A President Safe from His Citizens / Cuban Law Association, Enrique García Mieres

If the feeling of oppression in totalitarian countries is in general much less acute than most people in liberal countries imagine, this is because the totalitarian governments succeed to a high degree in making people think as they want them to.
The Road to Serfdom
F.A. Hayek.

Cuba’s parliament: Everyone votes yes. Photo: AP

By Enrique García Mieres

How can citizens change the president? It seems a truism deserving of a trivial answer: electing someone else for the job. But if we rephrase the question directed at Cuban citizens, then the answer acquires an unusual aspect: they can’t.

Not only because it’s a dictatorship that in the end is used to cheating on the results of elections to perpetuate itself, provoking a fatalistic impotence in the citizenry, but because Cubans simply have no such attribution: they cannot change the president.

In a parliamentary system, as the Cuban pretends to be, the head of the government is elected indirectly by the citizens who vote for the deputies to the parliament, and they in turn choose the president.

In Cuba there is a variant of this process that makes it even more indirect: the parliament names a Council of State — an elite parliament — and they in turn select the head of State. Seen like this there seems to be no grave impediments to the popular will finally coming to pass, it’s more or less a given.

The problem starts when we assume that the system always addresses this “popular will,” the desire for a political program that the citizens, and the person who should lead it, want. In other words, that the elected deputies are the bearers of the will of their constituents.

But in Cuba it doesn’t happen this way, the parliamentary candidates cannot run on some program, nor can the citizens choose between private or partisan political proposals. They choose among candidates based on their biographies and professional credentials to occupy a seat in parliament, and fulfill the function and role reserved for the lower house (in Cuba there is no Senate), that is a functionary (the deputy on taking possession of his seat becomes a cadre of the State) lacks any real job. This results in a parliament that does not serve civil society through its representatives, and they neither resolve differences nor choose between similarities.

Against this background what would be the sense of having deputies for or against anything, they look for a common denominator with the electoral programs — in Cuba political parties are not permitted and they must come together around a common project — establishing political alliances that culminate in the majority necessary to govern.

It makes no sense, and so the parliament raises its hands unanimously in a predestined way. Nor do they try to pass any motion of censure, because what options would the deputies add or subtract when there are no program options in parliament.

The only possibility, radical and surreal, for the citizens to change the current president of government is to try to prevent his taking a seat in the parliament, that is to convince the voters of the remote little village from which he always runs not to vote for him, renouncing their folklore and their pride in being those who choose this eminent representative. Setting aside the popular will, the local government of this village could recall the deputy (Article 6, Law 89), but this is too reckless.

Are Cuban citizens aware that they cannot change their president? It’s like asking the degree of conscience in inertia. Inertia that comes from the seventeen years prior to the current Communist Constitution, during which period the Cuban people were never consulted about the political system nor the head of the government, a fatalistic routine that has done nothing more than institutionalize itself.


July 3 2012