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Restoring Popular Sovereignty: A Concession to Imperialism or a Debt with the People?

Cubans have not voted under conditions of freedom and democracy, with the full spectrum of political beliefs represented, and without being repressed, since 1948.

La Habana

The Cuban government, through its spokespersons, has emphatically declared that further progress in its relations with the US is impossible, because Cuba is unwilling to make concessions to imperialism, given that all States (in the exact words of Raúl Castro, recalling the first anniversary of the decision by the American and Cuba governments to restore relations) have the right to choose whatever political and economic system they desire.

What the President overlooks is that this right belongs to the people, not the State.

The State, its type and form of government, should be determined by the people, freely and democratically. No State, no Government, and no bureaucracy has the right to determine the political and economic system under which a people must live. This is a distortion of the principle of self-determination, which is not that of States.

The triumphant revolution of 1959 was supported by all the people, because its objectives were to restore the 1940 Constitution and the democratic institutions uprooted by the coup in March, 1952. Instead, the armed group from the Sierra Maestra took over the process, without prior approval or democratic consultation, through the issuance of decrees, gradually placing the entire economy in the hands of the State, and forging a single-party political model dominated by one man. Revolution is recognized as a source of power and rights, but legitimacy is granted by a popular vote.

In short, the so-called "dictatorship of the proletariat" was gradually constructed as a system of government, along with an economy rooted in state-owned property; in reality a kind of State-monopoly capitalism, run by one party, under an all-powerful, unjust leader. A system which the Russians had called "socialism" since the time of Stalin.

The Constitution of 1976, nearly 40 years ago, was the result of what had transpired since 1959, and its objective was to bolster this previously established "socialism."

A society overseen by a regime determined to perpetuate itself in power was gradually forged in Cuba between 1959 and 1976, through blood and fire, with a civil war, more uprisings in the mountains than under Batista, and more people dead, persecuted, imprisoned and exiled than during the two revolutions during the 30s and 50s (against Machado and Batista). During this period assets were arbitrarily expropriated from the owners of large, mid-sized, and small companies, both Cuban and foreign, whether they were private, corporations, cooperatives or belonged to associations or unions, like the Havana Hilton.

By that point the opposition to Fidel Castro, his Communist Party and his alliance with the USSR, had been crushed, along with its economic base. The country's bourgeoisie, its petty bourgeoisie, workers associated in different ways, unions and small property holders lost their assets. Parties and organizations, who did not support the Government - whether on the right, left, or in the center - were disbanded and decimated. The old Communist Party suffered the same fate.

Several thousand opponents died in combat, were shot, or were sentenced to long jail terms for betraying the "homeland,  counter-revolution, and attacks against the security of the State." More than a million Cubans, of a total of six, left the country, fleeing its "communism," repression, or as political exiles.

In parallel and in relation to this series of events, the clash with the US grew more acute, the latter spurred to support armed opposition in Cuba, giving rise to the October Crisis and the levying of the economic and trade embargo, still largely in force.

When the 1976 Constitution was approved, the "revolutionary Government" was bound to no other laws than that which it dictated, and human rights were limited to those recognized by it, in accordance with its implementation of the "socialist revolution." This regime was never subjected to a popular vote, nor did it allow the people to select a legislature to draft its laws. Then there was no freedom of expression or association, or other parties, and that constitution was not the product of any democratic constituent assembly, but rather conceived by a group of people who took orders from the Communist Party, whose Political Bureau and Central Committee were not elected by any congress, but appointed in 1965 by a small group headed by Fidel Castro.

The Constitution of 1976 was also the result of a "socialist" alliance with the former neo-Stalinist USSR, which supplied the country, almost free of charge, with food, medicines, means of production, oil and weapons, and protected the Cuban government from US threats under its nuclear umbrella. Hence its similarity to the Soviet Constitution of 1936.

Ladies and gentlemen, everything has changed. It’s now 2015. There is no USSR, or any nuclear umbrella, nor does the Government have any benefactors to send it free food, oil or weapons. The State-monopoly capitalism imposed in the name of socialism has failed, and, on top of this, the State has been forced to allow self-employed economic activity spaces, and to declare that it is willing to allow non-government cooperatives and foreign investment, though so far only for its  "portfolio of businesses."

Thus did it announce, without providing specifics, a major shift in its economy, while maintaining its political system intact, failing to realize that economics and politics are an inseparable and interdependent tandem.

In addition, diplomatic relations with the US have been restored, whose government is pressuring Congress to lift the embargo. America can no longer be considered the "imperialist enemy scheming to annex Cuba," although it is no secret that it would like an ally and a democratic government that fully respects human rights.

The failed model of state socialism is sustained by the repression of everything the leadership of the Party-State-Government deems "counterrevolution and fruit of the enemy’s imperialist activities." Any dissenting thoughts or actions on the island are dismissed as deleterious, as the country’s laws still preclude the freedom of expression, association, choice and economic activity, in classic Stalinist style. Many people prefer to avoid more bloodshed, opting for exodus before confrontation.

Cubans have not voted under conditions of freedom and democracy, with the full spectrum of political beliefs represented, and without being repressed, since 1948. In light of all the above, the legitimacy of the 1976 Constitution is dubious, even though it was endorsed by a large majority.

The "revolutionary government" that arose from the insurrection process from '53-'59, should have and still should return sovereignty to the Cuban people. And that does not mean making any concessions to imperialism. It is a historical debt. It means respecting the popular will which led to the 1959 revolution. Listening to the people is still a pending task.

What must be done is to restore the democratic institutions that were never honored, creating conditions of respect for fundamental rights that enable everyone to express themselves and assemble freely, so that together all Cubans, under freedom and democracy, can pursue a new democratic constitution, electoral system, and the rule of law.

The only thing preventing that restoration is the ruling elite's interest in not relinquishing power.

Popular sovereignty should be restored in an atmosphere of peace, freedom, rights and democracy, enabling us to flourish in the kind of Cuba Martí dreamed of. A Cuba for all.

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