Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Democracy Part 41: The E.U. in Cuba: Reflections From the Cuban Independent Sector

In a recent post I considered the emerging state of E.U.-Cuban relations (The EU to the Rescue of the Cuban Economy? the Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement (PDCA)).  These centered around the Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement (PDCA) negotiations for which were launched in April 2014 and concluded on 11 March 2016.To celebrate this new stage of E.U.-Cuban relations and to move the implementation of the PDCA forward the EU's Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the Commission, paid an official visit to Cuba in early January 2018 for "talks aimed at implementing the PDCA.  It is likely that on the agenda will be the structuring of the Joint Council established by PDCA to oversee the fulfillment of the agreement (PDCA art. 81) and the Joint Committee (Art. 82) charged with the actual implementation of the PDCA (Art. 82)." (The EU to the Rescue). That visit and the PDCA itself, were undertaken within the analytical structure of the EU's 2016 Annual Report on Human Rights and Democracy in the World, in which Cuba was described as "a one-party democracy, in which elections take place at municipal, provincial and national level. At municipal level, candidates can be proposed by the voters and delegates are selected by all voters in the constituency" (Ibid., 261) but on in which "candidates that do not represent mainstream party or mass organisation positions will not become candidates for provincial or national delegates." (Ibid.).

This E.U. initiative produced little interest in the United States, as its press and elites are busy either obsessing about other events deemed more interesting (to them), or in the context of U.S.-Cuban relations on the melodrama that has been the drawn out Affair of the Sonic Weapons Attack. And yet both the visit and more importantly the potential and challenges of the PDCA for the E.U., Cuba and the U.S. are worth careful study and response by the U.S. This is especially the case as the U.S. and Cuba retreat again into ancient patterns of bilateral relations. That reversion provides a space in which the European Union might develop a "common template" for relations with the Cuban state in a way that the U.S. will find increasingly difficult to oppose or bend to its own interests. And, indeed,  template setting is precisely the role that the E.U., in the person of Ms. Mogherini, seeks for itself in Cuba (see, e.g., here). The Cuban State gave prominence to her remarks: "“Regardless of the changes in policy in Washington, the message I am bringing here is that Cuba's friendship and relationship with the EU is here to stay. It’s solid, it’s stable and it’s reliable,” stated Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy" cite HERE).  She noted  that the PDCA "is a solid instrument to further support the social and economic modernization of Cuba and provide new opportunities to increase trade and investment, and find common solutions to global challenges, she stated." (Id.). 

That template and its trajectory for modernization has raised some concern among elements of the Cuban independent sector.  And ironically those concerns center on the very project that the E.U. prides itself on advancing elsewhere, the democratization of society. This post suggests the contours of reaction within Cuba from other than the official sector (here, here, and here).  To that end it reproduces an essay, La democracia que ve Europa en Cuba, written by René Gómez Manzano, (whose bio appears below and whose work has appeared form time to time on this blog) along with my brief comments and the section in the EU Human Rights and Democracy Report that discusses Cuba. The essay appeared recently in CubaNet (in the original Spanish with my English translation).  The reactions suggests the difficulty of reconciling democratic visions within the context of contests for trade and influence.  More importantly, it suggests the difficulty of speaking coherently about a concept that is proving to be quite malleable in the emerging age. 

René Gómez Manzano, for the Cuban independent sector, and Federica Mogherini, for the European Union, both raise one of the more challenging questions of this age--on the character and practice of democratic politics in the contemporary world.  There is no easy answer, and no clear approach. Democracy, in its theory and practice has been a moving target for some time.  Since the 18th century it has evolved a particular approach (though not meaning) grounded on certain performative indicia centered on voting, some of which have become probvlematic (e.g.,The Utility of Voting in the Shadow of the Administrative StateDemocratic Accountability--From Voter to Managed Mob; Brexit, Mass Democracy and the Contradictions of Voting in Globalization).
In this age of mass democracy, elections are the essence of democratic constitutionalism. Elections, like some purifying elixir, cleanse all (political) sins of states that indulge in the practice. An act of sovereign will, by which the people of a state convey their political power to agents who act on their behalf, elections conform the appropriate relationship between state apparatus and the sovereign masses. Elections have proven crucial for legitimating states and their governments. There is a strong connection between democracy and elections. One is impossible without the other. Together they implement notions of popular sovereignty in the construction and operation of government. (Larry Catá Backer, Democracy Part XIX: Electoral Legitimacy in Honduras and Afghanistan, Law at the End of the Day (Nov. 29, 2009)).
Gómez Manzano remains true to this ancient understanding of the constriuciton of democratic states. And within the E.U., so do its elites. It places greatest value on the exogenous element of democracy--the direct connection between the masses and at least some portion of the members of the apparatus of government. 

Yet that indicia of the democratic impulse is not solely dependent on voting--the administrative state  must find of way to achieve democratic accountability among the masses of those officials who do not stand for election.  To that end, robust theories of engagement and participation have also  circulated, the so-called robust civil society element of Western democracy. This endogenous element of democratic practice has to some extent generated interest in the West, but serves as well as a basic principle of democratic organization in states that aspire to democratic functioning but not one grounded on an election-representation system.  "If the central problem of the expression of democracy—popular elections—ignores the effectiveness of democratic function within modern governments, and indeed, remains exterior to it, then might an alternative path to democratic expression also serve to legitimize the democratic constitutionalism of a state? These questions are central to the constitutional discourse of states,especially China, that have developed a strong constitutional discourse but are organized on Party-State principles." (Democracy Part 31: In a World Premised on Exogenous Democracy is a Theory of Endogenous Democracy Possible?).

If a core objective of democratic organization within political systems in which the exercise of democratic power must be undertaken through popular representatives who, within a government established for that purpose, is to exercise power in the name of the people in a representational capacity, it is possible to consider two quite distinct tracks for the implementation of that objective.  The first and most common focuses the exogenous exercise of democracy--in the choice of those individuals to whom are devolved political authority.  The second choice, far less common and far less developed conceptually, focuses the endogenous exercise of democracy--in the way in which power is exercised within government collectively not by but through individuals. Each system requires a rule set to avoid systemic perversion--cults of personality (dictatorship) in endogenous systems and oligarchy (through control of voting processes) in exogenous systems. The possibility of a working endogenous system will substantially broadened the current discussion of democracy.  It might, as well, provide alternatives especially with respect to that growing number of states in which the structures of cultures of exogenous democracy do not seem to produce positive results. (Id.).

Yet the West appears to demand the performance of voting as the foundational act of democracy while excusing the insufficiency of democratic accountability within the bureaucracies that operate the modern state. Moreover, the issue of the role of the elected official itself remains problematic--the representational capacity of these actors is in tension with thier fidelity to the state and its political premises where the masses seek representation for objectives that run counter to national norms (and interest?--but then who interprets those?).  And it is here that Gómez Manzano's criticism has some bite. Madame Mogherini noted in her remarks of 2016 introducing PDCA:
We are excited about the prospect of turning the PDCA into reality and achieve its objectives: enhancing EU-Cuba relations, promoting dialogue and cooperation to foster sustainable development, democracy and human rights, accompanying the process of "updating" the Cuban economy and society and finding common solutions to global challenges. (Statement by Federica Mogherini on Cuba-EU Agreement)
And indeed that was the only reference to democracy. That, and the comment that so excited Mr. Gómez Manzano. What of either form of democratic operation does he see in Cuba? from his perspective--neither.  And from the European Union he appears to hear both lip service and a bit of condescension typical of leaders of former colonial powers addressing the now independent Ultramares still in need of "development." And, given the quite subtle framework for democracy building work in the PDCA ("These provisions give the EU some leeway in tying economic benefits to political reform, but the potential hidden in those provisions may require substantial work for their realization--at least as the EU might see things.  Article 22 touches on human rights.  Its first paragraph nicely evidences the mishmash resulting from an attempt to push together two very different views of human rights" The EU to the Rescue).

Cuba and the E.U have chosen to focus on human rights rather than on democracy.  And that makes perfect sense.  Cuba respects the primary value and dominant interpretation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (the principles of which drive U.S. policy).   They adhere more closely to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (which the United States sees as flowing form the other).  The Europeans embrace both. Agreement with the Cubans on Human rights (understood as centering on economic, social and cultural rights) has some measure of plausibility; any democracy enhancing work (centering principles of civil and political rights) much less so.  And so Madame Mogherini could praise  the progress of human rights discussions with Cuba--without  having to emphasize democracy in the conventional sense.
A year ago, FM Rodriguez and I agreed on launching a dedicated Human Rights dialogue to exchange views on this important and sensitive area. We wanted to develop our mutual understanding, and sound out possibilities for cooperation. This is destined to become an important part of the new PDCA framework.

A first meeting was held in Brussels in June 2015, under the leadership of EUSR for Human Rights Lambrinidis. It was a very constructive encounter and we had frank exchanges, on the concepts of HR, on the respective situation and recent developments in the EU and Cuba; respectful of the sovereignty of each other but mindful of the universality of human rights. (Statement by Federica Mogherini on Cuba-EU Agreement).

The reference to the democratic nature of Cuba's political system suggests that the PDCA's provisions int hat regard might well be dead letter,  That that is the tragedy.  Other Marxist Leninist States have been devoting substantial efforts to engage with the democratic impulse on their own terms.  That may not satisfy Western tastes but it does suggest an effort to engage with the principles that underlie the notions.  And there is some sense that those states might be moving toward more robust endogenous democratic expression--focusing on collective decision making and engagement rather than on representation and voting.  But it is not clear that Cuba is even following the Marxist path.  To the extent that the E.U. might have facilitated such discussion (even along the lines of Marxist Leninist development in other places) it would have been a useful exercise.  What we appear to get, though, is potentially very little.  It is here, ironically that the Chinese rather than the Europeans may move Cuba toward a more robust conversation about democracy. Though, the reality is likely that the Cubans will follow their own path to the extent that their economic situation permits.  And that connection--between democratic expression and economic development--remains the underused element in dialogue among all actors with Cuba, and within Cuba itself.  


Miércoles, enero 24, 2018 | published in CubaNet

LA HABANA, Cuba.- A comienzos del presente año, viajó a Cuba la señora Federica Mogherini, jefa de Exteriores de la Unión Europea. La visita sirvió de marco a la “profundización” y la “normalización” de relaciones entre el Viejo Continente y la dictadura castrocomunista. Amén de hacerles numerosas zalemas y generosas promesas a los personeros del régimen, la encumbrada visitante bautizó a este último de manera sorprendente: “democracia de un solo partido”.

Los antecedentes históricos de la frase son poco tranquilizadores. Como señalara el colega Juan González Febles, la misma proviene de un compatriota de la ilustre viajera. Pero se trata de alguien dotado de una mala fama merecidísima: el felizmente desaparecido Duce fascista Benito Mussolini.

Las reacciones indignadas a ese fruto lamentable del cerebro fértil de la visitante, no se hicieron esperar en el seno de la prensa independiente ni entre los perseguidos activistas que en la Isla luchan en pro de la democracia. Algunas de aquéllas fueron bien enérgicas, y uno no puede criticar a sus autores, pues mucho hizo la visitante para hacerse merecedora de esas expresiones.

Pero no quisiera limitarme en este trabajo a lanzar calificativos o epítetos sobre la encargada de las relaciones internacionales del bloque comunitario, no importa cuán merecidos ellos sean. En lugar de realizar ataques personales contra una dama, prefiero analizar en sí misma la aludida frase, y ver si existe algún fundamento real para que la diplomática la haya empleado.

El concepto de “democracia” ha evolucionado a lo largo del tiempo. La etimología nos dice que es el “poder del pueblo”, pero desde el punto de vista político parecería más exacto definirla como el “gobierno ejercido por el conjunto de los ciudadanos”. No se trata simplemente de que los más se impongan a los menos; lo fundamental es que todos, de un modo u otro, puedan participar en la administración de la cosa pública.

En ese contexto, un elemento esencial de la democracia es el ejercicio del sufragio libre. ¿Desconoce doña Federica que éste no existe en Cuba? Ahora mismo, a pocos días de su partida, acaban de ser postulados los candidatos a las curules en el “Parlamento cubano”. Han sido aprobados por unanimidad en las asambleas municipales. Además, a mano alzada. Un candidato para cada cargo. El pueblo no podrá escoger. En vista de esto, ¿se asombra alguien de que todos los propuestos, siempre, hayan “ganado la votación”?

Pero eso es una mera formalidad. En realidad, el poder se ejerce desde lo alto. Y durante los casi seis decenios de régimen castrista ha sido unipersonal. Nada —pues— que se asemeje siquiera al ejercicio de las facultades de mando por parte de una pluralidad de personas. El jerarca de turno decide, por sí y ante sí, sin limitación alguna. Y, para colmo, sin una oposición reconocida.

No existe siquiera una división formal o teórica de poderes públicos diversos y contrapesados. La doctrina marxista-leninista enarbolada por el castrismo proclama la unidad de poder. Tampoco hay un control basado en el respeto a la Constitución. Ésta puede ser cambiada de la noche a la mañana por los diputados que —como ya vimos— nomina el propio régimen. En caso de duda, corresponderá a ellos mismos determinar si alguna disposición se ajusta o no a la carta magna.

La violación de los derechos humanos de los cubanos es sistemática. Además, está institucionalizada, ya que las mismas leyes —y hasta la propia Constitución— los infringen de diversos modos. Las libertades de expresión, prensa y asociación brillan por su ausencia. En Cuba, el principio de que rija la mayoría con respeto a la minoría no es siquiera letra muerte. Simplemente, no se le reconoce.

Pero, hablando en un plano especulativo: ¿Es posible en principio una “democracia unipartidista”? ¿Se trata o no de un oxímoron? Los antecedentes históricos en Nuestra América son harto inquietantes. Sabemos que, bajo el tirano quisqueyano Trujillo, existía una sola organización de ese tipo: el Partido Dominicano. A él debían pertenecer todos los ciudadanos del país.

Claro que aquello no se acercaba —ni de lejos— a la democracia. ¡Pero es que los cubanos ni siquiera contamos con esa posibilidad! El partido encabezado por el hermano Castro de turno es, por definición, selectivo. Sus jefes se arrogan el derecho de admitir o no a los ciudadanos que soliciten el ingreso. De hecho, los militantes de esa única organización política constituyen menos de la décima parte de los ciudadanos con derecho al voto.

¡Y es ese engendro elitista el que la señora Mogherini nos quiere presentar como cauce idóneo para el ejercicio democrático! ¿Por qué doña Federica no promueve esa venenosa receta entre sus cultos compatriotas europeos!

Acerca del Autor René Gómez Manzano

(La Habana, 1943). Graduado en Derecho (Moscú y La Habana). Abogado de bufetes colectivos y del Tribunal Supremo. Presidente de la Corriente Agramontista. Coordinador de Concilio Cubano. Miembro del Grupo de los Cuatro. Preso de conciencia (1997-2000 y 2005-2007). Dirigente de la Asamblea para Promover la Sociedad Civil. Ha recibido premios de la SIP, Concilio Cubano, la Fundación HispanoCubana y la Asociación de Abogados Norteamericanos (ABA), así como el Premio Ludovic Trarieux.


The democracy that sees Europe in Cuba:
Power on the Island is exercised from on high.
And during the almost six decades of the Castro regime it has been unipersonal

Wednesday, January 24, 2018 | published in CubaNet

René Gómez Manzano

HAVANA, Cuba.- At the beginning of this year, Mrs. Federica Mogherini, Head of Foreign Affairs of the European Union, traveled to Cuba. The visit served as a framework for the "deepening" and "normalization" of relations between the Old World and the Castro-communist dictatorship. As well as the numerous kowtows and generous promises to the personages of the regime, the eminent visitor baptized the personages of that regime in a surprising way: "single party democracy".

The historical background of the phrase is not very reassuring. As noted by my colleague Juan González Febles, it originates with a compatriot of the illustrious traveler. But that compatriot is someone endowed with a well deserved ill fame: the happily deceased Fascist Duce Benito Mussolini.

The indignant reactions to that unfortunate fruit of the fertile brain of that visitor, was not confined within the independent press or among the persecuted activists that fight in favor of democracy in the Island. Some of them were very energetic in their reactions, and one can not criticize their authors, since the visitor went to some effort to deserve those expressions.

But I do not want to limit myself in this work to hurl judgements or epithets about the person in charge of the international relations of the European Community Block, no matter how deserved they may be. Instead of making personal attacks against a lady, I prefer to analyze the aforementioned phrase in itself, and see if there is any real basis for the diplomat to have used it.

The concept of "democracy" has evolved over time. The etymology tells us that it is the "power of the people", but from the political point of view it would seem more accurate to define it as the "government exercised by the group of citizens". It is not simply that the majority imposes on the minority; the fundamental thing is that everyone, in one way or another, can participate in the administration of public affairs.

In this context, an essential element of democracy is the exercise of free suffrage. Do you not know, Madame Federica, that this does not exist in Cuba? Right now, a few days after her departure, candidates to the seats in the "Cuban Parliament" have just been nominated. They have been approved unanimously in the municipal assemblies. Also, by show of hands. A candidate for each position. The people will not be able to choose. In view of this, is anyone astonished that all those proposed have always "won the vote"?

But that is a mere formality. Actually, power is exercised from on high. And during the almost six decades of the Castro regime it has been unipersonal. Nothing that can be made to even resemble the exercise of the powers of command by a plurality of people. The hierarch decides, by himself and before himself, without any limitation. And, to top it off, without a recognized opposition.

There is not even a formal or theoretical division of diverse and counterweighted public powers. The Marxist-Leninist doctrine raised by Castroism proclaims the unity of power. Nor is there a control based on respect for the Constitution. This can be changed overnight by the deputies who, as we have already seen, nominate the regime itself. In case of doubt, it will be up to them to determine if any provision is adjusted or not to the constitution.

The violation of the human rights of Cubans is systematic. In addition, it is institutionalized, since the same laws - and even the Constitution itself - infringe them in various ways. Freedom of expression, press and association are conspicuous by their absence. In Cuba, the principle that the majority rules with respect to the minority is not even a death letter. It simply is not recognized.

But, speaking on a speculative level: Is a "one-party democracy" possible in principle? Is it an oxymoron or not? The historical background in Our America is very disturbing. We know that, under the Trujillo-born tyrant, there was only one organization of that type: the Dominican Party. All the citizens of the country must belong to it.

Of course, that did not come close to democracy. But we Cubans do not even have that possibility! The party led by the Castro brother in turn is, by definition, selective. Their chiefs arrogate to themselves the right to admit or not to citizens who request entry. In fact, the militants of that one political organization constitute less than a tenth of the citizens with the right to vote.

And it is that elitist monstrosity that Madame Mogherini wants to present to us as the ideal channel for democratic exercise! Why Doña Federica does not promote that poisonous prescription]


Cuba is experiencing economic difficulties resulting from the fading support capacities of its Venezuelan ally. The opening towards the USA and uncertainties related to the new USA administration are creating both high expectations and fears. Against this background, short-term detention of members of the opposition, activists and human rights defenders continued and increased in 2016. 

As a priority, the EU aims to contribute to reforms that improve freedom of association and assembly, to promote equal opportunity (in relation to gender, LGBTI people, racism and disabilities), to promote economic rights, to encourage steps towards greater freedom of the media and access to information and to empower human rights defenders. In addition, the EU is actively monitoring developments concerning the criminal justice system.

The main issues in Cuba are restrictions to freedom of speech and expression, association and assembly, as well as the absence of an independent press. Civil society activists and political opponents are harassed, in particular through short-term detentions, occasionally coupled with alleged humiliating or violent treatment. Cuba is a one-party democracy, in which elections take place at municipal, provincial and national level. At municipal level, candidates can be proposed by the voters and delegates are selected by all voters in the constituency. Nominations for delegates at provincial and national level are agreed in a Nominations Committee, composed of representatives of the political and ‘mass organisations’, and chaired by a party representative. The legal professions are insufficiently independent of the political authorities, as is the court system. The government is preparing legislative proposals for a new electoral law and a modified law of association; however, the laws have not yet been submitted to the National Assembly. Renewal of the country’s leadership is another positive prospect, as President Castro has given a public commitment to stepping down in 2018. 

Participation in the political process is wide, with local, regional and national-level elections, but in the present electoral legal framework candidates that do not represent mainstream party or mass organisation positions will not become candidates for provincial or national delegates.

During 2016, the USA-Cuba political rapprochement intensified, and the EU-Cuba Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement was signed, signalling Cuba’s political will to engage. For example, the first formal human rights dialogues with both the EU and the USA were held on the island in 2016. In addition President Obama’s conducted a historical visit to Cuba in March 2016. Progress is being made on access to information, through wider use of internet, including the creation of public hotspots, and a reduction in associated prices.

The signature of the EU-Cuba Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement, with a particular focus on dialogue and cooperation to promote human rights, constitutes a major breakthrough in terms of bilateral political engagement. The EU-Cuba human rights dialogue enabledan open discussion on freedom of association, gender equality in the context of the SDGs and Agenda 2030, racism and xenophobia, as well as the treatment of vulnerable groups, including migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. The human rights dialogue also enabled the establishment of contacts with the judicial system (Ministry of Justice and National Lawyers’ Association). Lastly, the participation of the Attorney General’s Office in the exchange of experts programme should also be noted in the context of bilateral cooperation.

The EU Delegation to Cuba maintained systematic contacts with all sectors of independent civil society. A visit was paid to EP Sakharov laureate and dissident, Guillermo Fariñas during his hunger strike. The EU also expressed concerns on various occasions to the Cuban authorities regarding the repression of peaceful protesters or activists, such as Cubalex, a group of lawyers defending victims of human rights violations. 

On Human Rights Day, the EU and Sweden organised an event on gender issues and violence against women. The EU Delegation and the Netherlands also co-hosted a seminar for young self-employed people with a view to empowering them and supporting their activities. The EU has continued to fund human rights-related projects to educate and empower young people and to support elderly and disabled persons. 

The challenges ahead and areas for further progress are concentrated around freedom of association and assembly, freedom of expression and of the media, and the functioning of the justice system.

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