As has already been announced, the VII Cuban Communist Party Congress will be held in April 2016. From the moment of the announcement until the first quarter of this year municipal and provincial assemblies have been held, charts have been prepared, members have been briefed and documents have been approved that have still not been released.
It has also been announced that a new election law, with some changes to current statutes that have been in effect since 1992, will leave the door half-open to future constitutional reform.
The Cuban government has demonstrated over and over that it does not act with transparency, much less with improvisation. On the contrary, it meticulously follows an elaborate script in which withholding information from its citizens is essential.
To avoid being surprised by the how, when and why, it is worth asking if the Cuban government is preparing the groundwork for an overhaul of its own political system.
Based on what has already been published, the new electoral law will govern the elections of 2017. Interestingly, it will not only be when the year the men and women who will govern the island after February 2018 will be elected but will also mark the end of the controversial ten-year term of General Raul Castro who — as he himself proposed — will give up the Cuban presidency.
On any streetcorner of the world one can proselytize, arouse awareness, seek financing, organize marches and so forth. But I am inclined to think that real political opposition only takes in parliament. That is why I am trying to catch the attention of those who can now demonstrate they are truly worthy of the title “leaders of the opposition” because — as I have often heard — this legislation will extend to the entire country an experiment that for some time now has been quietly carried out (with some success) in the western provinces Mayabeque and Artemesia. It represents a new model of governance which involves a separation between the leadership of the party and that of local governments.
The current electoral law lays out the procedure for the election of deputies and for the selection of members of the Council of State as well as for it president, who also serves as chief-of-state and head-of-government of the Republic of Cuba. Why diminish the powers of the next president? Because military leaders do not want happening in Havana what happened in Moscow under Mikhail Gorbachev.
Of course, multi-party democracy is not an option in Cuba but let’s acknowledge that this could be a step towards dismantling the monopoly on power that the Communist Party has exercised for more than half a century and could facilitate the election of citizens (not party members) to the ranks of deputies in Cuba’s National Assembly of People’s Power.
It should be noted that the Cuban parliament, with 612 members, is the largest legislative body in the hemisphere. It is ridiculous, even laughable, that a country with little more than 11 million people has a legislative body that exceeds the number of members in the U.S. House of Representatives. The new electoral law will reduce the number of parliamentarians both because it makes sense and because, as the song by Puerto Rico’s Gran Combo goes, “there’s too many people for this bed.” Today’s 612 deputies simply will not fit in the renovated semi-circular chamber in the national capitol that will house the next assembly.*
*Translator’s note: The Capitolio, or capitol building, was the seat of Cuba’s legislature until the Cuban Revolution. Until recently it housed the Cuban Academy of Sciences. It has been undergoing restoration and renovations in anticipation of serving as the seat of Cuba’s National Assembly.