Cuba’s Parliament: Unanimity vs. InstitutionalismJuly 5, 2012 | | Print |
HAVANA TIMES — President Raul Castro has criticized false unanimity on several occasions, but if there is an entity holding the undisputed record in this regard, it is Cuba’s parliament. This body has managed to legislate for almost four decades without a single deputy ever voting to the contrary.
Made up of 600 men and women from across the country — people of different social classes, from twenty-something to retired grandparents — the representatives within this body are presented with all types of issues pertaining to national life, but curiously they always wind up with everyone in agreement.
This would be a rarity anywhere else in the world but, knowing the tendentious nature of Cubans, here it could be described as a miracle.
The problem is that many people have stopped believing in that unanimity and are suspecting that something’s fishy.
It might be a useful instrument to govern centrally and pass laws by the National Assembly as a mere formality, but if the aim is to institutionalize the country, parliament should be one of the first places to transform.
The deputies are elected by the people and should defend the interests of their constituents. It would help them to turn things around, to stop considering themselves as central government officials in their communities and act like representatives of their people before the central power.
Reports to the parliament by the ministers or from the president receive only the applause of the deputies. But this isn’t a popularity contest; the task is to lead a nation that is in need of critical minds to permanently correct its course.
Legislative passivity in Cuba is such that instead of being a country of laws, it has become a state of “resolutions,” “directives” and “executive orders” issued by government officials – sometimes conflicting with the law and even with the constitution itself.
I never heard of one deputy in parliament ever protesting the unconstitutional ban on Cubans entering hotels or a representative from the eastern provinces discussing the restrictions imposed on their constituents from moving to the capital.
Institutionalization means putting one’s house in order so that everyone can play their role within the powers granted to them by law. The main task of a parliament is to legislate, in addition to exercising control over the executive on behalf of the citizens.
Little of that happens right now, and it will be difficult to transform parliament as long as it is directed in the same way that it has been. In this sense, it’s already being rumored that the coming generational shift could facilitate change within that institution.
A different mentality will also be needed within the Communist Party, whose members fill 90 percent of the parliamentary seats. These men and women cannot fully exercise their role as members of the legislature while they’re subject to party discipline.
Democratic centralism gives communists the opportunity to discuss internally, but then forces them to support the majority decision. It therefore becomes practically impossible for a party member in parliament to question a minister coming before that body who is in the leadership of that same party.
No one believes that the deputies hold office to enrich themself, like in other countries; but that doesn’t mean that they enjoy much prestige among Cubans. Few have the hope that “their representative” will solve the problems of their community.
To change this perception, an active parliament is needed, one that looks at reality with a critical eye, remaining vigilant against the central power, not fearing public debate but approaching the national interest as a synthesis of the various local interests represented by the deputies.
The task isn’t easy but it’s essential at a time of transformations that require changing not only the laws but the even the constitution. Many people say the reforms are moving forward too slowly, but the truth is that not even with the slow movement is the parliament able to play catch up.
It may be that the approval of a new immigration law doesn’t depend on that body, but the parliament has delayed in approving the Family Code that regulates the rights of children, the elderly and the LGBT community – despite that body having spent five years “debating” the legislation.
The announcement of the upcoming session of parliament set for July 23 caused me to start thinking about the potential, capabilities and possibilities of deputies at the grassroots. I know some personally, and I know that they’re good, decent, dedicated and intelligent people.
Obviously they are not the problem; the problem lies with the model of government, it mechanisms and a mindset that prevents elected officials from acting like representatives of their communities and properly playing the role required of them in an institutionalized country.
An authorized translation by Havana Times (from the Spanish original) published by BBC Mundo.