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Cuban 5 convictions upheld

On 4 June a US federal appeals court upheld convictions against the Cuban 5, political prisoners held in US gaols. At the same time it decided the sentences against three of them were too harsh, including two who are serving life sentences. These cases have been sent back to the Florida federal court for resentencing. Hannah Caller reports on the frame-up in the case of the Cuban 5.

 

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Cuban agriculture: a sustainable path

Roberto Perez, Cuban biologist and permaculturist [permaculture is the study of sustainable, organic, small-scale agricultural production], toured Britain in September with the Permaculture Association to promote Cuba’s achievements in organic agriculture and urban farming. While in Britain, he spoke to FRFI.

FRFI: To what extent can the example of Cuba’s achievements in sustainable agriculture be applied to capitalist countries?
Perez: I believe that capitalist societies are too based on individualism to allow these necessary changes. But as the crisis escalates, people will be forced to organise in this way. There will be no alternative faced with the combined effects of climate change, biofuels and peak oil [when oil reserves begin to run out]. Extreme climatic events – floods, droughts and rising sea levels – will affect everyone. If business as usual continues, it will exhaust resources. This situation cannot be solved with technological gadgets or market solutions. It’s necessary to go down a sustainable path of community-based solutions, social awareness and social justice.

 

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Cuba: in the eye of the storm

Between 30 August and 7 September, two Category 4 hurricanes passed through Cuba, wreaking destruction on a mass scale. More than 300,000 homes were damaged, the country’s electricity grid was plunged into chaos and thousands of hectares of crops were destroyed, at a cost of around $5bn. Cuba’s development plans have been set back, but through all the turmoil, Cuba’s organised response shows how socialism is capable of defending human life. LOUIS BREHONY reports.

Hurricane Gustav
Gustav struck Cuba on the afternoon of 30 August. 60,000 people had been evacuated the previous night. Gustav’s 150mph winds damaged or destroyed 90,000 homes and knocked down 80 electricity pylons in Pinar del Rio alone. On the Isle of Youth, the entire electricity grid was brought down. In Cuba no one lost their life to Gustav, but there were 138 deaths in other countries across the Caribbean and the US.

 

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Cuba: 4 articles

Improving access to land and cultivation in Cuba

On 23 November 2008, a collective of workers and farmers in San Agustin in Camaguey province, central-eastern Cuba, celebrated the first official hand-over of land in ‘usufruct’ (as a free loan) with a day of voluntary work in homage to Che Guevara. HELEN YAFFE reports
.

13 farmers each received their property titles in return for a commitment to cultivate 12.5 acres of land with vegetables, grains and fruits, as well as breeding cattle and other animals. This is part of a new campaign to give access to currently idle land to Cubans who apply to turn it to production. The producers do not pay rent, nor can they purchase the land, but it is granted in usufruct for ten years to individuals and for 25 years for collectives and cooperatives. The land cannot be sold or transferred to third parties and the new farmers of the land must pay taxes and sell an agreed proportion of their produce to the state at fixed prices.

This measure reflects a drive to increase production – without permanently changing property relations. It does not signify a preference for ‘private’ or decentralised production. This point was underlined by President Raul Castro who, whilst introducing the new law in July 2008, told the National Assembly: ‘I am a firm admirer and defender of large socialist state enterprises, be they agricultural, industrial, or otherwise.’

 

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Guantanamo: rule of law upheld – torture condemned

On 21 January 2009, President Obama made the long-awaited announcement that the US concentration camp at Guantanamo Bay will be closed within the year. This was followed by orders to:

• abolish the secret worldwide network of CIA ‘ghost prisons’
• ban the use of torture by restricting CIA operatives to the US Field Army Manual, which explicitly rules out the use of torture, coercion, physical abuse and threats
• end illegal ‘rendition flights’
• halt and review the use of the infamous ‘military commission’ courts.

The previous day, in his inauguration speech, Obama signalled the new US administration’s commitment to international treaties on human rights, in particular the Geneva Conventions.

 

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Che Guevara: A battle cry against imperialism

FRFI 169 October / November 2002

che flag

‘Let the flag under which we fight be the sacred cause of the liberation of humanity’

35 years ago this October, Ernesto Che Guevara was arrested, tortured and murdered by CIA-trained Bolivian soldiers. After playing a leading role in the Cuban Revolution, both in the war of liberation and in building socialism after 1959, he had travelled as a revolutionary first to Africa and then Bolivia, with the aim of carrying out in practice his call to build ‘two, three and many Vietnams’.

Che Guevara was a revolutionary fighter, an internationalist and, first and last, a communist. His political and economic writings remain vital weapons in the hands of all socialists and continue to inspire those fighting against imperialism around the world today. His example, far from being that of some long-forgotten student icon of the 1960s, remains as vibrant today as the triumph of Cuba’s socialist revolution that it embodies, and lives on in the pledge of successive generations of Cuban school children each morning: ‘We will be like Che!’ As imperialism prepares itself once again for war against the poor of the world, we do well to remember Che’s call: ‘Let every action be a battle cry against imperialism and a call for the unity of the peoples against the great enemy of the human race, the United States of North America.’

 

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