When my father shipped me off to work in Cuba over half a lifetime ago, I recall being posed some political questions by a Canadian radio interviewer. Which I evaded, as I hardly considered myself an expert in the area of politics. I was only just beginning my adult life in this foreign land famous for its bearded leader and Communist party, in a world where only a handful of nations governed by a Communist Party remain. When Nixon was president and before we started elementary school, my parents uprooted their young family and moved us from Cape Cod to the birthplace of our paternal grandparents, the Canadian Maritimes. Growing up in rural Prince Edward Island in the era of Canadian television content, we were a CBC radio and TFC (two effin’ channels) household. My siblings & I fought for space in front of the family’s small black & white television (powered by our home’s windmill) to watch Mr. Dressup, The Friendly Giant, Fraggle Rock, The Edison Twins, Beachcombers, The Nature of Things with David Suzuki, Degrassi Junior High, The Littlest Hobo, Seeing Things, Danger Bay, Video Hits with Samantha Taylor, re-runs of Don Messer’s Jubilee, the John Allen Cameron Show, On the Road Again, The Kids in the Hall, You Can’t Do That on Television!, and who can forget Hockey Night in Canada, a ritual for at least half the country. We usually avoided Question Period because who wanted to listen to a bunch of politicians arguing back & forth and insulting each other in Ottawa? Peter Mansbridge was a better watch on The National, but we’d only appreciate his journalistic talents (and be able to stay up that late) as we grew older. Sure, we had Disney, Sesame Street, Archie Bunker or American soap operas like Dallas and All My Children. But we watched a lot of purely Canadian tv when we weren’t running around outside, biking to friends’ houses, playing board games, listening to 8 tracks/records/tapes, studying, practicing music, reading, doing chores or actually working (because in Canada, unlike our counterparts in Cuba, we almost always had part time jobs as kids). We didn’t have an Atari, but my brother did get a Commodore 64 when home computers were just coming out. We sometimes wiled away entire afternoons on that thing taking turns doing the powerlift game. How’s that for nostalgia? Sundays when Dad was home we were usually forced to listen to the Royal Canadian Air Farce followed by an hour of Gilmour’s Albums and Clyde’s classical musical selections, much to our chagrin, as our popular preference, more in line with those of our peers, would’ve been Casey Casem’s Top 40. Once I began studying at university and moved to larger urban centers, we had access to cable television to distract us. And American shows like Oprah Winfrey, The Price is Right, Seinfeld, Friends. All very entertaining and a great way to fill the time on your lunch hour or during those cold Canadian nights at home with your roommates.
I’d like to believe that the media we were exposed to in Canada didn’t result in our dumbing down. I know we all look back fondly on a lot of those programs we followed as kids and the core values they instilled in us as Canadians. And of course I realize that the way people access and view media today in Canada and most of the rest of the world is a whole other story. But when I arrived in Cuba in the early 1990’s, it was clear that I still had a vast amount to learn about how the rest of the world works. Little by little, my view of world politics and media in general has expanded. I’m still far from an expert, but I am grateful for the opportunity I’ve had to step outside of the bubble of the developed world and explore how things operate on the other side of the spectrum. The family I married into has undoubtedly influenced my thinking and knowledge of the political system. My Cuban husband studied international relations in Kiev. My father-in-law’s career focused largely in Cuban diplomacy, followed by a very long and distinguished career in Cuban Parliament. My mother-in-law is spending her retirement writing historical books. She taught philosophy for a time at the University of Havana, and later worked in Cuba’s foreign ministry until her retirement. Conversations sometimes get so heated at our family gatherings that we have had to ban the subject of politics. The ban isn’t always effective.
One of the things that I discovered early on (and at first, in my immaturity and naïveté, I had a hard time swallowing this) is that propaganda in the United States is spread by both government and media entities. You don’t want to believe a nation has been duped and so you first think whoever is telling you this must be paranoid. While Pope John Paul was making a historic visit to Cuba that was supposed to be reported on by Christiane Amanpour, all of a sudden all of the CNN coverage (which we were “privileged” to have at the time in our state aparthotel) that was to be directed to the papal visit to Cuba was suddenly diverted to the story on Monica Lewinski and where Bill Clinton was directing her to insert Cuban cigars. As if that were an event that merited the amount of media coverage and resources that it was assigned. For weeks we’d been anticipating an historic visit by the leader of the Roman Catholic Church with the leaders and people of Cuba. Posters were everywhere, even the non-religious were excited about this kind of a visit. But for the US media, it was long forgotten the minute the Lewinsky story was leaked. Illicit sexual liasons in the White House? Obviously a higher priority for American viewers. Some of the best documentaries by Oliver Stone have been censored in the US because it is not convenient to US authorities’ interests that unflattering (but accurate) information about their activities be distributed to the US population. Did you know that in the US, data on ownership and market share of media companies isn’t even held in the public domain? Doesn’t that sound fishy to you? You wouldn’t think information on who owns the media should be shielded from the public that consumes it. Unless, of course, there were some convert operations or ulterior motives someone (or something, like the CIA, perhaps) were trying to keep hidden. Such as brainwashing the US public with American heroes, GI Joe crap, and scare tactics about the supposed “enemy”. Free speech, hold it dear. Except (psst), who exactly controls the content that dominates all your feeds, channels and theaters? Do you know? Take Michael Moore, for example. He independently produces some compelling documentaries on some of the top issues that you would think should be addressed by the US government today, including gun control, the fast food industry, health care, conspiracies and more. He even correctly predicted that Trump would win office. Yet the mainstream US media consistently portrays him as a propagandist, a leftist (as if that were a crime), an alarmist, and even (gasp!) an a—hole. Someone pipes up and talks about some of the most alarming issues in his nation, but in order to keep the status quo (and satisfy the interests of the transnationals that really control the US government), their media channels immediately swoop in to discredit the source of the information not on their agenda. The current US cabinet with a collective net worth of $4.3 billion dollars (or roughly 1/3 of the wealth of the entire country) are probably slapping each other on their greedy backs and having a great laugh over being able to keep the country entertained as long as they already have already with The Donald’s multiple deficiencies and colossal flubs. Meanwhile, they’ve effectively managed to move very efficiently during his presidency so far to:
-get out of the Paris climate agreement. We all know that the US is one of the largest contributors to global warming. But their president (in 2017) is in denial of science and publically declares this with a straight face. Do we believe this is possible, or is Trump the buffoon at the helm just extremely convenient to the pockets of the companies of his administration bros?
-set back Obamacare and get out of those pesky obligations to improve health care access for Americans
-roll back diplomatic advances Obama worked hard to make with Cuba, after half a decade of estrangement.
Really the list is too long to go on. But even those closest to Trump have declared that he’s easily manipulated. He must be equivalent to a transnational’s wet dream.
The veto powers of a US president are clearly too great, and what exists today in the USA does not even closely resemble a democracy. You have just two parties that have controlled the US Congress since 1856, both with weak central organizations. And there’s not much that really differentiates one from the other in terms of ideology – the fact that some US organizations contribute to both parties’ campaign funds clearly suggests that they fundamentally represent the same (primarily economic, not social) interests. Over the past several decades US presidents have worked toward achieving undivided control of the executive branch, to the point where they are now operating like kings without the checks and balances that were intended to govern their democratic systems. With a questionably sane chump like Trump at the helm, controlling the world’s most expensive military and second largest nuclear arsenal, I don’t know about the rest of you, but I find it deeply concerning. I mean the man over-uses Twitter, a social media platform limiting its user to 140 characters or less, to get his puzzling and polarizing messages out to the world. Is this what the role of the President of the United States has been reduced to? Dumbed Down Personified?
Participation in US federal elections (comically portrayed as national race between the political parties – I say “portrayed” because this seems to me to be just another, albeit very expensive, US-funded entertainment program, not an actual exercise in democracy), requires huge amounts of money. For advertising, which benefits…..(yeah, you guessed it)…the US media, who else? As has long been a criticism of international election observers, and became all too clear with Trump’s win, the imbalanced way in which US congressional districts are set up means the conclusions are really foregone, and that competitiveness of these election contests doesn’t truly exist as it would in a genuine democracy where the majority vote wins. In the USA, only the wealthy or those with wealthy donors in their pockets can afford to postulate as candidates. We the people?! The Occupy movement? The majority crushed by the 1%.
Moving on to the country that I actually reside in most of the year, here are some facts that you may not be aware of… Municipal elections begin tonight in Cuba, where they don’t claim their system is perfect. But it’s their system. If there are things you don’t like about it, as a Cuban citizen there are outlets to voice your concern or file your complaint. Voting isn’t compulsory but it’s indeed popular here. The information slip my husband received to vote today Oct. 20 at 8 pm from the Electoral Commission reads quite simply that according to the Electoral Law, he has the right to vote in the Assembly for the Nomination of Delegates to the Municipal Assembly of the People’s Power. It gives him the time & place to go (within walking distance of our home, of course) should he choose to participate in the election as a Cuban citizen. He knows he should take his Cuban Identify Card (every single Cuban has one of these, with a unique #, their thumbprint and photograph attached). No one will rebuke him, consider him un-revolutionary, or threaten his job if he were to skip the vote. You laugh? I do too, as I’ve actually repeatedly read some of those theories in US media and I just can’t believe that anyone in Cuba (in their right mind) has actually reported that’s the case. So I can only assume it’s simply more disingenuous US propaganda.
Some of you out there don’t realize we have democratic elections in Cuba. Well, surprise, surprise, they exist, and they start from the bottom up. In the first phase, delegates are elected to the Municipal Assembly, and in the second phase, deputies are elected to the Provincial and National Assemblies. Surprisingly, no political parties (including the Communist Party of Cuba) are permitted to campaign. Which means we don’t have to put up with the stupid slander, lies or insulting behavior that you often see in elections in countries where big money is at stake for the power-grab. Or, better yet, waste a whole lot of money on that funny business when it could be put to better use improving the quality of life for the country’s citizens. It’s not to say a little more real debate at the grassroots and national levels wouldn’t be a bad thing. But the expensive media circus isn’t what I’d like to see, of that I’m sure.
So how do Cubans know who do vote for? Simply consult the candidates’ biographies/photos which are posted in public locations. Vote based on their merit – a choice of municipal candidates will be available, nominated by individual electors or grass-roots organizations in nomination assemblies rather than by small committees of political parties. Voter turnout in Cuba is exceptionally high (95% or higher) because not only Cubans but many other Latin Americans today know and accept that it’s their civic duty to participate in choosing their government leaders, and they fully recognize that every vote counts. Most Cubans actually care about politics. In the US, many ordinary citizens have given up, believing they are powerless to counteract the influences of the wealthy interests/corporations/unions/PAC’s on their political system. Fidel’s famous literacy campaign in the early years of the Revolution eradicated illiteracy in Cuba, meaning the peasants could no longer be kept in the dark. Especially those of the disenfranchised, the poorest citizens, those who want their voice heard. Our neighbors to the north would do well to learn that lesson when the 2020 US federal elections come around again – barely half of eligible voters in the US bother to cast their ballot. Many others (especially minorities) are prevented from doing so for a lack of transportation, resources, viable identification, economic inability to leave their workplace and a host of other issues impeding their voter registration. In countries like Australia you can actually face a fine for not voting. Of compulsory voting, Obama once said: “If everybody voted, then it would completely change the political map in this country.”
The President of Cuba (referred to as the President of the Council of State) is also the President of the Council of Ministers of Cuba, the head of government. The Council of Ministers (the Cabinet consisting of the President, Vice President, 7 Vice Presidents of the State Council, heads of national ministries, the Executive Committee Secretary and other lawfully-established members), is Cuba’s highest ranking executive and the administrative body of the nation’s government. The Executive Committee consists of the President and Vice Presidents of the Council of State, the Secretary and ministers chosen by the President. Policy agreements are authorized by the National Assembly, and the Council of Ministers is responsible for their implementation, designating that task to individual ministries. General plans for economic and social development are proposed by the council, which the National Assembly authorizes twice yearly. Cuba’s President, Raul Castro, will step down in 2018. If he is elected to the National Assembly, many assume that Miguez Diaz-Canel Bermudez could be Cuba’s next President.
Cuba’s foreign policy and its relations with other governments is directed by the Council of Ministers. It approves international treaties before they are passed to the Council of State for ratification (much like the Senate, in Canada). It oversees and directs the State budget and foreign trade. Laws authorized by the National Assembly are passed by the Council of State and enforced by the Council of Ministers. They can sometimes be almost maddeningly slow in their pace of implementation with certain national policies (for example, the perfection of the new non-agricultural cooperative systems). And sometimes it seems like they’re learning and adjusting as they go – Cuba’s ironing out a lot of wrinkles right now with their taxation and audit systems for the private sector, a recently expanded sector of the national economy. Cubans haven’t had to pay much in taxes until relatively recently, and on the overall scale, they’re still coming off fairly easily compared to Canadian income tax rates if truth be known. Being largely a cash economy, a considerable amount of tax evasion appears to be going on and the authorities are struggling with how to control that. Although they tout efficiency as one of their lofty ideals, bureaucracy is the real norm here. In Canada we’re somewhat used to things being bureaucratic, but admittedly, Cuba goes above & beyond.
However, Cuba certainly doesn’t end up with a cabinet with a collective net worth of $4.3 billion accepting bribes left & right and shielding their money in offshore accounts, of that you can be absolutely certain! In Cuba, with the exception of the President, politicians live in regular neighborhoods, in regular houses, and live many of the same day-to-day routines as working class Cubans, and largely they can still relate closely to the problems in Cuban society. In Cuba they’d have a cow if their system were that corrupt. I can recall the story of a lady selling black market cheese door-to-door, when she unknowingly knocked on Carlos Lage’s door some years back, seeing if he would be interested in purchasing some of the cheese she was selling made with milk diverted from the state’s supply. In the US you couldn’t get that close to someone that high in the government without having a security detail all over you. It probably shouldn’t have happened here either – something was obviously remiss, but you get the point. He wasn’t living in some gated/gilded mansion with a pool in Miramar, despite all of the responsibility he was assuming in his government position.
Although they disingenuously claim they want “democracy” restored to Cuba, our neighbors to the north have violated the United Nations charter through countless assassination attempts on Fidel Castro, and even in modern days continue to attempt to undermine Cuban democratic processes, often under the guise of “USAID”. But Cuban officials have been on to their underhanded tactics, which have largely been a colossal failure, for years. It’s almost part of their doctrine. They try and sneak in, then Cuba exposes them. Cubans don’t believe that the US is promoting their watered-down version of “democracy” to the rest of the world out of the goodness of their own hearts, rather they promote their own interests above all others, which has always been and continues to be America First. This concept was not invented by the Donald. The US is not out there to save the world, the environment, or all of a sudden interested in ensuring those who work in the garment trade in India are paid a fair working wage, or that desperately-needed vaccines are provided with affordable prices by US transnational pharmaceutical companies to those in dire need in Africa, in order to preserve lives. Is anyone really that naïve? Maybe, but in Cuba the wool was torn off Cubans’ eyes more than half a decade ago. The United States wants to retain their dominance of the world economy, and in order for a small segment of Americans to live a lifestyle of relative (and in some cases extreme) excess, then the overwhelming majority of citizens of the rest of the planet must sacrifice. This is the only doctrine the US insists on actively ensuring is followed. Many Cubans would like to see changes implemented in their system, and in a more efficient manner. They would like more transparency on government spending, on projects like Mariel. For youth to feel like their country has a promising economic future, to stem the flow of talented professionals out of Cuba. They want mechanisms to truly support the private sector, rather than in name only. And for a media that offers constructive criticism of their system and its leaders, not one that pats everyone on the back and neglects the real issues facing Cuba today. We’re in the midst of some important transformations and many Cubans want to see their vision of Cuba realized from the inside out. But some are getting tired of the bureaucratic wheels and their lack of grease / ability to adjust to today’s challenges at the rate at which they are being presented.
In Canada we can elect a Prime Minister to as many terms as we wish. We don’t limit ourselves to 8 years of good leadership if we have one that is doing a bang-up job and willing to continue to serve us. In July an unpopular tax reform was introduced in Canada and after public outcry and debate, in October the government stood down as the private sector is the backbone of Canada’s economy. It didn’t take them 8 years to come to their senses. It seems to me that this is a sensible way to keep one’s citizens content, with effective and admirable leadership and a sound moral compass to guide us through good and difficult times. It’s too bad that Obama couldn’t have run for another term because in his absence, and after Bernie Sanders very unfortunately loss to Hillary Clinton (do take another read through the link on his political positions – it might make you nostalgic like it did me, and wonder “what if”….), the US voting public was left with 2 unappealing choices and the unthinkable transpired. The US voting public elected an idiotic, pu—y-grabbing, lying, unqualified, egotistical, bullying, incompetent excuse for a man to be the leader of their “democratic” government. By allowing that to happen, the US government has chosen to abandon universal goals and their offensive choice for their nation’s world representative is isolating them abroad. They are not an ally to be trusted. As Winston Churchill once said, “There are no eternal friends or eternal enemies, only eternal interests”. In Cuba, as in Canada, on the other hand, the continuity of the nations’ long-term national and sustainable global development goals is ensured. Cuba is not abandoning its commitment to the planet, to supporting other nations in need and within its means. According to the WWF’s 2016 Living Planet Report, “Cuba has the most sustainable model of development on the planet”. That’s something to be proud of and to look to as an example of what to strive for in the future as a nation and as a planet. According to a Telesur article (our really great news source in the southern part of the Americas, conceived as a joint nations project to counteract the US propaganda machine): “Cuba…was found to have implemented a good — yet not perfect—combination of human development and environmental footprint, with a high level of alphabetization and a high level of life expectancy, while using little energy and natural resources.” In Cuba & Canada we have universal health care. Education is free up to Grade 12 in Canada, and through post-secondary institutions in Cuba. We are committed to global goals. It’s high time the citizens of the country in the middle started standing up for their rights and demanding more humane, rational action from their government. Maybe they need a new political party to stir up some real change because it’s certainly not happening with the establishment. Maybe a Revolution is what they need.