How were democracy and civil liberties laid to rest in Cuba? A summary timeline.
An anonymous commentator recently wrote, under an article by Dimas Castellanos about Castro's conception of human rights, published in this newspaper, that he would like to read details of "how democracy disappeared in Cuba" with a "rundown of the key events and dates."
That suggestion, coupled with Fidel Castro's public rejection of Obama's uplifting speech during his visit to Cuba, spurred me to make my contribution to the subject, with some historical data about how Fidel Castro officially buried democracy and freedom on the island.
And I say official because, even if unburied, democracy was already dead as of March 10, 1952, when General Fulgencio Batista overthrew the constitutional president, Carlos Prío Socarrás, and began his dictatorship.
It was precisely to restore democracy that a national rebellion arose which, unfortunately, was headed by Castro, a great admirer in his youth of fascist ideas and the Spanish Falange.
Shrouded in the image of a romantic and rebellious democrat, one fomented by Hebert Matthews at The New York Times, Castro, from the Sierra Maestra, promised that after Batista's overthrow he would hold elections to elect the country's new president and reestablish a democratic republic based on the Constitution of 1940, which was very advanced on social issues.
As soon Batista fled the island on January 1, 1959, Fidel began to lead the country as the commander-in-chief of the Rebel Army, above the "bourgeois" provisional Revolutionary Government that he himself installed. He had promised to appoint as Cuba's provisional president Manuel Urrutia Lleó, the judge who championed the cause of those who besieged the Moncada barracks in 1953.
But Castro could only hold his narcissistic ego in check for 45 days, and on February 16, 1959 directly assumed command of the Government, while continuing to lie. When taking over on that day as prime minister he declared that he was doing so provisionally, out of patriotic duty, stating: "I am not a candidate for president ... I don't care about any public office, I'm not interested in power."
A complete facade. Three days earlier, on February 13, although dated February 7, the Official Gazette of Cuba had published the Fundamental Law, drafted by Castro himself, which tore up and replaced the Constitution of 1940 and transformed the prime minister into the head of the Government, a non-elected position, above that of the president of the nation.
"Elections? What for?"
Thus, in addition to breaking his promise to restore the Constitution of 1940, Fidel did what had never occurred to Batista, who suspended constitutional guarantees but did not repeal the Constitution and replace it with another drafted by himself. And, on top of all this, far from convoking promised elections, he posed his famous question: "Elections? What for?"
With this Fundamental Law Castro destroyed democratic institutions, abolished the Congress of the Republic, transferred the functions of the Legislative Branch to the Council of Ministers, which he chaired, and reduced the president to a figurehead to receive the credentials of ambassadors and sign laws passed by the "premier."
Historically, modern democracy emerged in the US three months before the start of the French Revolution, with the inauguration of George Washington on April 30, 1789 as the first president and head of state of a republic elected by the kind of sovereign universal suffrage endorsed by Jean Jacques Rousseau. And one based on the independence of public powers, as espoused by the Baron de Montesquieu 41 years before.
Well, Castro not only took over the Executive and the Legislative powers, but also the Judiciary, which he eradicated through the creation of the Revolutionary Courts, answerable to him personally. To execute prisoners en masse, Castro invoked the Fundamental Law, as the 1940 Constitution did not provide for the death penalty, except for military crimes or spying during wartime.
In 1959 alone those courts , made up of officers of the Rebel Army, sent 972 people to the firing squad. Of these, 436 had been military and police under Bautista. The remaining 536 were shot as "counterrevolutionaries," many of them at the fortress of La Cabaña, where Che Guevara sometimes gave them the coup de grace.
In addition to the three branches of government, Castro was the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, the true power on the island ever since. His total power was made complete between October 1959 and May 1960, when he confiscated and nationalized all media, suppressed the freedom of the press, and began to use the TV as the centerpiece of an impressive apparatus spewing disinformation and political and ideological propaganda, which would prove to constitute one of the cornerstones of his personal dictatorship.
That is, in a very short time the altruistic" leader “not interested in power” became a kind of absolute monarch, like those in France prior to the storming of the Bastille, or Maximilien Robespierre, the architect of the Jacobin political terror in France.
Already established as an autocrat, Fidel abandoned the farce of the revolution, "as green as the palm trees," and on October 13, 1960 nationalized 382 companies, spanning industry, mining, agriculture, and banking.
That total confiscation from the "native bourgeoisie" and US capital, along with expropriations of private land, beginning in May 1959 through the Agrarian Reform Law (later completed with a second law in 1963) laid the foundations for Marxist-Leninist socialism. The entire national economy, except for small family businesses (later nationalized or eliminated after March 13, 1968) fell into the hands of the State, managed by Castro like a private estate.
On 16 April, 1961 the commander declared the Communist character of "his" revolution, and on October 3, 1965 formalized the one-party Leninist system by founding the Communist Party of Cuba, which since March of 1962 has been operating under the name of United Party of the Socialist Revolution of Cuba (PURSC), and previously as the Integrated Revolutionary Organizations (ORI), created in July 1961.
The complete totalitarian institutionalization was completed on February 24, 1976 with the proclamation of the Socialist Constitution, which elevated the PCC to a position as the "governing body of society," above the State and Government. On July 31, 2006 the dynastic, military character of the Castro regime was confirmed when a sick Fidel appointed his brother as the new president. Then, on April 19, 2011, Raúl became Cuba's new dictator when he replaced Fidel as first secretary of the PCC.
The worst thing is that, regardless of this summary of the institutional dismantling of democracy in Cuba since Castro's arrival in Havana in 1959, down to today a Junta has been in power, headed up by Fidel and Raúl, one originally formed by a group of commanders of the Sierra Maestra, and now by some survivors and younger generals. It is they, and not the Political Bureau, the Council of State, or Ministers, or the Assembly who make the important decisions on the Island.
In short, there has never been a greater rejection of western liberal democracy in the Americas than the Castro regime.
A summary timeline
- 1 January-16 February, 1959: Fidel Castro leads the country, by force, as commander-in-chief of the Rebel Army, without any position in the Government.
- January 1959: The Revolutionary Courts, subordinated to Castro, overturn the independence of the Judiciary and apply the death penalty en masse.
- April 13, 1959: The Fundamental Law, authored by Castro, replaces the 1940 Constitution, makes the prime minister the head of government, above the President of the Republic, and transfers the Legislative Branch into the Cabinet, unelected by the people.
- October 1959-May 1960: All media is nationalized and freedom of the press is suppressed in the country.
- October 13, 1960: The entire national economy is expropriated and nationalized, except for small family businesses, and the bases of the Marxist-Leninist system are laid down.
- April 16, 1961: Castro announces the Communist character of the Revolution.
- October 3, 1965: The single-party system is formalized through the constitution of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC).
- February 24, 1976: Totalitarian authoritarianism is institutionalized with the proclamation of the Socialist Constitution (copied from that of the Soviet Union), which makes the PCC the country's supreme power, above the State and the Government.
- July 31, 2006: The dynastic nature of the dictatorship is confirmed. Fidel Castro falls very ill and appoints his brother Raúl as head of State and the Government, who is dutifully ratified by the National Assembly.
- April 19, 2011: Raúl Castro becomes Cuba's new dictator, replacing Fidel Castro as the first secretary of the PCC.