Popular Participation in the Constitution of the Illiberal State — An Empirical Study of Popular Engagement and Constitutional Reform in Cuba and the Contours of Cuban Socialist Democracy 2.0
75 Pages Posted: 30 May 2019 Last revised: 1 Jan 2020
Date Written: July 23, 2019
This article seeks to consider the issues of democratic self-constitution in illiberal states. To that end it focuses on the current process of constitutional revision in Cuba, a traditional Marxist-Leninist State in the process of self-transformation. For the last several years Cuba has been in the midst of a quite public national effort at reform. Those reforms to the organizing political and economic theory of the state then produced a move to restructure the 1976 national constitution (last revised in 2002) to reflect these reforms. In both cases, the PCC and the state apparatus attempted to invoke the core mechanics of popular participation even as it sought to manage that participation under the leadership of the PCC and popular representatives in national institutions. The Cuban experiment in constitutional reformation presents some unique elements. It may also point to the development of the collectivist premises on which the Cuban political order is might be used to structure democratic mechanisms that might have application in other in Party-State systems. Popular participation in the 2019 Cuban constitutional reform efforts actually takes three forms. Two of them are formal and Party-State driven. These consisted of the formal system to deliver comments and reactions to the drafts of the revised constitution circulated to the general population after review and revision by PCC and State (Asamblea Nacional) organs. The third of them, and the object of this article, was both informal and popularly driven. Perhaps the most important element of popular participation in the 2019 Cuban constitutional reform debate, the quite vigorous popular debates about Cuban constitutional reform occurred outside the structures of the Party and State organs. These debates took place in cyber space and among an active and politically engaged segment of the population, one with strong connections to the Cuban diaspora community. This article suggests that it may be possible to begin to understand the form, practice, character and influence of these new and emerging modalities of popular participation through a close empirical study. Part II provides a brief conceptual and historical context. That context is necessary for several reasons. Parts III and IV then move from the examination of the transforming contours of the normative structures of the Cuban system to an empirical analysis of the expression of normative change on that ground. Part III introduces the study and its methodology. We use data from government web sites, the official reports, and social media sites to examine the contours of participation, its constitution, and its limitations. We intend to develop from the analysis of four distinct data sets a clearer understanding of the nature of popular participation. Part IV then considers consequences and applications both within Cuba and beyond.
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