Tuesday, December 5, 2017

International Day for the Abolition of Slavery: Learning from Angerona, Cuba

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The Cafetal Angerona, located at about 5 kilometers from the current town of Artemisa a city with about 80 thousand people, the capital of the newly formed Artemisa Province of Cuba prior part of the Pinar del Rio province, was declared a National Monument in June 1989.  Little could be done, however, to bring the monument back to its previous splendor without financial resources. Cuban volunteers did what they could without funding and cleaned the area of vegetation that was blocking access and accelerating the deterioration of the site.
In Angerona, the site of a coffee plantation, history and archaeological field work are coming together to hopefully help us understand a little bit better life under slavery dehumanizing conditions and giving life to the drowned voices of slaves. Looking into slave trade, slavery and the lives of slaves can be a challenging experience for all of us, and one that forces us to reflect and question racial prejudices and privileges. Furthermore, slavery is not over as it continues to besiege the world; thus field work in Angerona can have a role in enriching our reflections on slavery and on encouraging us to challenge it and work towards stopping it wherever we find it in the world today.  .
Peculiarities of Angerona
Angerona may have differed from other plantations as it may have offered slaves a marginally better existence than anywhere else in Cuba. For example, in Angerona slaves may have benefitted from working under better conditions, in covered areas protected from the weather, the afternoon tropical Sun or very strong rains; slaves may have benefitted from not working at night and being better rested. Angerona may have included an infirmary; slaves may have lived in units with kitchens and with their family members rather than in barracks divided by gender. Such concepts are part of the Cuban folklore regarding Angerona but they need to be proven by research. In 2018 a team of archaeologists from St Mary’s University, in Nova Scotia, is planning to explore such questions under the supervision of Aaron Taylor.
And yet, regardless of whether, or how far, Angerona departed from the typical model of plantations Angerona was still a plantation. And, the plantation economy target was the exploitation of slaves, and, slaves suffered the most cruel, barbaric and dehumanizing system known to us. There was physical violence against slaves in Angerona and slaves were locked in their quarters behind walls and a gate and watched from the Watchtower at all times to prevent them from escaping. The mud floors of the slaves’ quarters were covered with limestone, Taylor shared in a presentation about his field work in Angerona this past November 28th, to prevent slaves from eating mud, a method slaves used in attempting escape slavery by killing themselves. We can only guess about their desperation and anguish.
Angerona came into existence in 1822, the work and idea of Cornelio Souchay Escher, a German, of French Huguenot, background who bought the land on which it would be build (530 hectares) in 1813 for, arguably, for 14 thousand pesos. Souchay arrived in Cuba from Germany in 1806 and at the age of 22. He was born in October 21st, 1784. Souchay stayed in Havana from 1806 until 1822 when he moved to Angerona with her lover, a black woman born in Haiti, Ursula Lambert. Cornelio had met Ursula in Havana and they have done business together. Ursula, 6 years her junior, had been born in 1790 in Haiti, the free daughter of slave parents. She and her parents arrived with her parents’ owners in Cuba in one of the last migration waves the result of people fleeing the war of liberation which was raging in Haiti since Ursula’s birth. They settled in Guantánamo, Eastern Cuba.
The historical context
A number of relevant episodes were taking place in the world at this time. For example, from 1770 the British colonies of North America had been fighting for their independence from Britain, which was recognized in 1783 by the Treaty of Paris. In Haiti, the “Societe des Amis des Noirs” (The Society Friend of Blacks) was established in 1878 following the steps of Wilberforce, the British abolitionist. In 1789 the French people stormed the Bastille, liberating the incarcerated and launching the French Revolution, focused on bringing the monarchy down to create a republican government but also in the rights of men with the proclamation of the declaration of the Human Rights of Man and the Citizen.
Haiti was, a French colony, located close to Cuba, a colony of Spain, both with plantation economies exploiting slaves. In the case of Haiti, 20 thousand white men dominated and controlled more than 400 thousand slaves. The power of the King was being challenged in France and threatened to be replaced by a republican system and, naturally, at the colonies the colonial power and structure was bound to be challenged. In fact, Haiti becomes the second colony fighting for its independence, after the United States (1776) but Haiti also becomes the center of a rebellion of black slaves. When in 1791 the Slave Rebellion starts in Haiti Toussaint Louverture was 50 years old, a slave born of African parents working at the Breda plantation; he had learned to read thanks to the teachings of an older slave. Initially the Rebellion of the Slaves takes the side of the King knowing that only the King could warrant their freedom but soon this will change and the rebellion will side with the Republic. Louverture, a self taught naturist, had enrolled in the army of the King as a doctor and only after ensuring the safety of his master and his family who he put in a ship for Baltimore and to whom he regularly sent means for survival. An interesting point because it shows that the dehumanizing treatment slaves received did not cause them all to forget their humanity; in fact, most black generals involved in the Rebellion of the Slaves ensured the safety of their masters and their families.  Soon Louverture and his generals realize that the king is not planning to comply with his promise and they stopped supporting the monarchy, thus, in 1794 Louverture and his army join the forces of the Republic wearing the tricolor rosette. (2)
Cuban colonials become increasingly concerned when Haitians started to immigrate to their island, some with their slaves with a focus on establishing and working there. Haitians immigrants fleeing the Rebellion of the Slaves made Cuban colonials increasingly concerned about the Rebellion expanding to Cuba and the propaganda the Haitian slave owners spread in Cuba contributed to this because they wanted the Cubans to believe that Louverture had plans for attacking Cuba to liberate the slaves there too. The details are complex and Louverture is taken prisoner in 1802 under Napoleon directive, a directive Napoleon himself regretted later in writing. Louverture is sent to Fort de Joux where he dies of hunger in April 1803 but the fight for Haiti’s independence continues and Haitian independence is granted in January 1804 after the island was burned to the ground by the rebels, who set fire to everything in their efforts to be free. (2)
A lovestory: the daughter of slaves, the slave owner
When, in 2014, Berta Serafina Martínez Páez completed her biography of Ursula Lambert, the Cuban movie “Roble de Aroma/The Scent of Oak” (2005) had already portrayed Ursula as a sophisticated and attractive black young woman with a taste for music and a flair for organizing and very much in love with Cornelio Souchay, the owner of Angerona.  But, a film has limitations in terms of what can and cannot share with an audience regarding the complexities of interpersonal relations between slaves and their owners. Berta had, as a writer, more time and space to reflect and consider complexities and pay more attention to detail. Berta had collected an impressive number of documents about Ursula and Berta herself is a woman of color. She explains during an interview that she reflected much on the complexities of life in the Angerona coffee plantation and investigated the life of Cornelio Souchay almost as much as Ursula´s life.  When Berta published Ursula’s biography and presented it at the Havana Book Fair in 2015 she had already visited with living descendants of Souchay in Germany, her hope was to write a biography on him as well.
Angerona functioned as a coffee plantation between the years 1822 and 1837, she argues, that year Cornelio Souchay dies and at this point, or few years later, the plantation passed to the hands of Andre Souchay, Cornelio´s nephew. Soon after that the coffee plantation is unable to function for a number of reasons, one of them, she believes, had to do with both Cornelio Souchay and Ursula Lambert been extremely good managers who paid much attention to detail, while Andre was not. The plantation suffered their absence. At its height, Angerona had 450 slaves who took care of 750 thousand coffee plants; by 1837 the number of slaves was less than half, close to 200. Ursula moved to Havana after Souchay died and continued to work and live there until 1860. She died at the age of 70 a rich woman with a fortune of her own making and 20 slaves to her name.
The main challenges Berta faced in writing the biography had to do with her own feelings about slavery, the brutality of slave work and the plantation system but also the questions arising in connection with the intimate relationship between Lambert, a black woman daughter of slaves, and Souchay, a slave owner. Berta was challenged too by the reality of Ursula Lambert owning slaves herself until her death. To complete her work, she explains, she had to be able to “put things in its place, reclaiming their lives with their virtues and challenges,” she had to understand them as imperfect human beings and find value in the work they did in bringing to life the most productive and sumptuous coffee plantation of Cuba (“towering over more than 130 existing ones in San Marcos and Cayajabos at the time of cafetal splendor”). (1)
Berta is passionate about the history of Artemisa, her community. She learned about Angerona in 1959 but could not start her research until 1982. Her knowledge of the plantation economy and of the history of the area helped her. Berta is dismayed in finding that Cubans may not be as interested as she is in history or in Angerona. Her book is an attempt to share knowledge, to inform and engage others with her passion. Her research, detailed and demanding, was recognized because of its quality by the Oficina del Historiador de la Ciudad de La Habana who published her book.  The book she wrote is available outside of Cuba and it can be found in a number of American libraries on loan (the New York Public Library or the Columbia University Library of New York).
Beyond Angerona
Then dealing with a subject like slavery we cannot escape asking difficult questions. Facing challenges of the past can help us deal with questions and challenges of the present connected to oppression, exploitation, abuse, discrimination, racism, classism, as well as with views accepting, and even admiring, power and money and of those who hold it without paying due attention as to how it is obtained, held and maintained and at what costs. Most of us and most of the times we live unexamined lives, there is either little time to reflect on them or very little incentive in society for us to do so. There is also strong bias benefitting the rich and powerful and many prejudices against the poor, the week and the vulnerable. We rarely examine how power is achieved or how money is accumulated, or if they are achieved and accumulated in ethical ways or in oppressing, exploiting and abusing others. We rarely consider whether the powerful, rich people at the top of our societies deserve our admiration or should be questioned and condemned for abusive actions against others, and for holding a relentless unlimited ambition.
Angerona is the setting where 450 slaves worked, without rights, to enrich a couple who lived luxurious lives and had much power over the lives of their slaves. This couple exhibited a love for music and refinement, and hopes for creating an orchestra of slaves to show the slaves capacity for growth and refinement. This does not change, however, the reality of slave work, the treatment of slaves as not-human, the fact that they were supervised from a watchtower and locked behind a gate every night.  Even if research were to proof that Angerona was less oppressive than other plantations, a lesser evil, it was evil nevertheless. A few concessions to slaves can provide slave owners some moral relief while they still receive most of the economic benefits of their exploitative enterprise. Still, slavery, slave trade and the existence of slaves is a criminal enterprise that colonizers learned to live with to ensure and maintain their privileges. They ignored the costs to their own humanity, and to the humanity of their own children raised in that form of hell on earth that turned them into corrupted devils pretending to be better that they were. But, often, exploiters forget, or oversee, how exploitation corrupts them more than it corrupts the exploited.
When looking into what shape slavery may have taken in Angerona we are looking into more than the past because slavery exists today. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO) there are more than 40 million people victims of modern slavery worldwide.  The term, “modern slavery” includes practices such as forced labour, debt bondage, forced marriage and human trafficking. These are situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, deception or abuse of power. In addition to the 40 million adults victims of slavery there are 150 million children subjected to child labour, almost 1 in 10 children around the world. Of the 40.3 million adults forced into slavery, about 24.9 million are in forced labour while the remaining 15.4 million are in forced marriage. Of the 24.9 million in forced labour, 16 million are exploited in the private sector (domestics, construction and agricultural workers), 4 million are in forced labour imposed by state authorities, and 4.8 million are in forced sexual exploitation.
Women and girls are disproportionately affected by forced labour, accounting for about 99% of the victims in commercial sex industry and for about 58% of the victims in other sectors. There are 5.4 victims of slavery for every 1000 people in the world. The United Nations has proclaimed December 2 as theInternational Day for the Abolition of Slavery. This year the 50 for Freedom Campaign aims to persuade at least 50 countries to ratify the Forced Labour Protocol by 2018. (3)
There was much outrage when CNN made public a video where Africans were sold in a public auction in Libya.  People protested and questions were asked to the Libyan government that had to admit their lack of control over the country and recognize the challenges Libya faces since western powers attack and dismantled Gaddafi´s government. Slavery today is cheap and disposable. In 1850 an average slave in the American South cost the equivalent of 40 thousand dollars in today’s money, but, today, and worldwide, the cost of a slave is on average 90 dollars. Modern slaves are not considered investments worth maintaining so they are disposable and easily killed. At the tape CNN showed from an auction in Libya a slave is shown to be sold at 300 dollars. (4)
Thus, when the team of archaeology students and professors from St Mary University visits Angerona this summer of 2018, and, as part of their field research posse the question of whether at the coffee plantation the slave quarters were barracks, separating slaves by gender, or a village, favouring family units, we will be waiting for the answer. We will be waiting not because of what it tells us about the past but because of what it can tell us about ourselves as people, our present and future, and the future of our humanity which makes us who we are. We will be eager to posse new questions to understand, and bring to life, the silenced voices of the slaves of Angerona for what they can contribute to our understanding of the cruel, dehumanizing system human created and labeled “plantation economy”, and imposed in our continent and in our world by the relentless love of money and profit of some of us.
1. Interview by Teresa de Jesùs Torres Espinosa en Habana Cultural, on “Ursula Lambert: la singular haitiana del Angerona” book author Berta Serafina Martínez Pàez, February 16, 2015. http://habanacultural.ohc.cu/?p=15656
2. Josè Luciano Franco (2010) “Historia de la Revolucion de Haiti. La batalla por el dominio del Caribe y el Golfo de Mexico.” Alba bicentenario, Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, Instituto Cubano del Libro.
3. United Nations, 50 For Freedom Campaign, December 2, 2018. http://www.un.org/en/events/slaveryabolitionday/
All images in this article are from the author.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

¡Fidel Presente, Siempre! Fidel Is Ever Present!

Today, November 25th, 2017, marks one year since Fidel Castro, the historic leader of the Cuban Revolution, took his physical leave from us.  As he desired and wished no statues have been erected in his honour; no streets, buildings or plazas carry his name. 

Fidel requires no physical monuments. He is present in every struggle against imperial domination, oppression and exploitation. His ideas resonate and pulsate in the efforts to transform into reality the deepest aspirations of the peoples of the world to create societies founded on justice and human dignity.

It is profoundly fitting that as the world marks the 1st anniversary of Fidel’s passing the people of Cuba are posed once again before the ballot boxes in another reaffirmation of their determination to continue along the road that Fidel forged. On January 1st, 1959, the Cuban people under the leadership of Fidel took control of their country and destiny. Their successful resistance of the empire is the concrete reflection of the principled and dignified politics and leadership of Fidel.  

No words can adequately convey the transcendent and singular meaning of Fidel; his significance extends far beyond the geographical boundaries of Cuba. Since its inception, the Cuban Revolution, under Fidel's leadership, has established an unparalleled legacy of internationalism and humanitarianism

José Martí declared, “Trenches made of ideas are stronger than those made of stones' and “a just cause -even one buried in the depths of a cave - is mightier than an army.”

Fidel is still with us in the trenches, shoulder-to-shoulder with us in our struggle to bring into being a better world, demonstrating what can be achieved by holding aloft the banners of Justice, Peace, Socialism, Internationalism and Human Dignity. His legacy continues to be a living testament and inspiration. 

In this spirit, we declare along with the peoples of the world: 

¡Fidel Presente, Siempre! Fidel Is Ever Present!

On behalf of the Canadian Network On Cuba
Isaac Saney
CNC Co-Chair & National-spokesperson

Excerpts from speech by Cuban President Fidel Castro to the 34th UN General Assembly, in his position as chairman of the nonaligned countries movement, October 12, 1979. 
“I speak in the name of the children in the world who do not have a piece of bread. I speak in the name of the sick who do not have medicine. I speak on behalf of those whose right to life and human dignity have been denied…I am here to warn that either injustice and inequalities are solved peacefully and wisely, or the future is going to be apocalyptic. The sound of weapons, of threatening words and hegemony in the international arena must cease.  Enough of the illusion that the world's problems can be solved with nuclear weapons. Bombs might kill the hungry, the sick and the ignorant, but they cannot kill hunger, disease, ignorance and the people's just rebellion. In the holocaust, the wealthy will also die. They are the ones that stand to lose the most in this world. Let us say farewell to arms and concentrate in a civilized manner on the most urgent problems of our time. This is the responsibility and most sacred duty of every statesman in the world. Furthermore, this is an indispensable requirement for humanity's survival.”

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Another Massive & Resounding UN Rejection of the U.S. Economic Blockade of Cuba

For the 26th consecutive year the world on November 1st, 2017 massively and resoundingly repudiated the U.S. economic war against the people of Cuba. By a vote of 191 to 2, the member countries of the United Nations overwhelmingly condemned the U.S. economic blockade of that heroic island nation by voting in favour of the resolution, "Necessity of Ending the Economic, Commercial and Financial Embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba."  Only 2 voted against the resolution: the United States and Israel. 

Since 1992, the international community has rejected the ongoing economic aggression of the United States against Cuba in these annual affirmations of the inalienable and inviolable right of all peoples to self-determination and independence. 

The rejection of Washington’s diktat, once again graphically underscores the isolation of the empire in world public opinion. The UN vote not only demonstrates the unflinching opposition of the world to the criminal U.S. policy, but also the depth of global support and respect for Cuba.

Washington’s decision to vote against the resolution, as opposed to abstaining as it had done in 2016, signals the refusal of the Trump regime to accept the failure of U.S. imperialism to impose its will on Cuba.   

The struggle continues to finally bring an end to the U.S. economic war against Cuba, which is a flagrant violation of international law, constituting the principal obstacle to the island's social and economic development. 

In this struggle, the nations and the peoples of the world, representing the immense majority of humanity, have declared in one voice that they stand with Cuba. 

On behalf of the Canadian Network On Cuba
Isaac Saney
CNC Co-chair & National-Spokesperson

Thursday, October 12, 2017

OCTOBER 6, 2017

Consider this. The United States government doesn’t know who’s responsible for the so-called acoustic attacks on its embassy personnel in Havana. Then consider this. Cuban president Raúl Castro didn’t simply claim his government had nothing to do with the incidents, he did the unthinkable and invited the FBI to investigate. FBI agents haven’t been able to figure it out. Neither have American acoustics specialists or medical experts. Even Canada’s Mounties, whose own diplomats reported similar attacks, are stymied.
Despite the fact no one has identified either culprit or cause, the Trump administration is pre-emptively creating conflict with Havana. Why? And who benefits from that?
On October 3, the State Department announced it was expelling two-thirds of Cuba’s Washington embassy personnel, less than a week after it announced it was withdrawing sixty per cent of its own diplomats from Havana, and warning Americans against traveling there. The department called the moves “reciprocity,” but didn’t explain for what, since the Cubans haven’t expelled anyone.
The State Department insists it isn’t blaming the Cuban government for the attacks; it’s simply trying to protect American diplomats and tourists. Ironically, the U.S. Foreign Service Association, representing American diplomats around the world, opposes Washington’s directive. So do travel companies and airlines ferrying eager American visitors to the island in increasing numbers. So presumably do Americans generally, the majority of whom support improving relations with Cuba. While over 600,000 Americans visited Cuba last year, it’s worth noting not one has so far complained of symptoms similar to those reported by the diplomats.

Some context may be useful here. Late last year, U.S. diplomats in Havana began reporting hearing loud grinding, ringing noises inside areas of their homes and experienced the sensation that their bodies were vibrating. They claimed to suffer nausea, headaches and hearing loss. U.S. government officials now say some have been diagnosed with mild traumatic brain injuries. Twenty-one American and at least five Canadians diplomats and/or their families have been affected.

In the absence of evidence about who did what and why, media have been rife with speculation. At first, the most popular assumption was that the Cuban government must be targeting these diplomats. This is now considered unlikely, since the first of the so-called attacks occurred at a time when bilateral relations were beginning to improve, and Cuban president Raúl Castro has consistently favored improving relations with the United States.
Likewise, given that Canada and Cuba have traditionally maintained solid ties, there would have been little advantage for the Cubans in rocking that diplomatic boat.
That led to other theories: “rogue elements” in the Cuban security forces; officials inside US intelligence services keen to resort to Cold War times; Russians eager to bolster their own relationship with their erstwhile ally while sowing discord between the US and Cuba; maybe even Donald Trump himself, anxious to deflect attention from his own many domestic and international challenges.
We don’t know. And perhaps we never will. Or maybe the truth will only be revealed 30 years from now after sufficient time has passed and intelligence agencies (from whichever country is involved, if  they are involved) finally release the pertinent documentation.
So what do we really know?
Well, we certainly know who is already working overtime to twist these unexplained events to their ideological advantage: anti-Cuba hawks in Washington and Miami. Still nursing their wounds from the Obama administration’s 2015 reset on relations with Cuba, they are eager to reassert their own hardline views on US policy.
The Trump White House — which has talked tough on Cuba but done relatively little so far to scale back actual policy changes implemented during the Obama era — seems eager to do the hawks bidding under cover of protecting US diplomats.
On Sept. 15, five right-wing Republican Senators, including  virulent anti-Cuba Florida Senator Marco Rubio, sent an open letter to Secretary Rex Tillerson, asking him to “immediately declare all accredited Cuban diplomats in the United States persona non grata and, if Cuba does not take tangible action, close the U.S. Embassy in Havana.”
Two days later, Tillerson — who has since come close to putting a full checkmark beside their first demand — told CBS the State Department has shuttering the embassy “under evaluation… It’s a very serious issue with respect to the harm that certain individuals have suffered.”
It is indeed a very serious issue — which is exactly why Washington shouldn’t allow its response to be hijacked by baseless arguments of self-interested Senators eager to turn back the political clock, and a president paying back his political commitments to the wealthy Cuban-American lobby.
Over five decades were wasted after the Washington broke diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1961.  The reopening of diplomatic relations just two years ago was a victory for common sense—but sadly is now in danger of being overturned because of self-seeking politics and ignorance.
John Kirk is Professor of Latin American Studies at Dalhousie University.  He is the author/coeditor of 16 books on Cuba.  His most recent book is Healthcare without Borders: Understanding Cuban Medical Internationalism (2015), and he is the coeditor of “The Evolution of Cuban Foreign Policy under Raúl Castro” (to be published in 2018).  For many years he was the Editor of the Contemporary Cuba series with the University Press of Florida, and is now the Co-editor of the new series on Cuba published by Lexington Books.

Stephen Kimber is a Professor of Journalism at the University of King’s College in Halifax, CANADA, and the author of nine books, including the award-winning What Lies Across the Water: The Real Story of the Cuban Five.
OCTOBER 6, 2017

A Submission to the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review 
Cuba holds an admirable place in the international community regarding the protection and promotion of the rights of its citizens. In Cuba everyone is guaranteed an education and access to universal and free healthcare. In Cuba no one is “disappeared” or the victim of extra-judicial execution.  In Cuba there are no homeless roaming the streets, no one left to fend for themself, eking out an existence in a dog-eat-dog society. Cuba is not a haven for the economic violence that reigns in so many countries. This submission will briefly summarize Cuba’s domestic achievements, as well, as the island’s considerable contribution to the well-being of the world’s nations and peoples.
Cuba & Human Rights: The Social Sphere
Cuba admirably fulfills its responsibilities under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The annual United Nations Human Development Report (HDR) attests to the success in this regard of the Cuban Revolution. These annual reports are recognized as the most comprehensive and extensive determination of the well being of the world’s peoples.  Since its inception, the HDR has repeatedly confirmed the advances and progress of the Cuban Revolution. Cuba is firmly placed in the High Human Development category. Moreover, Cuba ranks 1st in terms of the relationship between economic means and capacity for human development. In other words, Cuba’s ranking in the Human Development Report outstrips its per capita world ranking. Thus, in the effective use of resources for human benefit, Cuba out-performs the much richer countries of the so-called "developed world". In short, Cuba is a country that effectively uses its very modest resources for the benefit of its citizens.
It bears noting that for any country to try to cope with and overcome the current worldwide economic crisis in a manner that favours its people, not the global monopolies, is no small feat. This is all the more true for a country such as Cuba that is subjected to a brutal all-sided economic war from the United States. One cannot forget that Cuba’s impressive achievements in human development have occurred in the face of all-sided aggression by Washington, which has never accepted the January 1, 1959 verdict of the Cuban people.  Washington’s objective is the negation and extinguishing of Cuba’s right to self-determination and independence. The U.S. economic blockade is the principal obstacle to Cuba’s social and economic development, having cost the island nation in excess of $1 trillion U.S, constituting it is a flagrant violation of the human rights of the people of Cuba.
Cuba and Human Rights: The Political System
Cuba is almost invariably portrayed as a serious violator of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; a totalitarian regime, a veritable “gulag” guided and controlled by the Castro brothers: first, Fidel and, now, Raúl.  However, this position cannot be sustained once the reality of Cuba is assessed on its own merits. Extensive democratic popular participation in decision-making is at the centre of the Cuban model of governance. The official organs of government in Cuba are the municipal, provincial and national assemblies of the Poder Popular (People’s Power) structures. The National Assembly is the sole body with legislative authority, with delegates – as in the provincial and municipal assemblies – directly elected by the Cuban electorate. The National Assembly chooses from amongst its members the Council of State, which is accountable to the National Assembly and carries out its duties and responsibilities, such as the passage and implementation of decrees, when the National Assembly is not in session.
Cubans are not preoccupied with a mere mechanical implementation of a rigid, unchanging model. Contrary to dominant misconceptions, the Cuban political system is not a static entity. Cubans are involved in an intense learning process whose hallmark has been experimentation and willingness to correct mistakes and missteps by periodic renovation of their democratic project. Thus, the system responds to popular demands for adjustment.
In 1992, the Constitution and electoral laws were modified to require the direct popular election of all members of the national and provincial assemblies. Previously, only the municipal assemblies were directly elected, with the make-up of the provincial assemblies determined by a vote of municipal delegates and, in turn, the National Assembly composition established by provincial representatives. Also, the creation of the popular councils was directly aimed at increasing the power of local government and reducing the impact of bureaucracy.
Second, the function of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) is significantly circumscribed, as it does not operate as an electoral party. Cuban law proscribes the PCC from playing any role in the nomination of candidates. At the municipal level, the nominations occur at street meetings, where it is the constituents who directly participate in and control the selection. Each municipality is divided into several circumscriptions, or districts, comprised of a few hundred people. Each circumscription nominates candidates and elects a delegate who serves in the local municipal assembly. There is a high degree of popular participation in the selection of candidates, marked by active and uncorked citizen interaction and involvement.
The elections at the municipal level are competitive and the casting of ballots is secret. The organization of the elections and counting of the ballots are transparent and free of fraud.  Even Hildebrando Chaviano, a government opponent who ran and lost in 2015, admitted the validity of the elections, stating,  “The vote was clean. The count was clean. The people don’t want change. They still want the revolution.”  By law, there must be at least two candidates and a maximum of eight. In the 2015 elections, 27,379 candidates competed for 12,589 municipal assembly posts, the first rung on Cuba’s political ladder.
At the provincial and national levels, candidacy commissions select and sift through thousands of people. The commissions are comprised of representatives from the various mass and grassroots organizations and are presided over by workers’ representatives chosen by the unions. The PCC is prohibited from participation in the work of the commissions. Therefore, it is the norm for ordinary working people to be both nominated and elected. The commissions’ recommendations are then presented to the municipal assemblies for final approval. By law, up to 50 percent of National Assembly deputies can be municipal assembly delegates. The other members of the National Assembly are persons from every sphere of Cuban society: the arts, sports, science, religion etc.
The selection process ensures a broad representation of society.In the 2013 national election of the 612 representatives in Cuba’s National Assembly of the People’s Power, a record number are 299 women (48.9%), up from 43.2, 37.09 percent are black and 82.68 are university graduates. The average age is 48.
Each member of the National Assembly, including President Raúl Castro, is directly elected and must receive more than 50 percent of the vote in her or his constituency. In Cuban municipal, provincial and national elections, the turnout is very high, usually in the ninetieth percentile. The vote, as in municipal elections, is by secret ballot. Also, although a single national delegate list is put to the electorate, not all candidates receive the same number of votes as Cubans exercise their discretion in a very serious, deliberate and definite fashion. There is no formal campaigning, which curtails the role of money in Cuban elections. Instead, a month before the election, a biography of each candidate is displayed in various public places, where they can be perused at the convenience of the entire electorate.
The objective of circumscribing formal campaigning is avoid the development of professional politicking in which money and backroom deals become the driving force of the political system. Elections in Cuba are free of the commercial advertising that dominates and has come to denote the political system in capitalist countries. Professional politicking and politicians are viewed as symbolic of the corrupt past and marginalization of the citizenry that characterized pre-revolutionary Cuba. Consequently, the sons and daughters of workers and peasants comprise virtually all the delegates of the national, provincial and municipal assemblies.
Third, an intimate relationship exists between the elected municipal delegates and the people they serve. Each delegate must live in the electoral district (usually comprising a maximum of 2,000 people). Each municipal assembly meets four times a year and elects from its membership a president, vice president and a secretary. These are the only full-time, paid positions in Cuban local government; all other members of the municipal assemblies are unpaid and continue in the jobs they had before they were elected. Delegates have a high degree of familiarity with their constituency and are constantly on call. Every six months, there is a formal accountability session at which complaints, suggestions and other community interests (planteamientos) are raised with the delegates.
The delegate must then attempt to resolve the matter or provide an explanation at the following accountability session.  Consequently, the delegate must account for her or his work carried out since the previous session. Each planteamiento is carefully recorded, and approximately 70 percent are resolved. These planteamiento sessions have resulted in local issues being taken to the national level where they are examined and discussed, thus, ensuring popular input into government policy. If constituents are dissatisfied with the performance of their representative, then she or he can be recalled or voted out in the next round of elections. From election to election there is high turnover in representatives. For example in 2013, 67% of the delegates were newly elected, entering the municipal assemblies for the first time.
Fourth, the Cuban system eschews the adversarial approach that dominates the western political processes. In the work and meetings of the municipal, provincial assemblies and the National Assembly, the goal of achieving unity and consensus is central. The unanimous votes that occur are not indicative of a rubberstamp mentality but a consensus that is arrived at through extensive and intensive discussion, dialog and debate that precedes the final vote in the National Assembly: the end-point of a long, conscientious and sometimes arduous process. The National Assembly has 10-permanent commissions that discuss and debate a wide-range of topics, including, among many others, the economy, foreign investment, industry, the environment, constitutional and legal affairs, education, culture, science and technology.
Fifth, the Cuba political system is augmented by a very active and vibrant civil society. A critical aspect of the Cuban political system is the integration of a variety of mass organizations into political activity. No new policy or legislation can be adopted or contemplated until the appropriate organization or association representing the sector of society that would be directly affected has been consulted. These organizations have very specific functions and responsibilities. In addition to the Communist Party, the Young Communist League and the Confederation of Cuban Workers, there are the Cuban Federation of Women, the Committees to Defend the Revolution, the National Association of Small Farmers and the Federation of University Students.
The mass organizations are supplemented by numerous professional and other associations that represent the specific interests of other sectors, including for example, lawyers, economists, journalists, writers and artists, the physically challenged and stamp collectors. As Ricardo Alarcon, former president of Cuba’s National Assembly underscores, “these associations and organizations embrace practically the entire universe of activities, interests and problems of all Cubans.” Mass organizations, unlike the Communist Party, are granted through Article 88 (c) of the Constitution the right to propose legislation in the areas that fall under their jurisdiction. Hence, these organizations have a dynamic existence, and Cuba is replete with almost daily assemblies, meetings and gatherings of various organizations to discuss and examine particular issues, in conjunction with the participation of government officials.  This daily engagement of the citizenry with government is the essence of the Cuban political process.
Additionally,  when critical decisions have to be made regarding the direction of Cuban society, the country is transformed into a vast island-wide parliament. For example, in 2010-2011 a mass discussion was held on Los Lineamentos, the proposals to renew and update the Cuban economic model. From December 2010-February 2011: 163, 079 meetings, involving almost 9-million people, were held to discuss the various proposals and guidelines. As a result of this mass national discussion and debate across the island and in Cuba’s National, Provincial & Municipal Assemblies more than two-thirds of  the original 291 proposals were modified: eventually 311 guidelines emerged. These 311 guidelines were further debated and discussed at the  6th Congress of the PCC Congress in which 86-guidelines (28%) of the 311 were amended, with 2 new ones adopted, resulting  in 313 guidelines.  However, this has not been the end of the national discussion and debate. The three documents that outline Cuba’s future path – Los Lineamentosla Conceptualización del Modelo Económico y Social Cubano de Desarrollo Socialistaand Plan 2030 – are the product of this profound mass engagement with Cuban citizens. These documents were subjected to another nation-wide scrutiny and analysis by Cuban citizens in 2016.
Cuba in the World: Internationalism 
Cuba’s contributions to advancing and defending human rights extend beyond the geographical boundaries of the island nation. Since its inception, the Cuban Revolution has made – and continues to make – an invaluable contribution to the global struggle for human rights, justice, social development and human dignity. Cuba has established an unparalleled legacy of internationalism and humanitarianism, embodying the immortal words of José Martí: “Homeland is Humanity. Humanity is Homeland.” For example, Cuba played a crucial role in African national and anti-colonial liberation struggles  (from Algeria to South Africa). In the struggle to defeat the racist apartheid regime in South Africa more than 2,000 Cubans gave their lives. This has not been – nor will ever be – forgotten by Africans.  The late Nelson Mandela stated:  “The Cuban people hold a special place in the hearts of the peoples of Africa. The Cuban internationalists have made a contribution to African independence, freedom and justice, unparalleled for its principled and selfless character…Cubans came to our region as doctors, teachers, soldiers, agricultural experts, but never as colonizers.”
Today this Cuban commitment to humanity is mirrored in the tens of thousands of medical personnel and educators who have served and continue to serve across the world, battling in the trenches against disease and illiteracy.  In 2014, for example, Havana responded without hesitation to the Ebola epidemic in the West African nations of Guinea, Liberia & Sierra Leone. The Cuban medical mission was the largest sent by any country, consisting of 461 Cuban doctors and nurses chosen from more than 15,000 volunteers. Africa called and Cuba answered.
Even at this difficult time, when the island-nation is dealing with the havoc wrought by Hurricane Irma’s, Cuba’s deep internationalist spirit has once again been profoundly demonstrated by the sending of more than 750 Cuban health workers to Antigua & Barbuda, Dominica, Haiti, Saint Kitts & Nevis, Saint Lucia, and the Bahamas.
The Cuban doctors serving across the world are motivated not by financial gain but by the profound internationalist values of solidarity inculcated since the triumph of the Cuban Revolution. Since 1959, more than 300,000 Cuban medical workers have served in 158 countries. Currently, 50,000 Cuban doctors and nurses are serving in 66 countries across Latin America, Africa and Asia, with more than 4,000 Cuban healthcare personnel treating people in 32 African countries. As Dr. Jorge Perez Ávila, the director of Cuba’s Pedro Kouri Institute for Tropical Medicine, noted: “Our principle has been to share what we have.”
Cuba’s achievements occur within a very specific political context. It is the political base of the Cuban Revolution that has been the guarantor and motive force upon which these achievements rest.
The Cuban revolution is an outgrowth of Cuba’s long struggle to achieve independence and establish an autochthonous nation-building project rooted in its historical legitimacy as the vehicle for the realization of these historical aspirations.  Periodically, the Cuban people reaffirm these historical aspirations, which are expressed in a political consensus to defend the revolutionary project. The Human Development Reports, for example, bear out this reality and demand reflection; they validate the revolutionary path chosen by the Cuban people.
Cuba’s very existence reaffirms the inalienable right of the people of Cuba – and all other peoples – to determine their future and their political, economic and social system without external interference: a right enshrined in the United Nations Charter, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Declaration on Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations and Co-Operation Among States in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.
The example of Cuba assumes even greater significance as the 21st century unfolds, fraught with grave dangers that threaten the well being of the peoples of the world. In the midst of these profound challenges, Cuba refutes those who argue that relations within and among the world’s nations and peoples are — and can only be — determined by self-interest, the pursuit of power and wealth. Cuba illustrates that societies can be centred on social justice, human dignity and international solidarity.