What is the National Assembly, and how is it formed? The deputies of the National Assembly were elected by the people on March 11, 2018, with a voter participation rate of 86%. The ballots listed a single slate of candidates, who had previously been nominated by the delegates of the 169 municipal assemblies that comprise the national territory. These municipal delegates voted on recommendations made by candidacy commissions formed by six mass organizations of workers, students, farmers, women, and neighborhoods, with the active participation of their members; between 85% and 99% of the people in each sector are members of the relevant mass organization. In the National Assembly constituted on April 18, 53% are women; 41% are blacks and mestizos, which is roughly equal to their proportion in the population; 13% are between the ages of 18 and 35, with the median age of the Assembly being 49 years; and 86% have at least some level of higher education.
Who are the delegates of the municipal assemblies that elected the deputies of the National Assembly? The Delegates of the 169 municipal assemblies were elected in 12,515 voting districts, which held elections with two or more competing candidates, with run-off elections when no candidate received an absolute majority. The voting is secret, and 89% of the people of voting age participated. The candidates emerged from a series of neighborhood nomination assemblies, open to all the citizens residing in the neighborhood, held from September 4 to October 30. The 169 Municipal Assemblies were constituted on December 17, 2017.
With the election of Miguel Díaz-Canel, fifty-seven years old at the time of his election, the Cuban Revolution takes a further step toward the passing of authority to a new generation. This passing of authority has been unfolding as an intentional process for many years. Key moments include the formation of the Communist Party in the 1960s, established with the intention of ultimately replacing the charismatic authority of Fidel with the authority of a vanguard political power; and the Cuban Constitution of 1976, which established structures for the popular election of deputies to the highest positions of the state, with the participation of mass organizations. Thus, the passing of authority to a new generation has long been understood as a gradual process that, if managed with intelligence, would be characterized by continuity, rather than rupture. Although many people outside of Cuba for many years engaged in baseless speculation concerning what would happen with the passing of Fidel, in reality, the Cuban Revolution has been preparing itself for the passing of Fidel for five decades.
The intentional continuity in the passing of authority to a new generation is evident in the emergence to the presidency of Díaz-Canel. Born in 1961, Díaz-Canel is originally from the central province of Villa Clara, and he earned a degree in Electrical Engineering at the Central University of Las Villas. After a period working in that profession and in military service, he served for a time as professor in the department of Electrical Engineering at his alma mater. He was designated for full time party work in the province of Villa Clara, and he was one of twelve youths selected for a program of preparation for leadership at the national level. He was named to the Central Committee of the Party in 1991; to its Politburo in 2003; Minister of Higher Education in 2009; and Vice-President of the Council of Ministers in 2012, responsible for attention to organs tied to education, science, sport, and culture. In 2013, he was elected First Vice-President of the Council of State, and he had been visible representing the revolutionary government in the nation as well as internationally in the period 2013-2017.
Although Raúl Castro has stepped down as President of the Council of State, he continues to serve as head of the Party as its First Secretary. The Cuban Constitution of 1976 establishes the National Assembly has the highest authority of the state; and it establishes the Communist Party of Cuba as the vanguard party charged with leading the Cuban nation. As the vanguard, the Party educates, exhorts, and leads; and the National Assembly of Popular Power, as a body constituted by the elected deputies of the people and endowed with the highest constitutional authority, decides and governs. (For a description of this dual structure of leadership and authority, including an explanation of its democratic and functional logic for a neocolonized nation, see “The Party and the Parliament in Cuba” 6/19/2018).
In his first address to the National Assembly following his election, Diaz-Canel assured the nation of the continuity of the revolutionary process, even as it continues to evolve and improve.
The mandate given by the people to this legislature is one of giving continuity to the Cuban Revolution in a crucial historic moment, in which we are advancing in the updating of our economic and social model, improving and strengthening our work in all areas of national life.
I assume the responsibility to which you have elected me with the conviction that all Cuban revolutionaries, whatever position we occupy, whatever work we do, from any place of work or trench in the socialist homeland, will be faithful to the exemplary legacy of Commander in Chief Fidel Castro Ruz, historic leader of our Revolution, and also to the example, the courage, and the teachings of General of the Army Raúl Castro Ruz, present leader of the revolutionary process.
For us it is totally clear that only the Communist Party of Cuba, highest ruling force of the society and the State, guarantees the unity of the Cuban nation and is the worthy heir of the confidence deposited by the people in its leaders. . . .
Therefore Raúl, who has prepared, conducted, and led this process of generational continuity with firmness, without attachment to positions or posts, with a high sense of duty and of the historic moment, with serenity, maturity, confidence, revolutionary firmness, with altruism and modesty, is maintained, for his legitimacy and merit, at the front of the political vanguard.
Accordingly, as General Secretary of the Party, Raúl will continue to make the most important decisions. Díaz Canel asserted, “Aware of popular sentiments, I affirm to this Assembly, the supreme organ of the power of the State, that the compañero General of the Army Raúl Castro Ruz, as First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba, will play the leading role in the decisions of greatest transcendence for the present and the future of the nation.”
The passing of authority to a new generation is an ongoing intentional process, in which, as noted above, the formation of the Party and the development of the Constitution were important steps. Now, with the historic leader of the Revolution having passed on November 26, 2016, and with Raúl stepping down as President of the Council of Ministers and State on April 19, 2018, further important steps are taken on the road of the generational change of authority. But the process is not complete, inasmuch as Raúl remains First Secretary of the Party.
As the recently elected President of Cuba and the symbol of the transfer of authority to a new generation, Miguel Díaz Canel arrived to speak to the General Assembly of the United Nations on September 26. It was exactly fifty-eight years after an historic address at the United Nations, in which Fidel, not yet known to the world, gave a speech of more than four hours, explaining the principles and concepts of the Cuban Revolution, during which he was enthusiastically received by the representatives of the governments of the world.
Díaz-Canal was unable to ignore this historic legacy. He began his address:
It is impossible to be here, speaking from this rostrum in the name of Cuba, and not invoke historic moments of the General Assembly that also are our fondest memories: Fidel Castro, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, Raúl Castro, and the “Chancellor of Dignity,” Raúl Roa, just to mention the most significant. They brought here not only the voice of our people, but also that of other Latin American and Caribbean, African, Asian, and non-aligned peoples, with whom we have shared more than half a century of battle for a just international order, which still is far from being attained
He criticized the Trump administration for a new deployment of U.S. imperialist policy in Latin America. He rejected the interventionism of the United States with respect to Venezuela and Nicaragua. He called for just, special, and differential treatment of the Caribbean, as reparations for slavery. He supported the independence of Puerto Rico and respect for the self-determination of its people. He denounced the politically motivated imprisonment of former president Lula in Brazil. He supported Argentina’s claim of sovereignty over the Falkland Islands.
He defended the right of the Palestinian people to an independent and sovereign state based on pre-1967 borders. He called for a negotiate settlement in Syria, without direct or indirect foreign intervention. He called for compliance with the Nuclear Agreement with the Islamic Republic of Iran. He criticized the expansion of NATO toward Russian borders. He applauded the rapprochement in Korea, and condemned sanctions against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
He called for an end to the long-standing U.S. blockade of Cuba; the fabrication of pretexts by the U.S. government to justify hostility toward Cuba; the financing of covert programs that interfere in Cuban affairs, in violation of widely accepted international standards; and the return of the territory illegally occupied by the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo. He reaffirmed, in spite of the aggressive rhetoric of the Trump administration, that Cuba, as always, remains disposed to dialogue and to working toward a relation based on cooperation and mutual respect. However, he insisted that “we never will make concessions affecting our sovereignty and national independence; we will not negotiate our principles; nor will we accept conditions.”
Díaz-Canel concluded with the observation that the generational change of leadership represents a continuation of the historic principles and goals of the Cuban Revolution, and it is not a change in direction.
The generational change in our government should not raise the hopes of the adversaries of the Revolution. We represent continuity, not rupture. Cuba continues taking steps to improve its model of economic and social development, with the objective of building a sovereign, independent, socialist, democratic, prosperous and sustainable Nation. This is the road that we freely choose.
The Cuban people never will return to the shameful past, from which it freed itself with the greatest sacrifices, during 150 years of struggle for independence and full dignity. By the decision of the overwhelming majority of Cubans, we shall continue the work undertaken almost sixty years ago
The Cuba in the name of which I speak today proudly continues that independent, sovereign, and fraternal policy of solidarity with the poor of the earth, producers of all the wealth on the planet, although the unjust global order has sentenced them with poverty, in the name of words like democracy, freedom and human rights, words which the powerful in reality have emptied of content
It has been an emotional experience for me to speak from the same rostrum from which, fifty-eight years ago today, Fidel expressed truths so powerful that they still move us; and to do so before the representatives of the more than 190 nations that, rejecting blackmail and pressures, every year fill the voting screen with dignified green symbols of approval of our demand for the end of the blockade.
I bid you farewell with the hope that the noble aspirations of the majority of humanity will be achieved before new generations come to this rostrum to demand the same as we demand today, and that yesterday were demanded by our historic predecessors.
Cuba has a principled and politically intelligent approach to its efforts to bring the blockade to an end. But I would offer to criticisms of the Cuban approach at this important historic moment. First, it ought to explain more to the world its approach of popular democracy; and secondly, it ought to rethink its relation with the Left in USA. These are themes that I will explore in the following posts.
For an English translation of Díaz Canel’s entire speech to the United Nations, as well as the original Spanish, go to: Miguel Díaz-Canel, UN address, September 26, 2018.