Negotiating for Democracy in Cuba?

José Azel
Investigador, Universidad de Miami
( Democracy is an abnormal and unnatural political system. This is the view held by all authoritarian and totalitarian regimes and their want-to-be sycophants. And, in one respect, they are right. A liberal democracy aberrantly requires those holding power to respect statutory constraints on their powers and, even more unnatural, to enable processes that may remove them from power.

It is commendable that, while in Cuba, chief U.S. negotiator Roberta Jacobson met with dissidents, and expressed U.S. concern regarding the lack of civil liberties. However, to advance citizen’s rights in Cuba she will have to persuade the Cuban government to change its very nature.

Defenders of the new U.S.-Cuba policy have argued, ad nauseam, that the old policy of economic sanctions has not worked, and that the new policy will work to weaken the Cuban government. These assertions are suspect since the new measures will enrich primarily the Cuban military, which controls most economic activity, and thus will bolster the regime. It is hard to discern how fortifying a totalitarian government promotes democracy, but let us take the discussion past the platitudes into less explored quicksand.

What liberal democracy advocates is not weak government, but limited government. The authority of the Cuban state knows no bounds; it is an unlimited form of government. I know of no argument offering that the new U.S.-Cuba policy will advance limited government in Cuba. The adversary of totalitarian government is not weak government; it is limited government.

Our conception of human rights is that rights exist prior to, and distinct from any man-made law; they cannot be granted or repealed by government fiat. By our definition, human rights can only exist under a government that is limited in its authority. But to Marxists, human rights are the social creation of a particular vision of society. In their view, rights are no more than a whimsical invention of government that can be revoked at the pleasure of the government. They are permissions, not rights.

All governments hold a legal monopoly on the use of physical force. Thus we need limits on government to protect ourselves from the involuntary servitude to others demanded by collectivism. The question of whether rights are creations of particular societies, or independent of them, is fundamental to our stance on moral conduct and political organization.

A desirable democracy- one that respects and protects individual rights- requires limited government. But Cuba is a totalitarian regime that demands complete subjection of the individual to the authority of the collective. Without limited government human rights are inaccessible.

A liberal democracy also requires the unfettered participation of an autonomous opposition that is able to compete freely, fairly, and often for the levers of power. Yet, to allow opposition means to impose limits on your own power. The Castros have built a police state, and police states do not subject themselves to the possibility of relinquishing power.

Stated plainly, the Castros will not self-impose limits on their governing controls, and will not undertake any process that may deprive them of their powers.

Assistant Secretary of State Jacobson has expressed that she has no illusions about changing the Cuban regime. Again commendable, because U.S. policymakers tend to naively see the world through the lenses of their own cultural and historical experiences in a form of analytical provincialism.

In order to secure whatever advantages they may be pursuing, Cuban negotiators may offer some minor power-limiting promises. Having secured the advantage, however, the Castros will no longer find it in their self-interest to fulfill those commitments.

Thus, before getting into bed with Raul Castro, and surrendering, in amorous embrace, whatever little leverage we may have left, U.S. negotiators should know that the General will not respect them in the morning.


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