Book Review Essay of “Cuba and Its Neighbours: Democracy in Motion.”
by Dr. Maximilian C. Forte. He is Associate Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at Concordia University, Montreal and the author of many books and essays.
Review essay, Part 1. December 30, 2014
Cuba and its Neighbours: Democracy in Motion. By Arnold August. Halifax: Fernwood Publishing; London: Zed Books. 2013. ISBN 978-1-55266-404-9. 267 pages (not including Preface and Acknowledgments)
Arnold August’s Cuba and its Neighbours is a richly documented and thus very detailed description and analysis of the history, theory, and practice of democracy in Cuba. Based on several years of participant observation in Cuba, in addition to numerous research trips since 1991, Cuba and its Neighbours provides a close-up view of the Cuban process of democratization, primarily focusing on the past decade. This work builds on his first book on Cuba, Democracy in Cuba and the 1997-98 Elections (Havana: Editorial José Martí, 1999), which was based on participant observation during the elections spanning 1997-1998 and focused on the electoral process. In the 2013 book under review here, August focuses on the forms of direct democracy and popular power that exist in Cuba today, the role of mass organizations, the National Assembly, the Communist Party, and the history of Cuban constitutions, set in a wider regional comparative framework that also includes discussion of democracy in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, and the US. It is a “must read” especially if you have been trained to accept the orthodox dogma that Cuba is merely a “dictatorship,” a “tyranny” that is exclusively dominated by “the Castro brothers”. August’s book does great justice to the complexity and historical development of Cuban democracy, and no discussion on that subject should proceed if one has not first read this book.
August’s interests in this area go back at least four decades, to when he was a political science student in Montreal in the late 1960s. He was part of a movement to “open the curriculum,” to include “new approaches to the South that did not encompass only theories and analyses based on the racist assumption of innate superiority that dominated academia in the North at the time” (and still today). (August, 2013, p. xiii). His aim in this book is to broaden our understanding of democracy, our understanding of Cuba, and of democracy in Cuba. He does so by bringing to light what is too often ignored, the development of a “grass-roots and revolutionary political culture” (August, 2013, p. xv). His ethnographic work involved living in Cuba for a period that spanned years, participant observation in elections, attendance in municipal assemblies and at the National Assembly, participating in meetings of the Workers’ Central Union of Cuba (CTC), and dozens of interviews with National Assembly delegates, professors, journalists, and trade unionists, among others.
For the full Book Review Essay, Part 1, visit the Zero Anthropology Web Site