In the United States, the political culture has defined human rights as political and civil rights, such as: the rights to vote and to own property; freedoms of assembly, association, speech, and religion; and equal treatment under the law, regardless of class, ethnicity, or gender. In contrast, since the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, there has emerged a Cuban political culture that defines human rights in a far more comprehensive manner, to include not only the political and civil rights, but also social and economic rights, such as the right to a minimal standard of living, a level of education and cultural formation, and health care. In addition, the Cuban perception includes not only the rights of individuals but also the rights of nations and ethnic groups, and thus it affirms the rights of nations to sovereignty and self-determination, and the rights of peoples to the preservation of their cultures.
The US conception of human rights is integrally tied to its political system of representative democracy, in which voters decide among two or more political parties, who compete in costly campaigns held in states and relatively large congressional districts. It is a system that favors the rich and the large corporations, inasmuch as they possess the resources to finance the political campaigns. With their financial control of politicians, and with their financing and control of foundations, higher education, and churches, large corporations have shaped the political culture of the United States in accordance with their interests, and thus they have succeeded in limiting the conception of human rights to political and civil rights.
The Cuban conception of human rights is tied to its political system of popular democracy, in which voters decide among competing candidates, who are selected by voters in neighborhood nomination assemblies, and who are presented to the voters in small voting districts, without the participation of electoral parties and without political campaigning or campaign financing. These delegates elected at the local level in turn elect delegates and deputies to provincial and national legislative assemblies, culminating in the election by the assemblies of the executive branches of provincial and national governments. This political structure of popular power is tied integrally to mass organizations of workers, farmers, cooperatives, women, students, and neighborhoods, the leaders of which are likewise elected at the base, and which continually inform the provincial and national assemblies of the needs of the people.
The Cuban conception of comprehensive human rights and popular democracy emerged during the republic of 1902-1959, which in reality was a neocolony of the United States. During the neocolonial republic, the Cuban Revolution developed the understanding that the US concept of democracy provided very limited protection of the sovereignty of the nation or the social and economic rights of the people. With the triumph of the revolution, the political culture forged an alternative to the US conception, culminating in the Constitution of 1976 and the establishment of political structures of popular power, and in the formulation of a comprehensive understanding of human rights to include the social and economic rights of the people and the true independence of the nation.
The representative democracies have established some restrictions of the rights of private property, enacted for the good of society as a whole. These restrictions, although limited, establish the right of states to limit private property as a principle in international law.
In accordance with the internationally accepted principle of the right of states to regulate and restrict private property, Cuba has imposed certain restrictions on private property, following its alternative conception of human rights and democracy. The United States, with its more limited concept of democracy, views some of these measures as violations of human rights. First, there is state ownership of major industries, a step, taken in the 1960s, necessary for the breaking of the neocolonial relation and the protection of the social and economic rights of the people. Secondly, there is public control of the press and the media of communication, based on the concept that editorial judgments, which affect what the people will know and believe, should not be in the hands of private and wealthy sectors, but in the hands of the elected delegates of the people.
In the United States, the Cuban imposition of greater limitations on private property tends to be seen as violations of human rights. But when the Cuban system is observed with thoroughness and attentiveness, it can be seen that the Cuban conception is a more comprehensive and more profound, and therefore more advanced, understanding of human rights.
The United States, particularly in the period 1990-2007, has utilized the international machinery of human rights to stigmatize and castigate the countries that do not follow its concept of democracy, establishing itself as the arbiter of human rights, in spite of the limited and less advanced character of its conception. The former UN Commission on Human Rights was notorious in this respect. However, as a result of the sustained objections of the governments of the Third World, especially those of Latin America, who could see the economic interests behind this political and ideological game, the Commission was replaced in 2007 by the UN Council on Human Rights, in which Cuba has been elected as a member by the UN General Assembly, whereas the United States has not been so elected.
Given the history of the United States in seeking to impose its concept of democracy on the world, which in the case of Cuba has included the establishment of conditions for the ending of the blockade, Cuba enters the new phase of dialogue with the United States with the continual insistence that these negotiations be characterized by mutual respect for the sovereignty of each nation.
Genuine dialogue requires listening to the other, and in a cultural sense, this is not new for Cuba. Cuban political culture is well-informed with respect to US political conceptions. Indeed, the Cuban Revolution historically appropriated certain concepts and values of the bourgeois revolutions of the West; and it has continually expressed its appreciation for the democratic concepts of Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, and Jimmy Carter.
In contrast, US political culture has not listened to and reflected upon the alternative concepts of the various Marxist-Leninist revolutions of the world, of the Bolivarian Revolutions of Latin America, or of the Cuban Revolution. It is hard to imagine that the United States will begin to do so now, given that this dialogue involves representatives of an Obama administration that has demonstrated its continuity with US imperialism, with the neoliberalism of Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Bush, and with the militarism of Bush II.
In this historic moment of structural global crisis, US political culture needs a reformulation rooted in a revolutionary popular movement, which, among other things, would take seriously the conceptions of the political culture of the Cuban Revolution. This could lead to some particular proposals with respect to the United States: the expansion of public television and radio; significant restructuring of campaign financing; free access to public television for political candidates; reforms that would enhance the emergence of alternative visions and alternative political parties and structures; the expansion of organizations of workers, students, women, and neighborhoods; and through these means, the development among the people of consciousness of human rights as including the social and economic rights of all persons as well as the rights of all nations to true independence.