Our Readers' Opinions
September 17, 2004
SVG and USA are democracies, not Cuba

EDITOR: A recent letter to the editor alleged, “Cuba is a Democracy”. The letter offered no sensible arguments to support that claim, but was, instead, an assault on the United States and SVG and other nations where the principles of true democracy are respected and lived every day.
Like all insidious arguments, it was based upon a false premise, in this case, an inappropriate definition of democracy. {{more}}Democracy is not simply a “government by the people”, as the first line of a common dictionary definition has it. By itself, that is the description of a lawless mob.
A democratic government is much more than that. It has features that are abundant in the USA and SVG and a growing body of genuine democracies around the world, features that are structured to protect human rights and enhance the blessings of liberty, features that are totally lacking in Cuba. They include freedom of the press, freedom of personal expression, freedom of religion and a system of justice based on laws written by the people’s openly elected representatives.
Yet, having stated the narrow argument that democracy is “government by the people”, the previous letter is at its most ridiculous when that definition is applied to Cuba. That government is not “of the people”. Cuba is a dictatorship, pure and simple. Its people have only the right to keep their mouths shut, except to praise “the maximum leader” and “the revolution”.
For example, the letter you are now reading – this challenge to Cuba’s claims as a democracy – could never be printed in that country. At this very moment there are hundreds of writers and poets and ordinary folk incarcerated in Cuba, whose only crime was to say what I just said. They were put in prison, some for periods up to 40 years, without any of the legal protections that are considered basic in SVG and USA.
They were not given the right to prompt and private legal counsel, the right to bail, the right to disclosure of evidence prior to trial, the right to cross-examine witnesses before and during trial, the right not to testify against themselves, the right to appeals to an independent judiciary, etc. Instead, they were arrested without formal arraignment, held incommunicado from family and legal counsel for months, put on trial on the same day they were advised of the trial and sentenced without the right to challenge evidence and witnesses and even the validity of the laws itself. They have no right of appeal to an independent judiciary.
How is all that relevant? Look at what is happening right now in the USA.
The current US regime has imprisoned certain people on the grounds they are “enemy combatants”. However, using the tools of a genuine democracy, ordinary citizens, aided by an irrepressible and independent judiciary, has forced our Executive Branch (the current President and the Attorney General, himself head of the Department of Justice) to bring those prisoners, some of them not even citizens, before an independent court where their rights will be respected. Unless the government can prove its case, they will be freed. Such things have happened before in the USA and will again, when justified. If they believe that the government has violated their civil rights, they can sue for damages and may win financial compensation and public vindication. That never could happen in Cuba.
A few years ago, the US judicial system was used by a Cuban father to petition for the return of his infant son, based upon his natural right as a parent to decide where and how his child should live. Not only did the justice system agree with him, but the then Attorney General of the USA, once prompted by the Supreme Court, enforced that father’s rights while holding back a local mob that wanted to prevent that for their own illegal reasons. But no such right exists in Cuba to petition the government or to have civil rights enforced against popular prejudice.
Further, the loud, messy, contentious and healthy electoral process that goes on in SVG and the USA and other true democracies is prohibited in Cuba. In that unfortunate island there are no independent political parties, no independent labour unions, no non-governmental organizations devoted to social and economic issues, no free press, no independent judiciary and no open forums where sincere people can honestly disagree in the pursuit of personal, political and economic justice.
Yet, the argument was made that Cuba is a democracy because it offers free medical care and so forth. The writer may as well have said about Fidel Castro, as was once said to justify Mussolini’s tyranny, “He makes the trains run on time.” Or, as Hitler claimed, “One land, one people, one government.” In practical terms, there is no difference between Castro, Mussolini, Hitler and other oppressors. Only the labels are different. The people of Cuba are servants of the State, not its natural master, their liberty bought with a dental checkup.
As someone once said, “Those who would trade their liberty for security will soon discover they have neither.”
The previous writer is being dishonest when he lays charges against the USA with regard to the levels of poverty there. He is referring to its legal definition of poverty that says that a married couple, with no children, and who earn less than US$17,000 per year are in poverty. The figure is higher for families with dependent children and other adults. He totally ignores that this definition exists because anyone who meets it thus qualifies for food stamps, medical care, job training, a monthly stipend, subsidized housing and many other economic benefits. While what we call poverty is not a noble state, neither is it unrelieved hell. It totally ignores that a minimum-wage legal immigrant worker, citizen or not, can, at age 62, count on a monthly retirement of roughly US$1,000, plus free medical care, subsidized housing and greatly discounted services.
The USA, not to mention SVG, is not perfect. My home country has many flaws. But they are accessible to fixing. In the USA, the struggle for racial justice continues. I’ve lived more than 70 years and have seen it changing, slowly but permanently, a great battle that when finally won will be all the more lasting for the price that was paid. I live, as a typical, fat, old, white man, in a city that is 45 per cent black, 33 per cent Hispanic and the balance a ripe mixture of Filipino, Korean, Egyptian, Nigerian, Jordanian, Chinese, Japanese and many others. Some 46 languages are spoken by our high school students.
Yet we all, regardless of – and maybe even because of – those “differences”, serve together in neighbourhood councils, are employed in governmental agencies that administer our systems, participate in social organizations and cooperate in inter-faith groups. Our executive and justice and police and educational systems reflect our ethnic makeup. We hold city, state and national offices won in open elections. Crimes based on social injustice are so rare in my community that they are front page news when they happen, and they are vigourously prosecuted. We respect and trust and protect each others’ civil liberties. We are all Americans by choice.
That is a democracy.