Tag Archives: Democracy


By Carlos Eire

Carlos Eire is the T. L. Riggs Professor of Catholic Studies at Yale University.

Original article here: When Francis Came to Cuba, 

From “First Things” (“America’s most influential journal of religion and  public life”), October 25, 2015

CUBA-POPE-VISIT-MASSWe should cheer any time a pope mingles with sinners. It’s what Jesus did, and what his vicar on earth is supposed to do, too. Sin and evil need to be confronted, not ignored, and those who are unjust should be urged to repent and mend their ways. Unfortunately, there is little to cheer about when it comes to the mingling Pope Francis did with the Castro brothers in Cuba, and with other heads of state in Latin America who praise and emulate their dictatorship. Pope Francis seems much too comfortable with Latin American dictators and with their symbols of repression.

A few months ago, when he visited Ecuador and Bolivia, Pope Francis mingled with presidents Rafael Correa and Evo Morales, avowed disciples of Fidel and Raul Castro with tyrannical tendencies, but he refrained from speaking about their human rights abuses. He also received a blasphemous hammer-and-sickle crucifix from Evo Morales and accepted this gift with a smile. What if that crucifix had been in the shape of a swastika rather than a hammer and sickle?

That incident was a portent of things to come in Cuba, where Pope Francis has smiled his way through meetings with blood-soaked tyrants and failed to speak out about human rights abuses on the island, or to challenge the cruelty of his hosts. Pope Francis also failed to meet with any of Cuba’s non-violent dissidents, despite their urgent pleas for an encounter. This is not so much the “preferential option for the poor” as the preferential option for oppressors.

Havana’s Cardinal Jaime Ortega y Alamino explained this approach by saying that the Catholic Church in Cuba had to avoid “partisan politics.” This is the same prince of the Church who has called for the arrest of asylum-seeking dissidents in his churches, and in April of 2012, at Harvard University, ridiculed these persecuted Cubans as “former delinquents” and “people with psychological disturbances” who lacked “any cultural level.” Despite his frequent calls for “reconciliation,” Ortega has referred to Cuban exiles as “gusanos” (worms or maggots), the unchristian epithet that the Castro regime has applied to all its opponents for over half a century.

The papal entourage eventually decided to give in to the dissidents’ pleas for a meeting at the last minute, as an afterthought, but the results were predictably disastrous. When some democracy advocates were suddenly and unexpectedly invited to meet with Pope Francis at the Apostolic Nunciature in Havana all of them were arrested as soon as they left their homes. In addition, many other non-violent dissidents were rounded up or placed under house arrest, to prevent them from attending the pope’s open-air Mass. Meanwhile, the Castro regime sent busloads of its own hand-picked supporters to the papal Mass, to ensure that Pope Francis would have a sufficiently large audience of politically-correct Cubans. Worst of all, the selection process for those who were crammed into those buses was vetted at the parish level by the Cuban Catholic Church, and approved by its bishops.

When four dissidents somehow managed to get close to Pope Francis, despite the efforts of church and state to keep all such Cubans away from him, they were quickly attacked by plain-clothed state security agents and whisked away to prison. Has Pope Francis denounced these injustices, which amount to religious persecution? Has he voiced concern over the compliance of his bishops in this persecution? No. Not a word. His silence is deafening.

The Holy Father’s homily on Sunday, in Havana, focused on the vulnerable members of society, and it could have been delivered anywhere on earth. His sermon was full of beautiful sentiments, but there was very little in it about Cuba, and nothing whatsoever about the oppression, vulnerability, and poverty of the Cuban people. This sermon displayed none of the sharp-edged subtlety favored by his own Jesuit order. It was far too subtle. So subtle, in fact, that only someone with a doctoral degree in theology, rhetoric, or political science might be able to detect any reference to injustice in it.

As Newsweek has observed, seventeen years ago in his homily in Havana, John Paul II mentioned “freedom” seventeen times and “justice” thirteen times. In his homily, Francis did not mention “freedom” or “justice” once. All that Francis said about Cubans was that they are “a people which has its wounds, like every other people.” In other words, Francis told Cubans that they are no worse off than any other people on earth after fifty-six years of economic and political repression, and that they really have nothing to complain about. The closest he came to upbraiding the Castro regime or to calling for an end to the enslavement of the Cuban people was to say: “service is never ideological, for we do not serve ideas, we serve people.”

Ironically, dictator Raúl Castro had just greeted Pope Francis at the airport with a long speech that had less to do with his visit than with praising the failed ideology that has made Cuba one of the poorest and most repressive nations on earth. “Preserving socialism is tantamount to securing independence, sovereignty, development and the well being of our nation,” said dictator Raúl.

In his long-winded speech, Raúl Castro strung together a series of lies that have yet to be challenged by the Pope or by anyone at the Vatican. Emboldened by the pope’s overt approval of his regime, made manifest in their meeting in Rome this past spring, the octogenarian dictator boasted: “We have founded an equitable society with social justice and extensive access to culture, attached to traditions and to the most advanced ideas of Cuba, Latin America, the Caribbean and the world.”

As if this were not cheeky enough, the unelected and unchallenged “president” Raúl Castro also claimed that he was committed to building “a prosperous and sustainable socialism focused on human beings and the family, and with the free, democratic, conscious and creative involvement of the entire society.”

Fine things to say, especially for someone who is responsible for driving out into exile twenty percent of his country’s population, breaking apart millions of families, and stifling all dissent and all access to outside sources of information. The Holy Father had nothing to say about these lies then or afterward.

Sadly, however, he did have something nice to say to the oppressors. According to Granma, the top official newspaper of that regime, in a private meeting Francis “thanked comrade Fidel Castro for his contributions to world peace in a world saturated with hate and aggression.” If this is indeed true, Francis has overlooked the history of a consistently violent government, one of the very few to have brought the world to the brink of nuclear annihilation, and the only one in Latin America to have sent troops to three continents and to have sponsored warfare and terrorism around the globe, and to have consistently called for the extermination of Israel.

What is any Catholic to make of this? Why has Pope Francis chosen to side with the oppressors rather than with the oppressed?

God only knows. Perhaps he wants to win favor with the Castro regime so that the Catholic Church in Cuba can avoid the persecution experienced by Protestant evangelical churches on that island? Perhaps he knows that most popes who have locked horns with secular rulers have ended up losing way too much? Perhaps he is taking a cautious Jesuit approach of the sort taken by his order in seventeenth-century China? Perhaps he knows that the Catholic Church has always thought of change in terms of decades, centuries, and millennia rather than days, weeks, months, or years? Or perhaps he likes what he sees in Cuba and genuinely admires its unelected rulers? His reasoning is immaterial. What matters most is that his smiling silence and his joviality in the company of ruthless oppressors is immensely dismaying.

Pope Francis is not exactly the silent type when it comes to social, political, or economic issues. When he thinks something is wrong, he lets the world know, as he has just done in his encyclical Laudato Si’, in which he champions environmentalism and excoriates materialist consumerism. A few months ago, in Bolivia, he spoke of “the unfettered pursuit of money” as nothing less than “the dung of the devil.”

So, why is it that he refrained from calling the Castro regime and other such failed experiments in materialist totalitarian communism “the dung of the devil”? Is communist materialism any less fiendish? Is communist political and economic repression any less reprehensible? Why didn’t he call Raúl and Fidel Castro to repentance? Why did he praise them instead?

We’d like to know why.

But who are “we,” and why are “we” so impertinent, you ask?

Here is who “we” are: we who have been unjustly abused by the Castro regime, who have seen our nation ruined, who have had our relatives tortured and killed, who have seen our families torn apart by imprisonments and exile, who have been denied the right to express ourselves freely, who have been subjected to atheist indoctrination and had our right to worship denied. In brief: we who know from first-hand experience that to live in Cuba is to be a slave.

We could provide a much longer list of injustices endured for the past fifty-six years, but what would be the use? For now, all we Cuban Catholics can do is acknowledge the fact that the first pope, Saint Peter, made many, many mistakes, and that none of his successors have been infallible when it comes to politics. And we can take comfort in praying along with an innumerable throng of Christians who stretch all the way back to first century: Agnus Dei qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis. Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.


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Raul-Castro-Pope-FrancisWorld Affairs Journal September/October Issue, 2015.

José Azel

Eight hundred years ago, the Magna Carta laid the foundations for individual freedoms, the rule of law and for limits on the absolute power of the ruler.

King John of England, who signed this great document, believed that since he governed by divine right, there were no limits on his authority. But his need for money outweighed this principle and he acceded to his barons’ demand to sign the document limiting his powers, in exchange for their help.

King John then appealed to Pope Innocent III who promptly declared the Magna Carta to be “not only shameful and demeaning but also illegal and unjust” and deemed the charter to be “null and void of all validity forever.” Thus from the beginning of the conflict between individual rights and unlimited authority, the Church sided with authority. It is a position that, with notable exceptions has, and continues to characterize the conduct of Church-State affairs.

In 1929, the Holy See signed with Benito Mussolini’s Fascist government the Lateran Treaty which recognized the Vatican as an independent state. In exchange for the Pope’s public support, Mussolini also agreed to provide the Church with financial backing.

In 1933, the Vatican’s Secretary of State Eugenio Pacelli (later Pope Pius XII) signed on behalf of Pope Pius XI, the Reich Concordat to advance the rights of the Catholic Church in Germany. The treaty predictably gave moral legitimacy to the Nazi regime and constrained the political activism of the German Catholic clergy which had been critical of Nazism. Similarly, advancing the Church’s interests in Cuba is the explanation given for the Church’s hierarchy coziness with the Castro regime.

For most of us the Catholic Church is simply a religion, but the fact is that it is also a state with its own international politico-economic interests and views. It is hard to discern the defense of any moral or religious principles in the above historic undertakings of the Church-State.

These doings of the Church, as a state in partnership with authoritarian rule, are in sharp contrast with the Biblical rendition, where Christ was persecuted for his political views by a tyrannical regime acting in complicity with the leadership of His church. Cubans today are also politically persecuted by a tyrannical regime. The question arises as to whether the leadership of the Catholic Church will side with the people or with the Castro regime.

Pope Francis probably, was not thinking of Magna Carta, the Lateran Treaty or the Reich Concordat, when he warmly received General Raul Castro in the Vatican earlier this spring, and he probably won’t be thinking about that foundational document for individual freedoms, the rule of law and for limits on the absolute power of the ruler or how the medieval Church spurned it when he travels to Cuba in September. But the questions of the Vatican’s support for authoritarianism and the Pope’s political ideology will be in the background of his visit nonetheless.

In political terms, Pope Francis is himself the head of an authoritarian state -an oligarchical theocracy where only the aristocracy -the Princes of the College of Cardinals- participate in the selection of the ruler. Most religions do not follow a democratic structure, but the Catholic Church is unique in that it is also a state recognized by international law.

Pope Francis may seem to be sailing against the winds of this structure in some of his carefully publicized “iconoclasms,” but clues he has left as to his political and economic thought regarding Cuba show someone very comfortable with certain status quos.

In 1998, then Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Monsignor Jorge Mario Bergoglio, as the Pope was then known, authored a book titled: “Dialogues between John Paul II and Fidel Castro.” In my reading of the Pope’s complex Spanish prose, he favors socialism over capitalism provided it incorporates theism. He does not take issue with Fidel Castro’s claim that “Karl Marx’s doctrine is very close to the Sermon on the Mount,” and views the Cuban polity as in harmony with the Church’s social doctrine.

Following Church tradition he severely condemns U.S. economic sanctions, but Pope Francis goes much further. He uses Cuba’s inaccurate and politically charged term “blockade” and echoes the Cuban government’s allegations about its condign evil. He then criticizes free markets, noting that “neoliberal capitalism is a model that subordinates human beings and conditions development to pure market forces…thus humanity attends a cruel spectacle that crystalizes the enrichment of the few at the expense of the impoverishment of the many.” (Author’s translation)

In his prologue to “Dialogues between John Paul II and Fidel Castro,” Monsignor Bergoglio leaves no doubt that he sympathizes with the Cuban dictatorship and that he is not a fan of liberal democracy or free markets. He clearly believes in a very large, authoritarian role for the state in social and economic affairs. Perhaps, as many of his generation, the Pope’s understanding of economics and governance was perversely tainted by Argentina’s Peronist trajectory and the country’s continued corrupt mixture of statism and crony capitalism.

His language in the prologue is reminiscent of the “Liberation Theology” movement that developed in Latin America in the 1960’s and became very intertwined with Marxist ideology. Fathered by Peruvian priest Gustavo Gutierrez, the liberation theology movement provided the intellectual foundations that, with Cuban support, served to orchestrate “wars of national liberation” throughout the continent. Its iconography portrayed Jesus as a guerrilla with an AK 47 slung over his shoulder.

John Paul II and Benedict XVI censured Liberation Theology, but after Pope Francis met with father Gutierrez in 2013 in “a strictly private visit,” L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s semi-official newspaper, published an essay stating that with the election of the first pope from Latin America Liberation Theology can no longer “remain in the shadows to which it has been relegated for some years…”

The political ideology of the Argentinian Monsignor Bergoglio may not have been of any transcendental significance. But as Pope Francis, he is now the head of a state with defined international political and economic interests. These state-interests and personal ideology will be in full display in his upcoming visit to Cuba and the United States.

In “Dialogues between John Paul II and Fidel Castro,” Pope Francis speaks of a “shared solidarity” but, as with Pope Innocent III’s rejection of the Magna Carta, that solidarity appears to be with the nondemocratic illegitimate authority in Cuba and not with the people. This is a tragic echo of the Cuban wars for independence when the Church sided with the Spanish Crown and not with the Cuban “mambises” fighting for freedom. No wonder that when Cuba gained its independence, many Cubans saw the Church as an enemy of the new nation.

In his September visit Pope Francis will have a chance to reverse this history and unequivocally put the Church on the side of the people, especially with the black and mulatto majority in the Island. If he does not, history will judge him as unkindly as it has Innocent III. When the Castros’ tropical gulag finally fades into the past, Cubans will remember that this Pope had a choice between freedom and authoritarianism, just as his predecessor did eight hundred years ago, and picked the wrong side.


José Azel is a Senior Scholar at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, University of Miami and the author of the book “Mañana in Cuba.”

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By Samuel Farber

Original here: One-Party State?

HAVANA TIMES — In Cuba the one-party state is a very controversial question that few of the left-wing critics of the Cuban regime have been willing to address. What follows is an attempt to explore, from the left, some of the issues around this topic.

In the first place, the abolition of the Cuban one-party state is one thing, separate and apart from the political system that would replace it, whether without or with many political parties. In reality the Cuban Communist Party (PCC, its Spanish acronym) is not a party – which would imply the existence of other parties – but the organ that monopolizes the political, social and economic life of Cuban society. This monopoly – explicitly sanctioned by the Cuban Constitution – is based, among other authoritarian mechanisms, on the control of Cuban society through the so-called mass organizations that function as transmission belts for the decisions taken by the PCC. For example, the CTC, the official trade union central, is the transmission belt that allows the Cuban state to maintain its monopoly of the organization of Cuban workers. Many left critics of the Cuban regime will agree that workers (and all other Cubans) should have the right to organize themselves independently of the PCC to struggle for their own interests. Taking this notion to its logical conclusion would imply the abolition of the one-party state system, including its control of the mass organizations that function as the transmission belts for the Cuban Communist Party.

Cuba’s dominant system is going through a transformation – likely to accelerate after the historic leaders of the revolution pass away – towards the Sino-Vietnamese model of state capitalism under the direction of the PCC, which means that the need to abolish the one party state system with its transmission belts will remain in effect.

The function of political parties

The modern political parties came into being in the nineteenth century as suffrage expanded. As sections of the ruling class felt increasingly threatened, they organized themselves politically to defend their class interests, typically in conservative, liberal and, sometimes, Christian parties. There have been times when a ruling party represented one whole social class, as was the case of the Tory party in the U.K. in various historical periods. More frequently, however, different parties have represented different sectors of the ruling class. Liberals and conservatives not only represented material conflicts within the ruling classes, as for example the interests of the great landlords against those of the new industrial capitalists, but also ideological conflicts of pre-capitalist origin concerning the power and role of the Catholic Church in society.

Aside from representing different sectors of the ruling classes, these parties also incorporated intermediate sectors of society, such as independent professionals and small businesspeople, and tried to coopt popular expectations and struggles in a manner that would not threaten the fundamental interests of the powerful. In many occasions, the so called middle classes and strata also organized their own political parties especially in parliamentary systems with proportional representation (which historically propitiated the creation of numerous parties.) In Cuban political history, we have the case of the Ortodoxo Party founded by Eduardo Chibás, a party principally based on the middle classes but with a growing multi class support. But the fact that this party implicitly or explicitly accepted Cuban capitalism does not mean that it was an expression or had an organic relationship with the ruling classes.

That means that, historically speaking, the relationship between class and party has not been unequivocal: the ruling class has usually not been a monolith and has generally not been represented by a single party. This has also been certainly the case with the working class, the representation of which has been assumed by such diverse parties as social democrats, communists and social Christians. In the case of the classical social democracy that represented the working class through its close links with the unions, its growing conservative tendencies were not merely ideological but also represented the growth of a union bureaucracy, which based on the power that the unions had acquired, had the possibility of extracting sometimes significant concessions from the ruling classes. These concessions helped to demobilize the workers and solidified a bureaucracy more concerned with protecting its huge investments in the union infrastructure than in risking everything in pursuit of a revolutionary break (like in the Europe of the first postwar period) or in resisting imperialist war making (1914). This was the history of the very powerful and supposedly revolutionary Marxist German Social Democracy, whose bureaucratic-oligarchic model was portrayed by the Italian-German sociologist Roberto Michels in his classic Political Parties.

With respect to the Russian Bolshevik party: although Stalinists as well as Cold War apologists in the Western world held on to the myth that there was no difference between the Bolshevik and Stalinist parties, numerous historians (Stephen Cohen, Alexander Rabinowitch and William Rosenberg among others) have demonstrated that before undergoing the process of bureaucratic degeneration that began with the Civil War that took place from 1918 to 1920, this revolutionary party was in reality quite pluralist and democratic. Among many examples, I can cite the fact that although Bolshevik leaders such as Kamenev and Zinoviev opposed the October Revolution, they continued to be important party leaders after the revolution, and that although Bukharin publicly adopted and agitated for a political line radically opposed to Lenin’s regarding the peace of Brest-Litovsk in 1918, he remained as party leader for many years afterwards. Far from the “monolithic unity” defended by the Castro brothers, the Bolsheviks were characterized not only for the plurality of political positions, but also for a chronic tendency to factionalism that generally did not become an obstacle to “unity in action.”

It is for all these reasons that almost 80 years ago Leon Trotsky in The Revolution Betrayed harshly criticized the Stalinist theory about political parties and social classes that tried to justify the one-party state:


 First Vice President Juan Machado Ventura, ex-President Fidel Castro and President Raul Castro at the last Communist Party Congress in April 2011: No end in sight for the CPP – for little while at least.

In reality classes are heterogeneous; they are torn by inner antagonisms, and arrive at the solution of common problems no otherwise than through an inner struggle of tendencies, groups, and parties. It is possible, with certain qualifications, to concede that “a party is part of a class.” But since a class has many “parts” – some look forward and some back – one and the same class may create several parties. For the same reason one party may rest upon parts of different classes. An example of only party corresponding to one class is not to be found on the whole course of political history – provided, of course, you do not take the police appearance for the reality.

With respect to the multi party systems of capitalist societies: there is no doubt that political democracy has seriously deteriorated throughout the world. Political parties are increasingly devoid of content and subject to the demands of the shallowest kinds of political marketing, a process that has been aggravated by the huge costs of political media campaigns, particularly in the U.S., which in turn has closed the access to the big media for nascent movements and candidates who oppose the existing system. Also, parliamentary bodies have been declining, and many of their powers have been taken over by the executive branches, which unscrupulously use the doctrine of state secrets to protect their newly assumed prerogatives. As a result, political apathy, ignorance, and abstention have become prominent features of capitalist democracy. While this is fatal to any notion of democracy built on the participation and control of an active and informed citizenry, is has certainly been convenient and highly functional to a capitalist system that structurally privileges private and corporate economic power at the expense of public regulation and democratic control from below.

After the One-Party State

But let’s suppose that Cuba’s one-party state will be abolished. Whether we want it or not, new parties will develop once repression and the legal and constitutional obstacles against independent party organizations have ceased to exist. Shall we demand then that those new parties are suppressed, or instead of that, shall we engage wholeheartedly in the propaganda and political and ideological agitation against the inevitable neoliberal and reactionary wave that generally has succeeded bureaucratic Communism throughout the world? Those are the circumstances, when we could struggle, for example, for a new Constitutional Convention to publicly debate the critical question of the kind of society that should replace bureaucratic Communism, debates that should include, of course, our arguments in favor of the construction of a socialism based on democracy and liberty. This debate would also be a strategy to prevent the immediate recourse to electoral campaigns and their marketing focused not on political programs but on individuals, many of who are going to be financed, among others, by the rich Cuban-Americans in Miami. To confront this plutocratic possibility, we could, for example, campaign for the exclusively public financing of all electoral activity, including free access to the mass media and distribution of public funds according to the popular backing for each political group.

But let us assume the optimal case – unfortunately very unlikely under the current circumstances – of a broad mass movement replacing the bureaucratic one-party system with a revolutionary and democratic socialism based on the fullest liberties and on worker, peasant and popular self-management. In that case, what would be the meaning of the unity that many Cubans have wished for? To the extent that there are common interests – material as well as ideological and political – we should aim for a unity based on joint political activities and negotiations to form alliances based on shared political interests and principles. But this need not be the “monolithic unity” propagated by Raul Castro and other revolutionary leaders, which has meant censorship and the suppression of different point of view even within the ranks of the revolutionary government. As Rosa Luxemburg put it, freedom is for those who think differently. It is mistaken and dangerous to assume that there will not be important conflict of interests as well as of points of view among the popular classes under a revolutionary and democratic socialism.

There is no reason to think that class conflict exhausts all possible social conflicts, including those based on strictly material questions. For example, one fundamental questions for any society, be it socialist or capitalist, is the rate of accumulation, or in other words, what part of economic production is to be immediately consumed and what part is to be saved to insure the reproduction of society and the improvement of the standard of living. In capitalism this is decided through the decisions of the ruling class within the framework of the market economy that favors and consolidates its power. Under socialism, this decision would affect every social group because it would determine the resources to be available resources for each work and community center. It is to be expected that differences over this question will develop between, for example, those who want to enjoy a better standard of living today and those who are more concerned with the standard of living of future generations. In that case, how would those differences and conflicts be organized into coherent and systematic alternatives so they are decided democratically? That would be the critical function of parties under socialism, educating and agitating in favor of alternative visions of the road that society can or should take.

It is well known that political parties, like many other types of organizations, have shown pronounced bureaucratic and oligarchic tendencies. But there are measures that can be adopted to compensate and fight those tendencies, such as combating the apathy and abstention among the rank and file through democratic debate and the continual practice of real power. An active, informed and involved membership in the affairs of their parties and society is the best guarantee against bureaucratization. There are also organizational measures that can reinforce that participation and control from below, such as mechanisms that assure its local and national democratic control of union and party functionaries, and the maximum transparency with respect to party policies and its internal functioning, aside from its right to remove any leader through party and union referenda. (There are people who have advocated a ban on reelection for union and party leaders. Although this proposal is worth discussing, I believe that it would be counterproductive and possibly undemocratic and in any case would not prevent manipulation on the part of the leaders that have been officially removed.)

I hope that this discussion on the one-party state continues. The topic is too important to ignore it; it is one of the kernels of the thoroughly undemocratic system ruling in Cuba.

*Samuel Farber was born and raised in Cuba and immigrated to the United States before the 1959 Cuban Revolution. He has written many books and articles about Cuba including Cuba Since the Revolution of 1959. A Critical Assessment published by Haymarket Books in 2011

Cuba 1

The Party in Action in the National Assembly

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By Arch Ritter

Winston Churchill might have been right when he said that democracy was the worst political system – except for all of the others!

What he neglected to say was that authentic participatory democracy is also ultimately FUN, despite the uncertainties and heartaches as well as jubilation and legitimacy that it generates.

Here are the results of two amazing elections this past week in Alberta Canada and the United Kingdom as well as the results of the elections in Cuba over the last half century.

  ALBERTA MAY 1 2015