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Cuba, Government

At the beginning of the 20th century, Cuba was an independent nation under U.S. protection. After the Spanish-American War (1898), the United States occupied Cuba, and Cuba established a government that met the approval of the United States. In 1902 the nation entered a period of unstable democratic government punctuated by two periods with dictators. After 1959 a socialist revolutionary regime emerged.

Before 1959, elections were often fraudulent, and U.S. interventions, both military and diplomatic, seated presidents and put down civil revolts. Between 1902 and 1958 Cuba adopted two constitutions. The constitution of 1901 was similar to the constitution of the United States in providing for executive, legislative, and judicial branches. The vote, initially exercised only by men, was extended to women in 1933. After a popular revolution ousted quasi-dictator Gerardo Machado in 1933, Cubans debated the form of government they most wanted. In 1940 Cubans passed a new constitution that promised expanded civil rights and a generous welfare state. A parliamentary form of government replaced the congressional structure of the previous 38 years. Civil unrest continued as the government failed to meet constitutional promises, and corruption permeated all branches of government. In the 1950s president and dictator Fulgencio Batista suspended freedom of association and of the press, and he used military force to repress open political opposition.

The Cuban Revolution brought down the republic on January 1, 1959, and by 1961 the government had been centralized under the Partido Comunista Cubano (PCC; Cuban Communist Party) and its prime minister, Fidel Castro. Until the 1970s, Cuba’s revolutionary government ran on informal legal agreements that ignored the provisions of the 1940 constitution. The executive branch initiated decree laws, which were laws drawn up and passed by the executive branch. They were implemented and enforced unless the legislative branch rejected them, which never happened.

In 1976 the Cuban government instituted a new constitution that formalized a Communist system of government. Under the constitution, numerous committees, councils, and ministries control political sectors such as the Federation of Cuban Women, the Association of Small Farmers, the University Student Association, and the Labor Union. These political sectors provide citizens with input into government decisions and allow the government to quickly distribute information on official policies to the people. All units are answerable to the PCC and ultimately to Fidel Castro.

The revolution professed centralized democracy, meaning that popular participation occurs within designated mass organizations established and controlled by the state. The Communist leadership believes that traditional democracies in Latin America often become military dictatorships or become subject to government corruption, which renders their democratic institutions meaningless. In theory, the Cuban government avoids dictatorship and corruption by creating a strong, centralized political structure that makes every effort to incorporate the opinions of the people when making policy decisions. This, to their way of thinking, qualifies Cuba as a democracy and not a totalitarian government. However, Castro makes all major decisions, without popular referendums.

Political organization outside the government structure is strictly forbidden. The PCC and Fidel Castro control the press and discourage independent political gatherings. The degree of repression is difficult to ascertain because Cuba restricts outside access to prisons. Political executions occur but are rare. Cubans suppress their opinions because they fear that their dissenting views might be reported to the government. Without freedom of speech, Cubans have no opportunity to reach political consensus on issues or to choose opposition leaders. Only spontaneous eruptions of frustration display the tension within the Cuban population.

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