Dr. Fung maintains that civil society is a reflection of the state, and its characteristics are shaped by the political system of the country. In the case of Cuba, civil society is formed by the various mass organizations that were developed, following the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, in order to facilitate active citizenship participation. The mass organizations include the Confederation of Cuban Workers, the National Association of Small Agricultural Producers, the Cuban Federation of Women, and the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution, a neighborhood organization with presence in every city block and in the countryside. The leaders of these popular organizations are elected by delegates who are elected at the base by its membership. In addition, Cuban civil society includes professional and scientific organizations as well as persons with special interests or concerns, such as the environment (Fung 2014:107, 318-19, 322).
Many people in the world assume that these organizations of civil society in Cuba are not independent, because they are not in conflict with the government (Fung 2014:319). But this assumption fails to ask: What interests does the government defend? When a government defends the interests of banks and corporations, or a petty bourgeois bureaucratic class, popular organizations will emerge that critique the government and engage in political action in opposition to the government and/or its policies. But when the government defends the interests of the people, the functions of state and civil society are complementary, and their relations are not antagonistic or conflictive. In the case of Cuba, the popular organizations, which are modestly financed by the low dues of its many members, see themselves as non-governmental but not anti-government. The absence of conflict between the civil society and the government in Cuba is in fact evidence that the Cuban Revolution has accomplished a socialist transformation of Cuban political institutions, in which the system responds, as best as it can in light of limited national resources, to the interests and needs of the popular classes and sectors, and it does so through active citizenship participation.
Dr. Fung also notes that the highly-industrialized capitalist countries have created and funded international non-governmental organizations, creating an international civil society. These international NGOs function in other countries as an extension of the political system of the funding country. In countries where the national project seeks autonomy from the demands of the global powers, NGOs are involved in seeking to stimulate and nourish opposition to the government. Thus, through NGOs, the wealthy countries are able to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries, seeking to promote their economic and political interests, with limited public awareness of their involvement. Many progressive and socialist governments and organizations have denounced this form of intervention by the global powers, and they demand that the autonomy of their political-economic-cultural systems be respected (Fung 2014:319-20). In her address at the Summit of the Americas on April 11, Argentinian President Cristina Fernández condemned this practice, which she described as a “soft coup” and as a more sophisticated form of intervention than the coups and military interventions of previous decades.
In the case of Cuba, opposition within the nation to the socialist projected is weak to the extreme, as a result of the intertwining of the socialist project with the historic nationalist aspirations for the full independence of the nation; and as a result of the flight in the early 1960s of the bourgeoisie, the conservative wing of the petty bourgeoisie, and those tied to the repressive apparatus of the dictatorship. The US government has been reduced to paying salaries to a small number of people, encouraging them to engage in some kind of political disturbance, which has not excluded terrorist acts. Drawing upon interviews with Cuban agents who infiltrated the mini-groups formed by these paid representatives of US interests, “Los Disidentes” reveals the pathetic nature of these small counterrevolutionary groups. US agents admit and lament the limited number and the poor quality of “dissidents” that they are able to recruit. The great majority of Cubans contemptuously dismiss these persons as unpatriotic mercenaries who have been bought by a foreign power that seeks to restore its domination of the Cuban nation.
The contrasting interpretations of civil society provoked conflict at the Seventh Summit of the Americas, held April 10-12, 2015 in Panama, an event that brought together heads of state of the nations of the two Americas. As a result of the emergence of a new political reality in Latin America and the Caribbean since 1995, the Summits of the Americas have evolved to have a character completely different from the First Summit of the Americas, held in Miami in 1994, in which the principal agenda was the imposition by the United States of a Free Trade Area of the Americas. FTAA was buried at the Fourth Summit of the Americas in 2005 at Mar del Plata, Argentina, as a result of the opposition of Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay.
The Seventh Summit of the heads of state was accompanied by five parallel events: the Summit of the Peoples, the Business Summit of the Americas, the Summit of University Rectors, the Youth Forum, and the Forum of Civil Society. The most colorful of these was the Summit of the Peoples, consisting of delegates of social movements, labor unions, and student and indigenous organizations. Four thousand delegates arrived to participate in the Summit of the Peoples and to issue a Declaration that affirms the need for a new society with social justice and that supports Cuba, Venezuela, and Argentina in their conflicts with the United States.
In the Forum of Civil Society, the Cuban delegation found that a group of persons, including persons of Cuban origin no longer resident in Cuba, had been accepted as delegates representing Cuban civil society, while the Cuban delegation experienced delays in their own accreditation. Moreover, the “delegates” included two persons with involvement in terrorist acts and others that were associates of known terrorists. The Cuban delegation demanded the expulsion of the “group of mercenaries with terrorist ties,” and they withdrew from the inaugural session in protest. The following day, the Cuban delegation participated in the six sessions on various themes, and four of the sessions were conducted without problems. Two of the sessions, however, experienced conflicts provoked by the “delegates,” and these sessions on Citizen Participation and Governability were unable to produce a declaration of principles and positions. On the third day, the Cuban delegation decided not to participate in the closing session and social events.
Given the policy of the US government to influence civil society in various countries, no one should be surprised that members of the US embassy in Panama met with persons of Cuban origin, and gave them guidelines concerning their comportment as “delegates” to the Summit of Civil Society. The US-supported group maintains that it forms an alternative Cuban civil society and that the Cuban delegation is the “official” Cuban civil society, intertwined with the government and not independent.
Who authentically represents Cuban civil society? Respect for the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of nations requires that no nation should seek to organize and/or direct the representatives of the civil society of another nation at an international forum. Keeping in mind Dr. Fung’s observation that civil society to some extent functions as an extension of the state, any delegates organized by the US, if they have appropriate characteristics to be delegates by virtue of their participation in social movements and legitimate social organizations, should be accredited as delegates of US, and not Cuban, civil society. No international forum should permit the United States or organizations of US civil society to name the delegates of Cuban, Venezuelan, Ecuadorian, Bolivian, or Nicaraguan civil society.
The US attempt to discredit Cuban civil society at the Forum of Civil Society is an indication of the sophisticated form of interference in the internal affairs of nations that the United States today uses to promote its economic interests, under the fictitious umbrella of the promotion of democracy and the defense of human rights, and supported by the manipulations and distortions of the international media of communication.
Like conceptions of democracy and human rights, conceptions of civil society are tied to the characteristics of the political system (see “United States, Cuba, and human rights”). In my view, the conflicts between the United States and Latin America are an indication that we are in transition from an epoch of capitalist representative democracy, which serves the interests of international corporations and international finance, to an epoch of socialist popular democracy, which defends the interests of the people, the sovereignty of nations, and the needs of the Earth.
Elizalde, Rosa Miriam and Luis Baez. 2003. “Los Disidentes”: Agentes de seguridad cubana revelan la historia real. La Habana: Editora Política.
Fung Riverón, Thalía M. 2014. La Ciencia Política Enfoque Sur: Desde la Revolución Cubana. La Habana: Editora Política.