Is Cuba a Democracy?
An American View

I am an author, journalist and lecturer. My latest book deals with Cuba and its neighbours: the United States, Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador. The title is Cuba and Its Neighbours: Democracy in Motion.

Welcome to this new blog, designed to encourage debate on the content of the book. Several book reviews and accolades were written by specialists in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands and Cuba. For example, one book review was published in the International Journal of Cuban Studies (International Institute for the Study of Cuba), written by David Grantham of the United States. Grantham, after six years as a Commissioned Officer and Special Agent with the United States Air Force Office of Special Investigations, accepted a full-time appointment from the Department of History, PhD Program, at Texas Christian University. He is now an Adjunct Instructor and PhD Candidate in Modern Latin American History with supporting fields in Modern Middle East History and Modern U.S. Diplomacy at Texas Christian University. Given Grantham’s background in the United States Air Force, widely considered to say the least as a “conservative” institution as part of the U.S. official apparatus, what was his evaluation of the book? Did it help in further opening his eyes to democracy and the political process in Cuba? When the International Journal of Cuban Studies published his review, several specialists encouragingly mentioned to me that the goal of the book is being attained. His review, they claimed, illustrates the fact that the book is contributing toward making a breakthrough in the mainstream U.S. population, where so many preconceived prejudices flourish with regard to the Cuban political system and Cuban democracy.

At this time, in October 2014, the debate on normalizing U.S.–Cuba relations is erupting in American public opinion once again, perhaps more forcefully and widespread than ever since the 1959 Revolution. This month, the United Nations General Assembly is again considering the yearly Cuban resolution to end the blockade. In previous years (since 1991), the United States has stood increasingly virtually alone (mainly alongside Israel) in opposing the resolution, while the overwhelming majority of countries have demanded an end to all the severe American sanctions. For example, in October 2013, the vote was two (U.S. and Israel) in favour of maintaining the blockade versus 188 countries voting for the Cuban resolution to terminate it. As a public explanation for the U.S. vote, the government typically cites, as it did again in 2013, American “democratic ideals” as a measuring rod and the need for “political freedoms in Cuba.” In my view, the main issue here is the right of Cuba as a sovereign, independent nation to determine its own political and economic system and overall destiny. The U.S. has no right to dictate to Cuba the type of system that it should adopt.

However, let us debate the issue of what the nature of the Cuban political process is in reality and its own approach to democracy. An interesting basis for this discussion is the book review by the former Special Agent with the United States Air Force Office of Special Investigations, David Grantham. Here is his review.

What do you think? Please join in the debate.

14 thoughts on “Is Cuba a Democracy?
An American View

  1. Congratulation, dear Arnold August, for having won the attention of such a conservative U.S. American as David Grantham!
    I loved reading his summary:
    “In sum August succeeds in forcing readers to expand their horizons and modify expectations on democracy. He makes a compelling case of Cuban democracy iun motion and the fallibility of U.S. centrism leaving scholars with a new prism in which to conduct future work on political models.”

    • Dear Arnold,
      Besides the different kinds of democracies (United States, Cuba and three other Latin American countries) presented in your book, there is another type of comparison I have made when reading Cuba and its Neighbours. Indeed, even if I appreciated to learn a lot about history and governing practices of those countries (and the history of Cuba is really very impressive), I was happy to discover in Cuban participative democracy something like what we sometimes meet, or experience, in our union organizations. Often, I have found it would be fine if political meetings and organization look like union meetings and organization (that is, at least, those which I have been involved in). Cuban example seems to enlighten the path towards this possibility. However, I regret that your book and your website are not available in French for I am sure, with a better understanding of the language, there would be much more to learn for me and my compatriots on this important issue of democracy.
      Best regards,
      Viviane Aubé

      • Thank you Viviane, your comment about union meetings is very helpful. As fas as the French version of the book, no confirmation yet. I will let you know. Thanks for your interest. Best regards, Arnold

    • Well Josie, I do not know if David was or is a “conservative”, these are personal views that he carries, but one thing for sure, the US Air Force is definitely a pro-establishement institution. The official Policy of the US is to describe Cuba as a “communist state”, followed by a lot of disinformation, see CIA here
      https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/countrytemplate_cu.html
      David has gone far above these simple misleading descriptions. Arnold

  2. Dear Arnold,
    Your books and lectures have been essential for me to have some understanding of the history, politics and culture of the Cuban People.
    I would like to hear more from you about the role of the CDR’s especially as they relate to the regional and national institutions.
    The confusing relationship developing between the outside world controlled by the IMF and World Bank and the free trade zones needs to be fleshed out. The simplistic view of Cuba “going capitalist” must be addressed.
    I look forward to reading all of your scholarly work.
    Respectfully y
    ours,
    Wil Van Natta

    • Thank you Wil, if you ever want to do another radio interview on the issue you raised above, is Cuba “going capitalist”? please let me know.
      Best, Arnold

  3. Dear Arnold,

    Always have and continue to admire and appreciate your insightful contributions on Cuba. Your work has been essential in elevating the level of discussion. Please keep it up – such ideas as yours are critical.

    Fond regards,
    Marcel Hatch
    Havana Cuba

  4. U.S. hypocracy knows no limits. How can Washington defend such sringent measures against Cuba for alleged violation of human rights when the list of its closest allies include the least democratic nations on earth? Saudi Arabia heads he list.

  5. “Values of collectivity and social consciousness” (p. 4) … Certainly this blog offers an ideal opportunity to begin with the truth.
    August’s book offers an in depth account of the challenges and victories in Cuba. Historically, Cuba has been refining the art of an old, familiar ideal – a “Government of the People, by the People and for the People.”
    In the book, CUBA and It’s NEIGHBORS: Democracy in Motion,
    by Arnold August, I began to re-live much of what I had witnessed during my research as a student, while in Cuba.
    To gain a better perspective of the relationship shared by the Cuban government and “The People”, I attended – The Third International Conference on World Balance. This book echoes the ideals of a participatory democracy that were presented during the lectures, given by world leaders at the conference.
    The following year, while doing research for an independent study, I was taken aback as I entered an apartment complex. There were children accompanied by adults, serving to collect ballots from voters. Cuba makes it possible for the entire population to be heard and to participate in elections. August’s book conveys the truth regarding the importance of the participation by the entire population.
    It is vital that the truth be told about Cuba. Thank you Mr. August for providing such a reference. I have met Cuban’s who came to the USA as children, who are not aware of the ideals based on spiritual principles – which Cuba has painstakingly been putting into practice.
    It is unheard of in the USA – under the dictates of Capitalism, that José Martí’s vision for social justice could be put into practice. Cuba has continuously applied strategies to accomplish this ideology. Taking into account the crippling blockade imposed on this small island nation, the People who remained and supported their government, share a unity born of great hardships. Bonds have been forged through humanitarian efforts in support of one another.
    The People and the government jointly created opportunities to survive, as a result of practicing democracy. Survival was at best grueling, under the lash of depravity. August’s book provides a detailed analysis related to the social consciousness and the government’s efforts, to make survival possible.
    Surely Abraham Lincoln would applaud any country willing to suffer the dire consequences of reform while remaining loyal to The People, and their right to democracy. After all, he presented the opportunity – for the United States to practice.
    Surely all would applaud Arnold August for his courage to reveal such truths of an otherwise, shunned – Cuba.

  6. I have yet to read this book, though it sounds I should put it on my buyer’s list. I will certainly read the review and other links to become acquainted. I wonder if this book takes into account the aspect of “historic memory”, as it specifically relates to the tortuous relationship between Cuba and the United States throughout the years. I posted one of my blogs on the website entry, since it pertains to the issue of historic memory. I find many academics go in-depth into studies of the Cuban Revolution, and the U.S.’s erred relationship to it, but to my best knowledge I do not know of who “puts his finger on the sore”, as we Latins like to refer in Spanish, to the very touchy issue of historic memory as it relates to Cuba’s relationship to the U.S. Historic memory is sort of a religion to us Latin Americans, a sort of a mystical practice generation after generation. I hope that this book might touch somehow on this issue, as I attempt to become somewhat familiar with its concepts. I hope the link I posted helps, as it has a list in its “comments” section, regarding historic memory, though most are in Spanish.

    • Hi Ariel, I am very interesterd in historic memory as it pertains to Cuba although I do not use that term as such. You will see in the book many examples. Just to take one, the period from 1959 to 1960 when Cuba was discussing the possibility of elections; the historic memory of the participants, going back to the 1901-1958 US Republic period brought them to the conclusion that they did not want those type of US elections which were the only elections they knew from their own expereince. This debate is dealt with in detail in my book. It took about 15 years for Cuba to work out a new electoral system also fully explained and analyzed.
      Please keep in contact,
      Best,
      Arnold