Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Talking Democracy at Casa de la Amistad - July 7th

july 7, morning, at the house of friendship - casa de la amistad - in havana cuba

click here for photos

click here for some audio

i'm learning about the cuban government, from an elected local official. here are some important things to know about it:

1. the representatives of the government are chosen directly by the people. in each community, representatives are put forward and their photo and biography is printed with government money. that's the extent of their campaigning -- they are from the community so people know who they are, and if more than one candidate is put forward then the people have a process to choose which one to move forward. there is no political campaigning aside from the photo and biography that's provided about each candidate and, i suppose, attending community meetings and connecting with the electorate.

2. those who are chosen from each community, each neighbourhood, they choose who will govern at the higher levels of government. they decide who will be the president and vice president of the national assembly. neighbourhood budgets are approved by locally elected officials. if the people don't like their budget, they can talk directly to the representative they chose from their community, and it's up to that elected person to negotiate so that the people are satisfied with what they get from the collective bank account.

3. if the people don't like the way someone is governing, they have the opportunity to remove them from office. every six months, there is a review of the elected people and if they're not doing their job to the satisfaction of the people, then they're removed from office.

4. about appointed positions by the government - the secretary of the assembly is not appointed, all the others have to be approved by the assembly. the ministers are appointed by the council of state, but they have to be approved by the assembly.

5. how are votes counted - the electoral college is led by the people who live in the neighbourhood. people in the neighbourhood are the ones who make the ballot boxes. between 7 am and 6 pm the votes are taken. the people are able to be there when the ballot boxes are brought out and taken away at the end of the day. everyone is invited to see the vote count. the votes are counted right away, they don't have to wait to find out the results. one person from the electoral college and one other person goes to peoples' homes if they're unable to travel, to facilitate their vote. this is the same process at the higher levels of government too. the cuban motto is 'children are the future' and children are the ones trusted to guard the ballot boxes (that's so cool!).

the discussion continues. there's a return, periodically, to remind us that here there is only one party. it's not a multi-party system (the elected woman is happy about this). the government is not comprised of competing interests. there is one interest, and it's the welfare of the cuban people. judging from what i see, from the beautiful warmth emanating from these peoples' eyes, from their healthy dispositions, the laughter and friendly solidarity they exhibit when discussing within their friendship and family circles, i'd say that fidel (and now raul) and the cuban government really do care about the people, unlike where i live. our government doesn't give a shit about us, they let us rot in the streets.

we're also reminded that there's a vast difference between the political party and the electoral process. representatives are not chosen by the party, they're chosen by the people. if the people choose 8 candidates in a particular district, all 8 candidates receive equal access to the process. all 8 candidates are placed on the ballot. i have a little problem with the fact that the result of the vote is tabulated by majority rule rather than proportional representation and i asked about it, explaining that canada used to be a sort of socialist country but it's been taken over because the majority rule tabulation results in many peoples voices being silenced. i'm not sure i convinced anyone that proportional representation is more democratic than majority rule, but i planted a seed.

the elected official was very keen on explaining that the party is in charge of guaranteeing the ideological guidance of the people, and the government is there to administrate. you may have heard that only 10% of the population are members of the party, she said, explaining that's because only party members are able to invite others to join the party. i guess it's platonic in nature - the idea is to select the cream of the crop to set the ideological tone, and then those who are elected are to follow the will of those. it sounds a bit elitist to me. i'm really more of an anarchist than a socialist and i never was a big fan of plato.

i guess it's easy to find fault with various economic and political systems. i don't know what i think is the perfect system might be. i wish we could examine what a truly woman centred (designed by women uninfluenced by the patriarchy) would be. not a condi rice or margaret thatcher system, they just plugged themselves into the existing system, but a really feminist equality based cooperative system. i like the grassroots nature of this cuban socialism, it seems to be mostly working. it'll be interesting to speak to individual cubans and see what they think of it. the woman we're speaking with right now is an elected official, so of course she's going to be happy with the system. she says she receives about 60% of the vote when she's elected, and she's been elected more than once.

the american caravanistas are keen to ask and explain. lucky for all of us, these aren't the rude americans who so often, unfortunately, fit their stereotype. these are activist americans, critical of their government. katie tried to explain that americans believe their multi party system offers the best option for diversity of choice, and in their collective imagination they feel the cubans are limited because they don't have such choices. another young american fellow (i still haven't got all their names) said their system is ostensibly about by the people for the people but it doesn't actually work that way. in response, our cuban friend said it's important to consider whether the actions match the words or whether they're empty words. as che is to have said, words without action are meaningless.

governing a nation is not easy.

after the workshops this morning, i set up the iphoto slideshow and let folks see the border crossing event. there was only one media person there, when we closed that international mexico/american border for about half an hour, but there was a lot of independent media in the form of caravanistas with cameras and the documentary team of america and catherine. i'm looking forward to being able to upload my files, to edit my other files and put some sort of documentary together.

i met a man who works on behalf of unions, apparently there are labour exchanges with labourers in both estados unidos y canada. the man, eddie, had participated in the discussion about democracy. we talked some more about proportional representation and i explained that mostly i'm an anarchist. he said he doesn't know much about that so i told him the little bit that i know, that the reason i'm an anarchist is because, when i wanted to launch the street newz, after working for several years in a business environment and then earning two degrees, all levels of government turned me down when i asked for funding. i thought, what's the point if they can't bother to help me. so now i float between anarchist ideals, and the concept of centralized control a la cuba. eddie told me it would probably be frowned upon for him to read about anarchy. i reminded him that socialists have killed anarchists in history, and he knew about that.