Opinion: The Need for a Different National Assembly / Fernando Damaso

The National Assembly is an institution often called into question in Cuba. Perhaps its role should be restricted simply to that of a “megaphone” for the government. In reality serious discussion and debate are notable only by their absence. All its delegates hew to a single political and ideological line — the official one — and their primary task is to achieve unanimity in approving what the authorities propose.

The composition of the Assembly is not a true reflection of the various political, economic and social segments of Cuban society today, but simply one aspect of it — those addicted to “the model.” Also, the fact that it meets only twice a year in sessions lasting two or three days means it lacks effectiveness and credibility.

Officially, the Assembly is supposed to function through so-called “permanent commissions,” made up of various delegates who work throughout the year on specific topics, but these commissions do not constitute the Assembly and should not supplant it.

The commissions are also supposed to be in charge of fulfilling governmental directives by preparing proposals and resolutions  that are later discussed and approved in plenary sessions by delegates briefed on them in workshops held some days before. In reality, most delegates convene and meet in the National Assembly without any real or effective prior participation or deep knowledge of what will be discussed.

If there was participation through free and democratic elections and its delegates truly represented all of Cuban society without any sort of disqualifications or exclusions, then the National Assembly would function quite differently.

Most importantly, it is essential that it be a legislative body that operates in regular sessions of longer duration. The Congress of the Republic held regular sessions lasting no less than sixty working days at a time, and could be convened for special sessions whenever necessary. The Assembly should have a permanent headquarters where delegates carry out the tasks for which they were elected. They cannot continue to be “virtual delegates,” as most currently are. Only a few — those who really make decisions — work as professional legislators. Nor is it appropriate, except in very specific cases stipulated in the Constitution, for delegates to have outside responsibilities such as state jobs, as is now generally the case.

Such procedures, which are the norm in other assemblies, parliaments and bicameral legislatures (those with senators and representatives), would assure that those who are elected (the true representatives of the people) give primary attention to the problems of the country. It would provide an incentive and restraint on the government when it proposes legislation for discussion and approval, something that could also be done by delegates and even citizens. This would lead to a true balance of power between the legislative and executive branches, an essential element for the exercise of good government and a way to control arbitrary actions by the president.

To achieve this, the judicial branch must also be independent and not subservient to either the executive or legislative branch. As I am sure you can appreciate, this is no easy task. It requires political courage since it would mean changing ineffective systems established and maintained in spite of their not having served the interests of citizens for many years, but it is an unavoidable step necessary for national salvation.

From Diario de Cuba

February 2 2013